Being A Dick

Wil says "Don't be a dick."One should never be a dick. In fact, it’s what prompted me to pilfer this photo from Wil Wheaton’s dontbeadickday.com. Of course, lifting it was kind of a dick move on my part, but at least I’m giving credit. And if asked, I’ll take it down. (Which will make editing this blog post a bitch, but to say no would be an even bigger dick move.)

Wow, that went off on a tangent. Anyway, one should never be a dick. Not without good reason. No one likes dicks. It’s a good way to get a swift kick in the dick.

But I’m going to talk today about being a different kind of dick. I’m talking about being a Dick with a capital D. As in short for Richard. Now, some Richards were complete dicks. Nixon comes to mind. But I’m talking about my Dick. The Dick Bachman to my Steve King. Yes, he’s finally gone live, which means I can no longer do the extended dick joke here tagged “My Dick is writing a novel.” That’s okay. It was time for that bit to be retired.

But Dick has come out of the shadows and into the light. Over on that blog, I refer to myself with a less racy, but similarly sourced name to discuss what I do here without letting on that I’m doing it over here. I know. I’m breaking one of the rules of the indie pub era, which is never to hide one byline from the other. But I ask, “Why not?” I’m willing to do the work, and there are some reasons I have for acting as though they are separate entities. I vow not to engage in sock puppetry with my two identities, not unless it’s for comedic effect.

It does mean the subject matter on this blog will likely change. It’s lost a bit of steam in the past few months anyway. I need to differentiate what I talk about there and here. What that means come the New Year, I can’t say yet.

It’s a lot more work, but it promises to be fun. Because there’s a reason I call this byline “Dick” that has nothing to do with raunchy humor. Stephen King wrote under the name Richard Bachman partly to burn off some work that didn’t quite fit the image of the author of The Shining and Salem’s Lot. But also after the success of Carrie, he wanted to see if he could do it again.

Right now, Holland Bay is being revised for an agent. Which means I’m going back to trad with my crime fiction. “Dick” is an indie writer, and that’s likely an important distinction.

From Joffrey to Han Solo

King Joffrey

Yeah, he’s kind of a dick. Source: HBO

When I started writing the SF novel, I took an earlier character I’d written and lifted his origin story. Why not? You’re never going to read that material anyway. Or if you do, you’ll have to dig for it.

*Ahem* Anyway…

My original character, by the time we meet him, is kind of a cross between Han Solo and Captain Kirk. The Kirk part only came from the fact that the guy wore a uniform and had to have some degree of discipline and decorum. He still was a fly-by-seat-of-pants smart ass.  But his mother was extremely wealthy, like Koch Brothers wealthy but without the Bond villain tendencies. His father was a lord high muckety muck in the military. Being the oldest son of such prestigious and powerful parents, one might expect him to be more like Joffrey and less like Harry Potter sans wand. So I lifted that origin story, dropped it into the new SF universe and went to town.

Sorry, George, but he still shot first. Source: Lucasfilm

Sorry, George, but he still shot first. Source: Lucasfilm

With the SF novel’s rough draft in cold storage at the moment, I’ve given a little thought on how to make him believable to a new audience. As I said, he is based on another character I always envisioned as being a parallel to Han Solo, a somewhat selfish rogue who nonetheless has a conscience and a helluva pragmatic streak. The old character was cruising into middle age when I wrote him, so this wasn’t hard to sell.Now?

The new character is not much older than Joffrey. He has to have something of a conscience because he finds his life of privilege to be a gilded cage and proceeds to go out into the world for a load of drinking, whoring, and generally stealing any really cool mode of transportation owned by his mother. When mom steps out of the board room long enough to mom all over him, he runs away, and therein we dump him into what Christopher Vogler calls “the ordinary world” in The Hero’s Journey. He might be getting dumped into the ordinary world, but it’s the one we know when meet him. Actually, when we meet him, he’s vomiting on the boots of a security guard, but anyway…

When I finished the book, he was, indeed, on his way to becoming the lovable rogue. However, I don’t think I made him dickish enough in the beginning. This guy needs to be a brat, a really snotty brat. There are a couple of scenes where he acts like he’ll be out of his predicament in no time, but it’s not long before the farmer’s daughter takes a shine to him. Don’t know why she’d do that if he’s an ass. I suppose Joffrey is a bad comparison. Joffrey had no redeeming qualities. He killed whores for sport. Moments before his death (This is no longer a spoiler, kids. The episode was two weeks ago, and the book was written in 2000. Get over it.), he is busy humiliating his smarter, better-hearted uncle (possibly the only Lanister in Game of Thrones who ought to be allowed to survive the series.) And his bravery makes Draco Malfoy look like a Schwarzenegger character. (Besides, Draco turned out to have a conscience, too, even if he took after his sniveling, conniving dad.)

But these are simply references. This character is not the one I based him on. He is not Han Solo. He is not Joffrey in the beginning. But the existing characters give me points of reference to use. He has to grow up. He’s trying. Unfortunately, he succeeds if only because circumstances won’t allow anything else.

Hey, I’m fishing for Amazon reviews, good or bad. I just want tongues wagging. Wanna help out? I’ll send you The Compleat Winter or Road Rules. You tell the world what you honestly think of it. Hit me up on Facebook, DM me @authorjimwinter, or email me at jamesrwinter@yahoo.com for details.

Space Stuff! It Is Finished. For Now.

deathstar

Source: Lucasfilm

Sunday morning, I wrote the final scene. The science fiction project checked in at 98,562 words. It also took four months longer to write than I anticipated. So now what?

The running joke for this thread is in the tags: “My Dick is writing a novel,” meaning the Dick Bachman to my Stephen King. So when I start talking about this once again, it will be as “Dick.” First, I need to get Dick published somewhere with short stories, articles, possibly even reviews.

draftMore importantly, I have to tackle the rewrite. I basically invented a new universe from scratch. Oh, I laid some groundwork, but there were points in the story where I thought, “Is that too primitive for 300-500 years in the future?” And I know some things are inconsistent. Also, I have two main protagonists, one male and one female. The female is a brain, though there are plenty of female ass kickers in this tale. It’s a character that doesn’t yield well to someone who’s written crime fiction for the past decade and a half. So she’s a bit more passive than I like.

The other problem stems from the Act II doldrums that dragged this thing out an extra four months. I’m sure I was on the right track (sometimes literally, since much of it takes place on a commandeered maglev train) when I re-outlined in late fall, but I also know that part has the most opportunity for major structural changes.

Peer reviewerAnd finally, how do I want to publish this? Will I go traditional? That was the original plan, and we’ll decide on that in the rewrite. Maybe go indie? Science fiction is a better genre for indie writers than crime fiction. A series’ fan base tends to be more fiercely loyal than those of crime fiction writers, and much easier to grow. People love a really good shared mythology.

One idea, however, is to serialize it. The story has twin plot lines that really don’t merge until late in the game. This worked successfully for John Scalzi, who is doing a second “season” of The Human Division. It’s a format tailor made for ebooks and independent writers, and Tor, Scalzi’s publisher, is behind this idea.

But for now, I need to go back through one last time just to read the book as a coherent whole. Then I need to stick it in a drawer and forget it exists. I’m pretty strict about things like that. When I’m not writing or revising a book, I don’t want to discuss it or know it exists. This frustrates people I ask to help with edits, but it’s a necessary step, and really, every writer should do this.

I’ll take out the novel again this summer. Then Dick can tell you how I’m spending my summer vacation.

Space Stuff! Almost There

EndorshaftIt’s time to figure out how this thing ends. My original ending is gone, but I know where it’s going now. I just did not map out how to get there. So I finished all the scenes I outlined and began making notes.

I had hoped to be done last weekend, but life often gets in the way of writing. It’s never going to get easier, even if this novel becomes a full-blown business unto itself. But we press on.

One thing I did do was get all but one of my protags together. This may change in the rewrite. After all, Holland Bay now looks nothing like the original draft. I’m good with this. The rewrite is how I’m spending my summer vacation.

Review_DeathStarTrenchRun_stillBAct III is where the writing gets most intense for me. Sometimes, I will neglect other tasks to get it done, though that’s harder these days than it was in previous years.  At the same time, there’s also a weariness to this effort. I started this in August with the intention of finishing before Thanksgiving. Act II woes nearly derailed the project, and the weather actually interfered. I’m ready to be done. I’m ready to turn this over to “Dick.” I’m ready to revise Holland Bay. And I’m ready to work on the next Kepler novel.

All photos Lucasfilm

Space Stuff: War of the Words

War of the Worlds

The 2005 remake of War of the Worlds, Paramount Pictures

As of Sunday morning, when I’m writing this, the SF project reached 72,885 words. It is now longer than Bad Religion, my longest published work. The longest thing I’ve written is Holland Bay, which checks in at around 89,500 in its current draft. Still, it’s another important milestone.

As I said last week, 60,000 is the minimum length for a traditionally published novel. 90,000 is about the average. Now this story will have a fairly short Act III (if you’ve been paying attention, my word count was sluggish this past week). Originally, I was going to put all my protags together (after killing two of them off), then have our good guys try to retake a destroyed city before the invaders can move in and start selling real estate to the folks back home. What every good land grab is all about.

mimitw-metallicaThe trick now is to get this done in a reasonable amount of time. I originally expected to be done by Thanksgiving. Then New Year’s Day. Now it’s this weekend. Lucky for me my wife is going to rural Kentucky for a family function while AJ is going to drum corps practice. I have the house to myself for two days. Yes, I will stay up late Saturday night typing away (between my writers group, church, homework, exercise…) I plan to drink beer, eat a lot of pizza, and crank up the music. I don’t often listen to Metallica these days, but when I do, so do my neighbors. Sorry, neighbors.

Regardless of whether I finish next weekend or not, I expect there to be only one more of these posts. Then I turn the promoting over to Dick.

Space Stuff: The Final Frontier

Yavin

Source: Lucasfilm

By the time you read this, the SF project will have crossed the 70,000-word barrier. There are several milestones a novel must reach if traditional publication route is an option. 60,000 words is the minimum length of a commercially produced novel. In fact, Road Rules‘ 55,000-word length was a major hindrance to its sale. 90,000 is the usually minimum length for a science fiction or fantasy novel published traditionally. 70K tells me I’ll have no problem meeting that length.

However, it’s not the end of Act II. I have a couple of major characters to kill off, and I have to bring two sets of protagonists together. In this story, Harry doesn’t go to Hogwarz until late in the game. Getting there is much more interesting.

One thing I’ve run into is the fear that this is not good enough. It happens to every writer with every novel. With science fiction, it’s amplified by the future factor. The devices I’ve come up with for hundreds of years into the future will be obsolete in a couple of years. Why do my characters behave a certain way? Why do my aliens shoot like Stormtroopers from Star Wars? One thing I have to remind myself is that this is a first draft. I’ve already accepted that a massive rewrite is an option. So, instead of “ZOMG! I got a lot of work ahead of me!”, I’m actually disappointed that I have to wait until the next draft to put all these new ideas into play. Theoretically, I could go back and rewrite earlier scenes, but then I’ll become one of those writers who keeps tinkering and tinkering and tinkering, never finishing the damn thing.

Kinda like Brian Griffin.

The best part is that I’m almost to the last act. And in the last act, I’ve been known not to shower, go to work, or even speak English to people asking me questions.

It’s my favorite part of writing a novel.

Space Stuff: Damn It’s Cold!

iceworms

Photo: Niccolo Bonfadini via weather.com

Isn’t that an awesome picture for today’s post? I spotted that on The Weather Channel’s site. It’s in northern Norway, and the guy taking the picture was camping(!?). Those worm-like things sticking out of the ground are actually trees coated in snow and ice. What kind of trees? We’ll find out in June. On the upside, the presence of daylight that close to the Arctic Circle means only one thing: Spring is coming.

And not a moment too soon. The first of our now-regularly scheduled polar blasts really knocked the momentum out of the science fiction novel. Yes, even as Dick Bachman, I need to keep going. Getting the car fixed, dealing with other weather-related problems, and the beginning of Spring semester have conspired to slow me down. I’m writing this on Sunday morning. The night before, I’d planned to descend into the Dungeon here at Chateau Nita to get another 1000 words knocked out. After dinner, I… Well….

I’m getting old. I went to bed on a Saturday night. Only a few years earlier, Nita and I would stay out until all hours on Saturdays, watching live bands and hanging out at our favorite haunts.

But when you can’t manage word count, you can manage to finish a scene. So when I know my writing time has been compromised, I simply finish a scene. In some ways, it’s just finishing a thought. This morning, since the aliens are pretty much as faceless as Storm Troopers in Star Wars and not showing any menacing leader, I introduced the human villain. And it’s complicated. The human blames my male protagonist, or rather his Earthbound family, for the sudden apocalypse. It’s a revelation that doesn’t sit well with our friend, and one that’s going to play out over the series.

Of course, it could all be rewritten with this scene disappearing in the summer. I just started rereading Holland Bay in anticipation of the edit for which I’m about to receive. I’m trying very hard not to edit the glaring typos lest I get too involved in this novel and completely lose the SF project. And I’m not making any structural changes. That’s what I’m trading betas for. I am, however, noticing that a rewrite from scratch is the best thing I did to Holland Bay. And as plot flaws and continuity problems pop up in the SF project, having Dick do a rewrite is looking like a wonderful way to spend my summer vacation.

Space Stuff: Fahrenheit -35

Road through an avalanche

Photo: Hamed Saber, used under Creative Commons

When I last posted one of these, I was not only back into the narrative, but I was cranking along pretty good. Since then, not even Christmas has stopped me. I was doing good getting in a good 1000-2000 words a day. So what did stop me?

The polar vortex. At first, this was not a problem. After all, it only required I start my car occasionally to keep an aging battery from dying. Day 1 wasn’t so bad. Stay in the house and write when I’m not at work. Day 2?

Required an interminable wait for AAA to fix the battery that I couldn’t keep from failing. This had me out in the cold at 11:30 at night, working with the AAA mechanic. (Moral of the story: Go replace your battery as soon as they predict a cold snap.) This resulted in a 1 AM bedtime and exhaustion the next night. It was hard getting started again.

So where I said outlining helped me overcome the Act II doldrums the week before, I now use it to get back into the story. Every writer faces this. When you’re full time, it’s a bit easier to work around. That’s your day job. Usually, the commute involves walking from the bedroom to the kitchen for breakfast and then to the office, den, or wherever one writes. When you have a day job…

So I am a big believer in outlining. It keeps you in the story.

Space Stuff! Space Oddity

Plan 9 from Outer Space

Plan 9 from Outer Space, source: Valiant Pictures

A week back into the narrative, and it’s become fun again. I don’t know when it’s going to be finished, but I like knowing where I’m going. The story contains a lot of touchstones to other stories that nonetheless stand alone fine. One of the scenes made me pause, though. My male protag asked his girlfriend to marry him. (Because there’s no time like a day into an alien invasion to propose. Sort of makes your jumbotron engagement at the Raiders game on national television look kind of lame, doesn’t it?) The girl decides she wants to make the proposition mean something in and of itself. So she reveals her mother made her father perform the engagement ritual from her homeworld. It involves sucking blood from a cut and making a vow to love and protect the other person and to promise oneself in marriage. Um…

I’m not a Twilight fan, unless you mean the Paul Newman movie from 1998.

I liked the ritual and thought it could up the romantic tension nicely. But at the same time, I did not want my protag or his new fiancee to be the futuristic version of Edward and Bella. So when she makes him suck blood from a cut she’s made in her hand, he says, “Like a vampire?” to which she replies “That’s gross.” Then, as he finishes promising his life to her, a bug flies into his mouth.

The Tenth Doctor - BBC

Good. No Daleks. I can beat these losers in about ten minutes. OK, fifteen. I haven’t had my coffee yet. Source: BBC

The idea has origins in, of all places, Reservoir Dogs, where one character complains about sex scenes in movies. He describes an early Meg Ryan film where Meg and her lover wake up the next morning not to violins and soft light and warm fuzzies but a nasty case of morning breath. These characters are in a remote mountain ravine, living in tents with other soldiers and little electrical power, no running water, and food that was up and moving around only hours before (or stored in air-tight packs for months.) There are no violins and soft light and warm fuzzies. There are only bugs, animal jerky, and other people’s BO.

One of the fun parts was putting names, personalities, and backstory to characters referred to as “Soldier 1” or “the prisoner” in the outline. It makes it easier for a lightly-sketched scene to come alive. Now I have to resist the temptation to insert a whimsical Englishman with two hearts coming in to make weird stuff happen.

Space Stuff! Thus Endeth Act II… In Outline

Luke-Vader-Family Guy

Source: Fox

I did it. I finished an outline of Act II for the SF project. I wanted to keep going, but I really need to get back to writing this thing. After all, my Dick Bachman has to get around to building his presence, writing some supplemental material, and designing his web site. I also have to get back to being Jim Winter so I can revise Holland Bay one last time. (That one’s getting shopped.)

When I dropped what I was doing on the draft to outline, I was depressed. I thought I had this all figured out. So imagine what it was like to realize that was far from the truth. But a funny thing happened on the way to figuring out Act II. As I walked the tightrope between just sketching out a plotline and “pre-writing” the story, I started to get impatient. I might only sketch a scene or a chapter at a time, but after finishing one, I’d get ideas where I wanted to go next. I wanted to see what happened next. I was getting excited by my own story. Good news for you, because if the writer doesn’t know what happens next, the reader often doesn’t either.

So Sunday morning, I began writing again. Whereas my word counts plummeted from 1000 a day to sometimes 300 or less, I managed 1000 in one sitting. Since I have other things to do besides writing (like watching the Bengals), I had to stop. Butidowannastop!

Good. Maybe I can have those Stephen King-like 2000-word days, especially since the semester at school ends this week.

Then my Dick will really be like Dick Bachman.