Monday, June 27, 2011

Lovin' the Language

I'm not here right now, but I've prepared this lovely post for your enjoyment. It's part of the Lovin' the Language Blogfest instigated by Jolene Perry. Go here to get links to the others.

And what is it? I've picked five lines (passages, actually) from my work-in-progress, Drivers. (It's about a suicide-mission driver who falls in love and changes his mind about dying.) They make me laugh, smile, or cry each time I read them. (I hope they don't make y'all cry.)

So, uh, here they are, out of context and without any introduction:

ONE

“Ash.” Zephyr’s breath touches my chin, she’s that close. “Thanks for saving my life today.” 
“Do you mean that?” 
“I—” Her voice chokes off. Her head doesn’t move, but I feel it pulling, straining against a spider-silk strand of something between us, so fragile. Don’t break it, Zephyr. 
“I mean it.”
TWO
Time stops in the middle of a heartbeat. In the air between Zephyr’s hands and my feet, a perfect universe has formed to contain me. I don’t dare breathe, and scarcely dare to think for fear of screwing this up. That’s what I do with everything—screw it up. I flunk classes, scare girls away, alienate family, get fired, wreck cars, lose phones, and how am I supposed to respond to this? What’s my line, the one that will bind us together in blissful happiness at the end of this movie? I don’t know. I never know.
THREE
“It’s trading one kind of pain for another. A small cut, or even a large one, is a distraction. It’s not real damage. It’s not like burning alive. No, we’re looking for quick, clean deaths, aren’t we? I’ve no doubt there are things that would make you run into a burning building, but depression isn’t one of them.”
FOUR
She pulls back, still grinning. “I love you, Ash Palmer.” 
“I love you too, Zephyr…oh, crap.” 
“I’ll let you call me the Wicked Wind of the West, but I draw the line at Zephyr O’Crap.” 
“I can’t remember your last name. Something Greek.”
FIVE


Words shred my voice. Tattered ribbons, like life itself. Unraveling as I drive. And all around, the world is scorched, littered with ruins. Bodies. Death and pain left by her passing.



Just like me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Note to Self: Relax

What makes me do what I do and think what I think and feel what I feel? Every time I try to figure one of those things out, it spins up a lovely frustration in my mind. Does anyone really know?

Early Monday morning, I'll be leaving for a Boy Scout camp. Twelve and thirteen year old boys are deceptively simple. A primary motivation for them is impressing each other, usually by making the others laugh, frequently at their leaders' expense. It's a simple motivation. The deceptive part is that there are so many other things going on in their heads that I'll never know or understand.

So how do you deal with kids like that? I'll let you know when I figure it out. I guess what I'm thinking is that if I don't even know what makes me tick, I've no hope of deciphering the early adolescent mind. Especially since each one is unique.

There are no formulas and no hard rules. You've just got to take things as they come, correct yourself when you're wrong, correct them when they're wrong, and do your best at figuring out which is which. You try to understand people, and sometimes you do. When you don't, it's not a calamity. Don't get frustrated—especially when it's yourself you don't understand.

Note to Self:  Relax, Ben. Nobody's perfect. Nothing goes completely as planned.

This applies to, oh, pretty much life in general.

Monday, June 20, 2011

(screams) READ ME!

Ash is a suicide bomber. Not the kind you think. He drives an expendable armed robotic vehicle—from the inside. No one even knows he’s there. But it’s an important job and it pays well. Sure, it’s literally a dead end job, but that’s what he wanted when he took it. 
Ash turns out to be better at staying alive than anyone expected. And since meeting Zephyr—since falling in love with her—he has a lot more to lose. They don’t want to die, anymore. 
The problem now is the unwritten fine print of their employee agreement. They can’t quit. They know too much. A corporate security team, two armies, and their own inner demons will try to stop them. 
What do they have? Zephyr’s brains, Ash’s photography skills, and a couple of armed vehicles everyone thinks are unmanned and will be told are out of control.
DRIVERS is a psychological thriller for young adults, 77,000 words after the second draft. 
I told Ammii this morning that it needs to make you want to read more. Also, it needs to answer more questions than it raises, aside from obvious questions about what happens. It should not be boring, confusing, or poorly written.

So tell me, does it work for YOU? (Whether or not you're a writer yourself.) Anything I should maybe, possibly change?

(Yes, I know the second sentence isn't. A sentence, that is. Also, I wrote it for young adults, 17-23.  That puts it outside the normal "YA" range and into general fiction, so I may not mention the intended audience.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Psyched out

You know what's hard to write about? Death. I can't write convincingly without first finding a connection from my own life. Meaning, I have to literally feel what I'm writing. I don't know, maybe this is a crippling limitation. But it's my art, right? I've gotta find what works for me, and the climax I've written doesn't yet.

The thing is, I've never lost anyone that close to me. I'm grateful for that. I don't want to. But I still have to find some way to feel like I have, some time in my life where maybe I thought I had, and then let my imagination take it from there.

One of those times was recently, when my youngest daughter kept vomiting for no apparent reason. The doctor ordered a CT scan of her brain—just in case. Wait a minute. Just in case what? She has a tumor that's increasing her intracranial pressure?

Faced with that possibility, it was easy to imagine how it would feel to lose her. I was in tears just rolling through possibilities in my mind. (Turns out it was cyclic vomiting syndrome. Relatively harmless. Like hiccups of the digestive tract.)

So that's a start. And there are other scares I've had. Drawing on those, I need to connect with Ash, somehow. The fact that he's not sure who's died makes uncertainty the biggest player. I've certainly experienced that. Uncertainty that burns and climbs to your fingers, stretches, grasps at time itself but only slides and falls.

I have a good imagination, but I can't conjure up feelings from nowhere. I have to psych myself into them—without psyching myself out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Random Sunday Thoughts

Look at that picture of me. Over there. I really do sit like that, with one hand against my chin, jaw or some other part of my head. Frequently it's just a couple fingers. Sometimes I cover my mouth. But I do it all the time. Weird. Yet another reason I don't like to watch video of myself.

Everyone talks about how getting critiques back from people is scary. Or any sort of feedback about their writing. Personally, it's doing the critiquing that terrifies me. I mean, I've got this precious thing, someone's baby, in my arms. I'm supposed to look it over quick, sometimes one piece at a time, and tell them how to raise it. Like, what if I give bad advice and the thing dies an untimely death? Even if it's good advice, is it really my place to contribute? I try really hard not to make stuff up just for the sake of saying something. If there's nothing wrong with it, there's nothing wrong with it. At the same time, if I don't see anything wrong with it, maybe I'm just blind. Does it mean I'm a bad critique partner if I just say it's great? I try to couch everything in uncertain terms like "you might consider," or "what if?"

I have a one track mind. Multitasking? I don't see how it's possible, and don't think it really is. Some people are just really good at task switching. Me, I can block out everything but what I'm reading, even if it's only ad copy in a magazine. (So long as it's interesting ad copy.) Someone can be sitting right next to me, talking directly to me, and I'll look up in surprise after a few minutes and wonder when they got there.

This annoys my wife, sometimes. I like to think I'm focussed. That's another word for oblivious, depending on your point of view.

My wife's name is Ann Marie. I call her Ammii. She likes spelling it that way. It looks Finnish. It's also cute. I feel very fortunate to be married to her. She's the reason I write about romantic love.

Okay, so I'm a hopeless romantic. She's the reason I'm a happy romantic. Everyone should be so blessed. I believe that eventually everyone will be, or at least get the chance. Maybe that's why I give it to my characters.

Ammii doesn't like the mushy stuff. She's kind of a tomboy. If I can write a mushy scene that she likes, I know I've done well.

We're a perfect match.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thirteen Reasons

Okay, so I know I've been posting a lot of depressing suicide-related stuff on here, but I'm kind of writing a book about it, you know? Like the thing over there -> says, I write about basically whatever I want. And today I want to talk about Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Even if you've never read Thirteen Reasons, you've probably heard of it. It's the story of Hannah who recently committed suicide as told on audiotapes to the thirteen people she blames for pushing her to it. Actually, it's Clay's story as he listens to the tapes. He had a crush on Hannah, but didn't act to stop her from killing herself. Very touching. Poor Clay.

Oh, was that mocking? Mmm, maybe a little.

Before I go any further, let me say that it's a pretty good book. I couldn't put it down and enjoyed reading it for the most part. It deserves most of the praise people have given it.

Okay, now here's what I want to say:  Hannah, you have thirteen reasons and they're all other people? You lucky girl! Most of us feel like we have only ourselves to blame. (Which hurts pretty bad in and of itself.)

No, actually that wasn't what I meant to say. Change course a little.

NEVER recommend this book to a teenager who might be thinking about suicide. (Did you notice the caps-bold-italic-underlined word? Now that's emphasis.)

Disclaimer:  Not everyone is like me, so maybe I'm wrong. But really, why take chances?

By showing the aftermath of a successful suicide, the book glorifies it. Some kids will see the sorrow Hannah left behind and think that's exactly what they want. No one loves them now, but if they die, everyone will. (Some of them may be right.)

It's a success story. It's the Hoosiers of suicide. Hannah pulls off a difficult feat to perfection, and gets exactly the effect she intended. It's inspiring.

The important thing is the feeling it leaves you with. Stories are powerful. Don't underestimate them. For most people, Thirteen Reasons Why elicits a desire to reach out to someone, to talk or listen more. It made me want to kill myself. Not because I felt sad or depressed. It simply reminded me of suicide's appeal, something I haven't felt for a long, long time.

And if it can do that to me now, what would it have done twelve years ago?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Shameful Books part II

Many moons ago I wrote that I couldn't think of a single book I'm ashamed to love. Allow me to quote myself:
The reason is simple, I think:  if I love it, I really think it's good and am therefore not ashamed to love it. It doesn't matter who it was written for, written by, or how it was written. If I like it, it's good.
You see that? Doesn't matter who wrote it. If I love it, I love it. End of story.

EXCEPT, my list of favorite books now includes one that I'd be ashamed to say "Oh, I LOVE this novel. It's compelling, exciting, emotional, and the writing is fantastic!"

What's different about this book?

I wrote it.

I've been trying to edit my own novel. I say "trying" because I think I'm missing a lot. Oh sure, some scenes I change quite a lot. And I did a bit of patching up while I was writing. But I find myself getting so engrossed that I can pore through scene after scene without changing anything but punctuation.

I say things like "Dang, did I write this?" and "Sometimes I amaze even myself."

And usually no one's around to say "Doesn't sound too hard."

Somebody say that. Please. My hats are already too tight.