Saturday, March 26, 2011

What writers can do to make editors happy

As a writer and an editor, I wholeheartedly agree with all of the points made in this post from the mystery publishing blog Hey There's A Dead Guy In The Living Room. Read and take notes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Geek Season approaches

April may be the cruelest month, according to T. S. Eliot, but it's also the start of ... Geek Season!

For the next few months, there's something going on to please my not-so-inner nerd.

April brings Monsterpalooza, which I must attend not only because it's by all accounts a good, old-fashioned con, but because Malcolm McDowell, star of A Clockwork Orange, Cat People, Caligula, Time After Time, and many more (and also a member of my Imaginary Boyfriends Hall of Fame), will be there. Closing out the month will be the L. A. Times Festival of Books. I'm still uncertain about the Festival's relocation to USC campus (in the past it's always been at UCLA) but I can't resist the chance to go hang out with thousands of book geeks.

In May there is the Weekend of Horror con, which this year will feature legendary director John Carpenter. I'm also excited about the presence of Scott Wilson, who played one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite movies (Captain Billy Cutshaw in The Ninth Configuration).

And of course, July brings us the San Diego Comic-Con. It's too big, too crowded, and the ticket sales process has been an utter boondoggle for two years in a row, but damn if I'm not excited to be going for all four days. Look for me to be wearing my Phantom of the Paradise outfit at least one of those days.

Let your geek flag fly!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Serpent and the Rainbow

Want to go to Haiti? I didn't think so. Instead, read my review of Wes Craven's voodoo horror film The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Welcome to Write Club

Welcome to Write Club.

The first rule of Write Club is: You do not give away the ending.

The second rule of Write Club is: You DO NOT give away the ending.

Third rule of Write Club: If a constant reader says "it stinks!", gets bored, or opts out, rewrite the story.

Fourth rule of Write Club: Work on only one story at a time.

Fifth rule: All stories get edited, no matter how good you think you are.

Sixth rule: Stories go on as long as they have to.

And the final rule is: If this is your first time at Write Club, you HAVE to write.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kelly's big score ("me day" edition)

Really, really needed a "me day" so I took one, and went up to Solvang with the express purpose of cruising the bookstores at my own pace, unencumbered by others.

At Valley Books I said hello to the ever-awesome Courtney and traded in a bunch of used books. I got:

Dreamsongs Vol. 1 - George R. R. Martin (this should tide me over until A Dance With Dragons, and yes it's weird to say that and not be sarcastic)

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

Two Calvin and Hobbes books: A Magical World and The Days Are Just Packed

Then it was on to Martins' Used Books, where I got:

The Gamble - LaVyrle Spencer

Cry to Heaven - Anne Rice

Tinsel - William Goldman (yoohoo Albert - now I don't have to borrow this from you!)

And a bunch of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books

Then at The Book Loft I picked up:

A Maiden Fair - Joyce Carol Oates

Poison - Sara Poole

Now that's what I call a productive day!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dance With Dragons update

Now playing on the iPod - "The Ballad of John and Yoko" - The Beatles

Can it be true? A July 2011 release date for George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Writing craft: Don't write what you know, write what you don't know you know. You know?

Now playing on the iPod - "Caught A Lite Sneeze" - Tori Amos

I’ve probably mentioned before that “write what you know” is some of the worst advice a writer can get. It’s usually interpreted as “write about what you have directly experienced” and if writers followed that rule to the letter, there’d be a lot of really boring books out there (mine in particular!).

I haven’t changed my view that “write what you know” is bad advice, but I’m starting to believe that most of us, whether we know it or not, are writing about things we know: the distinction is twofold. One, we’re writing about things we may not have directly experienced but have heard about from others’ lives or stories. Two, many of these things lodge in our subconscious, and we end up writing about them without realizing we’re doing so.

A few years ago, I was watching the 1980 horror film The Changeling with some friends. I’d seen the film before, but not since I was in my early teens. (Side note: It’s an excellent, spooky film with almost no onscreen violence and a fantastic performance by George C. Scott. Go rent it now.) The film opens with the main character losing his family in a roadside accident. One of my friends called out: “Look familiar, Kelly?” and I realized that I had written a scene much like that in one of my stories. And even though I hadn’t seen the film in well over a decade when I wrote the scene in question, it was there in my subconscious.

Likewise, recently I got to thinking about a girl I knew in grade school. The girl had a younger brother, and it was very clear the brother was much favored by the parents. He had a full bedroom, whereas the girl’s room was actually the closet of her younger brother’s room. (The girl also knew from overhearing parental conversation that she was an “ooops” resulting from faulty birth control.) I hadn’t thought about this girl in years, as I haven’t seen her since 8th grade, but now I’m wondering if that family dynamic was in any way an inspiration for a similar one in my book The Day After Yesterday (although for that one I know that I consciously was inspired by the Harry Potter books and how Harry is so shabbily treated by his aunt and uncle).

I think a lot of the writing process may be subconscious. After a manuscript has sat in the drawer and I’m revising it, I’ll see connections and motifs that I didn’t recall planning out. But there they are. And I suspect that a lot of what we think falls into the “stuff I haven’t experienced” is really “stuff I’ve heard about from friends/read about/seen in other books or movies”. As long as the writer does the job well, no one need know (or should care) that an event or character’s backstory has no direct correlation to the writer’s past.

It might be intriguing to see a map of the brain, and figure out where all this comes from. But no, let’s leave it a mystery. Let’s not lose the moment of “Oh, that’s where that came from.” Those moments are sometimes funny, sometimes creepy, but they’re always interesting.