Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why is it late?

This was supposed to have been posted last night, but Blogger was giving me attitude, so here goes.

0110. I have no idea why I am up this late. The crits took a lot longer than ever, and I feel like I have nothing to say. I've tried to get to grips with a swordfight in my fantasy story, and it doesn't feel right no matter how much I twist and turn it.

So I give up for now. It's nice and cool outside, and with two windows wide open I have enough air in here to be able to sleep now.

First, a quick recap of our day. Still talking about style in the lectures, continuing about weakness in style and then on to techniques to strengthen style. We learned that "it was" and "there was" are evil, and should be exterminated, and we talked about why you should put the important stuff in the beginning and end and not the middle of a sentence (it's because us lazy readers only really pay attention at those points). And lots of other stuff.

I finally managed to get a pic of a chipmunk

I slept for an hour after class. I don't get the people that stay up until 0300, writing. How come they're not absolute zombies? Sarah Palin sat up all night today. Not a moment of sleep. She was in class, all smiles. They must have some really groovy drugs over in the other house.

Oh yeah. The house. This is Falvey House, where I'm staying. Two apartments upstairs, housing the five male students in the class, two downstairs housing three of the girls/women and the Commodore.

College housing in all its glory

We took another late night walk. Saw some more fireflies, dancing in the tops of trees. So cool. And we took a stroll to the cemetary, where the monks are laid to rest (we think). Eerie place in the dark.

As we walked back, Charley remarked: I can't believe we haven't made a late night food run.

And it's true. We have been far too efficient when it comes to keeping snacks in the house. This has to change. We need more of a college feeling. Studying like crazy and going out at midnight to buy donuts and coffee. And here's the pathetic part. We will plan it. Yeah. We're adults now.

We have lots of laughs in our apartment, something which isn't always good when it comes to productivity. The following quotes are connected, but were uttered days apart.

Charlie: I love it when it becomes too much for Meta and he puts on his headphones to shut me out. It gives me such a sense of pride.
Meta: And eventually, if you don't stop, I will keep my headphones on while I choke you.

Not that it's that bad. Yet. But it is funny though.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In bed. And fireflies.

In class today we talked about grammar. Punctuation, that vs which, the evils of adverbs, dialogue tags, etc.

Can you believe it, Mom? Me? Talking about adverbs? And not cringing? Well . . . I cringed a little (and right there, before I, is the correct way to use ellipsis. See? I learned something today).

After class and the obligatory visit to the mail room (three packages. All for me! Yay! From Amazon! Yay!) we went to the reading room to do our crits. The reading room is my friend. The reading room is cool. Cold, even. I had to put on a hoodie in there today.

Later today I went to the Taqueria in Manchester with Meta, Charley and Sarah Palin. Much laughter and an awesome burrito. Me likey! Then off to Target to buy food, ink cartridges, etc. I bought a pair of shorts, since I only brought two pairs, and a Where The Wild Things Are-tee. Sweet.

And then write. I am writing a postapocalyptic fantasy story. Sort of. My goal is to have it be around 4000, maybe 5000 words. Our limit is 6000 and I would like to turn in a story to the class that doesn't require a synopsis for the parts I can't turn in. We'll see how it goes. I managed 2000 words today. Which is good.

I have two stories left to turn in. My intention is to use this new one and a revised version of Something Wicked, my submission story. One is due next Friday and the second one the last week, hopefully Wednesday. We'll see. So I have a long time to finish two stories but little time once one is submitted.

I ended the evening with a short walk with Sarah Palin, to get some air. We saw fireflies! I've never seen fireflies before. I really understand why people thought they were fairies.

The other night we went for Chinese food. Barbecue Man had identified a good place, and it was really good. Unfortunately they didn't offer Dim Sum (I wanted dumplings!) the time we were there. And unfortunately I can't remember between which hours they do serve dumplings, so I'll probably miss it the next time we go too. D'oh.

Anywho. The first time we went for Chinese I learned that one must add a little something to the fortune in the cookie. I forgot to tell you people, of course. You add "in bed" at the end. Hence my fortune, this time, was "You have a quiet and unobtrusive nature. In bed."

So now off to be unobtrusive in bed. I will leave you with some quotes:

From Meta:
Conjunctions for the win!

From Sarah Palin, after the car ride to the Taqueria and Target:
All sorts of weird stuff are going to show up in my story because you guys traumatized me.

And from Mr Stephen King:
The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pics galore

Some pics. Beacuse sometimes words don't say it all. And this is coming from a writer.

The main administrative building at the college.
Originally a monastery. The clock tower is still there,
to the right, and tolls several times a day.

St Anselm of Canterbury, namesake of the college.

A Swede. Beard attempting some sort of flanking action on the left.

An average road on the campus. It's a nice green campus.
Plenty of chipmunks, though the little critters won't pose for a pic.

Barbecue Man doing what he does, and Charley Horse.

Barbecue Man, Dundee and Meta.

Meta and Charley Horse, caught in a lovely food pose.

As Yet Unnamed and Alaska.

No one is really sure what happened here...

The whole merry barbecue bunch.

Dessert, Odyssey style.

Saturday slam!

Every year, Odyssey holds a slam at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Nashua, New Hampshire. Odyssey students stand up in the coffee shop part of the store and read a story no longer than five minutes in length.

So off we went. Five of us in Charley Horse's car. For some reason we had hand-written directions on a piece of paper instead of using one of the smartphones along in the car. We didn't get lost, really, we just weren't sure of where we were...

Barbecue Man whipped out his phone. Tap, tap, tap. Turn here. Go here. After a while, it dawned on us that we were in a holding pattern. Round and round we went. Which wasn't that strange, we realised. Barbecue Man is a retired air traffic controller. Holding patterns is what he does.

This lovely exchange took place.
Dundee: We're going the right way. I remember trees.
Barbecue Man: Yeah. There was also an oxygen nitrate atmosphere.

But we arrived in time. We had time for lunch before the slam, and ate at a micro brewery pub in Nashua. I had a killer lobster stuffed haddock with scallops. Nom nom nom.

Then off to the bookstore. Walked around in the store for a while. Bought some stuff. And then did the slam. There were some former Odyssey graduates there, and some people that had actually come to listen. Wow. So we read our stories. Commodore (formerly known as Assistant Teacher) and Evil Overlord (formerly known as Teacher) also read a text each, which was cool. We haven't heard anything from them before.

I suck at writing flash fiction. So I was in awe of some of the stories that were read. In awe. There are some hideously creative people here. A source of endless inspiration and angst.

Afterwards we learned that the slam had been broadcast on the store PA. So everyone heard our texts. Even in the bathrooms appearantly. Commodore tried the innocent act, but we all know she knew. Curse her and her puppet dragon!

And then the quote of the day.
Charley: They don't celebrate birthdays in Sweden.
Sarah Palin: That's because they all come out of rocks.

Thanks, Sarah. Really.

Friday, Goss-style

We had Theodora Goss lecture on "Finding Your Voice(s)".

It's the classic "it's not what you say, but how you say it."
A big part of voice is how you use the tools available to you as a writer. How you use punctuation. How you mix longer sentences with shorter. Which words you choose to use.

He cut down the tree vs He felled the ancient oak.
Both passages say pretty much the same, but in two very different ways.

The foremost thing I brought with me from the lecture was this: Sentences need to multi-task. You can increase the density by writing a paragraph and then asking of each sentence if it's doing at least two things. This is not necessarily two actions, maybe it's one action that also propels the character forward towards his goal. Or it's a piece of dialogue that both reveals something about the relationship between the two characters.

I will also bring this quote (and many others) from Theodora with me:
This is week three. You are used to being tortured.
She is a graduate of Odyssey and knows what we're going through.

After lunch we did in-class critiques with Theodora. My story "The Sagas Will Have the Truth of it" was up.

I wrote the text as an experiment, on several levels. First off, I wanted to write epic science fiction, which I've never really done. I also wanted to write it from an alien's point of view, which is a huge risk, since I am of the conviction that things a character knows should never be explained clearly in the text. It can be inferred from what is happening and what is said, but not spelled out. This means that things that are part of an alien's everyday life should not be explained if the alien is the point of view character.

I was scalded for this, naturally. I had expected nothing else. Many people thought I got lost to much in my setting and my story elements, which I always tend to do, but more so here than ever I would say. Many also said it was a very interesting setting. Most, including those that liked it, had their strangeness budget severely exceeded by my story.

Then along comes Theodora Goss. She believed I should send it to what might be the world's premier SF magazine. Yes, it was flawed, she said, but the concept was so unique that she felt it needed to be sent out after I had it revised and polished. She also thought it could be reworked into a novel, which was cool to hear. Quite the ego boost right there, I can tell you.

The rest of the day passed in a sort of blur. I didn't do any of the critiques, since I was too worked up. The whole class had pizza dinner, with Theodora attending. So we got another hour, hour and a half of Q&A with her about all things about being a writer. Very interesting.

That night, I started working on my Vikings and werewolves story.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How many monkeys?

Brief status report. More later.

Hot today. They say it will be like this all week. I will hunker down in the airconditioned reading room in the science center as much as possible. Today I am doing laundry, though, so I'm stuck in the apartment, hugging two floor fans.

Later today, our friendly neighborhood food geek Barbecue Man is firing up the grill. I have a steak marinating right now. Nom nom nom.

I turned in my text last night, at 0130. 5971 words, 29 under the limit. Skillz! The last third of the text is chaotic and all over the place, but that is sort of the point. We don't turn in texts to impress anyone, we do it to become better writers.

Discussing the text with Meta spawned the following quote on his part:
You realise that is the worst pickup line ever? "So, what's a Moorish sorceress like you doing in an 11th century Sweden like this?"

When we came to Odyssey, each of us brought a short story we wanted to share with the class. Meta and I both brought Kij Johnson's 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss. Read it. Read it now.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Current text: The Long Night. Vikings and were-creatures.

Current attitude to text: frustration.

Current state of mind: slight panic (text deadline 0730 tomorrow morning).

Current state of body: hot.

Current state of headache: a four on a scale of one to ten, where zero is absolutely none and ten is on the floor curled up in a foetal position crying.

Current state of stomach: hungry.

Current state of room: messy.

Current schedule for the day: write, eat, write, write, breathe, write, write, write, write, eat, write, write, write, maybe sleep.

More later. Maybe.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who? Me? Never!

More plot talk today.

We talked about how to pace a story, how to set up a climax in the story and how to do a proper revelation at the end.

The only scenes you want to include are those that show changes of significance for the main character. Why? Because the pace of the story decreases if you include scenes that don't matter. Once you know of a change that you want to put in a scene, find the latest point in the scene where you can come in and the earliest point where you can get out. You don't need to show the start of a conversation, or the end for that matter, as long as your characters say what has to be said to advance the plot.

Should be both inevitable and surprising. The protagonist's choices should have been narrowed down by now to the point where the reader believes there are maybe only two options left. Ah, but see, there is a secret door number three! The surprise. And the effect we want? ”Why didn't I see it? Of course that's the way it had to be!”

The answer to the Big Question. This Question may or may not be known to the reader, depending on how much information has been held back. Good revelations? Luke, I am your father. Charlton Heston realising he is on Earth. Bruce Willis realising he's a ghost. Tyler telling The Narrator they're the same person.

We also talked about how to create, revise and improve a plot. One important element which has come up several times is the causal chain. Does one event in the story cause the next? Are all the events significant the story?

When I get back home I am going to go through all my notes (41 pages, 10 point font size, so far), pull out some important stuff and get it up on my wall. How to write a three-act plot, above all. And then rewrite every damn story I have to follow that pattern. Rules are there to be broken, of course, but most stories still adhere to three acts.

Today our next author guest Theodora Goss arrived. We had slightly more than an hour in the classroom with her tonight. She talked about her own experiences as a writer, how Odyssey helped her and a lot about cons she goes to. Very interesting. Tomorrow she will hold a lecture and then sit in on the critiques of the three stories we're doing, one of which is my scifi story. Nervous? Who? Me? Never!

Right now I am reworking Something Wicked, my pre-class submission, based on the feedback from Teacher (who was kind of disappointed with her nickname and insisted on being called Evil Overlord). My plan is to have it reworked by Sunday night so I can turn it in to be sent to Gary Braunbeck, our writer-in-residence for all of week five. I have a private critique session with him then. Nervous? Who? Me? Never! Stressed out? Who? Me? Never!

Quote of the day:
There's enough adverbs in the world for you to start creating new ones. - Barbecue Man to Meta, as he created the word "fastly".

And on a personal note. I emailed with the talented Mike Libby over at Insect Lab about building me a clockwork bumblebee. So. F-ing. Cool.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Plot matters

Yesterday and today have been mostly about plot.

An idea is not a plot, kids. It goes like this:
1. Idea. The premise. Describe it in one line.
2. Story. Characters and goals and conflicts.
3. Plot. How the conflict develops, what the obstacles are, what the climax and resolution are. This is where I get lost.

I have no problem coming up with ideas that are fairly original (not just my opinion, some people that should know have said so too). I have no problem coming up with interesting characters. Hell, if it's taught me nothing else, 20+ years of RPGs should have given me that. But plot gets me every time. I have an idea but I can never get it through the whole way. Confusion ensues. So how to do it?

"Drama is the quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him from achieving a specific, acute goal" - David Mamet.

In other words, unless the protagonist has a strong desire to reach a certain goal and has to fight, and fight hard, to overcome obstacles in the way of him reaching that goal, the story is boring. If the goal and the conflict and the obstacles aren't clear to you, there is no plot. Confusion ensues.

We went on to talk about scenes, chapters and acts as building blocks of the plot, and how each should be structured. There's so much theory that I have no grasp of, but once it's laid out in front of me, it's so obvious that a lot of the stories I really love follow these theories. There is always the choice to break the rules, as long as you're aware you're doing so and giving the reader something else to make up for it, but in general, one should stick to the rules. If not? Confusion ensues.

Right after class, I went to the reading room, which is nice and cool, did my two critiques and then tried to smack some sense into my scifi story, due in the submission folder tomorrow morning at 0730. I wrestled with it for hours. Turned it in around 1800, today. I'm not happy with it, but I reached a point where I noticed I was screwing it up even worse by working on it, so I just turned it in.

Tomorrow Theodora Goss, our next guest lecturer, arrives. My scifi story will be critiqued inclass by my fellow students, as well as Teacher and Theodora. Nervous, but looking forward to it.

For dinner, Meta, Charley and I went to Consuelo's Taqueria, in downtown Manchester. We've had Mexican food a few times since we got here, but that's been of the fastfoodish kind, drenched in cheese and fat. Now? A perfect burrito with rice, beans, lettuce and sautéed pork. Glorious. We'll definitely be going back there, especially since that big bad boy and a drink only set me back nine dollars. Sweet.

And of course I can't leave you without some quotes.

We talked briefly about the lack of plot in horror movies, and also the lack of true suspense as the stupid teenages, yet again, go into the dark room where the strange noise is coming from. Teacher saw a bright side:
"We can always enjoy them being chopped up, which is another kind of pleasure."

We critiqued a story in class with the words "Erotic Adventures" in the title. Not much erotica, but quite a bit of romance. Charley was agitated:
"I wanted sex. You promised me sex. I'm away from my wife for six weeks."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Table of contents

19:24 (7:24 pm for those of you that can't tell time correctly).

Current contents of livingroom:

One Swedish author/geek/bearded thing.
One American/Canadian author/geek/musician/lots of other stuff.
One American author/geek/teacher(soon)/madman.
One Samsung laptop.
Two MacBooks.
Laptop bag.
Assorted LAN cables.
Tiny iPod headphones.
Big Sony headphones.
Big stack of paper.
Two floor fans.
One table-mounted fan.
Three bottles of water.
Can of Sprite.
Can of Coke.
Bag of peanut M&Ms
Bag of pretzel-like things.
Stack of books (Embassytown by China Mieville, On Writing Horror edited by Mort Castle, Shadows edited by Charles L Grant, Altman's Tongue by Brian Evenson, Toybox by Al Sarrantonio).
Chez Cthulhu (a card game)
About 30 000 words worth of manuscripts.
Assorted handouts and folders and stuff.

And heat. Lots and lots of horrible heat.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taken apart

Today I had my text "Sacrifice" critiqued in class. The whole class gets the texts in the morning, and then usually we have the afternoons and evenings to go over them, by marking the printed manuscripts with comments and corrections, and also writing a separate critique, a few pages in length.

"Sacrifice" was written before Odyssey, and it was one of the pieces I really wanted critiqued. The feeling of being critiqued is hard to describe. At the CWA gatherings (props to my CWA dawgs!) we listened to the author reading the text in class, and then gave response right after. Here at Odyssey we have hours to process and write up our crits, even sleep on them, and as such they are much more thorough. And in many ways, we're exposing our inner selves here, to be dissected and analysed.

It is a learning experience. There are 16 people in that room, including Teacher, with a much better chance of seeing the flaws in my work than I have. And they do point them out.

I got lots of positive feedback on my use of language, which feels really good coming from people for whom English is the first language. My big problem was, not surprisingly, plot. I confused most of my readers. Of course that's never nice to hear, but I knew the piece was flawed and the whole point of putting it in front of the class is not to get a pat on the head but to have your weaknesses pointed out. How else can I evolve as a writer?

After class, I went to the mail center and picked up an armful of packages for the class. Among them, two Amazon boxes and an Amazon envelope for me. Yay, stuff! I will order some stuff here, mostly text books on writing, and then ship it home with my manuscripts once the course is over.

Then I went downtown with Charley, Barbecue and Meta, to visit a second hand bookstore that is closing down in a week or so, and as such had 50% off already low prices. A Thieves' World novel and a present for Ribbed For Her Pleasure, who loves all things zombies.

The rest of the day has been spent critiquing and writing. I submit at 0730 on Thursday, and right now I can't really tie my sf story together. So I'm looking at options. My gut feeling is that I will have some late nights this week. Which is supposedly what Odyssey is all about.

Quote of the day, after we ranted at Barbecue for submitting a 5800 word story for crit tonight (the absolute upper limit is 6000). He replied:
I have a one-word story. It's just an exclamation point. Try and critique that.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Overheard by two guys in the apartment last night:

Alright. Fuck you, story.


Movie night. Eight of us (Meta, Charley Horse, Sarah Palin (formerly known as Party Planner), Narcomancer, Barbecue Man, Nits, Werefox Ninja, and I) went to Fratello's, an Italian restaurant, and then on to see X-Men: First Class.

The food: bland risotto and a pretty good ribeye. The risotto was improved with chili/garlic oil, sundried tomato butter and pepper, after advice from Nits. In all, a good meal.

The movie: Michael Fassbender as Magneto. Havoc. Sebastian Shaw. All good things. The rest? With the exception of what might be the best cameo ever and a scene where Magneto kills nazis, one big meh. It was better than the disaster that was X-Men: Last Stand, but that's not saying a lot.

The rest of the day: wrote some stuff. Read some stuff. Wrote some more stuff.

I am working on these texts:
- Another version of the truth. Approx 600 words. I will use it for the Odyssey slam on the 25th. A new spin on an old fairy tale.
- The orchards. Approx 5000 words. Horror. Or rather: Terror. Horror. Revulsion. The three stages of horror fiction. I am having some problems with it, so I might rewrite it from the POV of the bad guy and see what happens.
- The Sagas will have the truth of it. Approx 4500 words. Science fiction. Most ambitious thing I've ever written, as far as complexity goes. And more dialogue than I have ever written. Hopefully the text I will turn in on Thursday.
- Untitled. Approx 2000. High fantasy. Very much in an early stage.

I am also reworking Hair & Magic (very much a working title), mostly because I know Muffin Woman wants me to, and perhaps Something wicked, which was my submission story. Both of them are contemporary fantasy, the first one with a bit of humor (and lots of weird hair), the second one with a lot of violent deaths (and without the words where, when, who, why and what).

I also want to write about a girl who talks to a well, a car mechanic/goblin named Jack, a necroleptic narcomancer, the Rag Queen and the Oak Lord, a mirror that predicts the end of the world, and so much more. Not sure how I will feel after Odyssey is over, when I no longer have the opportunity to read and write for hours and hours per day...

Time will tell.

Oh. I'm not happy with the name Nits. Will have to think about what to change that to.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Weekend writing

The day in short.
Critiqued one story out of two for the weekend.
Grocery shopping. Junk food. Bananas. Mop.
Subs at Nadeau's.
Off to a skateboard shop we passed the other day. Turned out to be skate shop. As in hockey. Fail.
Stopped at a yard sale. A Ramones poster for 5 dollars for Charley, a 1 dollar VAST cd for me.
Trip to the local comic book store with seven students and Assistant Teacher. Bought Hellboy tee, Spawn TPB and three blind assortment Kid Robot figures. Moe, Peter Griffin, Evil Monkey. Win!
Slept for half an hour. Or rather, was rendered unconscious by the heat for half an hour.
Listened to Dry Kill Logic about three hours in total.
Walked around campus with Charley, to clear our heads.

The administrative center at the college. And Charley.

Last Saturday I poured out 5000 words, on Sunday 1000. Today the weather has been working against me. However, as darkness settled and the heat dissipated, I started writing. 2000 words of high fantasy story (sorcery, living mountains, Old Gods, the works) and maybe 500 on my scifi story. Good job.

Tomorrow in short.
Critiquing one story.
Finishing the scifi story.
Off to eat at an actual restaurant with actual menues and an actual waiter.
Watch X-Men: First Class

On Monday I get my first in-class critique. Nervous, but excited. Bring it on.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Imagine or die

The day started with a lecture from Barry Longyear. The subject: Imagine or die.

He spoke a lot about how we associate different levels of information in our minds, and how creating such an association, whether consciously or subconsciously, can open up all kinds of stories.

He went on to talk about his own process, his research, how he keeps things organised and how he keeps his imagination running using external cues. Very interesting stuff, and a very candid view into the mindset and process of an author who's been doing this for decades.

During the lecture I felt my apprehension for my afternoon one on one with Barry growing. He had been sent one of my stories, And Then There Was The Word, two weeks ago, and had written notes.

It's at moments like these, when I'm sitting there listening to someone like Barry lecturing, that I really don't understand how I ended up here. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience, and I am so happy I came here.

Then on to my one on one. My language was "exquisite", which felt very good hearing. Then the artillery came out. Bang! Bang! Bang! Suffice to say that I will now put that story in a dark corner of my harddrive for at least three months, then take it out, sit down with notes from both Teacher and Barry, and pull the whole thing apart. Try different things, shift POV, restructure the plot, mess with the setting, all of it. I love the premise of the story, but obviously it doesn't work as a whole.

Still, it wasn't so bad. I learned a lot today, both from the lecture and my one on one.

The weekend will be spent writing. I have four stories left to turn in before the class is over. On Monday I will get in-class critique on the story I turned in today (Sacrifice - about a man who finds a god of war in Iraq). On Friday I will get in-class critique, with added opinions from writer Theodora Goss, on a story I hopefully will finish over the weekend. It's hardcore sci fi, something I haven't tried before, and I am really going out there with the POV character being a shapeshifting alien. We'll see how that goes.

Today we also had our weekly class mixer. Last Friday, barbecue. Today, pizza. We played a setting game, to help us think outside the box on setting. We went far far outside the box, and much laughter ensued.

Best quotes of the day:
Barbecue Man: Everybody needs goals.
Me: Everybody needs trolls?
Barbecue Man: Yeah. That too.

This one requires context. Charley Horse borrowed my umbrella (more rain today! Hooray!) and found the receipt for it. Thus:
Your umbrella cost 99 femenarkenborken.

Börk börk börk!

Friday, June 17, 2011

All work and some play

On the couch, in the stifling heat in the apartment. Fans on, full blast. It's not as bad as it was when we first got here, but it's worse than it's been for the last couple of days. Tomorrow we're supposed to have rain, which is good. Hopefully the weekend will be nice and cool so we can sit in the apartment and write and not have to worry about finding some place with AC.

I sat down with Teacher yesterday, and went through my two pre-class submissions. It was very interesting and illuminating. She gives extensive written notes on the manuscript and over 1000 words on a separate document, for each text. Invaluable.

The element we identified that I will focus my work on this coming week is plot. I have a lot of holes and inconsistencies in my plots. I knew they were there, but I didn't know they were that big. She gave me some pointers on how to fix them for the specific stories we discussed. I might rework one of them to submit sometime over the coming weeks. More on my stories in another post.

Today Teacher continued lecturing on Character and went on to Point of View.

I am happy with most characters I create, and from the notes I've gotten so far it seems others do to. What I have to remember when writing a character is that all human beings are inconsistent, but that inconsistency must be kept in check, or the character will make no sense. In most cases I manage to make my characters complex, and so far I have managed to avoid writing a schizo character. I think.

Teacher supplied us with this quote from Flaubert: ”When we're at our worst, we're at our most interesting.” Basically, put pressure on your character. Take things away from him, put obstacles in front of him on the way to his goal, and interesting things will happen.

We talked a lot about dialogue too, as a way to reveal aspects of character. Personally I think I have problems writing believable dialogue. It always feels contrived and fake, so I was happy to get a lot of tools and tips on writing good dialogue.

For Point of View, we need to ask ourselves this question: Whose story is this? Who is telling it? Through whose eyes should we see it? POV is hard, and very hard to put into words. I might need to buy some books on it, since I have POV shifts in some of my stories, which is not good.

Every day after lunch we sit down and do critiques of two texts, three on Thursdays and three over the weekend. Some of the others have a hard time understanding how Meta (who used to be called Guitar) and Charley Horse (who also got a new name today, but one we seem to have forgotten now) can be in bed before midnight, all our work done. Our theory is that we sit down the second we get back to the apartment, and that we all have experience with critiquing. But who knows?

Sci-fi author Barry Longyear is our lecturer for tomorrow. We had an hour of Q&A with him today. He is totally insane, in the very best sense of the word. He's holding a lecture tomorrow which I expect will be really good and entertaining. I also have a one on one sitdown with him where I will listen to him tearing apart one of my stories. Oh joy.

But it's not all work. We have fun too. We went out and had Polynesian food a few hours ago. The place was cool, with drinks like something out a cheesy movie set in Hawaii, a karaoke setup and good food. We plan on going back, with more of our fellow students.

My fortune cookie said: You will be fortunate in everything.

Everything! Hooray!

And finally, an exchange that took place earlier.
Charley: So. Facebook, huh?
Me: I'm actually talking to people that have critiqued my horror story.
Meta: Doesn't count!
Charley: That's true.

So. I was Not Writing. At Odyssey you're either Writing or Not Writing. Writing good. Not Writing bad. Bad, bad beard. I will try to Write some before I go to bed. Night night.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Another kind of budget

The last two days have been spent listening to Teacher lecture about Setting and Character. Two fairly big concepts. And a source of endless angst, since the lectures and discussions around them makes us see our stories in a whole new light.

So I looked at my story The Orchards. It started out as a contemporary fantasy story before I got here, but this past weekend I tore it apart, wrote 5000 words and all of a sudden I had a horror story.

"I'm writing horror", I said. "How did that happen?"
"Well", said Guitar. "It is raining outside."

So. The Orchards. Anthony Cook. Author and right now a fairly nice guy.
Does my character have an arc? Nope.
Does my character have an internal conflict? Nope.
Does my setting reflect my characters? Yeah, kinda sorta.

It's very easy to despair and rip apart everything we have written once we're confronted with Teacher's truths. Curse the truths! Though not really. They will make us better writers. It's just frustrating right now. And Teacher sure can teach. All the lectures come with examples from published fiction and while we learn we also have a good time. The tempo is high and the issues are huge, but we still have fun.

We touched on Showing vs Telling again, and learned of the "As you know, Bob" problem. This is where two characters in your world have a conversation about things they both already know. "As you know, Bob, here on Earth we have this thing called oceans. They are big and blue and full of fish." This is, as you might realise, not a good way to establish setting.

We also learned that you shouldn't exceed your strangeness budget. You can put too many strange things in your world/setting leading to overload and the reader not knowing what's important. Choose where you are going to be strange.

This is a recurring problem in all kinds of fantastic fiction. In fantasy it tends to be creatures, magic and geography, in sci fi it's aliens and complicated social structures, in horror the inclusion of too many mythologies (that's right, True Blood, I'm looking in your direction).

In all, two very interesting and productive days.

On a side note.
I was aware that this was a Catholic college before coming here. What I have forgotten to mention to all my readers (millions and millions of you) is that there is a monastery on the college grounds, and actual monks sometimes walk around on campus, black robes and all. So now I need to write something about monks.

I was also aware of, or at least suspected, that the college was fairly conservative. Yesterday this was proven when the Republican Party held their first debate in preparation of the election in 2012 here. I thought it was going to be local politicians, a governor or a senator or whatever. But nooooo.

These people attended:
Michele Bachmann
Herman Cain
Newt Gingrich
Ron Paul
Tim Pawlenty
Mitt Romney
Rick Santorum

I don't consider myself even a novice on US politics, but even I recognise some of those names. Heavens to Betsy, as Charley Horse would put it, what a lineup. Conservatives galore!

That's it. Tomorrow we keep going on Character, and I have my first one on one with Teacher. She will present her critique on the two stores I sent in before the course started, and then we will set up a plan for my development as a writer over the coming weeks. Very interesting, and I'm nervous as hell. Wish me luck!

Monday, June 13, 2011

One, two, three, dark-off!

Sunday. Still raining, so the apartment is cool. Slept in a little, then spent the day writing, critiquing, doing journal entries. Wrote approx 1200 words and played around a bit with the text I wrote yesterday. Also sent out that text to some poor souls who volunteered to read it and give response.

If anyone else reading this wants to do the same, let me know. You'll get a thank you in my book once I'm a world famous author.

Charley Horse challenged me to a dark-off yesterday. As in, "who can write the darkest story?". There have been some disturbing moments in the texts we have read so far, but the revulsion factor has been low.

I wrote a death yesterday that could be really gruesome. Not sure if I captured it, though. Have to wait and see what the readers say. If I get it right, victory in the dark-off shall be mine!

Yesterday nine of us (Guitar, Charley Horse, Alaska, Party Planner, Narcomancer, Dundee, Barbecue Man, me and one more I haven't figured out a name for yet) went to dinner. Thai food, we said. Yes, Charley said, I found one. So off we went. It turned out to be Chinese food. Oh well. Close enough? Not really. Dundee and Barbecue had Chinese for lunch.

Food has, as always when I'm in the US, become a central theme. We've been to Nadeau's, the sub place, three times over the last couple of days. At least I changed it up today and had another kind of sub. It was also very very tasty.

I need to write a story about food.

The best quote from yesterday, actually in two parts:
"I'm spending my time trying to catch a chipmunk and teach him to write." - Dundee

And right after that:
"If a room full of monkeys can write Shakespeare, what would a room full of chipmunks write?" - Guitar
"Twilight." - Barbecue Man

And with that, I will take my leave, my little chickens. Off to eat food and watch Super 8. A little pat on our own backs for working hard this weekend.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Late night rants

Late night after an exhausting day, dorm room. Two jet engine fans going, all of us coming down from a major sugar rush (cookies!!!).

So what happens? Three tired, talkative geeks in the same room? These are the subjects that have been discussed:
Comic book movies. Jack Sadness the sock puppet hobo. Where the Wild Things Are. Aardman Studios. Stephen Spielberg (Charley, after we've talked about AI for a while: "Now I remember my rants..."). Tintin. Invader Zim. Rendevouz with Rama. The Matrix (we wanted a real war!). Batman in various incarnations.

The question Why are we still up? was just asked. Good question.

And as I am starting to close down, Charley comes out of the bathroom and says:
"I'm really going to illustrate how much I hated that bathtub scene in ET. I'm gonna get naked and get in the tub, I'm gonna slosh around and then when I call out for you, you can come in. My body is so deformed you'll think it's a cartoon."

Quote of the day, right there. Now? Sleep.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Laughter! Descriptions! Bananas!

Evidence of fatigue setting in:
Three guys in their thirties laughing their asses off to a Monty Python-ish song, just composed by one of said guys. I can't even begin to explain it.

Today we listened to Elaine Isaak lecturing about description. How to reveal aspects of a character depending on which words he uses to describe something. If he describes a person as thin, skinny, or gaunt. Big difference.

The thing I'm going to take with me is to make lists, before writing the text. What do the readers need to understand my story? I am writing one thing set in Istanbul. I need details on the geography, look and feel and smell, history, details on the bazaar, info on silversmiths, info on amphetamines and Modafinil, etc. I may not need to write specifically about these things, but I will need them as background to make my world come alive.

Overall, a good day. Now, kicking back for a while, to celebrate having survived Thursday night. Later, going shopping for bananas and water (we go through about 1.5 liters per person per day), and then a barbecue in the yard by the dorms.

Tomorrow we're sleeping in (ssssshhh, don't tell Teacher), then off to find some café with air conditioning, to write in, since the campus pretty much closes down on the weekends. If we're good boys and do at least six hours active writing + the critiques we need to do, we get to go to an actual restaurant with actual menus and actual waiters. This is not a rule here, it's something we came up with on our own.

Rudolph? Rambo? Research?

Yesterday, we talked about Showing vs Telling.

As in:
Martin was angry. "You useless bastard!" he screamed at the printer (telling).
Martin's eyes bulged, his beard bristled and veins stood out on his fleshy neck. "You bastard!" he screamed at the printer (showing).

Showing is good. Telling is bad. In general. Teacher said a good mix may be 85 percent showing and 15 percent telling. But it all depends on the text.

I have a submission due next Friday, 0730, to be critiqued over the weekend, critiques presented on Monday. I thought I had a good text. I was confident. I felt strong. Then we did the Show vs Tell workshop. Not so confident anymore.

See, this is a potential problem with this workshop. We write texts and then we workshop problems which we then see in our own texts. Clarity of vision leads to whatever the opposite of peace of mind is.

Today we talked about originality. Are the any original stories left to tell?

Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer is shunned by his peers. John Rambo is shunned by his peers.
Oh Rudolph, it's snowing, we need your special talents to help us. Oh, Rambo, there's some prisoners that need rescuing, we need your special talents to help us.
Rudolph, you're a hero now! Rambo, you're a hero now!

Scary, ain't it? There were other examples too.

And today our first guest, Elaine Isaak, a former Odyssey graduate and published author, arrived. Each guest will arrive on Thursday night, when we hold a simple reception (popcorn, cookies, soda, oh the glories of the author's life) and ask questions for an hour. Then on Friday the guest holds a lecture and sits in on the critique session that afternoon.

The Q&A was interesting. We talked about research and publishing. Getting The Call.

A secret learned today was about the Barnes & Noble death spiral. So strange.

As a final note: today's critiqued stories included the first in-text casualty since we started. Nine stories critiqued, one death. Highly dissatisfying. In my admission story, I killed off 50+ people. I should write something like that to up the average here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Flame on!

Oh. I forgot. The IT director here at the college rides a massive Harley. And has a helmet subtly decorated with flames. Cool.

Almost fun

Second day of proper workshopping.

"What's the plural of status?" I asked Guitar today in class.
"Statii. If he speaks Latin", he answered,
"Yeah. A guy in a mechanised combat suit is gonna speak Latin..."
"He might. If the suit was tweed."

Yesterday and today we did some work after class at the library. Cool, quiet, comfortable. "We close at 4:30 on Wednesdays and Thursdays", they said today. So back to the apartment we went. Hellish heat. We have three large floor fans working hard to keep us cool.

"The only way to work here is in a windtunnel", Guitar said. So true.

We have a few laughs, Guitar, Charley Horse (this being the other guy I share the apartment with) and I. Today we took a short break in writing, had some snacks and water, and shared a few jokes. Suddenly we were back to writing.

"We almost had fun there for a second", Charley said.

But don't get me wrong. This is going to be an awesome experience, and we will have fun.

Tomorrow is Thursday. Hellday. Three texts to critique, one journal entry to write, and a one-hour reception for our first visiting author. Prediction for Friday? Zombeard.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Write or don't write

On the way to the classroom this morning, Guitar and I (Guitar being one of the guys I share an apartment with) discussed whether it might be a good idea to have a pre-meltdown meltdown.

We're both fairly certain we will have some sort of episode over the next six weeks, when we're suffering from sleep deprivation, writer's block and struggling with feelings of inadequacy. So we figured we could do a preemptive strike and just have a meltdown today, before anyone has even seen our texts. Just stand up in the middle of class, scream "I hate you all for the things you will say about my stories! You're all horrible, horrible people, and you don't understand me as an artist!" and then storm out.

We chickened out though.

Today was the first round of response. Two texts. The level of response was about the same as in CWA, the creative writing class in English I took in Sweden, which felt good. The difference was that we got printouts of the texts last night and got to go through them thoroughly before the response session. We give the manuscripts back with written notes and corrections, and also hand over a few pages of written response on each text. A single text, depending on length, will take two hours and up to give response on properly. Most days we have two texts. On Thursdays we'll have three. I doubt I will be a happy, well-rested camper on Friday.

And we learned the Odyssey certainty principle: At any one moment, you're either writing or you're not writing. Words to live by.

I also learned that subs from Nadeau's will be good friends. Yes, good, satisfying friends. Today my friend was stuffed with pastrami and sautéed mushrooms *insert appropriate Homer drooling sounds here*

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Orientation day

How to critique. How to use the computer lab. How to schedule our time. How to avoid sleep deprivation. That's what we've been talking about today.

Though not really the last one. From what I've heard, sleep deprivation is part and parcel of this class.

Our teacher said this today:
"You are people who I believe could have a successful writing career." Wow. Awed silence.

My fortune cookie I got with my sesame chicken take-out said:
"You are careful and systematic in your business arrangements." Not really applicable to this. But good to know.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The day before the day

This is the day before the official start of the Odyssey writing class. I am nervous and elated at the same time. I have no idea of what to expect of tomorrow, except highly creative people in a highly creative environment.

"There will be laughter and there will be tears", the teacher said today at dinner.
"Yeah", the assistant teacher said. "Our laughter and your tears."

Seated now on the bed in my bedroom, in the apartment that I share with two other students. All around me, my luggage seems to have exploded, a state in which I am guessing it will stay for six weeks. The room is unbelievably hot. No AC. In the US. What the hell?

I realize I probably won't have much time to write here, and when I do, it will be short. Once the class is over there will be more time. For now, bookmark or whatever, and read when I write. Good night.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Today, summarised.

Hours, door to door, home to hotel: 17.5.
Signs leading me to the wrong place, at Munich airport: 7
Interesting German vending machines: 2

This from the men's room at Munich airport. What the hell?

Things missing from the airplane, Munich to Boston: chloroform. For the children.
Movies watched on the plane: The Adjustment Bureau (utter crap), Green Hornet (utter utter crap), Tangled (funny in places)
German flight attendants who had their make-up gun set to "whore": 3.
Percentage of state trooper moustaches on customs officers: approx 30.
Thing I forgot at home: the hoodie that goes outside my other hoodies.

Now in Boston. At hotel. Tired. Good night.