Saturday, August 8, 2015

By the numbers...



Mr. Clifton, one of my English teachers in high school, once gave us a piece of wisdom that applies to any writer trying to get the attention of agents or publishers:

If you throw enough shit on a wall, some of it will stick.

And when you think about it, this is the philosophy of life.





















*** 

Okay, the last two weeks of June sucked. July sucked even worse. I didn't get much done and I'm behind on most projects except the LAX story. I'm almost ready to show that to people. I have a working draft now and will be good to go in a week or so...

As such, I will need to write other things for it. One is a query letter; another is a succinct synopsis. Also, I will shine the first few chapters before shinning the others.


Project 1:
100,000+ words

Find 100 literary agents / publishing houses
Goal: Get at least ten percent positive replies
Reality: 100??? I'm likely going to send to ten at first and then improve my query letter when all ten send form rejection letters...

Project 2:
hopefully 50,000 - 60,000 words by August
For younger folk and even adults

Find 100 literary agents / publishing houses
Goal: Get at least ten percent positive replies
Reality: I need to finish this first...



Well, query letters are tons of fun, as are synopses. Many a writer has gone mad writing those. I at least get to amuse myself with that. That was a joke. I don't get to have any fun.

The philosophy here is to throw enough of my shit out there to see if any will stick.


***

So, I haven't been on here for a while. If we go by the numbers, I can tell you why.

#1 Cystoscopy

I am likely not dying. That was a joke. We're all dying. But my doctors decided that I shouldn't die as fast as say, someone with a terminal disease. To accomplish this feat, they asked me if they could perform this procedure.

From what I've heard, it feels as pleasant as the image below makes it...

Naturally, as soon as I saw images of it, I asked around. No. I'm not having that done. Sure, it could help solve a few medical mysteries about me, but I'm not going to go through with it.




As you can expect, this depressed me greatly. I don't want something inserted in there and I also don't want to avoid KNOWING. But, that's part of the greater mystery of life. I don't have to know everything.

Thankfully, my other health problems distracted me. It turns out I had cavities and the dentist had to fill them.

For those of you too lucky to not know, this is what it looks like:



That device is a drill... The patient's mouth is open to allow the dentist to work (and to make it easier for you to scream).

Getting cavities filled is no fun at all, but now that they are done I can focus on work. And try to catch up.



                                                   


















***

The first week of August was productive. I have that going for me. This coming week, I hope to work on queries.

If I work fast enough, I can have something to show the Southern California Writer's Conference.

What was it Vonnegut said repeatedly in Slaughter House Five?

So it goes...

(It's funnier when he says it in the novel after some disaster...)

LC / LA



Friday, June 19, 2015

The first half of June

I don't know how long it's been since I screwed a woman. And I mean that in every sense of the word "screw." I tried to pick up a woman the other night and it didn't work. There was another co-worker I tried dating, but when it came down to business, I got an error message from my man downstairs... My dating life is shot to hell. I can tell you it's thanks to HER.

Josephine! Josephine!

I fear now that my Josephine, whose real name isn't Josephine, is now married or soon will be. It's a tragic turn of events. To tell the truth, though, I'm not sure if she's married or will soon be married. I don't know why I lied just now. There is an air of Asian mysticism about her person I can't seem to breach.

I rarely see her now since she gets off of work before I go in. Sometimes, I imagine what she looks like every day.

I'm laughing now as I think of old Captain Ahab and his Moby Dick. No, don't laugh. It's not how it sounded. They're characters in a book by Herman Melville.

Well, the Ahab character is obsessed with Moby Dick, a legendary white whale. The whale maimed Ahab, see. And... I see this discourse is pointless...

***
At about noon or so, an elderly man came up to the desk to let us know that, "a car is in the parking lot with its headlights on." When I asked this man to give us a description, he was very vague to the point where making an announcement would have just confused people instead of helping. He described a dark orange or brown car that could have been a toyota or honda and was older. He gave no license plate number or nothing and usually when we make such announcements we have make, model, color, and license plate number to actually help someone.

I didn't feel that was enough to make an announcement so I told one of my female co-workers I was going to the parking lot to see what was going on. I first went to the second level parking lot and searched, but found no cars with headlights on. I did find a car that almost matched the description, but it didn't have its lights on. I then went upstairs to the roof lot and found no cars that matched the description.

I concluded that it was either taken care of or that the person had already left. The patron who told us about it didn't stick around so we could compare notes. I left the matter at that.

The patron came back later and he again told us about a car in the parking lot that had its lights on. He claimed he had seen it a second time and wondered why we had not made an announcement yet. I confronted him with what I had done and told him that no such car was in the library parking lot.

It is then that he admits that the lot he had originally been talking about is the parking lot by the shopping center. But by this point he's upset. He wants us to do an announcement and although he has seen this car twice (supposedly) he can offer no new details about make or model or license plate number.

And when we asked him where it was exactly (since a search of the whole place was out of the question) he said this, "You go outside, take a right and then a left and you keep going. You can't miss it." He said this three times.

Now, by this point, I believed him to be lying. First, he claimed he saw the car twice, but I hadn't seen him exit the building. He's very recognizable. When he came to us both times, he came from within the library. Second, he can offer no further description of the vehicle aside from the vague description he gave us at first; it never occurs to him that someone might need that. Third, when I went out to that same lot during my break, I didn't see anything that suggested someone needed help, like a tow truck or anything. And fourth, with so much time gone by, other people should have noticed a car with its headlights on and would have told us--this very thing has happened a number of times where many people come and report the same thing.

So, instead of giving us more details to help us find the car, he gives me a lecture about what it means to do the decent thing here. He's upset and thinks we blew him off the first time he went there and didn't bother following up on the car. So, it was then that I told him that it wasn't our lot anyway and there's a security guard who roams the grounds and if he noticed it, we would help him (since the guard would have led us to it).

Whether or not there was a car with its headlights on at some point in the day, I don't know. I think we did everything possible to help whoever it was. He could have done more too, like offer to take us to the vehicle since he knew where it was (he wasn't handicapped or anything) or even given us more specific details or even given us a photo.

And naturally, this douche went and complained that we weren't decent enough to make a simple announcement...

***
June is going well. I'm actually on schedule and a bit ahead. Depending on my progress this coming week, I may be a week ahead.

I finished what I had left of the LAX story within a week and immediately got going on that other project I'm working on. It is currently 42,000 words and my goal is to get it to at least 55,000 words. Ironically, I'm deleting much of it and altering the rest.

I bought my ebook copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on Pottermore. It bugged me that I couldn't just get it through Amazon. But at least I have my own copy now.

It will be more than just a digital book to read. It's a resource, a reference. The storytelling is very solid in that book, part of the reason why I want it.

By the end of July, I shall have a project ready--two actually...

And so, I look towards September to make a move.






LC / LA


Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Girl on the Train, a review...

And so, here we are again...

A project completed. The LAX story went down at four this morning and at four twenty I was already revising it! I am again sad that I won't see my characters for a while. I'm also sad for another reason. This is the first story I've written that deals with experiences I've had in the recent past.

Before, my fiction centered around ideas I had, some taken from events in my life or the news, but mostly from my imagination. The LAX story is almost a log of the things I went through with my Josephine and the ANA ticket counter account. Most of it is fictitious, but the forty percent that is not is drawn almost word for word from interactions I had at the airport. Now that it's over, it feels like I completed therapy. I got it off my chest. I'm lighter.

Yes.

My Josephine really did a number on me. But there are other projects that need my attention now. Before that, however...

With the LAX story complete, I'm catching up on my reading. I will do this for a few days before I go into 2015 phase 2. And then, my friends...that's when things start to get interesting.


I have to say that I picked The Girl on the Train because our library has a list of over a hundred people waiting to read a free copy. Many liken it to Gone Girl, a book which I enjoyed, so I thought I would give this a try.

My experience with the book was different than my experience reading Gone Girl. I can tell you right now that the two books are nothing alike. Sure, the premise is the same, but in the end, The Girl on the Train is a classic whodunit; Gone Girl starts out that way, but does a paradigm shift midway through the book and becomes a sort of thriller.




Overview:


Author: Paula Hawkins
Genre: Mystery
Premise: Dysfunctional, alcoholic Rachel tries to help solve the disappearance of Megan, a married woman who repeatedly cheats on her husband with her therapist.




What didn't work for me:


Comma splices

Here is an example of a comma splice in The Girl on the Train:

She'd have driven him mad in the end, I really think that--she'd have ground him down, she'd have made him into something he's not.

The text of The Girl on the Train is full of them. They are more persistent in the first half of the book and wind down by the end.

Now, normally, I would be okay with a writer manipulating the English language for stylistic reasons. We take liberties with grammar to create effects. Some writers take advantage of this, while others are strict about adhering to grammar rules.

It's.

Just.

A preference.

There is an effect in the example above. We have been trained since childhood to stop when we reach a period. It signals an end, like the red light signals you to stop when you're driving. We don't think about it. This just happens naturally while we read.

We writers know this and take advantage of it.

The important thing is to create an effect that is understandable, letting the reader know that you're trying to do something different! Otherwise, it comes across as a mistake. Or worse, the writer takes such liberties with the text that it comes across as chaotic and confusing. Imagine reading a book with no punctuation! Or imagine reading a book that just had sentence fragments.

For the life of me, I didn't understand why Paula Hawkins had so many comma splices. What was the effect? You're supposed to pause when you find a comma in a sentence. And I did. After. Each. One. Ahhhhhh! Why is she doing it? Why? Tell me Paula, why? Am I too stupid to get it?

Naturally, this distracted my reading and I sometimes found it hard to focus.

Seriously, what was the effect?


Plot pace

The mystery doesn't start right away. I have read reviews that say this plot is lightning fast, but I didn't think so. You have to read more than thirty percent of the book before Megan disappears. And when the mystery finally starts, it moves as fast as that train that Rachel rides every day to her non-existent job.

After that, the story is a little more interesting. The pace doesn't become lightning fast until you're about ninety percent done with the book.

This is ironic since the book is short. At just over three hundred pages, The Girl on the Train should have been a fast, fast read.


Characterization 

Oh, man, there are so many fucked up people in this book! Normally, I would enjoy this--since messed up people are more interesting.

With The Girl on the Train, it is clear that the author just wants to give clever twists to typical whodunit characters of hardboiled detective fiction.

There's the detective, in this case Rachel. In most private eye novels, the detective has a drinking problem. Rachel is a full blown alcoholic who has black outs--a plot device. The twist is that her misery takes center stage during that first thirty percent of the novel before Megan disappears. Joy!

There's the femme fatale, in this case Megan. She is the typical seductress willing to get men to do her bidding by manipulating their sexual desires; she comes complete with a seedy past. The twist here is that she is also the victim.

And then there's Scott, Megan's husband, who is the patsy and most obvious suspect. This isn't even a spoiler! His only purpose in this book is to give us another red herring. Did he do it? He's violent. He's jealous. He's too obvious. In the case of Nick from Gone Girl, I really didn't know if he had done it or not; that author beautifully focused on him and his actions. The twist for Scott is that we never know what happens to him in the end. The story mentions his name, but who knows what happens to him.




What worked for me:


Okay, so I'll be fair and say that once you get into it--after you get used to Rachel's misery--the book is interesting. I couldn't stop reading it after I got to the 70% mark. Before you get there, though, there are other reasons to keep going. The main one is the realism.

The Realism

What is most gripping is the realism in this story. This book builds its rails and stays on them. Pun intended.

My biggest complaint about Gone Girl is that at one point, it becomes a fantasy. Mad evil genius? Come oooooooon...

That point never came in The Girl on the Train. Rachel's behaviors as an alcoholic are typical, but not to the point where I felt I was reading a textbook case. Many times an author will describe a person with a problem like alcoholism and it reads like a pamphlet. The black outs, the messes with vomit, the hiding of liquor and those gin tonics... all well done.

Scott, though too obvious to be the killer, works well as a jealous husband. The way he tries to check up on her and check her browser history and do those little things that jealous men do... It works. You really do get pissed with Megan and sympathize with him. But really, why would anyone this jealous get with a woman like Megan? It is excellent.

Kudos!

The crime, when the killer is revealed, is so mundane and realistic that it's disturbing. The things the killer does to try and get away with it are so stupid that you can believe that a regular person--who isn't an evil genius--would come up with the same ideas and make the same mistakes.

And then there's the final action in the book. There are no superhero moments here. Actually, the violence is apprehensive; the killer, when found out, believably wants to find some other way out, a peaceful way that will leave all parties alive. But throughout the novel, the author pushes and pushes these folks to a state of hysteria and bottled up aggression.

Rachel can't give up Tom, her former husband, and sinks deeper into alcoholism, which brings about more black outs during which she does bolder and more dangerous things. Tom doesn't know what to do with Rachel, who won't leave him and his new wife Anna alone; one time she even took hold of their newborn baby while completely drunk. Anna can't convince Tom to leave that city, that house, and start fresh somewhere away from Rachel; every time Rachel comes by, drunk, or calls the house, she is pressured into looking for alternatives in dealing with her. Scott slowly, but surely, builds up all the aggression that comes from having a pretty wife he rightly suspects is cheating on him. And Megan can't overcome the guilt that is the result of the things she did in her past and cannot function as a wife because of it--she's always trying to run away. And then there's the therapist, Kamal, whose affair with Megan nearly destroys him; it's horrible that she can't let this go and keeps trying to get him back for more.

These are just people pushed to a point where murder is an unfortunate, animal choice.



Overall:


If you have patience, The Girl on the Train can entertain you for hours--if you fly to another country, for example.

It's not a perfect book, though, and often I wanted to put it down to do other things; Facebook was an attractive option during my reading of the book.

Overall, it's a fair little mystery that will likely lead to more improved versions of it as the author (hopefully) gets into her groove as a writer. For that reason, I'm going to buy another Paula Hawkins book when she writes one.

I can tell you though, if I see a comma splice in her next book, I'm putting it down!





LC / LA