Category archive: Books

Thanks, Maureen

Veneer_Review_By_Maureen

I just wanted to give a quick thanks to Maureen H for her recent review of Veneer. I tend to look at my books as always increasing in quality, and yet it’s Veneer, my second book, that continues to outsell the others. I don’t know why that is. From the reviews, it seems people really enjoy the concept of augmented reality, while others like the characters themselves. Some people don’t like the book at all, but who has time to think about that?

Whether or not Maureen’s review is 5 stars or 1 star, I’m just glad someone is still reading a book from 2011. I’m glad they liked it enough to review it. It makes sitting here morning after morning, slogging through Draft 3 of Hybrid Mechanics just a little more bearable.

Thanks, Maureen.

Maximum Overwrite

odd_thomas_stormy

So I’m currently reading Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. I watched the movie a few weeks ago and really enjoyed the universe Koontz created, so naturally I wanted to read the book and get all those extra details that are typically left out of movies. And though I’ve enjoyed reading, it doesn’t really feel like there is more story here. I have a guess about why that is. If you haven’t read Odd Thomas, head over to Amazon and load up the preview.

This post originally appeared on danielverastiqui.com on May 16, 2014,
but the concept of Maximum Overwrite still applies.

Or, if you’re the I don’t take my orders from blogs type of person, here’s a random excerpt:

“Robertson’s here,” I told her.

“Who?”

“Fungus Man.”

Suddenly he was on the move, walking between the headstones, toward the church.

“We better forget dinner,” I said, drawing Stormy to her feet with the intention of hustling her out of the belfry. “Let’s get down from here.”

Resisting me, she turned to the parapet. “I don’t let anyone intimidate me.”

The entire book (so far) is written in short paragraphs comprised of one or two sentences. It feels like a fast read because you’re constantly flipping pages, but then you get to the end of the chapter and it’s like, did something just happen?

Compare that to:

In the darkness, she dreamed of home, of the shadowy streets of Umbra where tech was a presence you could feel with every breath, bleeding from every jackport, collecting in the street like a river of energy. Wading through it, walking with her steel toes in a sea of people and information, was the only time Cyn felt alive. The people of Umbra were just like her, pursuing the same things in life, yearning for that singular nirvana of total awareness. To be all knowing, to be completely connected: these were the dreams of the populace, fleeting fancy no one truly expected to attain.

She imagined Tate standing at his window again, hands clasped behind his back, his occasionally sharp mind thinking of new and interesting ways to enslave the population with a satiation of the dependency some of them had lived with since birth. In a way, he was the first generation of the coercive feeder, a prototype attempt at controlling people’s lives. He chose the advertising, chose which stories to feed and in what light. If he didn’t think he was manipulating people by constantly running anti-Vinestead propaganda, then he was more of a fool than Benny Coker. It was hard to imagine Tate not seeing the similarities between himself and James Perion, how alike they were in purpose.

If you pull a bunch of books from the shelf at random, you may think sentence length is just a matter of style, that each writer simply falls at a different place on the spectrum between curt and garrulous. While that may be partially true, sentence length is often a conscious choice by the author. A writer who is verbose 95% of the time can increase a sentence’s impact by placing it alone in a new paragraph.

X SAT WITH C in his lap, her arms wrapped around his body. They were on the side of a hill he had recreated from a childhood memory. It had a long gentle slope that ended at the edge of a lake with a Japanese name he couldn’t remember. It was night in the construct, simulated, but dark enough to see the twinkling stars strewn haphazardly across the great expanse of black above them. The rig’s rendering engine struggled to deliver the necessary graphics, such that the reflections of the stars stuttered in the smooth glass of the lake.

They kissed.

Dean Koontz has a way with metaphors, and even with his short paragraphs, he manages to use them skillfully. It makes me wonder what his prose would be like if he wrote longer sentences and simply extended those metaphors into something approaching poetry.

Indecisive Poetry

I’m currently working on a new short story titled House of Nepenthe. This early in the process, I’m mostly cutting out as much as possible. Writing a zero draft is all about overwriting; writing a first draft is about stripping away all of the indecisive writing you produced.

I recommend overwriting to anyone who feels like they don’t know what to write. Overwriting is writing for the sake of putting words on the paper. Overwriting is writing anything and everything.

For example, maybe you aren’t sure which metaphor would best describe a character’s walk:

She spotted me through the crowd and began walking towards me like a queen through her subjects, like Moses through the Red Sea, like a knife slicing through warm butter, like any running back through the defensive line of the Dallas Cowboys.

You get the point. The zero draft is not the time to be making the monumental decision of your final say on this lady walking through the crowd. Just get some ideas down; brainstorm as you go along.

Here’s an example from House of Nepenthe:

What Kenny needed was someone who truly loved him, someone to comfort him in his time of vulnerability. He needed someone to tell him it was going to be alright, that there was a Heaven or somesuch nonsense waiting for him on the other side of death. He deserved more than a woman who could barely stand the sight of him, deserved a woman who wouldn’t throw dirt on his grave with a sense of satisfaction.

Sometimes it feels like I’m just taking notes when I write a zero draft. The above paragraph is where I stopped during my last rewrite; I was too tired to imagine how I could turn those words into something palatable. Still, having something to work with is often easier than staring at a blank page.

Every once in a while, I’ll find a paragraph that is long and flowing and decide not to cut it down to nothing. Every once in a while, you’ll sit there and overwrite and produce something you really love, even if it is verbose. For some moments, verbosity and languid language are the only options.

“You wrote me a poem?” Her eyes lit up.

“I prefer to think of it as a mnemonic cipher, but call it what you will.”

“I can’t wait to hear it.”

X cleared his throat, focused his eyes on C’s. “We will walk through the forest no longer, and no more will we dream of days past. We have pained enough in our lifetimes, let this dying love be our last.”

Slowly, the look of interest faded from C’s face, replaced by the impassive expression of a kitchen appliance. Her arms unfolded, fell lifeless in her lap. X watched her chest rise and fall, slower and slower, until it stopped completely. Around him, the room shaded down a few levels, a frozen background out of focus. Bringing a memory to a dead stop was at the same time a sad and beautiful thing to behold. It was the marker that differentiated the memory from the reality, that reinforced for the hundredth time that the original experience was long dead and even the memory of it could crumble under the weight of a few words.

Oh, I hope you didn’t think I was going to provide you with a personal example of how prose can be poetry. You’ll have to look to much better writers for that.

In Sum

I suppose if this post has to have any kind of point, it is this: do not be discouraged by the succinct final product of Odd Thomas. Don’t think you have to find the perfect set of eight words to make up a particular paragraph the first (or fifth) time through. Just write. Overwrite. Put everything down on the paper.

Play your cards all the way to the river and then make the best hand with what’s on the table.

Turn ’em and burn ’em, and you’ll get through it.

PS. I’ve also started reading Cipher by Kathe Koja, which so far seems devoid of short paragraphs. Check them both out!

The Sum of Rewritten Memory

xronixlebiz

Ah, the Alpha Reader period, that month-long, self-enforced sabbatical from what is sure to be the next great American Science Fiction novel. Is there anything worse than trying to fill the days when all you want to do is continue working? I submit there is not. Sure, my son said his first word and learned how to climb the side of his crib, and sure there are unopened PS4 games on my shelf, and sure my yard needs attention, and sure I could keep this list going forever, but I want to write, dammit. And write I will, even if it’s something I’ve already written.

The more time that passes since the release of my first book, Xronixle, the more I feel the need (nay, the duty) to go back and rewrite it. I usually don’t get very far because it’s a huge undertaking. We’re talking about a ground-up, word-by-word rewrite in Scrivener, another word-by-word rewrite into Word, alpha reading with people who’ve never read my work before, and then endless months of revisions and editing. All this for a book that has already been written and been on sale for more than a decade. Is it worth it?

I think so.

For one, it’s a matter of pride. All five of my books take place in the same universe, and though there are no sequels, I tend to think of the timeline as starting with Xronixle, but in 2018, I’m hesitant to suggest people start there. “Start with the latest,” I always say, and then under my breath, “because I need you to be a huge fan before slogging through my first book.”

I have so many issues with Xronixle, including its style, language, mechanics, character depth, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story, but it needs better packaging.

This week, I decided to try, once again, to rewrite the story. I picked a chapter at random and retyped it into Scivener, editing along the way. When that went okay, I jumped back to the beginning of the book and attacked it in earnest.

I thought it was going to be difficult and that I would hate every minute of it. Instead, I found myself enjoying the process and at the end, feeling incredibly happy. It is a joy to reformat paragraphs into units that make actual sense. It’s a joy to rewrite dialogue to not sound like a creepy 15 year old who just discovered sex and now can’t stop describing it in vernacular better found in an episode of Beavis and Butthead.

It’s a relief to put question marks at the end of sentences.

Seriously, that happened.

If I had to choose a single word to sum up my opinion of Xronixle, it would be immature. That would apply to the writing, the characters, the dialogue, the plot… everything. Rewriting it after all this time is like fixing up a dilapidated junker that has been sitting in the backyard on cinder blocks.

I am now excited about this project. Not only will it produce a Second Edition of a book I love, but the reading of that book will be a better experience for everyone. And, it will keep me busy while I anxiously wait for people to send me their feedback about Hybrid Mechanics.

And that is what I’m currently working on, since you asked.

Xronixle Reloaded.png

Prepare Your Cortical Stack

Altered-Carbon-004[1]

It’s finally here. Netflix’s adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s mind-blowing sci-fi novel Altered Carbon is now live, and though I’ll never forgive Joel Kinnaman for his part in the Robocop Reboot That Shall Never Be Mentioned Again, I can’t wait to binge the entire season this weekend. It’s hard to describe how awesome Altered Carbon is–if you’re into technology, explosions, and some of the l33t-est buzzwords you’ll ever read, this is the story for you.

The show has a Facebook page (because it’s 2018 and everything does) where you can watch trailers and behind the scenes, but since you’re reading this here on deadlineavoidance.com, there’s a possibility that you dabble in the writing. You, my fellow fiction monger, should check out this video where Richard K. Morgan sits down to watch the first episode.

Link to Facebook that I can’t iframe for some reason.

All I can think is how fucking amazing it must be to watch your story come to life. Back in my early days of writing, I wanted nothing more than to see the words A Short Story by Daniel Verastiqui in print. Then it was A Novel by Daniel Verastiqui that I wanted to see. The current dream I’m chasing (well, I mean, it’s possible) is seeing Based on the novel by Daniel Verastiqui flashing across a movie theater screen. Thankfully, people who make movies and TV shows have good taste, and so long as they’re making Altered Carbon and not Toaster Tingles (Book #1 in the Kitchen Appliance Romance Series), then I’m okay with my novels languishing on the Amazon charts.

I love Altered Carbon.

I love cortical stack.

I love needlecast.

I love neurochem.

And I love, love evercrete. So much so that I straight-up stole it and started putting in my stories just to get them more of a Science Fiction feel. I still do. Here’s a passage from my current WIP:

The Provo Temple hadn’t stood at full height in over a decade; twisted rebar grew like weeds from uneven piles of gray evercrete. The thick white monoliths that used to circle the building had been crushed under the feet of mechanical giants, and doors that had once welcomed worshipers had shed their glass and twisted into barely passable openings.

If you write Science Fiction and haven’t read Altered Carbon, I advise you to put down that Red Bull, cork that bottle of wine, close out your Scrivener windows, and fire up your Kindle. Here’s the link to the first book, because yes, it’s a trilogy, and I recommend all three: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.

Time After Time

uros-jovicic-322314

Photo by Uroš Jovičić on Unsplash

I’ve really taken a liking to non-linear narratives. When you think of all the ways you can mess with a reader, there’s nothing quite like the confusion you can create by having multiples stories operating on multiple timelines. Did A happen before B? Are they happening at the same time? And then later, when everything becomes clear, the reader is incented to re-read the entire book, because now it has taken on different meaning. Today, I was trying to figure out what had sparked this interest in time-confusion, and I realized it started long ago with movies like Pulp Fiction, but it wasn’t until I read Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines that I was compelled to try it myself.

Warning: Spoilers for Wayward Pines below. If you haven’t read it and you like so-called “good books,” do yourself a favor and go buy it now. Don’t watch the TV series; buy the book.

Pines-Collage[1]

I read all three of the Wayward Pines books on a trip to Punta Cana, finishing up the third as we landed back in Austin. While the second and third books were good, it was the first that really punched me in the gut. You start the book thinking both story lines are happening at the same time, but how can that be? Then there’s the way people are behaving. And some of them having different memories of different times?

When the helicopter landed and the truth came out, I was absolutely blown away. I loved it. The mystery. The clues. Everything about the twist was perfect for me.

I immediately started working on a new book, Por Vida, with the intention of having story lines that would intersect with hopefully the same punch as Pines. The feedback has been good; I don’t think people saw it coming, but more than that, it was fun to write.

I get bogged down when writing linear stories. That’s why I have to have multiple characters/POVS in my books; otherwise, I won’t get anywhere. It’s not exciting for me to describe Character A going from here to there, doing this and that, and finally something. There has to be more to a story than simple plot points, and multiple timelines ups the complexity big time. Sure, there’s more to keep track of, but if you can do it right, it makes for an exciting read (and write).

Ultimately, you have to write something that excites you as an author. Weaving two timelines together in a way that will surprise and delight a reader truly excites me. Having that power over a reader excites me. I want them to get to the end and say I should have seen that coming! I want them to go back and read the story again and say Look at all these clues!

My upcoming book, Hybrid Mechanics, implements multiple timelines as well, with some extra twists thrown in. Beyond the “didn’t see it coming” twists of Pines, there’s also the “I know it’s coming, I just don’t know how.” That’s where I want to be. I want the reader to know I’m gonna mess with their heads. I want them turning each page in the hopes of finding another clue that will let them unravel the mystery before I reveal it to them at the end.

If they beat me, fine… I’d love to hear about it in their review. But if I beat them, awesome… I’d love to hear about it in their review.

Anyway, those are today’s thoughts on multiple timelines. Love ’em or hate ’em, they can add spice to an otherwise pedestrian narrative about synthetic killing machines hunting the last of the organics in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Recommended Reading: The Introduction to Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer

I had only ever heard of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (and the sequel Tropic of Capricorn) from that one episode of Seinfeld where you heard of it. Not once was it ever mentioned in high school or in the many classes I took as an English major at UT Austin. So what was this book? Context suggested it was erotica, on par with Lady Chatterley’s Lover. After all, the version I bought on Amazon has a preface by Anais Nin. Not that I haven’t read Delta of Venus front to back and sideways, but as a Science Fiction author, erotica isn’t really up my alley.

Continue reading

Probability Lines

There are a lot of crazy powers being used left and right in Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch books, but the one that intrigues me most is when characters “check the probability lines.” The stronger the Other, the further they can look along the lines, and thus reasonably predict how the future is going to play out. Lukyanenko fleshes out the idea in Last Watch, book #4 in the Watch series:

It’s not possible to see the future in the way that charlatans and fortune-tellers talk about it. Not even if you’re a Great Other. But it is possible to calculate the probability of one event or another: Will you get stuck in a traffic jam on this road or not, will your plane explode in midair, will you survive or be killed in the next battle? …To put it simply, the more precise the question is, the more precise the answer will be. You can’t just ask, “What’s in store for me tomorrow?”

The reason I’ve been thinking about “probability lines” so much these days is because I think the term (and ability) also apply to writing. When I finish a novel and want to get started on something new, I review all of the old threads that are still hanging out there.

Some of them include:

  • Where did Natalie and G disappear to after Xronixle?
  • What’s been happening in Perion City?
  • Where is Kaili Zabora?
  • Where did the Net get started?
  • How did Jape get his start?
  • How does this all end?

And on and on. The problem with all of these ideas is not that there isn’t anything to write about, it’s that if I look into the future, the probability of any of those ideas containing something truly interesting is quite low. I just don’t see an endgame, something to rival the twist of Por Vida or the Vinestead-universe-shifting progress of Perion Synthetics.

I want to write something interesting, but how do you get from here to there?

It’s a blessing and a curse to have a feel for whether a story will be interesting or not. I can build the world and the characters and give them some initial conflicts, but what’s the bigger picture? Why is this story worth a reader’s time overall? Sometimes looking ahead can stop a story dead in its tracks, and I’ll never know whether or not it would have turned into anything worthwhile.

On the other hand, it’s probably good not to spin your wheels on stories that go nowhere. So a guy does something and it’s challenging and just when you think he won’t accomplish his goal he does and then he gets the girl and lives happily ever after.

There has to be more than that. Right? A mystery. Some thrills. A twist no one sees coming.

In the Watch series, Lukyanenko tackles the idea of preserving good while doing evil. Or maybe preserving one’s humanity when given limitless power. Either way, it follows the main character Anton as he becomes a more powerful other. Throughout the books, he continually struggles with his place as an Other, going from a reluctant initiate in book 1 to a magician beyond classification in book 4. 

The stories are interesting because the entire world hangs in the balance, and yet we see it all through Anton’s eyes. His personal struggles have a context that means life or death for every human on the planet. The stakes don’t really get higher than that. Add to that the intrigue and mystery and double-dealings and schemings and everything… it’s just a good story. Every time.

I’d like to write a story about that. Probably not about magicians and witches and vampires, but something that’s close to our world but not as boring, and something bigger than just a single character.

Unfortunately, looking at the probability lines, nothing like that has occurred to me yet. Not that I’m complaining; it takes time to look at all the lines. I sit down with a small idea and try to follow each line, each branch, to a larger meaning. There are a lot of dead ends that look like expressways, and sometimes that means thousands of words get written and abandoned, but that’s writing for you.

TL;DR

  • I’m having trouble finding a good story to write.
  • Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch books are excellent, and also great to listen to on Audible.

  • The Night Watch and Day Watch movies are also excellent. I wish they would make more.

You and I, Arjuna, have lived many lives.

I remember them all, you do not remember.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

I was only nine or ten when I picked up Replay for the first time. In the decades since, I’ve read it over and over again in the hopes of becoming a better writer. It has taught me how to be direct with my language, how to be honest with the motivations and desires of my characters, and most importantly, it showed me (and continues to show me) that stories can be more than just entertainment; they can make your reader feel something.

Prior to reading my first big boy book, I was content to devour anything written by Judy Blume, Louis Sachar, and Bruce Coville. If there was a finer book than My Teacher Fried My Brains, I hadn’t read it. I had always been aware of my parents’ bookshelf, but the titles had always seemed so imposing. ShogunThe Satanic Verses, IT. Okay, IT is not that imposing, but still. These books were dense and full of big words I didn’t understand.

Replay, though, seemed instantly accessible. I turned to the first page and there it was.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

It might have been the best and worst of times, and the clocks might have been striking thirteen, but I consider Replay’s opening line to be one of the best in literature. There is so much contained in this one little sentence, and it is as tragic as it is mundane. We join the story just as the main character dies. At ten years old, I had yet to read a book where anyone dies, let alone at the very beginning of the story.

Replay is the story of a middle-aged guy who dies and wakes up as his 18 year old self with all of his knowledge still intact. He has to relive his life knowing what will happen, not just to himself, but to the world. He tries to avoid the bad moments and recapture the good, but as he finds out, the future isn’t set. Just by having knowledge of it, of thinking he knows how it will go, he changes his replay in ways he couldn’t have imagined. He lives another life, only to die again of another heart attack.

Wash, rinse, and replay.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

Whenever I tell someone about Replay, I usually just parrot the synopsis and hope they find it interesting enough to purchase the book. However, to really tell you why this book is my favorite, we have to go beyond the sex, drugs, love, and loss of Jeff’s various replays. You see, on a superficial level, a man counting cards in Vegas or betting on the Preakness is just as entertaining as Peter trying to mail his little brother. There are a lot of books, and a lot of sci-fi, that are just pure entertainment. Just really cool things that happen to really cool people. And explosions.

Replay is different. I didn’t realize it until the very end of chapter seven. For the first third of the book, I was pretty entertained. Jeff gets into some crazy stuff (crazier if you’re a ten year old boy with no reckoning of the adult world), but it wasn’t until this moment that I realized something incredible: I was having an emotional response to a story. It was like a moment of sudden self-awareness. I saw beyond the narrator to Ken Grimwood sitting at his typewriter. I saw him crafting the story, moving pieces here and there, trying to elicit an emotional reaction.

After that moment, everything changed.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

I tell people I like to write love stories disguised as Science Fiction, and I owe that all to Replay. Though time travel is a common SF element, the emotional journey Jeff takes throughout his many lives seems to be unique. (I wouldn’t see it again until decades later in The Time Traveler’s Wife.) It’s all well and good to have virtual reality and robots and endotech, but there has to be an element that reaches out to the reader and squeezes their heart in their chest.

Transferring emotional content from the writer to the reader (or trying to, anyway) has shaped the content of my novels and will continue to forever. Xronixle would not be the same if X didn’t have a misguided love for CVeneer would have been all visuals if not for the misunderstood relationships between Deron and Rosalia, and Rosalia and Ilya. In Perion Synthetics, I wanted to focus on the relationships between humans and synthetics more than the novelty of anatomically correct sex robots.

Replay was the first book to show me that emotional transfer was possible through storytelling.

The possibilities, Jeff knew, were endless.

There is so much to learn from this book beyond what writing is about. So much of my personal style is derived from Grimwood’s that I often read this book, or just chapters, before I start writing something new, or when I’m stuck. If I can’t start a chapter, I’ll load up my Kindle and read a few from Replay, just so I can remember that yes, writing is easy, so long as you are direct and honest.

Here are some other things I’ve learned from Replay:

  • Flaws give a character depth
  • The narrator is as much a character as the characters
  • Sex is a natural part of human existence, no matter what the American Family Association says
  • Chapters should end with a smooth taper or powerful bang, never ambiguously
  • Respect the emotional connection between the reader and the characters
  • Write freely

All of this said, Replay is not just a book to inspire readers to be writers. It is entertaining and thoughtful, exciting and poignant. I tell everyone who hasn’t read it that they must read it now, which reminds me:

If you have not read this book, you must read it now.

Order the book from Amazon.

Read more about Ken Grimwood at Wikipedia.

If you’ve read the book, what was your favorite part?