Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dude, I'm a pantser after all.

And can I just say I hate the term "pantser?" My Mac hates it, too. It keeps trying to change it into panther. That's a much cooler thing to be. So instead of plotters and pantsers, let's call them plodders and panthers and move on from there. :P

Plodders are the people who write detailed outlines of how an entire novel should take shape before they actually start writing it. Panthers are those who simply sit down and write with no idea where they're going, "by the seat of their panths" as it were.

Anyway, I do try to outline a book before I start writing it. The first novel I wrote had no outline and it turned into a train wreck. No, it was too far from any tracks to be a train wreck. It was like if you took a train and dropped it in the middle of a lake.

The second book, well, I tried to write an outline but I got it all completely wrong and doomed the book from the very start.

The third one I thought and thought about for a long time, wrote an outline, and then did what I'm doing on my current project, which is this:

I write a chapter. If it's good, and my wife also thinks it's good, I figure out what I want to have happen next. Then I think about the next scene or chapter for at least twenty-four hours and sometimes several days. I don't usually write anything down, I just figure out where I want to start, what drives the chapter forward, and exactly what I want to have happen.

Then I sit down and write that chapter based on thoughts that are fresh in my mind. Sometimes, like happened yesterday, a character will say or do something that's not quite what I intended but seems better anyway. Yesterday, this ended the chapter earlier than I thought, but it was good. And Ammii agreed. So I'm on to the next chapter.

I still have my very bare outline, but it's really more of a road sign than a map. I know where I'm going, but how I'll get there is still very much up in the air. I take it one scene at a time.

And isn't that what it means to be a panther?


(This post could show up in some completely inapplicable Google searches.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dear Agent,

These are the things I wanted to say in my query letter but decided I shouldn't.

I don't know who you are. I've been sending queries to ten agents a week, and I don't have all day to cyber-stalk you properly. I visited your website, if you have one. First, I looked up your bio to make sure you might want my book. Then I checked the submission guidelines. I started a new email, typed in the subject "Query: DRIVERS," wrote Dear [You] at the top, and pasted in my query letter. I may have followed that up with a painful synopsis and/or sample pages from Drivers that I'd previously formatted with spaces between paragraphs. (So it'd look better in email, you know.)

That query is my sixth version, meaning it was at least my sixth try at writing a query from scratch for Drivers, which is the third novel I've written, revised, and edited. I wrote it from my heart, the way everyone says we're supposed to, and I've never been sure anyone else would like it. But I think maybe there's a chance you will. (And yes, that's redundant on purpose.)

It's been through half a dozen beta readers and countless revisions. I've done my best not to edit out my own voice. You won't find many unintentional grammatical or spelling errors. (If I had a dollar for every time my writing's been described as clean...)

I may have described Drivers as a psychological thriller, but feel free to ignore that designation. I didn't set out to write a thriller. I just wanted to tell a certain story, and it evolved over the months between when it occurred to me and the day I wrote the first line. Maybe you know a better genre to put it in.

I'm already a professional writer. I write what I'm told to write. I do research. I meet deadlines. And this is the driest blog post I've written in a long time. My mouth gets dry talking to strangers, especially when I'm worried about making a good impression.

Finally, I want you to know that Drivers isn't the last or even the best book I've got in me. Ask me about The Freezer. It'll blow you away, but I'm still writing the first draft.



Sunday, January 15, 2012


As in mine is seriously bad these days. I'm talking short-term memory, because my long-term memory seems to be fine. I can find my house, usually.

Like, I saw a thing where someone asked who said the following: "If there's anything more important than my ego around here, I want it caught and shot."

And I knew it was from a movie, and I knew I'd just recently seen that movie. It was on the verge of coming to me for like five mind-imploding minutes until I finally just cheated and Googled it. And you know what? I totally should have known who said it, because I had just seen it, and it's from one of my favorite movies, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I'd just watched it with my kids the week before. (They thought it was weird. But you know, they watch the Backyardigans, so who are they to talk?)

But anyway, that's not why I say I have a bad memory. It's because I've thought of three or four things I could write a blog entry about in the last week and every time I have a few minutes to spare, I can't remember a single dang one of 'em!

What's really disconcerting, however, is when I have conversations with people and absolutely no memory of the event a few minutes or hours later.

I suspect this may be a prank that my wife is playing on me, however. "Yes, I told you about it and you said 'Okay!'"

I don't know. Maybe it's all in my head. (Ha!)

You know, I'll bet I can still remember all the lyrics to Memory.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Just a little update

Wow, that was weird. I typed a title and hit enter, and it published this without any content. So now I'm updating my update.

Which is to say, I'm simply saying I've updated my pitch for Drivers, and you can find it here. (The Drivers tab at the top of my blog.)

I've also been working on the manuscript again. Making it better. I just went back and read over the change I made to the first chapter right after Christmas, and I really like it. Love it, in fact. It was one of those, "Wow, I wrote this?" moments.

See, there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who group everyone into two categories, and those who don't. Ha! I'm so funny. Seriously, there are those who can relate to a depressed main character, and those who can't. My wife can't. Or couldn't until I started adding memories of Ash's life and how he ended up suicidal in the first place.

Gah, it's seven in the morning and my brain is already fried. How shall I explain?

Depression isn't an easy thing to understand. It doesn't make any sense from the outside. But everyone knows someone who does or has had it. Showing small slices of Ash's life gives everyone a way to relate to him, either because they've been in his shoes, or because they've been in the shoes of the people around him.

I'm not telling the story of how Ash became suicidal. I'm not telling the story of how he gets better, though he certainly does get better. I'm telling the story of a guy trying to escape from a dead-end job driving armed robotic vehicles.

But I'm also painting a picture, and it's all there in the background. How he got there, what it's like, and where he's going.

Does that make any sense at all?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A little about me

There are a thousand things I could blog about: Christmas, sushi, Kindles, children, the book I started writing, the book I went back to fix something in, the contest I won, email, fabrication with duct tape and foam core board, desk arrangements, the utter lack of snow on the ground, etc.

But I want to say something that only I can say. There are millions of people expressing opinions and viewpoints out there, offering advice, critiquing, etc. (That's the word of the year, I just decided. Et cetera.) Many of them are very good, insightful, inspiring, etc. (Okay, maybe that's obnoxious.) I want to say things that only I can say. And so, even though there are also a thousand people doing similar things for hundreds of blogfests, I'm going to say a little about myself.

Hi, I'm Ben.

I love cross country skiing. Since I was a little boy, I've gone with my dad and his friends skiing up the mountain behind our old house or one of the canyons. We don't ski flat ground or groomed trails, and we don't use so-called telemark skis and boots like people use at resorts. We're on a never-ending quest for the perfect powder on the perfect slope to make perfect S-curve telemark turns without falling down. I almost always follow my dad down the hill, making my turns exactly opposite his, like sine waves half a wavelength out of sync. That's the goal, anyway.

I love cycling. My dad is also to blame for this. Before I started writing seriously, I identified strongly as a cyclist. I rode over 100 miles a week, usually commuting to and from work. My daughter's mountain bike cost more than most adult's bikes, and it's not because we're rich. It's just our priority. In fact, our recumbent trike would sell for more than the car I drive to work. Nowadays, I usually only do short rides with the family.

I love trying new things, and I also hate trying new things. (I suspect many people are like this.)

I'm a hopeless romantic, but I don't buy my wife flowers. They're expensive and useless, and she'd rather get Star Trek DVDs anyway.

I'm a feminist, I guess, because I see sexism and disrespect for women every time I watch TV. (Part of the reason I don't watch TV very often.)

I'm an environmentalist, but not as much as when I rode my bike to work. Something about bike commuting changes your perspective on conservation.

I'm a liberal, but only by Utah standards. I'm not affiliated with a political party.

I like spicy food.

I'm an introvert. That means I'm happy to talk to you, just not if we're in a large group.

I'm a Mormon. I don't bring that up in casual conversation, but it underlies every aspect of my life.

I like talking about myself. (Haha! Obviously.) I also like talking about my wife, but I'm afraid it would sound like bragging.

Happy new year! And no, I haven't resolved to blog regularly or better in any way, so don't get your hopes up. Sorry.