Monday, December 31, 2007

I Wish You A Brave New Year

I don't really have a lot to add to the title of the post, actually.

I'm finally over my cold/bronchitis/mystery bug. 2007 -- really, a pretty bad year for me -- is finally over. I've been regrouping and planning, and I'm looking forward to a 2008 that will be full of changes and new opportunities.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ha Ha Ha Cough

Funny story: I'm still sick. I finished my course of antibiotics on Thursday, and while I'm definitely not as sick as I was before, I'm still getting bouts of violent, pull-a-muscle intense coughing.

I'm going to give it a couple more days with over-the-counter cold medicine and as much sleep as I can muster, and then I'm probably going to see a doctor again. Hopefully, a different one.

So, no writing to speak of. I'm definitely well enough to think again, and that's a welcome improvement. But pulling together the energy to write -- and just as importantly, the time, what with the kids and trying to rest -- that's been a challenge.

I feel like a European in 1914: I'm still hoping it'll all be over by Christmas. But I'm also entertaining the possibility that my wish could be an equally naive one.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Devil What Needs A What Now?

"Devil Bunny Needs a Ham"

"You and your friends are living pleasant and complete lives in Happyville. You are highly trained and well-paid sous-chefs, who have decided to climb to the top of a tall building, as fast as you can.

Devil Bunny Needs a Ham. And he's pretty sure that knocking you off the building will help him get one.

Perhaps he is right. Perhaps he is not."

Devil Bunny Needs A Ham was a great early release from the inimitable folks at Cheapass Games, a company based on the idea that board games don't have to be expensive, since people already have all the stuff that makes them expensive -- like dice, and counters. It didn't hurt that their games are invariably easy to learn and great fun to play. (Like Kill Dr. Lucky, a very unofficial prequel to Clue, where players compete to do in the hard-to-kill titular character.)

Anyway, Devil Bunny Needs A Ham -- the title is so much fun to say and type that I'm not going to bother abbreviating it -- is a simple game. The players compete to be the first to climb a building. There is a random element that will knock you down (make you move back) if it lines up with you on a vertical line on the game board.

The random element is, yes, the eponymous Devil Bunny. And this is what I love about the concept: The designers at Cheapass Games obviously, at some point during the creation of this game decided that a pointless back-story was yet another element of board games that was completely unnecessary.

Seriously. Why does any board game not based on a licensed property need a backstory? Players aren't told that Battleship is actually about the Battle of Midway. Monopoly is theoretically about real estate moguls in Atlantic City, but you don't need to know that to play, and it's never mentioned in the rules.

So why are you trying to get to the top of a tall building? Because that's what you decided to do.

What's trying to stop you? Devil Bunny. Why? Because he Needs A Ham.

Devil Bunny Needs A Ham has become my personal catch-phrase for "Why ask why?"

But more importantly, I think that it's important to remember that any narrative, no matter how elaborate the continuity or the backstory, has at some point if you examine it closely enough, a "Devil Bunny Needs A Ham" moment. A point at which the logic of the backstory has to be reduced to "Just because."

Just because it's more fun that way.
Just because we need dramatic tension.
Just because it's the premise.
Just because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why doesn't Peter Parker patent and license his web-fluid/web-shooter invention, providing a huge boon to law enforcement while solving his personal financial problems forever? Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why doesn't the Federation consistently use transporter back-ups to bring back the dead? Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

Why does Dorothy want to go back to a crappy dustbowl farm in the middle of the Depression when she could live in Oz? Because Devil Bunny Needs a Ham.

Why can't the Professor from Gilligan's Island, a polymathic genius in every other respect, fix a damn hole in a boat? Because... well, you get the picture. It involves Devil Bunny and Ham.

Because if we did that, there wouldn't be a story.

Screenwriters have a term for what happens for when the premise or element that makes there be a story gets removed -- through studio notes, rewrites, whatever: It's called "pulling the pin."
(If a development executive said, "How about they just fix the boat?" That would be pulling the pin.)

I'm not sure, however, that there's a widely-used phrase for the logical inconsistency, the "just because" factor in a premise, backstory or continuity that we have to accept at face value in order for the story to happen.

But I have one. If you ask me, I'll say, "Dude. Because Devil Bunny Needs A Ham."

Yeah, I don't think it'll catch on either.

My Lungs Strike A Blow For Freedom

The freedom to completely incapacitate me. My "cold" -- yes, I'm still sick -- is actually bronchitis, according to the doctor at the walk-in clinic down the street.

So, no writing. I've barely been able to think. It felt like I had a glue factory in my head, and the constant, violent coughing was, if possible, less fun than it sounds.

Thanks to sleep, antibiotics and prescription cold medication, I seem to be on the mend.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Or I Could Just Be A Glutton For Punishment

I've been thinking about short fiction again, lately.

Over the past few years, I've written the occasional short story -- including two pieces that I wrote as part of my back-from-erstwhiling.

Prose is, in general, something I that flounder with. I don't know how novelists do it -- 250, 300, 500, 800 pages of characters and plot and description and all the rest?

But it's not just a matter of sustaining a novel, because the same thing has cropped up in my short pieces too. I'm good at character and dialogue, and I can handle plot. They aren't the problem.

It's description. Every single time.

I worry, too much, about my descriptive prose. I worry that I've described too much, or not enough. I worry that I'm being too direct and explicit, or too poetic and opaque. I worry about the voices of my characters, and the discrepancy I see between their dialogue and the narration when I use the first person.

I don't know why I over-think this stuff. I'm not exactly a master of plot, either, but I don't seem to get hung up on it.

That's why it's kind of a big deal for me to pull my short stories out of the trunk, and dust them off.

I have one piece that probably just needs a little tweaking, and then can go to market. That one, I've actually already submitted to four publications with no takers so far. I'm not sure why -- I think it's quite good. I might make it my next writers group submission and get some more feedback.

I have another piece that I recently submitted to a short story contest, so we'll see how that goes. It's pretty solid as well.

And there's a third story that needs some major clean-up. (Among other things, I switched from the third to first person half-way through.)

So, given my anxieties around prose, why am I doing this?

For one thing, I'd like to at least try to confront my anxieties around writing prose.

And I have these stories, and they aren't doing me any good just sitting on the hard drive collecting... well, not dust. Random electrons, I guess.

Also, short fiction -- especially in genre fiction, which is what I tend to write -- is a far more open medium than most to newcomers and "emerging writers."

And although the money isn't big -- one of the reasons that it's a comparatively easy market to break into -- getting paid anything for my work would provide some much-needed validation and ego-boosting right about now.

So, I'm going to review the three short stories that I think are solid enough, and finished enough. I'm going to rewrite where I have to. And I'm going to start getting the work out there.

There you go: The first, and probably simplest part of my plan for the New Year. Keep good thoughts in your head for me, okay? It's a simple plan, but it still involves wrestling with a demon or three.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Just Feeling A Little Calendar Shock

It's December.

We're putting up the Christmas tree tomorrow.

2007 is gearing up to wind down, and I know it's trite, but I don't know where it all went.

As the end of the year approaches, I'm thinking -- of course -- about 2008.

Plots. Plans. Schemes. Dreams. Things I want to change. Things I want to stay the same.

There's going to be lots to consider, and lots to discuss. I'll keep you posted.