The ramblings and musings of author and musician Geoffrey Young Haney.
Much more coherent and loveable fare from his wife, Michelle.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Review: On Writing, by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's no surprise - and probably no accident - that King's book on writing is as easy to digest as his prose. This doesn't make it any less important, no matter what critics of King's work may try to tell you. King is a phenomenal writer and has a great understanding of story. Nothing of this work is particularly groundbreaking, but the nuggets of wisdom here are presented in such a straightforward and concise manner that I believe it'd be hard for any writer of any literary genre or style not to find something golden within these pages.

I found King's talk on his drafting process - the open and closed door - particularly interesting. I also enjoyed every bit of the "memoir" part of this work. King has an easy voice and an inviting earnestness, even while talking about such heavy subjects as drug addiction, the passing of his mother, and his own brush with death. Having listened to the audio version of this book, I found it even more like a conversation between two friends than a textbook on writing. I was learning things, but it never felt like learning. I'd like to believe this is what King was aiming for.

As a writer myself, I did find the whole section on finding an agent and getting published laughable. This book isn't that old, but it certainly seems old when it speaks on this. King tells the story of a younger colleague (or colleagues, as it were, whose experiences here are mashed together under one pseudonym) who sells around 6 short stories to various rags that publish short stories. (Even this seems like the stuff of historical fiction.) Said writer then starts work on a novel. Seeking representation to help in the eventual sale of that novel, the writer sits down and crafts a polite and interesting letter to an agent before having even finished the book. Then, shockingly, said colleague actually receives numerous cordial responses from actual agent interested in their work. Some ask to see his short stories, some ask to see the 80 pages of his unfinished novel. The idea that any agent in this day and age would ask to see a) stories that have already sold and b) 80 pages of anything based simply off a letter that barely describes a work that isn't finished means either this author is fantastic or that this was what publishing might have looked like before the creation of the slush-pile. My guess is its a bit of both. It sounds like a great time to be a writer, a time where you could create some publishing credentials for yourself and then speak with an agent who is looking for AUTHORS to WORK with (not NOVELS to SELL - and I seriously believe those are two very distinct things.) I don't believe King even once used that dreaded word "query" while talking about finding an agent. Ah, the simplicity of years gone by...

And maybe that is what's best about this book, this air of hopeful ease; the feeling that for a writer, crafting a story should like breathing. No bullshit, no politics, no hoops to jump through. Just practice, passion, and the dedication to write every day. There's no magic bullet, no secret lesson to be learned. Write, and keep writing until you're good enough that someone wants to read what you've written. And when that's done, write again. Sometimes in pop culture, what floats to the top is often the worst of what our "arts" and culture has to offer, dumbed-down works of insipid simplicity, ready-made for a lazy public. This is what "serious" critics have come to learn, and what continues to shape their world-view. Who can blame them, though? There's so much evidence to the rule.

Then again, as is the case with The Beatles, sometimes what's popular is what's best. King is a popular writer, but don't hold that against him. The Beatles wrote the book on writing a pop song. With On Writing, King has written a love song to the pop book. And the world is better for it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Side Quest! 2.7.12

Side Quest! is a Friday segment where I basically share some links to stuff that entertained, enthralled, and distracted me during the last few days. The idea of "Side Quest" as a segment comes from just such a thing: The Indoor Kids, a podcast on the Nerdist Network (a site sure to make many an appearance in this segmant...) Hosts Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon talk videogames, movies, and generally nerdery with a slew of awesome guests. Sometimes thought-provoking and always entertaining, The Indoor Kids is slowly becoming my new obsession.

Yes, it says "Friday segment" up above. Yes, it is Tuesday. But I have a 1-month old baby at home right now so time management (as well as sleep, sanity, and clean clothing) has gone by the way side. So technically this is LAST week's stuff, but its cool stuff nonetheless, so click some linky-links and be cool... and stuff.

Last week I dug on some Marvel/DC silhouette art submitted to Geek Art by Lily's Factory, I shed a single tear over Neil Gaiman taking a sort of social media hiatus to work on his next novel, and I finally started watching Doctor Who. Oh, and on Saturday I watched Star Wars Episodes 1-3 on BluRay. It was my first foray into the world of High Def. I've decided that I may not want to see everything in a movie so clearly...

Not the most eventful week in nerdery, but that's probably a good thing. I spent a lot of time writing. I started up a fresh new draft on an old concept, which I eluded to in my last post, I kicked a few more words into my angels-and-demons series, The Cormin Chronicles, and I brainstormed a new film script with two of my favorite creative peeps. So it was a productive week. Hope yours was just as creative and wonderful.

THINGS I'M READING: Dove into Joseph Robert Lewis' new Europa series with the novella Omar the Immortal and I downloaded Kelsey Miller's debut novel Retribution (for free, nonetheless!) Still plugging away at Colston Whitehead's Zone One, but I'm sadly finding it less and less engaging. The writing is wonderful, it's just the story isn't really grabbing me. Oh well. Like a good and faithful zombie, I will dredge on. I hate not finishing books.

Have a great week!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Side Quest! 1.27.12

Side Quest! is a Friday segment where I basically share some links to stuff that entertained, enthralled, and distracted me during the last few days. The idea of "Side Quest" as a segment comes from just such a thing: The Indoor Kids, a podcast on the Nerdist Network (a site sure to make many an appearance in this segmant...) Hosts Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon talk videogames, movies, and generally nerdery with a slew of awesome guests. Sometimes thought-provoking and always entertaining, The Indoor Kids is slowly becoming my new obsession (especially in an easter-egg-oriented episode where they discussed a haunted Majora's Mask game and I spent the next day and half reading and watching this insanity...) So, thanks Kids!

What's sure to be another regular source in Side Quest! is the Book of Matches Tumblr. This week I longed for a sweet piece of nerd art, reminisced about one of my favorite exchanges in cinamatic history, and learned Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, which I leave you with now.

[via The Trad]

What about you? What random Interweb wonders have you stumbled on recently?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Let's Begin At The Beginning

Things have been feeling... oddly familiar as of late. Not deja vu, per say, more like God hit the reset button on the videogame of my life and I forgot to save. So now I'm repeating levels, trying to figure out a more perfect way to conquer a task - looking for a more ammo-effective means of slaughtering the El Gigante, if you will. 

(If you understood that reference without clicking the link, you and I are now best friends.)

What I'm saying is that many things in my life feel like they're starting over. I have another son now, just 1 month old, who is beautiful and wonderful and looks in many ways like my first son, who is beautiful and wonderful and old enough now to spend most of his day talking our ears off, singing Elmo's Song, and asking to watch Toy Story 1 or 2 for the 800th time (man, I really gotta buy the third one...) Newborn Nolan feels a lot like Newborn Carter. Of course, there's a Big Brother in the equation now, but things seem similar. Same song, second verse.

At the same time I've hit a point of regeneration in my writing. See, my co-author and I were on the verge of publication, but we knew we wanted to first get some professional words of advice. We never thought some of those words would be not really connecting to your main character and probably wouldn't pick up the second volume... but the world you've built is stunning! Why don't you tell that story?

Why don't you tell that story? This question is a reset button, at least it has been for me. See, I thought my story was about one thing... but the critiques we've been getting as of late spell out something else. They see a story they'd love to see as the focal point. They see a story unrealized in the background of what we're doing now. And so I find myself asking all those deadly questions: What would the book look like if this happened? What if we started our story at this point on the timeline instead of this point? Resets. Same game, same rules, same level. Only we're trying it again, to see if we can do it better.

This is a wonderful thing, honestly; I know it in my heart of hearts. I feel really pumped about the future of the book. It's just that I've already done this level and feel an overwhelming sense of been-there-done-that with my story. And yet I would never dream of viewing Nolan as a simple redo. I lovingly take note of every nuance - see each tiny difference and cherish each little moment, even if the whole newborn baby thing is water already tread. Can't I do this with my creative "children" as well? I'd like to have a heart that embraces the creative work ahead in the same way I embrace the fatherly work ahead. So that's what I hope and pray to do. After all, what are babies without a bit of a mess. And what are stories without a few drafts.

So as Mr. Willy Wonka would say:
You've got to go forwards to go back, better press on. 

What about you? Have you hit points in your writing where the best option is to start again? To start somewhere else? How do you combat the negative feelings that can come from what could eventually be a positive thing - a better understanding and more satisfying presentation of your work?