Monday, November 14, 2011

Guest Grok: Dana Haynes

I've known Dana Haynes since he was a wee reporter, toddling up to the Oregon State Capitol to grill some politician or other. And now he's all grown up and writing thrillers! He's an excellent and passionate writer  and a hell of a nice guy. Dana was nice enough to write the first ever guest post in a (I think) monthly series of same. I'll let Dana take it from here and come back at the end to wrap up.

Adam Gallardo asked me to be today’s designated hitter for this blog, and the timing was perfect. I’m working on a lecture for the Portland chapter of Sisters in Crime and this will give me an opportunity to mull some of the thoughts I want to share with the “Sissies” (as the members call themselves). 
First, some brief background. I am, by training, a journalist. Twenty years in Oregon newspaper newsrooms, split evenly between weeklies and dailies. I am very proud of this background. 

Second, I published three mystery novels from Bantam Books and Severn House in the 1980s and early 1990s, then experienced a … shall we say, “dry spell.” A really, really dry spell. I couldn’t get any traction on anything, either novels or screenplays, for close to 15 years. Then Minotaur, the mystery and thriller arm of St. Martin’s Press, picked up my novel “Crashers.” That was published in 2010. The sequel, “Breaking Point,” hit stands this month. Minotaur has asked for two more thrillers, the first due in early 2012. 

OK, that’s me. 

So: topic. 

Here’s one of the things I’m going to tell the Sissies: When thinking about the characters in a scene, remember that “important” is not the same as “essential.”

Always ask yourself: “who should be in this scene?” And keep in mind The Embassy Rule. 

Which is this: 

During most times, the most important person in a foreign embassy is the ambassador. The ambassador is charged with speaking for his or her country, and for the head of state. The ambassador reaches out to indigenous leaders. The ambassador paves the way for the business community back home, and for tourists. The ambassador serves as a mini head-of-state for a tiny, often walled-off bit of real estate that serves as a slim slice of his or her sovereign country. 

In your novel, your protagonist is your ambassador: the most important person, and the one who is charged with carrying the message (the story). 

But if there is a suspected bomb in an embassy, or if there is a maddened mob tearing at the gate, or if the military is about to knock down the walls, then the U.S. State Department can make the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel. 

And that usually includes the ambassador. 

The ambassador is the most important person in an embassy but, in an emergency, also is a non-essential person. It’s not his or her job to defuse the military or the mob or the bomb. A chargĂ© d’affaires might have that task, or a representative of the State Department, or a military expeditionary force, or the CIA. But not the ambassador. 

When writing your novel, there is a tendency to put your protagonist in ever scene. She is your most important person, right? But if you’ve written a scene and something seems wrong, or “fat” or somehow crowded, ask yourself: Do I need my protagonist in this scene? Could the scene move the plot forward, or serve to develop character, without her? 

If the answer is “yes,” get her out of there. 

Same for other characters. If you have a scene with five characters, ask yourself: Would it have worked with four? With three? 

If they don’t serve a person, think about nixing them. 

(This, obviously, assumes you write in the third-person and not in the first-person. If you do write first-person … well, you’re screwed, mate. We the readers cannot know anything your protagonist doesn’t know. And any scene in which she’s told about something that happened in her absence, that’s just crap writing. That’s telling-not-showing. David Mamet rightly reminds us that any time you write a scene in which Character A and Character B are talking about Character C, that’s bullshit. Rewrite it.) 

OK, that’s my thought for today. Thank you to Adam for this opportunity to test drive one of my themes for the Sisters in Crime speech. 


You should check out Dana's web site here, and then go here to look at and buy his books -- Crashers is now out in paperback and his new novel, Breaking Point is out in hard cover today!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Lonely Spaceman tease

I've been receiving art from my collaborator on The Lonely Spaceman, Matthew Hope. I'm so happy with what I'm getting that I wanted to share some here. There's no text or titles here, I didn't want to muddy up Matthew's art with my words. And here you go:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My kind of prayer

This was sent my way by my mentor, the incomparable Scott Wolven (it's true, he cannot be compared!). It comes from writer Chuck Wendig's blog and it's called The Writer's Prayer II:

I am a writer, and I am done fucking around.
That which has prevented me lingers no longer. I am wind and storm and lightning and I shall huff and I shall puff and I shall blow all the barriers down. Then I will drink whisky made from the fear-urine of my loudest detractors and find power in their disbelief.
I don’t have time. I make time. I reach into the universe’s clockwork brain and I take whatever time I jolly well need. I cobble time out of sticks and mud and the finger-bones of naysayers. I am a motherfucking time wizard and with a wave of my pen shall create universes to conquer. Pockets of possibility. Born of my desire to have them made.
Fuck doubt. Doubt is a goblin on my back. I will reach for him with my ink-stained hands and grab his greasy head and fling him into the infinite nothing. His screams will thrill me. The resultant word-boner shall be mighty, and with this tremendous oaken stalk I shall swipe it left and swing it right and sweep all the road-blocks and brick-walls out of my way.
My distractions whimper and plead, their backs pressed against the wall, but I am no creature of mercy. Triple-Tap. Mozambique Drill. Two in the chest and one in the head. I laugh as they fall because their death clears the way and gives me purpose.
I will put myself on the page. I’m all in, with every card face up on the table. I am my stories and my stories are me. I do not merely write what I know: I write who I am. I’ll reach into my own chest and pluck out my still-beating heart and milk its juices like an overripe grapefruit. Squish.
That’s my blood on the page. The helix-spirals of my DNA wound around every word, every character, every plot point and page number. If CSI came here right now with one of those UV lights, you’d see the spatters and stains of my many penmonkey fluids because I can and will no longer contain my seed. You’lltake my inky seed and you’ll like my inky seed. It is a delightful moisturizer.
I do what needs doing. I ride the Loch Ness Monster through the gates of Carthage. I learn forbidden power words from the Undead Shamans of the Tulsa Underground. I kung-fu-kick a hole in the fabric of space and time and stick my head through to see what exists on the other side. I eat planets. I drink oceans. I piss rivers and I shit mountain lions. No task exists that I cannot accomplish on the page.
I write from a place of honesty. My stories are lies that speak truth.
Nobody tells me who I am or what I can’t do. I tell stories. I write characters. I make true shit up out of thin air. And nothing is more perfect than that.
My doubt is dead.
The dream is no longer a dream.
My desires are made manifest.
This is my reality now.
It’s time to load the guns, brew the ink, and go to work.
Because I am a writer, and I am done fucking around.
A cursory look around his blog reveals that there are many things worth looking at. Which I would do if I weren't busy writing. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mazel Todd!

My friend and collaborator on 100 Girls, Todd Demong, got married this past weekend. He and his bride chose to have a destination wedding in Mexico and school work, finances and family obligations conspired to keep me from attend. I am sick, SICK, that I couldn't be there. Maybe they'll let me join them on their honeymoon...

The accompanying photo is of Todd and me at my wedding reception five years ago.

Congratulations to Todd and Marta!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Things to read and watch 11/04/11

William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211
Here is the full text of the long interview The Paris Review conducted with William Gibson. Tuck in, kids!

Why Science Fiction Writers are Like Porn Stars
Last weekend, Glen Duncan wrote a trollish piece in the New York Times comparing genre writers to, well, porn stars. Charlie Jane Anders at i09 has some questions for Mr. Duncan. The piece includes portraits by SF writer, Richard Kadrey (whose books you should be reading, by the way).

The Decemberists Played on Austin City Limits 
And I missed it. Their album, The King is Dead, is one of my favorites of the year so far. The fact that I can watch this episode on-line makes me very happy.

Here's their video for "The Calamity Song." Enjoy.