The Greener Grass

March 30, 2020

Every time I sit down to write, I go through the same stages:

  1. This will be fun!
  2. This is fun!
  3. Wait, now it’s getting complicated.
  4. You know what would be more fun? Some other project.
  5. This other project will be more fun!
  6. This other project is more fun!
  7. Wait. . .

The other project is always more fun. It always will be. And if you let yourself go down that road, you end up accomplishing nothing.

Apropos of which, as I was on my treadmill (shut up, I do too. Intermittently. And slowly), listening to the Revolutions podcast, when it occurred to me that I knew how to make time travel work. I hasten to add: not actual time travel, just time travel in storytelling. And only within certain constraints. But I’ve had a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court idea floating around in the back of my freakishly large head for a while, and in the midst of hearing about the events of 1905 Russia, I figured out a way to make it work.

So, I’m not doing that. At least not now because: see above paragraphs.

(This is an improvement on my usual brainstorms which have a tendency to follow the formula, “Ya know what would be really awful and disturbing and would cause people to say, WTF is wrong with you, Michael?“)

At the moment my WIPs include two feature scripts, (Driverless and Drop), the Gone TV effort, an old-fashioned multi-cam family sitcom called Gas, a lingering Messenger of Fear TV pitch (managed by someone else), and this thing here, Guns and Dragons. The problem for me has never been coming up with ideas, ideas are easy. Deciding where to spend my time, that’s hard. But I have enough on my plate, so time travel is going to have to wait.

But I’ve figured it out.

One reply on “The Greener Grass”

Preach brother!

Ideas are a dime a dozen, its the effort that separates artists! That’s always been my struggle as well,
Many people know of the Muse of Inspiration, but many forget about her equally-important sister, Dedication!

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March 23, 2020

I took a run at writing this concept a while back and gave it up because I hit a technical snag. The intention was to alternate chapters between the two universes. The problem I very quickly discovered is that the fantasy side, Vaul, because it required extensive world-building, also required a hell of a lot more exposition than our usual universe. Exposition slows things down. So I’d end up with half the narrative going 60 mph and the other half doing 20.

By jumping in and going on instinct, and being a bit lazy frankly, I stumbled into a solution. Bring someone across from earth-side to Vaul right up front. That way I can use that character to stage the expo dumps. It’s so obvious it earns a duuuuuh. I have two Swiss watches, one runs fast, one runs slow, by inserting a crossover character I, in effect, add an extra gear between the workings of the two watches.

Gosh, I’m clever. Eventually.

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Jumping In

March 21, 2020

My usual process involves a lot of just jumping in.

Some explanatory background: I am a high school drop-out. We were a military family so we moved a lot and I was always the new kid. And I was an arrogant little shit, so even in 10th grade I was casually walking out of school whenever I felt like it. At the start of the year I’d get my books, put ’em in my locker and promptly forget the combination. I’d bullshit my way through tests – I’m good with tests. As a result I had stellar marks on standardized state tests, which complicated the lives of teachers who wanted to fail me. I hit 85th percentile on math skills which, if you knew me, you’d quickly realize is ludicrous. My math skills stop at long division. But it’s hard to flunk a kid who you should be able to teach. So. . .

As I was finishing 10th grade my Dad came back from Vietnam and we relocated from Iowa to the DC area. My first day of 11th grade I was new, as always. Went into the lunchroom to eat my Salisbury steak, and a teacher stopped me. Seems I went in the wrong door. I said, “OK, I’ll remember that next time.” To which the teacher said, “No, sir, young man, you’ll go back out that door and come in the correct door.” So I walked out of the school never to return.

It’s called ODD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Of course we didn’t have the term then, so ALS -Arrogant Little Shit is close enough. (The character Armo, in the Monster, Villain, Hero trilogy is a bit of tongue-in-cheek self-parody: big, reckless, not very smart white boy incapable of following orders – except from women.)

I did later attend San Francisco State University for, oh, let’s call it a semester. I was heavily focused on chasing women and getting high, and pretty quickly quit college, too.

So I’ve never taken a writing course or read a book on writing. When I started I was 34, had been a fugitive from justice for a decade (a second decade was still to come), and was cleaning homes and offices on Cape Cod. It was my wife, Katherine Applegate, who suggested we stop being fucking idiots and get careers. I asked her, “What career?” She said we should write. So, I said, “Okay.”

It literally never occurred to me that I couldn’t do the work. So, with very little actual education and no experience, at age 34, cleaning toilets, broke as hell and liable to be arrested at any moment, I thought, “Sure, why not?” And I jumped in.

We banged out a Harlequin romance novel, got paid $5,000 and moved to Portland, Maine. There we began ghostwriting for Sweet Valley Twins. And I got a side gig as the regular restaurant reviewer for the Maine Sunday Telegram. But still with no real idea of how one was supposed to write a column, or anything, really. But Katherine and I were frantically turning stuff out. The SVT ghosting, spin-off books for Disney (Mermaid, Aladdin), ghosting parts of another series called Girl Talk. I did some ad copy as well. Reviewed some TV shows for another local paper.

Then we, along with a few others, more or less invented the ‘group of mixed-gender kids hanging out’ form of YA, with Ocean City, Boyfriends/Girlfriends and Summer. Not that we had any idea we were doing something different. Neither of us had ever read a YA book.

Ignorance has worked well for us.

Anyway, there was never a point where I learned the proper way to do things. It was all ad hoc. I literally cannot diagram a sentence. I have no idea what ‘participle’ means. I don’t know what defines a given genre. I don’t know why a paragraph is a paragraph. And I’ve never even looked at a reading level guideline. I’d been writing for kids for years before I heard there was such a thing as a reading level.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying that whatever aspiring writers learn from this experiment, it will probably not align with what you’ve learned in school. It works for me, but your mileage may vary.

When I talk about this at schools I point out that every now and then someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge and actually survives. This does not mean it’s a good idea to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Just because I jumped off and then jumped in, does not mean this is the path for any rational human being. Our eldest daughter says that my life is ‘non-generalizable.’ IOW, the lessons I’ve learned probably don’t apply to anyone else.

The thing is, if you’re going to write, you’re going to do it your way.

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Characters, POV, Tense.

March 20, 2020

Right away, if I want to get into actual writing, I need to think about my lead. Or leads. Hmmm. Maybe start with a couple so I can get dialog right from the jump?

As for person this is going to have to be Third. Makes it easier to follow the action and exposition. First person is easier to write, but this feel Big Canvas to me and that suggests third. Third limited? That’s my go-to style. If I go voice-of-God third person I can be less disciplined about exposition but it’ll sound old-timey.

Tense? I did present tense in FRONT LINES, but the fantasy element pushes me toward past tense. I’ll start there, maybe change my mind as I write into the thing.

This story is going to get weird in a hurry so my instinct is to start prosaic. Ground it in reality. But I don’t want a slow build, so… hmmm. Also I’m going to want some inside access, by which I mean I need my YA leads to have access to info a bit ahead of the curve to keep a handler on exposition. I could go with convenient parents but that kind of makes me wince. Been done to death.

OK, off to the name lists. Let’s give this couple some names.


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I’m going to basically narrate my thought process as I get into this. It’s going to be disjointed. So bear with me.

I start with concept. We got that. From there I tend to want to lay out the setting, the geography. I’ll be drawing a map of Vaul and if I can figure out how to upload it, I will. But for a start the question is my Earth location. I basically need a borderland between Earth and this new third universe. Given that we’re all locked in our homes (note to the future: it’s the great virus of 2020) I’m thinking local.

Lockdown means I can’t travel to destinations to do on the spot research. But I have Google maps and pix and whatnot, so onward. I’m sitting here looking down at the Silver Lake reservoir. Why not start there.

I’m forming a mental image of the area around the ‘lake’ becoming a sort of translucent membrane, the first manifestation of the melding of the two universes. Gonna play hell with traffic, but what the hell, in GONE I shut down the 101.

With that vague beginning I start looking at my leads. I want to more-or-less alternate chapters between Earth and Vaul. I’m not going to be rigid about that, but I want that as my template. And I have to think about where I’m seeing this in terms of audience. Given that most of my current readers are YA readers, I’m going to feature a YA lead on the Earth side.

I think the trick to that will be suggesting that moving between Earth, the Overlap, and Vaul, will be a very disorienting experience. I don’t want a rush of people, I have to set an access limit. So, OK, crossing the barrier tends to fry the brain a bit. It’s hallucinatory. Takes time to adjust. It’s easy to argue that younger people would have an easier time of it. So, conclusions so far: a YA human lead, and Silver Lake as our starting point. More TK.

2 replies on “Thinking”

This sounds great! I’m excited to see the possibilities for interplay between modern Californians and Fantasy.
I’m intrigued to see how you’re building the ‘Overlay’ buffer between worlds and how you’ll play with the movement through it from either side. I agree that some form of restriction/obstacle to slow things down will work well—it’d be hard to avoid the “invasion” trope (from either side!) without it.
Keep it up!

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