Every company needs a wannabe programmer in a non-engineering role to help bridge the gap between available software offerings and company needs. I’ve been lucky enough to fill that role at Uplogix for a while now, and most of that time has been spent fighting the “cloud-based business software CRM” behemoth known as Netsuite. In fact, almost every app I’ve written has come from a Netsuite shortcoming, from tracking customer information to managing RMAs and so on. Recently, we tried to use Netsuite to compile an order history for a customer. Long story short, I had to write some code.
Thirty years ago, our family was stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. It was actually our second time there, and I remember my parents re-introducing me to friends I’d had when I was four or five years old. We all lived on a measly three streets, which are no longer tagged on Google Maps: Carswell, Vance Circle, and I forget the third. My friends and I explored every inch of that neighborhood and that base. And though I haven’t been back since 1991, I still remember it fondly, which was why it was so horrible to hear Trump would be housing detained immigrants there.
I love a good moody mind-bender movie. Whether it’s horror or drama or just mystery, I love trying to figure out the why and how before the protag does. And if I can’t figure it out before the movie reveals the truth, I will slowly golf-clap in appreciate. A Cure for Wellness managed to keep me guessing up to the end because I couldn’t quite put together how eels and water and Dane DeHaan’s palor all fit together. But even though Cure fooled me, it didn’t get a golf clap from me, and it’s all because of one little problem that I couldn’t look past.
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.
I don’t use the highlight feature on my Kindle very often, and when I do it’s usually for something funny or interesting I want to remember. Sometimes, it’s for a sentence or paragraph I find particularly literary and beautiful and poetic, though that is rare when reading contemporary works. Last night, after a shitty day to end all shitty days, I opened my Kindle to continue reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and stumbled upon the most arrestingly beautiful line I think I’ve ever read.
Sometimes I like to talk as if I know the first thing about how to write stories. I do it mostly to psyche myself up, to convince Inner Daniel that we know what we’re doing here and that everything is going to be alright. When morale is low, I try to focus on the things I know to be absolutes. One space after a period. Words go left to right. And my favorite: you gotta hustle for that flow. There’s no way around that last one. Trust me, I’ve looked for years.
May 5, 2010
Frank Gattis for Banks Media Productions, Los Angeles
Living in America means taking things for granted. We assume there will always be water to drink, food to eat, and electricity to keep the lights burning. We expect roads to be in good repair, buildings to remain standing, and VNet to keep humming along. But what happens when the foundation upon which we build our lives is shattered by an act of terrorism? What happens when we look to the sky and see planes diving for the ground?
I don’t know anyone who enjoys revisions like I do. But then, I only know a few authors and they’re all that weird, tight-lipped kind of writer who doesn’t really want to talk about their “process” because either they’re not confident in their process or, more likely, they’re too confident in their process and they don’t want to give away trade secrets to little old me. Yes, this combative stance is why I don’t know more authors. Anyway, the alpha period on Hybrid Mechanics is finally up, so it’s time to get back at it! Here’s where we’ve been and where we’re going.
I don’t read comics, but I like making them. That is, I like making them when they’re not too much work, and no site made it easier than bitstrips.com. I loved that site. Now it’s gone and I’m sad. But I still have some comics I made about the two things I love most: writing and m’pups. If anyone knows of a replacement comic maker where I don’t have to art, please let me know.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!