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The Balcony is Now Closed

Just a reminder that the blog has moved to my new official author page on Blogger.  So head over there and be sure to “Follow” me!

If you’re interested, this blog has 264 posts and wound up with 8472 views.  There were 1337 comments, most of which were by me responding to other people.

Now you know…and knowing’s half the battle!


Movin’ Out

Today is the last post on this blog.  I’ll give you a minute to weep and gnash your teeth and rent your clothes and whatnot.  And here’s some spoiler space for the big announcement:

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Still waiting…

Not yet…

Almost there…

Stay on target…


Here we go…

Introducing the all-new and totally freaking awesome Grumpy Bulldog’s Blog!  Yes it’s a new blog, a new location, but the same attitude.  The new blog will still feature stuff about writing when I feel like doing that, but it’ll also be more open to discussing other topics:  books, movies, music, TV, politics, or whatever is grinding my gears at the moment.

I could have just changed the title of this blog, but I thought I’d move back to Blogger because:

  1. Most of the people I know use Blogger
  2. It’s easier to follow with the Google Connect thingy
  3. I can then put all my other blogs under one umbrella, so that people will stop looking at all my blogs and wondering which one to follow.

So it’s all about rebranding, synergy, changing paradigms, and all those buzzwords business people like to throw around to sound cool.  Be sure to change your bookmarks to the new address.

See you there!

Friday Flix: A Stitch of Plan 9

At the end of August I watched “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, which is consistently rated as one of the worst films ever made.  (Although as I Tweeted, I didn’t find it as awful as “The Human Centipede” or “Troll” for that matter.)  After the movie I watched the companion documentary because I was bored and I didn’t think the documentary would be longer than the freaking movie.

Between that and Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” you get a pretty good idea about Plan 9’s director, Edward D. Wood.  Basically he was a guy who had a lot of passion and enthusiasm but no training and very little talent.  He could write a whole movie script in two weeks, but that script would probably be terrible.  He was a lot more concerned with getting shots in the can than making sure those shots were any good, or even consistent.

It would be interesting if Ed Wood were transported into the modern world.  With the cheapness of computer effects, he could probably get a ten-picture deal with Syfy to make terrible movies about Super Piranha vs. Mega Shark Squid or whatever.  Or he could get some great cat videos posted on YouTube and become an Internet sensation.

The point though is first of all that enthusiasm does not equal talent.  Just because you can write a lot of words on a computer screen, doesn’t mean any of those words will be any good.  And you can try and try and try to get published, but maybe at some point you’ll have to realize that it’s not all an evil conspiracy against you; it might be that you just aren’t very good!  The problem is that people as enthusiastic and passionate as an Ed Wood usually can’t see that they suck, like all those people on the first couple episodes of “American Idol.”

The other point gets back to something I mentioned on the Labor Day post.  A big part of Wood’s problem was that he didn’t spend much time on his creations.  He winged off a script in two weeks.  He shot the script in another two weeks.  Then maybe edited it in another two weeks.  Most movies (at least these days) take a year or two to finish production, except those awful “Saw” movies that Wood also could have had some fun with.  Maybe if Wood had spent two years on Plan 9 or any of his other terrible movies he could have made them good, or at least passable.  For that matter, if instead of just driving out to Hollywood he had actually gone to film school, maybe he could have learned how to make good movies.  That’s not to say he would have been Hitchcock or Bergman, but he might not be in the conversation for “Worst Director Ever.”  Then again, if he were a good-not-great director would he have a cult of followers, a documentary, and a feature film about him?  Probably not.  So maybe being terrible is good if you’re really, really terrible.

The thing is, though, if you really love your story then you should take the time to make it as special as possible.  Not to say everyone who works fast is terrible.  Rod Serling could write “Twilight Zone” scripts just as fast and he was a genius.  So there.

Monday:  Everything You Know About This Blog is WRONG!!!

Writing Wednesday: The Touch

A couple months ago I was reading Ethan Cooper’s review of Nabokov’s “Laughter in the Dark” and one thing Coop notes is that “the Nab” was 33 at the time of writing it and so the work did not quite match up to his earlier works.

You can notice this a lot in authors who have been around for a while.  For instance when I read my favorite author John Irving’s books, I noticed his first novel “Setting Free the Bears” seemed far different than his later books.  It actually seemed more like a Kurt Vonnegut book than a book by the guy who wrote “The World According to Garp” and “The Cider House Rules.”  I suppose that made sense because Irving wasn’t even 30 yet when that first novel came out and he had learned under Vonnegut at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  It took him until his fourth novel (the aforementioned Garp) before he found his voice.

The same thing happened when I read Richard Russo’s first novel “Mohawk” after reading his other novels, including the Pulitzer-winning “Empire Falls.”  The pieces were all in place of dealing with a small town and its colorful denizens, but the “mature touch” as Coop called it wasn’t there yet.

This is something that a lot of people don’t understand about writing.  It takes time to find your voice, that storytelling style that may not be unique but is at least comfortable for you.  Naïve people think you can just sit down and start writing a great novel.  But really even with the greats (especially with the greats) it takes a few times around the block before they can come into their own.

That’s also a good thing to remember when you’re feeling beaten-down by the rejection process.  Maybe this novel isn’t the one, but maybe someday you’ll get it right and find that mature touch to make a great novel.  Though this grumpy bulldog would say that’s still not very likely.

Friday’s entry:  More inspirational posts thanks to Edward D. Wood, Jr…

Monday Musings: Indie Publishing & The Lexicon of Doom

As you would expect of a grumpy bulldog, I’m not big on the euphemisms.  I say I’m fat not “chubby” or “pleasantly plump.”  I say black not “African American” or Indian not “Native American.”  I say midget not “little person.”  In part because I’m a grumpy bulldog and in part because no one calls me a “European American” or “Germanic American” or any shit like that, so why do I have to tiptoe around eggshells for them?

Anyway, this is going somewhere.  There’s a movement out there to refer to self-publishing as “indie publishing.”  For instance on Twitter I follow the “Indie Book Collective” that’s made up of self-published authors like Mr. Pagel’s favorite, Rachel in the OC.  The idea behind this is to make self-publishing sound classier like indie movies and indie music.  After all, America is all about independence, isn’t it?

Except I think “indie publishing” is misleading.  There are actual independent publishers.  Those would be the publishers who are not Random House or the other Big [However Many] in the industry.  Books published by the small presses are the real “indie books” not Rachel in the OC’s self-published opus recycling “I Love Lucy” scripts.

Does it really matter?  I think it does.  The euphemism is designed to mislead the consumer.  As I said, “indie” sounds a lot classier than “self-published.”  Self-published sounds like I’m some crackpot who went to Staples and Xeroxed a bunch of pages and stapled them together.  On the REM early years greatest hits disc, Michael Stipe tells a story about a guy who had boxes of a self-published book called “Life and How to Live It” in his house; the books were only discovered after the guy died.  That’s how people think of self-publishing.  Indie publishing makes it sound like I’m the literary version of Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith or something.  Which maybe I am!  (Southwest Airlines would make me buy two seats on their planes too, though when I rip them in a Tweet no one would care.)

Is there really a difference?  Yes!  In true “indie publishing” there’s someone else to do the editing, the cover design, and so forth, just like the big publishers.  With self-publishing I’m doing it all myself.  Or maybe I’m conning some friends to help me or buying a package from Lulu or Createspace or whoever.  The point being that in self-publishing the only quality control is my standards, whereas in truly indie publishing there’s someone else to help filter out the shit.  It’s called self-publishing because I’m submitting it to Lulu or Createspace or Kindle mySELF, with no intermediary.

So let’s cut the bullshit.  Rachel in the OC, you’re self-published.  So am I.  Wear that label proudly.  Or not.  But quit trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes and taking away from the truly independent publishers.  Maybe if enough people start calling themselves self-published it can become a good word, like how gay people adopted “queer” as their own and turned it from a slur into a common word.

Wednesday:  Who’s got the touch?  The Nab!

Summer’s Gone

You may not remember back in this post where I identified my goals for the summer.  Gee, I was way off!

I did complete the story I was working on at the time:  A New Beginning, Chronicles of Batpooh State Volume 1.  No, there won’t be a volume 2.  I think I mentioned in another entry that finishing this story was a real chore because I lost my motivation to write it.  But at least I did finish it, so I got that going for me.  It ended around 60,000 words I think.

I also did #1 on my goals list.  The Scarlet Knight Volume 6 reboot turned into The Night’s Legacy.  That story was much more fun to work on.  Though the ironic part to me is that the parts not involving superheroics were a lot more fun to write.  Once it got into all the superhero-action story stuff I lost interest in reading it.  The end I think would need a little work because those epic action sequences I find difficult to choreograph.  Also I think the villain needs a little work.  Overall it’s the kind of story that would need a second draft to maybe get sorted out.  Or it just needs a reboot.  Reboot of the reboot!  It ended up at 98,000 words, which bummed me out because I just missed 100,000.

That was all I did from the goals on that list.  Last year I did a lot better than that, maybe because I was more focused.  Also more motivated.  A trend I’ve noticed since 2007 is that even years I’m a lot more productive than odd years.  In 2007 I hardly wrote anything.  In 2008 I wrote both drafts of Where You Belong.  In 2009 I wrote the first three Scarlet Knight stories, which was pretty good but I wrote the other 5 in 2010 along with a graphic novel script, a rewrite of the first one, a prequel, and another whole novel besides!  Then in 2011 it’s another dip in productivity.  Which means 2012 will probably be really busy!

As far as what I did accomplish, instead of all that stuff, I wrote the first five chapters of a fantasy story before deciding I should take some time later to actually read fantasy–what a concept!–and then instead of working on that I wrote this Back to Life story.  That wound up at 88,000 words, which was a lot longer than I thought it would get based on the first few chapters.  So overall I wrote maybe 200,000 words this summer.  That’s a lot compared to some people, but if you look at the stats for last year it’s a big drop.

Getting back to motivation, I found the stories I actually wrote this summer to go a lot better than the others.  I guess I’m an inherently selfish person because the stories I wrote because I wanted to write them went a lot better than stories where I tried to sell out and worried about writing them for someone else.  I still think I could write for other people, but a little financial inducement would help.  If someone offered me money to write something, then I’d be a lot more motivated to do it, because again I’m selfish and I like money.  So there.

Anyway, I keep saying I should probably take a break from writing anything for a little while, but I’ve found when I’m not working on something I get all antsy, especially on weekends.  I think I’m one of those type-A people when it comes to that.  Too bad I don’t have that kind of work ethic at my actual job.

I’m not going to set any autumn goals and don’t even talk to me about that Nano shit.  Oy, that’s all we’re going to hear about on writing blogs for the next two months!  It’s even worse than when everyone was doing that lame “A-Z Challenge” thing.

That is all.

Friday Flix: Breaking Up

I’ve gone on record on this blog as saying that I hate this trend of movies being broken into two parts like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” and “The Hobbit.”  To me it just reeks of exploitation to get stupid people to pay for two movies instead of one.  Yet this summer when I watched “Captain America” I thought it really needed to be two parts.

The first part would have pretty much been the movie as it was.  That is that Steve Rogers becomes Captain America and takes down the Red Skull.  In the process he crashes a plane into some arctic ice.  But what I thought was that they needed a second part where he gets unfrozen in the modern era.  (Or it could have even been years ago, like the ’90s or something.)  Then he would have to deal with all the issues like his girl being either really old or dead and how the culture has changed and whatnot.  Sure this stuff will probably get some lip service in the Avengers movie, but probably not a lot with all the other stuff that has to be sandwiched into it.

And really it would make sense because the comics took place in two different eras, the ’40s and then the ’60s.  They didn’t do everything in a couple of issues, right?  Really since the story has two different eras, you’re covering a lot of ground, more than one movie could do justice to.  Instead we cover one era pretty well in the movie and then the other gets a real half-baked treatment.  That doesn’t seem fair for an iconic character, does it?

Well sure there probably will be a sequel eventually (I think it performed well enough for that) but it’ll be after the Avengers movie, which is a bit too little, too late to me.

In writing sometimes the question comes up whether a book should be one story or two.  If you’re in that situation, you really have to examine what you have going on.  Is there enough going on to support a second story?  Or would it be easier to scale a little back and just make it one story?  In the “Captain America” example I think there were enough issues to support a second story.  Some would argue there are in Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hobbit.  I have no idea about the first two.  The latter I’m pretty sure the answer is no if you go by just the novel and not additional stuff added in later.

The closest I’ve had to this situation was when I was writing the fifth Scarlet Knight story.  I had all these flashbacks to a love triangle between our two witches Agnes and Sylvia and Agnes’s husband Alejandro.  Eventually I decided that there was enough of a story in these flashbacks to warrant a prequel.  Which led to numerous bad or stalled attempts at such a prequel.  Eventually I might get that right.  The point remains though that sometimes when you’re working on a story you realize it leads to other stories.

Monday is the thrilling adventures of Indie Publishing and the Lexicon of Doom!

Writing Wednesday: Slow Starters

Last month I finally finished Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  That was one of those books where when I heard about it back in 2002 or 2003 or so I thought I should read it at some point, but only after everyone had stopped caring about it, much as I did with The Da Vinci Code, A Million Little Pieces, and The Lovely Bones and might do again with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.  So basically Life of Pi was in the back of my mind for about eight years.  Finally I saw it at Bargain Books for $3.50 and figured that was cheap enough to finally read it.

I started to regret that after plodding through the first 150 pages.  Gawd, is it so boring!  The book is supposed to be about a boy on a lifeboat with a tiger, but the opening 150 pages are about Pi and his family, who own a small zoo in India.  Pi tries different religions (Christian, Hindu, and Islam) like an Indian version of “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.”  That part reads like a poor man’s Salman Rushdie.

I began to wonder, “Where the hell is the fucking tiger?”  That’s what we were promised damn it!  I mean it’s right there on the cover:  a boy in a lifeboat with a tiger!  So get to it already, Martel!

Finally his dad decides they should go to Canada and they get on a boat with a bunch of animals.  Then the boat sinks.  Except the tiger isn’t even there at first!  There’s a hyena, zebra, and orangutan in the boat with Pi.  So then I began worrying that it was all a trick and really there was no tiger.  But after another 75 pages or so the tiger shows up.  He’s been hiding beneath a tarp.  In a lifeboat with 100 square feet.  With three other animals and a human.  I’m suspending disbelief big time!

The hyena kills the orangutan and zebra and then the tiger kills the hyena, which finally leaves us with the boy and the tiger.  Finally!  I mean the book is like half over and we’re finally getting to the point of the thing.

Now the thing is, the same thing just about happens with Martel’s previous novel, “Self.”  That was an update of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” where a man spontaneously becomes a woman.  In “Self” too you wait and wait for it to happen and then about halfway through the book–after a lot of pointless crap about him going to boarding school and carrots in people’s eyes and whatnot–he becomes a she, though we still have no idea what his/her name is.

You know what makes me furious and jealous?  This is exactly what agents tell you NOT to do.  Start with an exciting hook!  I won’t read on if the first page doesn’t hook me!  Blah, blah, blah.  I mean Noah Lukeman has fleeced the unsuspecting public with his “The First Five Pages” about all the stuff you have to do in five pages to hook an agent.  Does Yann Martel do any of that?  NO!  So again agents are full of shit.

I mean if we did this the way agents SAY you’re supposed to do it then we’d start with the ship sinking.  We’d start with Self turning into a woman.  Those are the exciting things and we should start with excitement to pull the reader in, right?  Well, apparently not.  We wouldn’t blather on for 150-200 pages about other crap first before getting to that.

That was the whole reason why I started “Where You Belong” with the car accident.  That was really one of the more exciting parts in terms of action and everyone says you’re supposed to start with exciting parts to hook the reader!  If I’d done it Martel’s way I could have gone on for 200 pages without ever getting to the point of the story.  Maybe I did to some extent.

Anyway, me being me I don’t always mind a slow start.  Well, I do mind it but I’ll put up with it if it leads to something better.  Which it does with “Life of Pi.”  (But not “Self.”  That book was really boring until the rape scene near the end.  Start with the rape scene next time!)  Also Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” was the same way where the first third to half of the book is all this boring Jane Austen manners crap and then it starts to get to the point of a “rape” and someone being falsely accused and WWII and so forth.

But the thing is, a lot of people won’t.  When I read other Amazon reviews for “Atonement” those who gave it 1 star are those who quit in that first 150 pages or so when it was boring Jane Austen manners crap.  Those who gave it five stars are people like me who held out until the end.

So even though they don’t practice what they preach, the agents are probably right on this one.  You should try to start with something to “hook” the reader, especially if you’re writing genre fiction where the reader might not be as patient as someone who reads literary fiction.  (Not to say I’m patient.  I’m stubborn.  And cheap.  Especially if I pay money for a book I want to finish it to try and get my money’s worth.)  If it’s someone like my sisters who buy ten books at a time, then they might toss yours aside and go on to the next one if it doesn’t interest them right away.

Did this entry start too slow?  Well maybe it at least had a good finish.

Friday:  When one part isn’t enough…

Terrible Tips Tuesday: Subliminal Editing

Last weekend I was reading the rough draft of this story so I could make some edits and then send it out to guinea pigs beta readers.  I’d already read through it a couple times before to fix a lot of the continuity problems and so forth, so this was mostly just to catch typos or other glitches.  You want to know the biggest problem though:  THAT.

I mean the actual word, that.  I have this annoying habit of putting extra “that”‘s in places where they aren’t really necessary.  For instance I’ll have a sentence like:

He shoved the papers off the chair so that he could sit down.

There isn’t anything really wrong with that sentence, is there?  But if you think about it, you could also say:

He shoved the papers off the chair so he could sit down.

See what I mean?  You don’t really need “that” in the sentence for it to read fine.  Maybe some grammar snob can tell me which (if any) is more correct, but the second reads all right and it has one less word.

Does that matter?  Not all the time.  Still, when I notice the extra “that”‘s then I start to see them all over the place.  I have no idea how many I wound up deleting over the weekend.  A hundred?  Maybe a bit less.

Another word I unconsciously use a lot:  JUST.  And not like “it’s a just system.”  More like:

Just put that on that table.


There’s just one more thing we need to do.

In either case, I don’t really need the “just” in it.  Both sentences read fine without the word in there.  I just can’t stop myself so that I wind up doing it all the time.  Maybe you’ve got your own bugaboos you find when editing.  The point is there’s a lot worse things than adverbs out there.