Monday, 27 May 2013

Silence: Book 1 of The Queen of the Dead


Well it's May bank holiday weekend here in Britain, and Memorial Weekend in the States, so I am with my partner hanging out and generally kicking back.  Yesterday was definitely a lazy day as I didn't sit down to write my weekly progress diary, hence the one day delay until today.

I've just re-read Starship Troopers again, which never fails to surprise me each time I read it. This time I walk away with some new insights about the writing style and the plot of the story.  Heinlein, despite his faults, is one of my core SF writers from the time when I was a very impressionable youngster.  As such I remember the works of his I read quite fondly.  The only book of his that I don't particularly like is Farnham's Freehold.

I also read an urban fantasy book called Silence: Book 1 of The Queen of the Dead by Michelle Sagara yesterday.  Indulging in the luxury that comes from reading a good book rather than trying to write one.  I was really captivated by the opening chapter of this book.  The writing style is absolutely lovely, and I read the whole book in one sitting, which doesn't happen often to me nowadays.  I can't think of a better recommendation than that.

As for my own humble writing efforts this week I managed to take twenty-six letters and arrange into combinations that added up to 5,214 words, which makes my running total for the month so far 16,862 and the first draft of Strike Dog has now reached 33,951 words.

On this note, one of my readers commented that word count is a poor measure of writing progress.  I suspect that by progress he means something more than number of words written, which is correct.  However, I'm a cognitive behavioural therapist by trade, and one thing that we do is take measures.  My diary, for me, is about having a tool to measure my progress in achieving the goal of finishing a book.  It helps me to look back at my work when I'm feeling I haven't achieved very much, and see that I've written more than I thought I had.  I shall have to come back and unpack this more at a later date.

So enjoy the rest of the weekend and catch you on the bounce.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Terrible Minds: 25 Things


Over at Chuck Wendig's blog terribleminds this week he posted another of his 25 Things posts that he does so well.  This week it was on outlining and helped me through another tough week of writing.  So thank you Chuck.

As I was thinking about how to write my diary this week I thought I could try my hand at 25 good things that I learnt from Chuck.  Unfortunately, I'm not Chuck, and I just don't have that mad joie de vivre thing going for me that he does so well.  Instead I have my usual diary that I maintain as a way of keeping a grip on reality, as defined by my ability to maintain forward progress with my second novel.

So this week I recorded that I managed to do another 5,171 words, which brings the novels running total up to 28,753.  In some aspects I feel I've made a breakthrough in that I know I'm now into the second act of the novel and know what my story is about.  Now it is down to how I write that story, which is still evolving in its details.

I've also managed to finish reading Evan Wright's Generation Kill.  This story makes a fine bookend to Nathaniel Fick's One Bullet Away that I mentioned in a previous post.  It has left with much to think about.

One thing Wright wrote was that the war in Iraq was a lot like the film Groundhog day.  Each days fighting in Iraq presents the same problems over-and-over again, and each day the Marines go out and try to do the right thing.  Funnily enough my first novel has that whole groundhog day thing going on for the main character who is trying to make things go the right too.

Serendipity, or what?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Genre v Literature

Back here I talked about theory versus practice. Today I'm going to unpack my thoughts about the title of this post by drawing up a list of what I think of as science fiction novels that I've been told are not genre works, but rather literature.
Frankenstein
The Time Machine
War of the Worlds
Brave New World
1984
On the Beach
Canopus in Argos
The Handmaid's Tale
These are only given as examples, and people's opinions may vary on whether or not they are works of science fiction?

In the case of Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos series, the literary critics have argued she wasted her time writing SF (As an aside I was once Doris Lessing's minder at a science fiction convention, tasked with making sure the fans wouldn't overwhelm her and help her navigate around the convention).  That's what gets my goat.  The assumption that writing genre is a waste of time.

It seems to me that the qualities most ascribed to literature is that they are stories that are written and read as if they were set in a timeless now.  The primary purpose is to describe the human condition, which I understand to be that of fear, uncertainty and doubt.  Style and form take precedent over story and plot.  Finally, the writing of the story is in, and of itself, part of the artistic process, which is a journey for the writer who characters are discovered through the process of writing the novel.  Therefore literature is something that is superior to genre, because it talks about the human condition and therefore has lasting value.

Now I may have misunderstood what I thought I was being told, so any mistakes in characterizing the above case are mine.

However, while a novel may have lasting value, I would argue that this is a product that arises from the passage of time.  Take Shakespeare as an example.  Now considered to be timeless, but there was a long period when his works fell out of favour and were then rediscovered.  So unto each generation a new literature born, to paraphrase Joss Whedon.  The one true thing that can be said is that the definition of literature changes.

If one agrees that is true, then all the works in my list can be both literature and genre.

So perhaps the question is why is genre less than literature, given that the definition is style and substance that allows for classification?  So in short all literature fits within a genre.  In my experience as a therapist people have a need to divide things into true versus false, good versus bad, which is binary thinking that becomes all, or nothing.  I believe that things are generally on a continuum of yes, no and maybe, which changes according to the evidence.

Therefore when critics seek to separate works into literature versus genre they are working against the historical roots of writing by creating a false dichotomy where none needs to exist.  Please feel free to discuss and disagree with me.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Writing Log 130512

Me in front of the USN Hornet CVS 12 now a museum at Alameda, which I've based my descriptions of what it is like to be aboard a naval vessel in my novel Bad Dog.  Don't make up what you can steal from what is real.
Another hard week for me as I slowly dragged words from out the darkness that is my inner psyche screaming into the light.  Part of the dynamic is my desire to not write a pastiche of something I have never experienced.  In this case a description of what one has to go through Marine Corps Officer Cadet School, as the last thing I want to do is make myself look like a fool.  So I've been stealing from my research resources and make them my character's experience.  Note the word steal, not plagiarize.  The difference is the the former makes it mine, whereas the latter just uses stuff without understanding it.

Anyway that is hard work and writing slowed down as a result.  I spent time restructuring three chapters into two new chapters, followed by shuffling the sequence of the first eight chapters.  In between doing this I wrote a the first draft of a review for a magazine article.

So by the end of last week I had only managed to advance my novel by 3,646 words, bringing the running total up to 23,582 and I feel a bit lost in the story.  My second novel is proving to be a harder story to bring into the world than the first.  I'm therefore treating this as a learning curve and riding the wave as best I can.

Been re-reading One Bullet Away and comparing it with Generation Kill by Evan Wright, which tells the Iraq invasion part of Fick's story from the perspective of an embedded reporter.  Fascinating reading.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Writing Log 130505

Delicious, including the French Fries
 
If last week was a struggle this week was me hitting a brick wall.  Not helped by being put on some additional medication for the treatment of my rheumatoid arthritis.  The doctor warned that there would unpleasant be side-effects, and she was right.  As a result this weeks word total stands at a paltry 2831 words, and the running total is at 19,933.

This sucks, but I was able to sit and read One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick, which is an excellent book.  I have taken a couple of pages of notes for the scenes I want to write about for my character's transition from an enlisted Marine to becoming an officer from this book.

For me it felt important to not just write a pastiche of the process, but to work from the most authentic sources I can get my hands on.  The other two books I have used in my research to date are; One of Us: Officers of Marines – Their Training, Traditions, and Values by Jack Ruppert, and The Marine Corps Officer's Guide 6th Ed by Kenneth W. Estes.

They are three very different works.

Fick's book is an autobiography of his experience of becoming an officer with the United States Marine Corps, and is a warts and all account of his experience that is frank and honest.  It tells his story of being deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for those who have watched Generation Kill it will feel familiar, because Evan Wright was the embedded journalist with Lieutenant Fick's platoon.

Lt Colonel Este's (Ret.) book is a manual, and as such makes for a rather drier read.  However, if you want to know what a Marine officer is supposed to know then it is a book that is required reading.

Ruppert's book compares and contrasts the training of two platoons of officer candidates.  The first being his own experience in 1956 with those that were being trained in 2000.  Similarities and differences are discussed.

Finally, the picture is of a lovely meal that I had in Bristol cod loin in bacon at the Spyglass restaurant, which is down in the harbour.  Saturday was the first day I hadn't felt nauseous from taking the new tablets.  Oorah, outstanding as they say in the Corps.