Friday, October 28, 2011

Four Turtledoves

I recently finished the Worldwar series by Harry Turtledove. This is one of those series that my wife says I should have put down when it became tedious, but I'm stubborn, so I read it to the end. I did, actually, want to know how it ended. That was an unfortunate desire. Let me break it down for you (and there will be spoilers, so, if you plan to read this series, you may want to skip the rest). Actually, let me explain Turtledove, first.

Harry Turtledove has been called the "master of alternate history," and that may well be true. It has certainly been one of the major foci of his writing. He also has a Ph.D. in history, so he has the historical background to pull it off. Generally, he takes a place in history and applies some tweak to it and explores what happens as a result of that one change.

The Worldwar series is set during World War II and explores what might have happened had Earth been invaded by aliens in the midst of the war.

Book One: Worldwar: In the Balance: The United States has only recently entered the war and hasn't really deployed, yet. It is a bit too fortuitous of a set up. Basically, the USA has begun its military build up, but most of its men and equipment are still in the US. Aliens attack.

The background here is that the alien race is ancient, but their technology is not much advanced beyond what we currently have. Except, you know, that they have interstellar flight. They sent a probe to Earth eight centuries ago and expected to find us still riding around on horses and fighting with swords. Technologically speaking, the Race (as the Lizards call themselves) are very slow to advance and just assumed that we would be the same way. Still, they brought nukes with them and begin their attack by setting off  nukes in the atmosphere to disrupt our communications. It works less well then they expect since humans are still using tube-based technology. I'm just not going to get into how little sense it makes that they would have planned on the communication disrupting nukes when they didn't expect us to have any electronic technology. The rationalization is that they always over plan, so, even though they have no expectation of needing them, they have brought along nukes.

The book goes on to deal with the political fallout of the Earth governments in the wake of a global alien invasion. I really enjoyed the first book. There is a large cast of characters so that we get a glimpse into what's going on all over the world as everything happens. Yes, that means lots of hopping around, but there is never a problem keeping up. The books are pretty long and dense, but I still finished In the Balance within a few weeks while also reading a couple of other books.

Book Two: Worldwar: Tilting the Balance: The Earth governments begin to form alliances against the Lizards. No one, of course, trusts the Nazis, especially the USSR, but that doesn't stop them from trying. This book keeps up the momentum of the first one as things become more complicated. Not only are we dealing with aliens, but we have all of the political machinations of the humans. The aliens don't really get politics and are constantly misjudging the humans. They also underestimate the adaptabilty of humans.

I also thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it in a similar timeline as I did the first one. The warning signs, however, were there for what was coming in the last two books had I been looking for them.

Book Three: Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance: The situation grows more complicated as nukes begin to be used by both sides. The humans introduce drug use, in the form of ginger, to the Lizards. Strife breaks out among the Lizards, something unheard of in their culture for eons.

There are some interesting developments in this book, but the reading begins to bog down. Basically, as Turtledove switches from character to charcter, he endeavors to remind us whom each character is as he transitions to them. This happens in the first two books, too, but there's not much to remind us of at that point. By the third book, however, he has two books worth of material to remind us of, and it begins to get really tedious. Especially with one particular character.

The books are told from a third person omniscient view, so we get a lot of what the individual characters are thinking about. Actually, most of the story is told from that perspective. There's one character in particular that I was just hating by the third book. I dreaded any of his sections, because he constantly was re-going over everything that happened to him everytime we were in his head. Any time I would get to one of his sections, I'd have to put the book down and go do something else. After reading one of his sections, I would have to put the book down and go do something else. If he'd still been around for the fourth book, I may never have finished the series.

Book Four: Worldwar: Striking the Balance: A lot of nothing happens in this book. The war has ground into a stalemate and so has the book. It was like Turtledove had written himself into a corner and didn't know what to do, so a whole lot of nothing happened all of the time. That and reviewing what had happened in the first three books. Over and over and over again. It was horrible. Normally, I read two or three books at a time, but I had to decide to not read anything else while I tried to work my way through Striking. It still took me over 120 days to read it according to Goodreads. I just didn't ever want to pick it up and could never make myself read more than a few pages at a time. [The last book that I had such a hard time getting through was Blood of the Fold (book 3 of The Sword of Truth series and the last one I would read), and that was something like 10 years ago.] But, still, I wanted to know how the series ended being so close, relatively speaking, so I plowed on through it.

There was no real resolution to the story, which was more than disappointing. There's  plenty of rising action in the first two books (and that's when they're good), but, sometime in the transition from book 2 to book 3, the action plateaus. There is no real climax to the overall story; it just ends. There is a sequel series that jumps ahead (I'm guessing) about 40 years, but I doubt I will ever read it. It's not that the ending of Worldwar isn't realistic; it's just not satisfying. At least, not to me. Based on the success of Turtledove, the people that really like his genre must not have an issue with the ending. Worldwar is one of his best selling series.

The other thing that I really didn't like about the last book is that there is a lot of character manipulation by the author to get them to do things that aren't really in character for them to further the plot. It was also disappointing, especially with one particular set of characters.

I really couldn't give a general recommendation to anyone to read this series. If you like a lot of military action, you'll probably enjoy it. If you're into alternate history stuff, you may like it. If you're a fan of sci-fi and feel like trying something slightly different, it may be okay. Beyond that... I don't know. I feel like I should get a better feel for Turtledove's writing in general, but I'm not thinking I'm going to try anything else by him anytime soon.

Here are my grades for the books:
In the Balance: B (maybe even a B+)
Tilting the Balance: B
Upsetting the Balance: C-
Striking the Balance: F
Worldwar series: D (No, it doesn't get a pure average, because the ending drags the overall story way down for me. I suppose this is one of those times where you can get a real example of how endings really are the hardest parts to write.)

As a nod to Rusty, and I meant to say this initially, but I ended up with less time than I thought I'd have and forgot:
This series is one of those that suffers from bad editing. One of two things happened:
1. Turtledove thought people would not be able to remember which character was which and, so, constantly reminded us of whom they were. A good editor would have said, "hey, you don't need to repeat this information so much," and a good portion of the redundancy could have been cut out of the third and fourth books.
2. The editor couldn't keep track of the characters and had Turtledove add the information in so that readers would be reminded. If this was the case, a smarter editor would have been good.

This series probably could have fit into 3 books if all the repetition had been cut out.

See, I'm not against editing!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Many, many weeks ago, Rusty over at The Blutonian Death Egg awarded me the 7x7 Link Award. I was just beginning to move at the time, so it's taken me  a while to get back to this one. If it was a normal award, I think I would have just conveniently forgotten about it, which I did anyway for a few weeks, but I kind of like this one, so I figured I'd honor it.
Not that I really understand the 7x7 part of it. I mean, I get the 7 links, but where does the x7 come in? It's like that "5x5" thing from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I looked that up once, and it doesn't really mean anything in the way they use it in the show, so I've always found that phrase curious and wondered about its origin. It's an interesting leap from the original meaning, the area of clearest reception from a radio station, to... well... I'm still not completely clear on the meaning in Buffy beyond "I'm cool." But I digress.

So I'm supposed to link to a bunch of my previous posts, so here goes:

1. Most Beautiful: I don't think I really do "beautiful" at this point. I generally don't go in for that kind of prose in the blog, although, maybe, I should. Actually, when I ever get around to talking about poetry, I might end up with some posts I think would qualify, but I'm not sure when I'll get to that. The closest I probably come to that is The Farm about the burning of where I grew up.

2. Most Helpful: I'm going to have to go with one of my earliest posts, which is one most of you probably haven't seen. It's called 400 Words and deals with part of my strategy that enabled me to sit down and make it through writing my first book.

3. Most Popular: I don't have a good answer for this one. How should I know, really? I'm going to divide it into categories:
a. most clicks: By far, my post with the most clicks (almost 3 times as many as the next most clicked) has been my review of the movie Hanna. I think it's the quote I used for the title of the post, because most of the click throughs to it have come from web searches on that quote. I have a secret experiment in the works to test this, but it's going to take a while before I know anything.
b. most comments (no restrictions): The Man With No Eyes has received more comments than any other post, but that's probably because it was involved in one of the campaign challenges for the Platform Building Campaign, so I don't think it's a good pick.
c. most comments (restricted to posts not involved in a blogfest): It looks like Writing in the Slow Lane takes the award for most popular just in and of itself. There are a couple of others that are probably close, but this one's not related to a blogfest of any kind and seemed to get a lot of meaningful comments.

4. Most Controversial: I'm going to have to go with my very last past, The Cliche Monster. I'm really surprised by this one, but I must have just fumbled the ball somewhere in there, because I got the feeling that most people just didn't get what I was really saying there. Yeah, I may be projecting somewhat because there was a huge drop in comments on that one and I lost followers for the first time ever after posting it. Really, I was just trying to say that writers shouldn't worry and obsess so much about whether or not someone has done a similar story, because, you know, someone out there has written a similar story. But it's the telling that matters, not the story itself. It seemed to make some people unhappy, though.

5. Most Surprisingly Successful: Again, I'm going to have to go with the review of Hanna. I'm still surprised at the steady stream of click throughs I get from that post. Not that it seems any of those people hang around, but who knows?

6. Most Underrated: That would have to be this post about zombies. I just expected it to get more response, but I feel like it really just flew right under the radar. It's also one of my favorite posts, because I think I had a real insight with that one. Oh, well...

7. Most Prideworthy: I have to say that the post I have the most pride in is the one annoucing that my book, The House on the Corner, is available for sale. Or for buying. For you to buy (and you should (ask Rusty Webb (hey, I have to plug the book sometime!))). However, there's nothing about that post in and of itself to really have pride in. So... a post I think is really well done that I would point out to people and say, "hey, I wrote that," that's a harder question, and I actually have a few. Some of them are already listed, so I've picked one more that's not previosuly listed: The Dream Vs the World. Okay, and one more: Publishing and the Real Estate Market.

Well, that's about it. It's interesting to look back at what I've done so far, especially since I'm approaching my 100th post. Interesting to see how the readership has grown and how the way I write posts has changed. I sort of assume that I present a more challenging blog than most people are interested in. I tend to be long (I'm very uncomfortable with anything less than around 1000-1200 words), and people (often) don't like long, so I appreciate you guys that do stop by and read what I have to say. I hope I tend to make people think. I do try to include humor in the blog, but I have to stop and remember to do it, really, because all of this is pretty serious stuff to me, and it's what I spend my time thinking about. Not that I don't laugh. I'm a big fan of comedy. And I don't use pretty pictures. Really, I just don't have time for it. After spending a couple of days (sometimes more) on a post (writing is a slow process for me, and, although, a blog post goes quicker then fiction, it isn't by much), I just don't have the necessary energy (or time) to spend many more hours looking for images to toss in.

As a special treat, though, and kind of because Matthew MacNish inspired me with his series on monsters, here's a short excert from The House on the Corner (just to prove that the humor does live inside me (it just may be a little closer to middle school humor than my wife would like)):

Mom opened the door to send us over to get Lewis and Carroll, because we were going trick-or-treating with them. Before we went out the door, I asked, “Mom, what's an imp?”
She frowned at me, “Where did you hear about imps, Sweetheart?”
“Elli said there would be imps outside tonight, and imps are mean because they've been constipated by demons from living too close to Hell.”
Everyone stared at me. I hate that. “What?” I said and made a frowny face.
“What did Elli say about the imps, Sweetie?”
“She said they're constipated.”
Sam started laughing, “Contaminated! Imps are contaminated.”
“Huh?” I said. “Oh, yeah! Contaminated! She said they're contaminated!”
Everyone started laughing. Everyone but me. “What's contaminated?”
Tom said, “Contaminated is like when something is polluted. Pollution contaminates the Earth.”
“What does that mean? Imps aren't the Earth.”
Mom knelt down next to me, “Contaminating something is making something that was good into something that's bad. Like when you leave food out and it gets mold on it.”
“Ohhh...,” I said. “Then, what's constipated?”
Tom and Sam started laughing harder.
That made more mad than when they were laughing before. “What! What does it mean?”
“Constipated is being full of poop,” Sam said and kept laughing.
“Maybe imps are constipated! Maybe that's what makes them so mean!” laughed Tom.
Sam fell on the floor laughing, “They're contaminated with constipation!”
Mom rolled her eyes and shook her head, “Boys... Just ignore them.” She opened the door and walked out with me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cliche Monster

Face it, we all fear and hate the Cliche Monster. All of us. It doesn't matter if you're a writer or not, no one wants to fall into a category. No one wants to be a cliche. At least, not post-high school. During high school, I think about 95% of people want to be a cliche of some sort or another. We even had a group of guys, yes, guys, in my high school that was referred to as the "dime-a-dozen" group. At some point, though, we pass through that stage into the stage where we all hold some inane belief of our own individuality: "We're all individuals!" Except this guy: "I'm not!"

Yes, I do believe it's inane. If it wasn't inane, marketing wouldn't work so well and there wouldn't be demographics. But, face it, most of us, nearly all of us, fall neatly into some demographic or another. A cliche.

It's kind of a funny story:
When my brother was in high school, he went through his "rebel" phase. It would make me laugh. He'd come into my room with his ripped jeans or whatever else and boast to me about how much of a rebel he was, because he was going to go to church like that. I tried to explain to him on more than one occasion that by doing his whole rebel thing, he was just fitting into the whole rebel mold and, therefore, was being the exact opposite of rebellious. He was just fitting the image of the rebel, and, when you're striving to fit an image, you can't be being a rebel. He never got it.

However, I think writers may fear the Cliche Monster more so than your average joe. I mean, there is no greater horror than to have your work labeled as cliche. Typical. Fitting the mold of your genre. Maybe that's why there are so many cross-genre works coming out right now... people trying new ways to not be cliche while falling into the trap of not being cliche in the same way that everyone else is trying to not be cliche. Just like my brother.

Let me just say, right now, that the Cliche Monster is not so fearsome as everyone thinks it is. He's not a ravening beast out to devour your soul and your creative work, but he's actually kind of cuddly. Sort of like Sully from Monsters, Inc. Sure, he can be all fearsome and stuff, but he doesn't have to be.

I see you all out there, right now, dropping your jaws at me and thinking that I'm crazy or that I've lost it. Don't get me wrong, I hate the whole cliche thing, too. Just like everyone else, I think I'm a pretty unique individual. Except, in my case, I know it's true. (heh) And I do it without even trying. (double heh) Which is the best way to be unique.
But, wait, if I'm going on about how unique I am, why am I saying it isn't so bad to fit in. To be a cog. To be a regular, old round peg in a regular, old round hole. Not like the not-even-square peg that I proclaim in the title of my blog?

Let me tell you a story:
When I was in 4th grade, I ran out of school. The problem was that there were still two more years to go in elementary school, but they had nothing left to teach me. It was an interesting situation, because there were three of us like that in the school, and we were all the same age, same class. They had to transfer us to a different school with special classes for smart kids. They called us "gifted and talented," and we got to be in a class full of other kids like us from all over the Parish (because that's what they call counties in Louisiana), and we had a brand, new sparkly teacher. I sort of think, now, that this was the first year they had done this sort of thing, because it was my teacher's first year being a "gifted" teacher, and it was a new program that was being tested (new to the whole country, not just Louisiana, which is a bit ironic considering that Louisiana was 49th in education at the time (but, maybe, they thought they had nothing to lose in Louisiana because of that)). She used to say to us all of the time that she was not a gifted teacher, as everyone called her, but just a normal teacher of the gifted.

She was wrong. She was a gifted teacher. We had her for 5th and 6th grades, and she, along with the science teacher they brought in for us for 6th grade (who worked part time for NASA (how cool is that? (in fact, he was one of the guys that was involved in setting up Space Camp (how even more cool is that?))), changed my life. Opened my eyes. Challenged me in ways that I had never been challenged. In fact, it was in this class that I really learned about reading. Not that I didn't read prior, because I did, but it was in this Gateway class that I really discovered the breadth and scope of books. Something I hadn't really known before as I was completely satisfied with my Hardy Boys books. But, really, that's beside the point.

Anyway... my teacher taught kindergarten when she first started teaching. She said she didn't want to be one of those cliche kindergarten teachers that had the same old, same old clowns and balloons and stuff on the walls year after year. She didn't want to be boring. She wanted her classroom to be unique and original. Not just in general but every year. So the first year she taught, she came up with a theme and decorated her room around that theme, and it was great! The second year, she thought of a new theme and re-did her classroom, and that was great!

After a few years of that, thinking of new themes became a challenge. Having something new and fresh became more and more of a challenge. And that's when she had an epiphany. Although having the same thing in the room year after year might get boring for her, it wouldn't be boring for her students. Every year, they were new students, and, therefore, it didn't matter how she decorated the room, because it was new to the students. Each year, it was their first time to experience it. Especially since she had kindergartners. Nothing she ever had in her room would be cliche to them, because it was a brand new experience every year. So it was clowns. And she left it that way.
[Actually, I don't remember that it was clowns, specifically, but I do remember clowns coming up in that conversation, so it's a good enough example. Don't anyone go all ballistic over the clowns.]

The lesson here is that she embraced the cliche and used it. Turned the ravening beast she'd been fighting into something cuddly. It's an important lesson, and it's stayed with me for three decades.

Let me give you another example:
My introduction to fantasy writing came through Piers Anthony. Not that he was the first fantasy I read, but it was Anthony that prompted me to delve into fantasy for the first time. Anthony lead me to David Eddings and The Belgariad. The Belgariad is one of the absolute best fantasy series I've ever read. Probably second only to Tolkien. The catch? It's completely cliche. Completely. And it was on purpose.

Setting out to write the adventures of Garion, Eddings decided he was going to do an experiment by writing what would be a conventional fantasy novel. Literally, he took all the conventions and worked them into his story. Here's a sample of a check list of the types of things he included:
It's a coming of age story about a boy.
The boy is an orphan.
The boy has a heritage he doesn't know about.
The boy has powers he has yet to discover.
There is a prophecy about the boy.
There is a princess fated to the boy.
There is a party of adventurers. One of them is a scoundrel.

Do you see where that's going? Eddings looked at what was cliche about fantasy, and he embraced it, and he wrote one of the most magical fantasy stories ever. The characters are great. The writing and dialogue are superb. If you like fantasy, it's hard not to like The Belgariad. Even if you know going in that it's designed to encompass everything that's common to the fantasy genre. It is the definition of cliche, but Eddings made it work in a way that I've never seen done by anyone else, and I can't help but suspect it's because he did it on purpose.

Here's the thing: your story... it's not original. My story... it's not original either. No one's story is. Sure, sometimes, you get elements put together in new ways, but, really, none of the... stuff... none of the elements... are new. As Bono says, "Every artist is a thief."
I see people stressing all the time about finding out someone else has already written the story they have in their head or have halfway finished or, even, all the way finished. They find out someone else wrote something that is too close to their story for their comfort, so they shelve their story. Give up on it. "There's no way I can pursue this, because it's already been done." That... that is a mistake. Everything has already been done. If you let that stop you, you'll never write anything.

Take a look back up at that list. That's just a tiny bit of what could be a full list of conventions in fantasy writing, but how many of those apply to Harry Potter? Let's see:
It's a coming of age story about a boy.
The boy is an orphan.
The boy has a heritage he doesn't know about.
The boy has powers he has yet to discover.
There is a prophecy about the boy.

I could even make a case about the party of adventurers with Fred and George being the scoundrels. Does anyone think of Rowling's work as being cliche? Not that I've ever heard. But, yet, there it is. Cliche. But she makes it work.

I'm not going to lie, there are some cliche elements in my book The House on the Corner. Some of them, I even chose on purpose. There are some very Narnia things, because I wanted it to have some very Narnia things. There is a sword not quite in a stone, because I wanted there to be a sword not quite in a stone. I wanted those elements in the book. I wanted something of the familiar there, the things that resonate with us and bring us back to our childhoods or awaken dreams in us as children.

Look... here's what I'm saying: stop stressing over being original. Things that are really original don't come along very often, and they usually don't happen because someone is trying to be original. They usually just happen. Acknowledge that the story you have has been told in some form before. Acknowledge it, and do it anyway. Just because that story's already been told, doesn't mean you can't write a great story. If Rowling had looked at her Potter story and said, "oh, geez, that's been done before" and just given up...? Well... can you imagine, now, a world without Potter?

Tell your story. Tell it the best way you know how. Don't worry about whether it's been done before. It has. Go ahead and do it anyway.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Do We Really Prefer Author's Preferred?

Roughly ten years ago, American Gods was released. The book won a lot of awards in a lot of different categories leading Neil Gaiman to believe that people don't really know what to make of his book. Having been such a big deal, the publisher wanted to release a special 10th anniversary edition, and Gaiman requested that he get to put back in about 12,000 words that had been edited out of the first edition. The publisher agreed, so we now have an "author's preferred text" edition of American Gods. I want to read it.

Why? I really don't know. It's not rational. Despite having thoroughly enjoyed it the first time through (and enjoying Anansi Boys even more), I've had no desire to go back and re-read it. I don't do a lot of re-reading (mostly because there are too many books I haven't read for the first time, yet), so the thought of re-reading Gods had never entered my head. But, despite reviews that mostly say there's nothing significant added back in, and despite the fact that it's been so long since I read it the first time that I wouldn't recognize any changes, anyway, I want to read this new edition. Even Gaiman says, based on how well the book sold, that his editor was probably correct in having him cut the 10,000+ words, but, yet, he wanted them back in the book. So, even though the book might actually be better for the lack of a dozen thousand words, I want to read the book that Gaiman intended it to be before the publishers and their editor got a hold of it.

It's not just Gaiman, either. I'm a sucker for any author's preferred edition of a book or director's cut of a movie. I have an innate distaste for someone coming in from the outside and imposing their view upon an artist. Any artist of any sort. Because who's to say that an editor's opinion will actually improve the work? Not that I don't understand the necessity of editors. Especially in movies. And in writing. I mean, you need someone with a different perspective to come in and ask questions sometimes. "What does this mean?" "What's happening here?" "How did we get to this part over here from where we were over there?" Things the author may miss because they exist in his head, and he can't see that he left a piece out for everyone else. But all of that is different from the specific type of editing I'm getting at. The part where someone comes in and says "change this" or "this is too long, cut this stuff out" or... well, there are too many ors.

 Maybe that's why I like Kevin Smith so much. He does it all himself, and his movies, for better or worse, really are his movies. He writes them, directs them, edits them all to his own vision. I appreciate that.

But does my preference for the author's (or director's) original vision translate to the culture at large? Actually, I think the mass of population really doesn't care. As an audience, we tend to pretend that this whole editing process doesn't happen. We like to believe that what we read is what the author intended for us to read. What we see is the director's vision of how the movie should be and not the studio's vision. But, then, there are a lot of movies out there with director's cuts options, although, mostly, those are just aimed at people that already own the movie and like it enough to double dip so they can see the differences between the two versions. I know I'm guilty.

Still... at some level, I think people do care. When they stop to think about it. If given the choice, people will pick the author's vision over the publisher's vision (or the director's vision over the studio's). I have a lot of supposition here, but what I know is that they keep releasing director's cuts and (to a lesser extent) author's preferred editions. They wouldn't do that if people weren't buying them, right? Right? I suppose the real question is who is buying them? Or maybe that doesn't matter.

I suppose my point lies somewhere in here: people don't read. Half of American adults do not read books. At all. Only about half of households buy even one book a year (some buy more, but that other half doesn't buy any). Even of college graduates, half of them will never read another book after graduation. And here's where it really makes me start to cringe (and this is based on memory (I couldn't find the article again)), only about 1/3 of adults in the USA consider themselves to be readers, and most of them (a huge most) will only read one book a year. One book. In a whole year. I have a hard time with this. Then, again, I have a brother who has never finished a book in his entire life. The closest he got was Adventures of Huckleberry Finn during high school, but he didn't finish it before the test, so he didn't finish it. Yes, this means he hasn't read my book, The House on the Corner, and I'm not expecting that he ever will. At any rate, these are the people that will say things like "it was too long" as a reason for not finishing or not ever picking up a book.

And, yet, this is the target audience for editors when they say, "Hey, your book is too long." Or "If you want more people to buy your book, you need to change x, y, and z." Why do we try to tailor books for these people? These are not the people that are buying most books. Certainly not the people reading most books. Remember that 50% of households and how they buy only one book a year? 50% of those books will go unread. These are not the people going back to buy the author's preferred edition.

The people going back to buy the book for a second time are people that read. And I don't mean one book a year people, I mean people that read. [I did try to find a statistic for people that read more than, say, 3 books a year, but I continued to just find more and more data about how 50% of Americans don't read at all. It got depressing, so I quit looking.] My impression is that most readers, when they find a story they love, want it to keep going. So, yes, when an author's preferred edition comes out with an extra 10,000 words, they want to read it. It may not be rational, but the desire is there.

To be completely honest, I haven't experienced an author's preferred edition that was really worth buying the book twice for, but I would have preferred to have had the author's version the first time. And I've only seen one director's cut of a movie that I thought was a significant improvement over the original: Daredevil. But, then, I liked the original; I just like the director's cut more. In fact, if I'm going to have a super hero movie on in the background, the director's cut of Daredevil is my choice. But, with most movies, it's nothing more than an interesting comparison. And, unfortunately, the director's cut of Highlander II did (very) little to improve it, even if they did cut out all mentions of Zeist. The main "improvement" of an author's edition is that it allows the reader to stay immersed for a greater length of time. Maybe that's all the improvement that's needed? Certainly, that's the reason that supplemental texts to The Lord of the Rings continue to be released. Lovers of Middle-Earth just want more of it. And Tolkien's publishers told him it was too long. (Not to mention the extended cuts of the movies.)

At the core, especially for Americans, I think we all want to see what the author intended for us to see. Maybe, MAYBE, more people would read if we let authors write their own stories instead of letting editors and publishers tell the author what they think the author should be writing. We certainly couldn't do worse. We have so many people saying "this is what people want," "this is what you need to write," "this is what you need to make" that everything is the same and no one wants any of it. Okay, that's not precisely true, but the things that really make it are the things that people that "know" said would never work. Like Harry Potter. People want to see the vision of the author (or director) for the story, not what the publisher (or studio) believes people want to see (I could go into Sony's insistence on the inclusion of Venom in Spider-Man 3 and how most people feel about that movie, but I think we just assume that conversation and skip it).

The fact that we have people that are willing to go back and buy what is essentially the same product twice so that they can experience a story the way the creator of the story intended it to be experienced says a lot to me. Primarily, it says that publishers should allow authors greater creative freedom. Publishers should stop trying to make everything fit into specific molds. Authors are good enough at following the popular route on their own that they don't really need any help from publishers in that. Or, you know, maybe it's all a scheme from the publishers... edit books down to fit arbitrary criteria so that, later, they can release the author's preferred text and make money twice. Don't laugh. I wouldn't put it past them!

Deleted scene:
In the spirit of the whole author's preferred text idea, I'm going to share a paragraph that got cut out. It's a good paragraph, but my post changed directions about halfway through, and, when I went back and re-structured the whole thing, the paragraph really didn't fit back in.

 Books, as they've been for at least the past many decades, are not the work of the author. Not just the author, at any rate. Yes, the author writes the book, but, once a publisher agrees to publish the book, it becomes subject to editing by the publisher. I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. By all accounts, many of the people we view as the greats could never have been published without the assistance of one or more editors to get their manuscripts into the kind of shape that would enable an audience to read said manuscript. I think it was Faulkner (although I may be misremembering) that was notorious for turning in piles of pages with just one or two words on them each and no way of knowing what order the pages belonged. Maybe that, in the end, explains his stream-of-consciousness writing.

There you go. A rare deletion from me. Rare because I don't often go back and completely re-write. I'm pretty good at knowing where I'm going when I start writing, but this post fooled me and changed directions causing me to have to go back and start over. However, it does give me this opportunity to include this cut bit even if the post is a day later than I intended it to be.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Audition Process

My oldest son is in choir in high school. Well, he's in the ArtQuest program in drama, but he takes choir along with that. He's learning a lot about auditioning by being involved in this program. To begin with, he had to audition just to get into the ArtQuest program. Even if he'd been in the district of the school, he still would have had to audition to get into ArtQuest. That particular audition wasn't a huge deal. Here's the thing: he's a boy (obviously), and they always need more guys in the drama program (the choir program, too), so he was (almost) a shoe in (something like 85% of the boys that auditioned got accepted (I don't know the exact number and am guessing based on the number of boys my son auditioned with vs the number of those same boys that ended up in his drama group)).

Being in the ArtQuest drama program means that my son has to audition for at least two community productions each school year. That's an interesting requirement. Not be in any outside performances, just audition for them. Obviously, they think knowing how to audition is important. I don't think they actually expect that any of the students will actually get cast. Or maybe they do. One of the two productions my son auditioned for last year was The Pirates of Penzance. We were surprised to find out that he was chosen, because, honestly, we just didn't expect it. Other than the (deleted) shows he was in in middle school, he hadn't done anything. Basically, no experience. But he has a lot of charisma. And he got cast.
But I digress... This is about choir, not drama.

My son didn't want to be in choir. However, my wife took high school choir and is gifted musically, and I was involved in church choir, although I wouldn't say I'm gifted musically. In fact, when people find out I can sing at all, they are often very surprised. heh (Remember that stuff about singing on the phone...) At any rate, my wife kept suggesting that he take choir, that it was one of her best memories from high school, and he kept protesting. And I would remind him that both Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman can sing and dance, but he maintained a "so what" attitude about it. Until a girl at school started telling him about how great choir is, so he dropped Spanish I and took choir. Like I said, he's a boy.

He figured out pretty quickly that he loves choir. And I don't even think it's mostly due to the high girl to boy ratio. Beginning choir is the, for no apparent reason, ACappella group. I say no apparent reason, because they do not perform a cappella. It's a mystery to me. That was last year, though, so I'm trying to pretend it doesn't exist, now.

This year... well, this year is different. But let me backtrack a moment. His debut concert for the year was last week, and that's what has me going on about all of this. This year is concert choir. They call it their advanced group, but they only have the two options for the boys: beginning and advanced. The intermediate group is girls only. But that's not precisely true. There's another group called Chamber Singers. This is the actual advanced group. The other classes are like any other high school class, you sign up for it. So, no matter how badly you may suck, if you've taken beginning choir, you can sign up for the next level, but that's not true with Chamber Singers. Chamber Singers has to be auditioned for. And it's pretty accepted that it's for juniors and seniors. You have to be serious about the whole choir thing to be in Chamber Singers. You have to be in concert choir and, then, audition for the privilege to get to come to school for 0 period and have an extra class of choir every day of the school week.

What's 0 period, you ask? That's the class that starts at the butt crack of dawn (translated as 7:00am) that they have to be there by 6:45am which causes the students to have to get up at around 5:30AM in order to be there on time. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

School started off this year with my son in concert choir as he should be, and all was well with the world. They announced auditions for Chamber Singers. Just to make this clear, my son is a sophomore this year, and Chamber Singers is almost exclusively juniors and seniors. Not that auditions are restricted to juniors and seniors, because you only need to be in concert choir to audition, but that's how it works out. These are the guys and gals that are serious about their singing (and I just have to say some of these kids are amazing). My son decided to audition. Many of his friends told him he shouldn't bother. He's a sophomore. He'd never make it. (Some of you are seeing where this is going.) He talked it over with us. Basically, our advice to him was that he should not not audition. Sure, he probably wouldn't make it, but it would be a good experience, and it wouldn't cost him anything (not even his dignity). It's one of those things where if you don't do it (ask a girl out), then you don't get to do it (go on a date with the girl), but, if you do it, although you may still not get to do it (because she might (and, in some cases, will probably) say no), it might work (she might surprise you with a yes). So what did he have to lose? If he didn't audition, he would certainly not get to be in Chamber Singers, but, by auditioning, there was the chance, however small it might be.

And he made it in. Not necessarily because he's a great singer (he's still working on that), but they (always) need boys, and he was good enough. I mean, it's not like they took every boy that auditioned, so he made the grade even if he's not as amazing as some of the other boys that have been in Chamber for multiple years.
(Yes, this means I have to get up at 5:30AfreakingM every morning to make his lunch and make sure he gets off to school okay. But it's worth it (I think).)

Which finally brings me to my point. As I was sitting and listening to the choir teacher explain what they have to go through to be in Chamber Singers and how daunting it must have been to audition, and I know he was daunted, because he came home talking about how great some of the other boys' auditions were and how he would surely not make it, because, in comparison, he sucked, I realized that this is what's it should be like to write. The audition process that is. If you want to write, you have to approach it all the same way my son did with his audition to get into Chamber Singers.

You look at it and realize, "Wow, there are a lot of talented writers there trying to get into that group. I certainly don't measure up against them."  Still, "What have I got to lose, though?" Not trying is the same as failing, after all. So you write your book, and, even as you are looking around at the other books out there (like Rowling, Mary Doria Russel, Stephen Lawhead) and feeling completely daunted, you go forward anyway. Because, sometimes, sometimes you make it. Sure, you're not the best, but you're good enough. And, in the end, that's what really matters. Being good enough. (Unless you're my daughter, in which case you do have to be the best, because she has to win at everything (and don't even think about playing board games with her, because she has uncanny luck with  them).) Then, once you're in, you continue to get better until that time someone new comes along and is looking at you the way you used to look at all the other writers there before you.

Unfortunately, the writing world isn't really like auditioning for my son's choir group. You know, a place where things are based on merit and skill. No, the writing world is more like a cattle call. Hundreds of people show up and some bored guy comes out and "randomly" (>snicker<) selects a hand full of people to join him. Sure, they keep going through that process until they have some people they can use, but most people are turned away without a chance because they failed to be wearing a white shirt with red spots on the particular day. Or didn't have a tall enough hat on. Or failed to wear a blinking, neon sign over their head saying "pick me." Or did wear the sign, but everyone else showed up with one, too.

Still... you can't let the reality of the situation keep you from trying. Reduced down, it's still like my son going out to audition for Chamber Singers. You're always going to go into these things without enough experience, skill, and clout, but you have to do it anyway. Even though you may never be the best, you don't have to be the best to be good enough. In  the end, I think "good enough" is all that's really important as long is "good enough" is your best. Because that's what my son did, his best. It wasn't the best, but it was good enough. And "good enough" is a good place to start.

And, because it feels appropriate to repeat:
Jim Butcher (of The Dresden Files) says that being published is like being chased by a grizzly bear. You don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the guy next to you.
I'll leave that to you to puzzle out.
heh heh

Friday, October 14, 2011

Paying It Forward -- A Blogfest

Today is the day of the Pay It Forward blogfest hosted by, um, you know, some people somewhere. Actually, I do know who's hosting it, but I don't really want to tell you. I mean, we're supposed to be highlighting some under the radar type blogs, and the guys putting this show on don't really fly under the radar. These are the guys doing the fly-bys of the tower. So, yeah, I'm not gonna mention them by name or link. >shrug< Chances are you already know anyway.

It's a cool idea, and it sounds easy enough. But it's not. I mean, it's not just supposed to be blogs that people may not know about, but it's also supposed to be blogs that you really like. Hmm... okay... blogs I really like that people may not know about. Three of them. Sure, it could be more, but, really, do you have time to go through every blog on my list? I didn't think so. Especially with everyone else doing this today. Not that I have time to do that, either.

So I'm tweaking the criteria just a bit. I'm going to list the blogs that, when I see they've posted, I absolutely must read. Yeah, I'm admitting I don't always read every post that everyone does from each blog that I follow. But, you know, I do have kids. And writing to do, and, sometimes, I just run out of time. I do my best. I'm not going to list every blog that I always read, because, honestly, some of them don't fly under the radar. One in particular I can think of that I would like to mention, but I'm just not going to. So take heart! Just because your blog isn't on this list, it doesn't mean I'm not reading every single post, it might, but it doesn't necessarily mean that. I suppose this is kind of like how, in a firing squad, they load one of the guns with blanks.

Anyway... here's my list. Go check them out.
(Oh, and these are in no particular order.)

Grumpy Bulldog's Blog: Rogue Mutt is kind of always amusing in his surliness. Mostly, though, I'm listing him because he just moved his blog address, and, having just moved for real, I know what kind of a pain that is. And he moved, like, to a whole new blog city! So, yeah, if you haven't checked his blog out, go do it.

Barbara Kloss: She's smart, and she has a book I want to read. That should be enough.

Concrete Pieces Of Soul: It's a great title. And she's getting married. But I just enjoy her blog.

It's the world, dear: One of my favorite blogs. Especially when she rips into hipsters. All about life in New York. And I'm waiting for her book!

Serendipity's Library: My favorite blog of quirkiness and home to the freakiest doll since Chucky. Even though she refuses to be my best blog friend, I still haunt her blog.

The Blutonian Death Egg: Possibly, the greatest name in blog history. And he did the cover of my book (check it out). But I was reading his blog way before that, and so should you.

So, yeah, more than 3, but they're the ones I stop for. Always something interesting and well done. If they're worth my time, I know they're worth yours!

Oh, and just one more... she's kind of absent of late (with reason), but she has a great blog: Small World, Big Dreams. Normally, I wouldn't send anyone to a blog where the owner isn't posting regularly, but Alyssia's is worth the time, anyway.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Random Rant

I'm going to let you all in on a little secret. I can be obnoxious. I mean really obnoxious. And I don't mean the kind of fun obnoxious; I mean the kind of obnoxious that makes you want to hit said obnoxious person. Mostly, these days, I have that under control. It's taken a long time, though.

For instance, when I "discovered" music when I was in high school, I dominated music everywhere I went. Except, you know, that crap they play in elevators and department stores, and the only reason I didn't was because I didn't know how to go about changing it. I carried a tape deck with me all the time, rarely using headphones. I sang along with the radio when I was on the phone pretty much throughout high school. I took control of radios and tape decks in my friends' cars without regard to what anyone else might want to hear. I'd even make people sit in their cars long enough to finish whatever song was on, even if it was on a tape.

No one ever (and has never) said anything to me about my behavior. In fact, I kind of became the music guy, and people just let me do that. They knew I'd have music to listen to when, generally, they'd forgotten to bring anything. It was years before I realized that there was anything wrong with the way I behaved. It makes me wish someone had said something to me about it back then, especially about the singing on the phone. It's more than a little bit embarrassing at this point in my life.

So... not obnoxious because I was trying to be or trying to be funny, just obnoxious because I was obnoxious. The other really obnoxious behavior I had back then (in high school) was correcting people when they were wrong. Especially with grammar. And I don't mean when I was in a conversation, because that's somewhat acceptable, but I would pop into conversations completely independent of myself and correct people. Ob. Nox. Ious.
But, again, just trying to be helpful. And I didn't realize, at the time, that people didn't really appreciate that sort of thing. See, I was kind of under the impression that people would be grateful for being corrected. I mean, I don't like being wrong, so, if I say something that's wrong, and you point it out to me, I tend to be more like, "oh, I didn't know that. Thanks!" Other people... not so much. Not a way to win friends and influence people.

Fortunately, I did wise up (mostly) by the time I was out of high school.

I did say mostly. Because I'm about to unleash a little bit of obnoxious.

I hate (HATE) the way people misuse the word "random." HATE IT! Did I mention that I hate it?

There are these constant posts titled things like "5 Random things on a Friday" or those blog awards that say to list "7 Random Facts" about yourself. Oh! My! Gosh! These things are NOT random! NOT NOT NOT!

Maybe I wouldn't be so sensitive to this if I didn't live with a teenager who fancies himself to be random. And he's totally not. I can see it in his face when he's trying to be random. We'll be talking about something, and he will pause, thinking, and, then, pop out with something about a completely different topic. But, you see, he stopped to think about it. Weighed it. Made a judgement about what would seem the most random thing he could say and, then and only then, said it. That whole process takes all the random out of it. I lost track of the number of conversations we had with him over a couple of years explaining all this to him. He's finally stopped doing that. Just in time for his younger brother to begin fancying it. >sigh<

I really don't understand the worship of "random" currently running through our culture. It's as if something is made inherently better by being random. The problem being that none of these things are, actually, random. But why do we even want them to be?

I have quit following more than a few blogs due to the overuse of these "5 Random Things" posts. Things that were clearly related to each other, immediately cancelling any randomness. Or introduced by "here are some thoughts I was having." Again, NOT random! Or "here's what I did last night." NOT RANDOM!!! If it's not going to be random, don't call it random!

I think, though, my favorite are the awards that say to list some "random" things about yourself. How many people do that? My guess: none. Because, before anyone lists anything on those things, they decide what they want people to know and list only those things. Nothing listed is random. In fact, other than Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, not a lot in life is random. Even things that may seem upon casual inspection to be random. But that gets a little metaphysical, and I don't want to go there. The thing is, if you really want to list random things about yourself, you'd have to make out a list of all the things about yourself (or a gosh darn lot of them) and then choose randomly (and blindly) from the list and print whatever came up. The good and the bad. Not really sure we have a lot of people willing to do that.

Maybe the problem is that people don't know what random means? So... here I am, breaking in on conversations all over the blogosphere, correcting everyone, releasing the obnoxious inside. Here is what random means:

random: proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern

I just want to point out the word "reason" in the above definition. Seriously, how much do you do without reason being involved in some way? Well, okay, maybe that is valid for teenagers, especially the ones in middle school, but still... It certainly doesn't apply to anyone sitting down to write a blog post. Reason immediately begins its work to help you formulate your thoughts and get them down on paper, so to speak. So, for the LOVE OF GOD, stop using the word "random" just to make it sound like you didn't put any thought into your post! This isn't college where the freshman girls are showing up to class completely made up while trying to look like they just woke up that way. No! This is junior year where everyone (everyone!) rolls out of bed 5 minutes before class and drags themselves across campus in sweats or whatever they could conveniently get into and not get kicked out of class for indecent exposure. Stop TRYING to be random! The fact that you're TRYING negates the whole thing!

Okay, rant over. I guess. Man, it feels good to get that off of my chest. I'll put the obnoxious back in the box, now.

And, now, for something completely random...
Oh, wait... I mean "and, now, it's time for something completely different." But that's a topic for another conversation.

If you're still here after all of that, I've been interviewed over at Cally Jackson Writes. Yes, she has put me in her hot seat. You should hop over there and check it out!

Before I go, I do want to remind everyone about the Pay It Forward Blogfest. There's still time to get signed up for it if you click the linky I left. I'll be posting my three picks on Friday... once I figure out what they are. It's the whole "under the radar" part that makes this difficult for me, so I'll be hopping around to the blogs I follow over the next couple of days trying to determine which ones I think fit the description the best.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Do or do not! There is no try."

One of the more common themes I see as I hop around the bloggypads is that of people waiting for inspiration to strike. Or for some muse or other to show up. Considering the number of muses that must be roaming around out there at this point, I have a hard time thinking that there aren't plenty to go around. Or people hopping from one project to the next because new inspiration has struck. Maybe it's little muses on writers' shoulders whispering in their ears like angels and demons. No wonder no one can stick to anything.

I get it. I do. Writing is hard. Really hard. Not all writing, of course. Some of it's really easy, but that's not generally the kind of writing you can make a living doing. Writing a novel, though, is hard. People don't appreciate how hard it is to write a book, because most people can write. Not a book, but, you know, they can write. They do teach it in school, after all. It's like running. Pretty much everyone can run if they have to. Most people don't like running (like me), so they never do it. Some people feel it's necessary, so they jog or whatever to keep healthy. Some people have to be able to run as part of a job whether they like the running aspect or not. Some people enjoy running, though (the fools!), and they run for fun going out at the butt crack of dawn when all reasonable people are warm in bed. Some people, though, enjoy it so much they make it more than just a hobby. They do things like run marathons. And writing a book is like running a marathon.

The real issue with writing is that most of the people I see through their blogs want to run a marathon, but they're still busy treating their writing like a morning jog. In other words, they like doing it, but, you know, it's too cold, today, so I'm going to stay in. Or I'm just feeling a bit lazy, today, so I'm going to sit and have some more coffee. Or they go on their jog, but they never really push themselves. They run just enough to feel good and pat themselves on the back, but they never really make the effort to go farther or faster. Staying in one's comfort zone is, after all, comfortable.

Like I said, I get it. I started my first book back during my college days. I was actually on hiatus from school and working as a glorified babysitter called a substitute teacher. I did a lot of reading that year, but, also, I started writing a book. It was about a dragon. I still think it's a good story, and I may have it buried somewhere, but, really, I didn't get very far into it. Basically, as soon as I started getting winded, I said that's enough. I let it sit around and sit around and never got back to it. That was almost 20 years ago. It was a nice morning jog that didn't go anywhere.

I've had several of those over the years. Heck, I have (or had) notebooks full of stuff back in high school and college. Unfortunately, more than a small amount of that is poetry, but we're just gonna move on past that. [Really, one of these days, I'll get around to talking about poetry.] The problem was that I wanted to head out on a morning jog and have it end up a marathon. Somehow, I'd get into the zone and just run and run and, at some point, realize I'd done the whole 26 miles. And writers do this, too. They sit down at their keyboard and start writing and hope (for lack of a better term) that inspiration will strike and they will be filled to bursting with words and before they know it, there's a whole, perfect book in front of them.

It just doesn't work that way. Not unless you're Coleridge and taking illegal substances, and you can see how well that turned out for him.

What it really comes down to is that if you want to be a writer, you have to treat it like it's your job. The biggest thing about a job is that you have to do it no matter how you feel. Well, you do if you want to get paid. I don't know of any jobs that continue to pay you if you only show up to work when you feel inspired to do so. If you know of any, please let me know what they are! At any rate, if you want to be a writer, you have to show up to work. Period.

It's about being proactive. Don't wait for inspiration to come to you; go and get it. If you work at it, you'll discover that you have inspired moments, and the more you work at it, the more often those will occur. When you just sit around waiting for them to come... well, that's kind of like waiting to be struck by lightning. Yes, it happens, but, really, do you actually know anyone that's been struck by lightning? It is possible, though, to make the lightning come to you, but that's where the effort comes in.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you how to do it. I can tell you what did it for me (actually, I did that, already, way back in this post), but you have to figure out your own trick about how to get serious. Set aside specific time for it. Set word count goals. Whatever it is, you have to do it. See, the real key is that it has to come from inside. And that's the main difference from waiting for lightning and catching lightning. One is external and one is internal. You can't do it until you internalize it. Like going on a diet.

Because going on a "diet" is external. You expect the "diet" to work some kind of magic on you and change you without you really having to do anything. Diets only work when the person puts in the effort, and, then, the particular diet doesn't matter. Any diet will do; they're just different plans to get you to the same place, but you have to follow the plan.

I love the old movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. [No, I do not love the book nor do I love the newer version of the film.] Wouldn't it be great to be Charlie and have all your dreams come true through no effort of your own. Just have some benevolent being look down, see your worth, and grant all your wishes. That's what waiting for inspiration to strike is like. Liek Charlie waiting to find the Golden Ticket; although, even Charlie had to go to the effort to buy the candy bar, and it seems like even that's a bit too much effort for some people these days. But wouldn't that story have been so much more interesting if, instead of waiting for a golden ticket, Charlie had taken matters into his own hands and sneaked into the factory himself? If he had done something to make it happen.

Not to steal a slogan from a popular athletic line, but you really have to just do it. You have to make the decision. You have to put in the effort. You have to get to work. Make it your job. Even if that means making it your second job. Or your third. If you want it, you have to do it. Because, in the end, in the wise words of a particular little green guy:

"Do or do not. There is no try."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Editing Your Life

As I may have mentioned, we moved. Moving is a strange process. It starts out all nice and polite, but, in the end, it always gets ugly. Sometimes violent. It starts out as the army recruiter, all smiles and handshakes, and turns into the drill sergeant, all push-ups in the rain and mud.
And it did rain, too. I spent the last day unloading the truck in a nice drizzle.

In the beginning, the most important items are carefully boxed and moved in an orderly fashion from one dwelling to the other. The big things, not in size necessarily, but the things you can't live without. And I'm not talking toiletries here (because you can go out and buy a new toothbrush); I'm talking about the things that give your life meaning. The things where the value isn't always obvious to an outsider. During this process, you actively choose to cut some things loose. Things that, at one time, held meaning for you but no longer do. You pick it up, examine it, remember what it was to you, and decide to let it go. At first, this process is kind of enjoyable. Looking back over your life and making decisions about where to take it.

And there are, also, just the big things. The furniture. Beds. Which things go. Which things get tossed because "I always hated that table." Which things get replaced. And you move on down from there.

We have so many books. Some of them were still boxed up from the last move, and that was 8 years ago. Sorting through the books is a somewhat arduous process, but we just can't keep them all (as much as I would probably like to). We ended up with something like four big bags of books to trade in at the used book store and who knows how many that we donated (because they were either hardback (so the used book store wouldn't take them) or of a type that the used book store wouldn't be interested in), but it was more than what we're going to trade. And, still, we have sooo many books (and nowhere to put them (I imagine we're going to have even more boxes of books sitting around until our next move)). [Don't even ask me how many copies of the various Harry Potter books we had laying around. It was obscene. I -think- we have it cut down to one set of hardbacks, now.]

And don't get me started on the toys. Only the girls in the family are any good at letting go of those things. Even things that haven't been played with in years. But, to quote Tom from The House on the Corner, "Just because I haven't played with a toy in a few months doesn't mean I don't want it." And that's how my boys feel about their stuff, even if it has been years and even if it's trash. Yes, the older one, the one that's in high school, collects pieces of trash. As he puts it, "It's cool trash, Dad." We just won't tell him how much I threw away during this move, okay.

But the hardest things are the things we don't really want to get rid of but feel it's for the best. I have, well, had, this jacket. My best friend in college gave it to me. While we were in college. Yes, that makes the coat more than 15 years old. I loved it. Not because it was a great coat but because my friend gave it to me. He gave it to me because all I ever wore was this flimsy, red windbreaker. At the time (which is not the case, now), I was not often inclined to being cold, and, generally, the windbreaker was enough. But he felt like I should be more prepared for cold weather (and rightly so), so he bought me a coat for Christmas one year. After 15 years, it was falling apart. Literally. I couldn't risk washing it anymore, because it couldn't take it. And, being much more inclined to being cold these last few years, it no longer did the job of keeping me warm which was compounded by the fact that it had become much too large for me. No, not because it got bigger but because I've shrunk. Not gotten shorter, either. So I held it up, and my wife, who has been telling me for years that I should move on to a new coat, said, "You can keep it if you want it." And I wanted to. I told her I wanted to. But it wasn't useful anymore. In fact, it was just taking up space, even if it wasn't a whole lot of space. I realized it was time for it to go even though I did love it, and I made a final walk with it out to the dumpster, just me and the coat, and tossed it in. Yes, I'll miss that old coat, but, really, it no longer did the job for which it was intended and only had any meaning to me.

At the very end comes the "panic packing."* You know, when you're running out of time to get out of  the old place and the remaining things, although sometimes necessary items, are unimportant items. They could be replaced, but you just don't want to have to replace everything. At some point in there, my wife said to me, "We're at the point where anything that's not obviously trash is a keep," meaning just throw it into the closest box and it can be sorted later, and I said, "No, we're at the point where anything that isn't obviously a keep is trash." She laughed, but it was true.

Somewhere in between throwing out my jacket and the panic packing, I realized that the whole moving thing is like editing your manuscript. You start out by identifying the really important aspects and mark them as "keep." You go on to the pieces that support or make sense out of your overall work and mark them as "keep." Sometimes, you find some bit that you love or, even, really love, and realize that it actually doesn't serve any purpose and gets in the way of the story for other people. Because, really, when I wore my old, beloved coat, I looked somewhat homeless, and that's not the look you want when you're hanging out in the school playground waiting for your kids or, even, at the grocery store. Likewise, you don't want things in your writing that are distracting from your story just because you love it. In the end, you're slashing words left and right. You're doing searches for "really" and taking them all out, and, when you get really desperate, you're doing searches for "ly" and blasting every adverb you find.

Of course, when you get over to the new place, you realize you threw away some things you hadn't intended to. Or, for some, you threw them away on purpose because you needed a new and better one. So you start filling in the gaps. Some of those gaps will be adverbs. Because, you know, they're really not as evil as everyone says they are.

At any rate, what you hope for is a cleaner manuscript with a clearer purpose. Just like with moving. A cleaner, less cluttered home with a clearer purpose for the future. I can't even begin to convey to you how much trash we threw out. It starts with a full dumpster of stuff from our apartment and goes on from there.

Of course, going through everything, I realized that I live as a plotter. My wife is more of a pantser. I evaluate things as I go, so the things I have at the end are mostly things I want to keep. I do want to keep a lot, though, unfortunately. It makes decisions about what to get rid of much more difficult. My wife stores things up to go through later, so the tossing out becomes relatively easy for her. I could probably go into this in more detail, but it's really only a side thought, and I don't want to get punched by my wife.

So... here we are with a newly edited life. Not that we're through with the process. It's just the first pass, so to speak. There are still toys to deal with. They just don't all fit. It's like having too many words. Somehow, we have to get those toys down to the designated word count despite the protests of our boys. Not that I'm really one to have much respect for word count limitations. I believe in telling the story the way it needs to be told and to heck with the word count. That's sort of how we should live our lives, too. Not that we should clutter it up, but to heck with the limitations that others want to impose on us. Only you can live your life, and you should live it the way you want to do it (you know, as long as you're not infringing on someone else). And, if you're a writer, it's your book. Write your story the way you want it to be. Make it the story you want to read, because, in the end, that's all you can do with any certainty.

* Panic packing is a term my wife says she coined. I can't dispute this as the only other people I've heard use it are friends of hers whom she says got it from her.