Archive for the Category »writing «

Nov
29

Last week, Gary Jonas tagged me to join into the Next Big Thing, a blog thread in which various writers discuss their latest projects. Gary was tagged by Simon McCaffery; Simon was tagged by Weston Ochse; Weston was tagged by Tim Lebbon.  This week you can also check out Brian Hodge.

Next week, I’ll pass the buck to Charles Schmidt and Melissa Yuan-Innes.

Since my latest project is a book of short stories (Control by CC Geddes), I mostly concentrated on my next project. Since Beach Bitches (by Cindie Geddes) is the “next project” that I had the most answers for, it’s the one I wrote about here. But don’t be fooled into thinking it will actually be my next project. It could just as likely by the desperately-needs-a-new-title The Fourth Day (by CC Geddes). It all depends on which book my publisher can wrangle out of my first.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Beach Bitches (it’s the first in a planned series)

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

A workshop (Master Class) with Kris Rusch and Dean Smith where I had to come up with a whole lot of ideas in a very short time. I was brainstorming takeoffs from 50s beach movies with my friend Jennifer Baumer, having written myself into a corner with a series idea. She came up with the title. I had less than ten minutes to write a synopsis to go with the title for the workshop, then came home and wrote a book to go with that synopsis. So I did the whole thing backwards.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Mystery

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Holly Hunter for my main character, Mere, even though she’s way too short, and I’d always had Michael Clarke Duncan in mind for Karl Wreizen. I’m still so sad about his passing I don’t even want to think about it. He was one of my favorite actors.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? (I reject the one-sentence synopsis. In my practice at breaking the rules, here’s the synopsis I want to include here instead:)

Every beach has them

Those girls. Those skinny, perky, young girls, in all shades and the one size.

In Vegas, the beaches are manmade and bow at the feet of giant casinos. Same with the girls. And forty-year-old Mere Unger, Manager of Beach Talent at the Oasis megahotel, is their boss.

For the past seven years, Mere has played den mother to a pack of skinny models with spray-on tans and push-up bras. But when one of the girls is found stuffed into the base of an all-you-can-eat buffet cart, Mere learns that while money may not make the world go round, it sure gives Las Vegas one hell of a spin.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Lucky Bat Books, no agent representation.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Three months

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I hate comparisons because it feels so arrogant to compare my work to anyone I like. But I’d like to capture the world I’m exploring the way Harlan Coben does with his Myron Bolitair books; I’d like to have my series character Mere Unger be as complex and grow as much as Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole; and I’d like her to be as tough and cool as Des Zamorano’s Inez Leon.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Sleep deprivation, The Game, creative desperation, Kris Rusch, Dean Smith, Loren Coleman, Chris York, and the wildly unnerving support of everyone at that Master Class.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I thought I was making up the idea that women were paid to just be beautiful and lounge around pools. But after researching Vegas, it turns out I’m not as creative as I thought. Not on the basic premise of my Bitches, not on the particulars of high rollers or the beauty industry. Nothing I could make up turned out to be as far-fetched as really exists -– from underground villas for the camera-shy wealthy to women bleaching the whites of their eyes to keep themselves looking young.

Feb
06

Two more of my scary short stories have been added to ebook retailers under my alter ego CC Geddes. Published by Lucky Bat Books.

A Pleasing Shape is a depressing, dark little bit of nastiness that made sense when I wrote it. It obviously made sense to the magazine editor who published it way back when too. But now? I honestly have no idea what I had in mind. I remember thinking it was quite profound. If anyone can make sense of it, I’d like to hear it!

The Nerve is a scary look at perception vs reality and how those are shaped by the assumptions of people around us. I was particularly interested in how easily the perceptions of the very old and very young are dismissed. But mostly, what people seem to take away from this story is how awful a common desk-drawer implement can become in a moment of desperation. This story is not for the squeamish!

It’s nice to have my work going out in the world again! It’s been a long hiatus for my fiction, especially my dark fiction.

 

Apr
11

(I’ve been fighting with my own rewrite lately. I have too many scenes of people driving or sitting around and thinking. So I’ve been thinking about the subject. Lee here has some good advice, advice I can use on my own work, so here it is for you too!

PS: Lee’s new book, Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children is coming out soon. Isn’t that a great title? And isn’t that a great cover? Delirium Books is doing some beautiful dark stuff!)

My big lesson on editing came not too long ago when Delirium Books accepted my novel IRON BUTTERFLIES RUST (August 2011). I had to cut a 1/3 of the story out to hit the top of the novella line. Yikes! I didn’t know how I could do it. I write pretty lean, and it’d already been through the hands of my two buddies (Shaun Ryan and Kevin Wallis) who read all of my work. I’m up for a challenge though and the worst I could do was fail. I took a few deep breaths. I did a jumping jack or two. I figured the best ways I might attack the challenge. (I’ll use some examples from Iron Butterflies Rust):

***A chapter outline (this after the book was finished and polished). The goal was to figure out the “True Essence” of each scene and find ways to condense or cut. I ended up finding four scenes (about 15,000 words) that I loved but could be cut down to about 10 pages (about 3,000 words for me.)***

***I had to find ways to introduce backstory and not make it lame, where it could be poetic, have zing, emotion and movement to it. I didn’t want any of it to be static. So I went through the manuscript looking for ways to cut backstory down to “Defining Moments” because I think they slice to the heart of every character. An example of the revised backstory, on what’s shaped Jennifer Gibson’s view of men, and how Frank Gunn has disrupted what she’s come to believe as something universal:

Frank closed his eyes and stroked her hair, remembering her tearing a comic book to bits like some frustrated teenager, amazed at the waves people rode when they felt overwhelmed and powerless, and how easily they let themselves walk straight into the devil’s mouth. He shivered. She whispered, her breath hot across his chest, “When I was a little girl, all of the boys watched me grow up. It made me sick to see their stares change as I got older, and how the light flickered inside them. Even my own dad backed away and would get close and back away again because he didn’t trust himself. I thought all men were the same because when I was 14, Bobby Decker held me down out by the railroad tracks and ripped my clothes off. He had an old knife. I wanted to fight back and stop him…” She sighed. “But he was too strong, and it was dangerous. And all the men after him have treated me like he did, only they didn’t have the same knife, they used words and money, promises and everything else, but they only wanted me to get off on. I don’t think one of them ever cared to know me. Not one.” Her tears wet his chest and he tightened his arm around her. She said, “You’re the only one who doesn’t seem disgusted or reptilian now that it’s over. I don’t get it.”

***To combine movement and description. They don’t have to be separate, and actually take up more space if they each have their own paragraphs. Here’s an example of connecting them:

The front door squeaked and Frank glanced that way, expecting to see Tanya’s mother, but James walked toward him, hands stuffed in his pants pockets, brow scrunched and eyes red-rimmed like he’d already written off the woman they both loved as dead. James’s mouth worked as he closed the distance, as if he were praying and unable to stop, even if the entire world thought he was crazy. Frank started toward him. He felt rain pelt his skin though the sky burned royal blue and the clouds were thin and a million miles off. Tanya’s dad stayed rooted in his place. He looked at the road.

***Description and scene setting are nice. But you’re killing the reader’s participation if you’re going into too much detail. Here’s a quick example of getting the point across without slowing the story down:

They pulled into Ruby Tuesdays on Hall Road, ready to meet James’ contact from the prison. Inside, James approached the booth that Frank had sat in the day before with Jennifer. A sense of loss, of loneliness and longing clambered through Frank. They sat, the clatter of plates spilling through a swinging door in the back, a few chatty business men laughing obnoxiously at the bar in the center of the room, a helpless looking twenty-year-old bored out of her mind, listening to the suits, while she chewed on her fingernail.

***Telling isn’t ‘bad.’ If you have five pages of characters sitting around or driving somewhere, doing nothing that serves the plot, you’ve just wasted a lot of your reader’s time because you love the sound of your voice. Look for places where this is happening. Highlight suspect passages on a read-through. Then you can tell (in a paragraph or two) what you had used multiple pages to ‘show.’ Showing works, but only when it’s engaging. Example of telling something that I had shown (and really wasted pages on) before:

After they’d searched him and taken his pistol, they’d made him sit on the ground as a uniform took his statement. He knew that Whittle was trained to ask questions that had already been answered, it part of his nature to drill away until he heard someone’s story change and then subtly go for the throat, make a man eat his words like the dirt he’d started burying himself in because sometimes people dug graves inside themselves.

Yeah, that’s what worked for me. 1. Outlining after the book was finished to see what was truly essential to the story; 2. Finding ways to make backstory emotional and active; 3. Combining movement and description; 4. Combining brisk details in scene setting so my characters can get to the story; 5. ‘Telling’ to dramatically shorten what really didn’t need shown to begin with.

Not only did these changes improve pacing, they also improved clarity—making the story more vivid in the reader’s mind and demanding a bit of them, too, which is good.

Thanks for reading! And thanks, Cindie, for having me!

–Lee Thompson

http://alongthispathsodarkly.blogspot.com

Category: writing  4 Comments
Jul
02

Writing a synopsis, for me, is harder than writing a novel. And I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Talking to a writer in the midst of chipping a novel down to a page or two is much like talking to a marathon runner who still has to walk to her car. She’s so elated to have run so far. Yay! But, are you kidding, there’s still an expanse of hot pavement to cross? Can’t someone just drive the car across the lawn and over the curb and through the fence and pick me up?

Synopses are necessary. Every editor and agent who accepts submissions wants a synopsis. And even those among us who self publish need a synopsis (or something very much like it) for the book description that will accompany the book on sites like Amazon. There’s just no getting around these tiny demons.

But, criminy, writing a synopsis is tough. Really tough. I’m talking beef-jerky-left-in-your-backpack-all-winter tough.

I’ve tried a bunch of short cuts over the years. I tried writing one sentence for every chapter. I’ve tried recording myself pretending I’m telling someone about my book like it was a movie I’ve just seen. I’ve tried using the 7-point plot, the 4-act structure, the hero’s journey. I’ve taken classes, read articles, attended workshops. And while they’ve all helped (and have been the key that unlocks the process for others), I still suck at writing a synopsis.

The mere thought of writing a synopsis drives me to the good bourbon. (Never drown your sorrows in cheap booze, I say.)

(Though, I have noticed that a shot or two of Basil Hayden’s can improve my synopsis writing. The booze distracts my internal editor, who uses my writing a synopsis as permission to scream at me like a crack-crazed harpy. But fine whisky also sometimes distracts me. Sometimes I get a decent draft of a synopsis. Sometimes I find myself cleaning out a closet. Or writing inappropriate screeds on Facebook. Or napping. It’s not a reliable solution.)

In 2008, I took what’s called Master Class in Oregon. This intense, brain-melting, myth-busting, break-you-down-and-build-you-up workshop taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch was one of the two best workshops I’ve ever attended (and I attend what I consider a lot). One of the things it tantalized us with was that we’d learn to write a synopsis. My expectations were not high for that part.

Kris and Dean gave us lots of tips and a few great sort of templates to help turn 300 pages of story into 2 pages or so of marketing. Good info, but not revolutionary. But then they did something that I didn’t expect (and that also, frankly, pissed me off). They made us take all that useful info and apply it to a novel we hadn’t written. Though we all had novels we very much needed to write synopses for, they wouldn’t let us apply our newfound knowledge to any existing work.

During Master Class, we had to write novel hooks every day (sometimes as many as 5 a day). Think of a hook as the back of a book or the part you might put in a query letter to grab an editor’s attention. It’s less than a page, a few paragraphs, max, that encapsulates your book. Here’s one I wrote in about 5 minutes as I struggled to get 4 hooks done before we met:

Every beach has them

Those girls. Those skinny, perky, young girls, in all shades and the one size.

In Vegas, the beaches are manmade and bow at the feet of giant casinos. Same with the girls. And forty-two-year-old Mere Unger, Manager of Beach Talent at the Oasis megahotel, is their boss.

For the past seven years, Mere has played den mother to a pack of skinny models with spray-on tans and push-up bras. But when one of the girls is found dead, stuffed into the base of an all-you-can-eat buffet cart, Mere learns that while money may not make the world go round, it sure gives Las Vegas one hell of a spin.

The book was called “Beach Bitches,” thanks to my friend Jennifer Baumer, who whipped that title out when I came to her door in a panic halfway into Master Class. I wasn’t sure I could put a swear in the title and was bemoaning this in the common room, when Chris York (one of our teachers) scoffed and said something about not being a wuss and that I should use it. Well, I like Chris’s work very much. And she has one of those voices and demeanors that when she says to do something you do it. So I turned it in.

It went over well. To my surprise, our instructors liked it better than any other hook I’d written. But I still wanted to write a synopsis for a book I’d recently finished. I didn’t want to waste my time playing with something I was never really going to write. Even though we were specifically told not to. I did. And it bombed. I could see how bad it was before anyone had to tell me. All this did was confirm to me that synopses are impossible.

The next night, when we were given another synopsis format, Dean told each of us what hook we had to write a synopsis for. Damn, they’d taken away cheating, those sneaky bastards. I had to write a synopsis for “Beach Bitches.” And I had about 10 hours (including sleep time) in which to do it.

Fine. Fuck ‘em. I’d show them what real shit smelled like on the page. I wasn’t going to waste precious sleep time working hard on something for a book I’d never even write. I sat down and wrote whatever came to my mind. And what happened was exactly what they said would happen, exactly what they had designed to happen. My synopsis, written in a matter of an hour, did not suck. Here it is:

Every beach has them

Those girls. Those skinny, perky, young girls, in all shades and the one size.

In Vegas, the beaches are manmade and bow at the feet of giant casinos. Same with the girls. And forty-year-old Mere Unger, Manager of Beach Talent at the Oasis megahotel, is their boss.

Don’t call her Ma’am.

Sure, there was a day, not quite at the dawn of time, though sometimes it feels that way, when Mere would’ve been one of the queen bitches. But those days have gone the way of shoulder pads and perms. Today, Mere is not feeling so much put out to pasture as she is headed for the glue factory. And it pisses her off.

For the past seven years, following a divorce her husband calls his “trade-up,” Mere has played den mother to a pack of skinny models with spray-on tans and push-up bras. She’s helped her bitches – male and female – through the trials of boyfriends (so so so many boyfriends), booze, and a race toward Botox. She’s the one they come to when the chips are down or the weight is up.

If a bitch has a problem, Mere’s got a solution. No strings attached.

Until one of her girls is found strangled and stuffed into the base of an all-you-can-eat buffet cart, her left hand chopped away and missing. The image of the beautiful twenty-year-old with the snowy skin and honey hair, her makeup still perfect, right down to where the bruises start, her long legs and the one stunted arm, her bikini neatly spirit-glued in place, not even the bow on the top mussed – this is the image Mere carries in her mind like a calling card.

And Mere is going after some answers of her own.

As she starts unraveling not only the murder of a paint-by-numbers “spokesmodel” (may I take your drink, sir? Oh, can you rub some sunscreen on my back? Yes, we do take Diner’s Club. Oops, I think my sarong just slipped.) at one of the biggest megahotels in Vegas, she also finds a world of barter and trade, where headshots are worth the same as casino chips and not everyone can be a high-roller.

Mere follows the path of one dead blonde girl to an exiled New York mob boss with a penchant for Elvis movies and wedding memorabilia, whose own niece is coming up at the cabanas on The Strip. She’s ready to make the leap to the bigs — the sandy beaches of the downtown Golden Towers, top rival of the Oasis.

Mere tracks down a ring of card collectors, as fanatical about the Cabana Cards each hotel/casino puts out about their girls, as any baseball nut or comic book geek. These guys (because it is always and … always males) can recite every bust size at every beach in town. They know the likes and dislikes of Missy at the Towers, the favorite food (as if) of Candy at the Geyser, and they can tell you where Cerenitee had her first ever photo shoot (The Reno Home and Boat Show, May, 2001).

And finally, Mere finds a world of whales and sharks, catered to in every high-roller suite, high-stakes poker room, and VIP lounge in town. These are the men the politicians kneel to, the hotels build underground villas for, and who every girl in town is looking to entertain. These men are willing to pay more for a date than they are for a lay, because it’s all about image, baby.

You’re in Vegas now.

By the time Mere tracks down the high-rolling whale who has taken to collecting more than just the Cabana Girls’ cards, she has discovered the intricate layers of those who are served … and those who are served in Vegas. She’s scratched a surface that is more than skin deep, and she’s carrying out the scars.

Because Mere learns that while money may not make the world go round, it sure gives Las Vegas one hell of a spin.

Beach Bitches is an edgy mystery with a firm grip on snark.

Not only does Beach Bitches targets mystery readers, it may also appeal to those curious about Las Vegas and how it works behind the scenes. With gambling now legal in 48 states, the interest in Vegas – the grand dame of sin – has intensified, spilling over into movies (from Casino to The Cooler to the Ocean’s series) to television (CSI to Heroes) and enough merchandised bit of dice-and-card plastic to fill the Mirage.

Cindie Geddes has been making her living as a writer for the past eleven years, managing and writing for her company, Flying Hand Writing Services. She’s ghost-written nine nonfiction books sold to Warner Books and Wiley & Sons, as well as a few smaller presses. Her more than three hundred articles have appeared in magazines ranging from Nevada Business Journal to Ladies Home Journal. Her short fiction has been published in small press magazines, as well as anthologies, and has led to Geddes’ receiving seven fellowships and grants in her home state of Nevada.

Geddes takes her knowledge of the casino industry, having worked in one herself (though none this lavish, by a long shot) and mixes it with all the frustration and angst deserving a woman of a certain age in a world always screaming for younger, thinner, more, more, more.

But Beach Bitches also gives a nod to all us women who have ever felt frumpy and ignored next to that girl in heels and a swimsuit. Through the eyes of Mere Unger, readers get to see all the glitz, all the glamour, all the ridiculous excess of the fastest growing city in America. And they get to see it in its underwear.

It’s not always pretty.

Now, this is not much like the plot the actual book ended up having (after all this, I had to write the book). Frankly, I like this old plot better, and I may use it if I have the opportunity to write another Bitch book someday. But I can’t use this synopsis/proposal for my existing book. So last week, I ended up having to write a new one in an hour (I am not a master of organization, nor time, let me tell you). I was so happy to have this old one as a starting point. But I had to work in the actual plot. And it sucked (not the plot; the summary of the plot). But not nearly as bad as the others I’ve written, because I had an opening and closing that I could still use. An opening and closing I wrote months before I ever started the book – a book I had never even considered writing until that assignment, in a genre I’ve always considered too difficult for my plot-challenged brain.

I wrote 20-something hooks during Master Class. Four proposals. I want to write all those books now. But if I don’t, if I find myself writing something completely different? First thing I’ll do is write a hook. Then I’ll write a synopsis. Only then will I sit down and write the book.

Synopses still suck, but writing them first decreases that suckage by a lot. Enough that I can save the good bourbon for celebrations. Or inappropriate Facebook screeds. After all, all work and no play … well, you know how that ended.

Cheers!

Category: writing  Tags:  9 Comments
Apr
08

In the last few(ish) years, I’ve taken two very different writing workshops that absolutely changed how I saw my writing. Strangely enough, both were on the Oregon Coast. (Maybe great teachers are just drawn to that end of the country?) But on the surface, the two workshops shared little else in common.

  • One workshop was slanted toward literary writing, the other toward genre.
  • One was taught by writers with relatively few, though impressive, credentials, the other by writers with credits coming out the proverbial wazoo. And, yes, their credits are also impressive.
  • One was relaxed and encouraged free time and seeing the local sites, the other was high-stress and encouraged staying put and writing more than I ever thought I could.
  • One was filled with cheerleading and encouragement, the other was tough love with a fair dash of you-can-do-it thrown in.
  • One emphasized in-depth group-critique, the other … did not.
  • One was about writing as art, the other about writing as a career.

But they also shared some pretty important facets.

  • Both made me feel exhausted and rejuvenated at the same time.
  • Both made me question much of the advice I’d previously heard.
  • Both required me to trust myself.
  • Both reminded me that I need more confidence in my writing.
  • Both required new writing each day.
  • Both required reading of each other’s work.
  • Both discouraged (to the point of effectively forbidding) rewriting.

It’s that last point that often raises hackles when I talk about it.

And, to be honest, I got a little hackled at both workshops, even the second one, despite having already come to believe that rewriting was over-rated a few years earlier at the first one.

So, let me break down what I learned – twice.

1) It’s way too easy to polish the magic out of one’s prose, to make it sound just like everyone else’s. To kill off a unique voice before it even has time to sing.

2) It’s way too easy to spend years rewriting or worrying about rewriting (as I have) a book that may very well be quite good already. We, as writers, are terrible judges of our own work. Plus, that’s time that could’ve been spent writing something new.

3) The road to improvement (as in big, tectonic changes, the kinds that shake up our mental landscapes and leave them forever changed) lies in writing, not rewriting.

4) Thinking there is no option but rewriting can prevent us from just starting over and running at a story from a brand new angle and finding what works.

5) Rewriting too often just tries to force new stuff around old stuff and ends up creating a big ol’ Bride of Frankenstein whose head threatens to fall off just because of unhooked accessories.

6) The feeling of progress that comes with rewriting again and again can be misleading. The rewritten parts often feel like they are better just because they’re new.

Now, this doesn’t mean you just fill 300 pages of crap and stick it in the mail. Working on a piece as you go is not necessarily the same as rewriting. Some people put things in as they figure things out, some take them out. These folks can work forward, backward and sideways as they go. I can’t. (Yet.) I have to write the story before I even know what the hell happened, what the themes are, what the character motivations are, etc. So I need to rewrite. But not in the way I used to think of it.

I’ve learned (and will likely have to relearn) not to rewrite for polish. I don’t want to smooth off all the rough edges of a piece, robbing it of all those accidental facets that my subconscious puts in. Currently, I am having fun going in the other direction — I’m not a polisher of rough edges. I’m a carver of rough edges. But, still, I need to constantly remind myself not to change things just because they’re different (and therefore new and fresh and exciting), not beat my grammar and punctuation into such submission that I deny them their ability to add nuance, pacing and a sort of playing with the reader. I need to remember to only change those things I KNOW make the story better. Like when I had a character that was male the first half of the book and changed her to female the second half? Yeah, there’s some rewriting needed. But when I wrote myself into a corner and came up with a kickass way out that might not be exactly fitting to my genre? Leave it. When my character swears because it suits her and I start worrying about whether or not that will offend people? Leave it alone. When I want to change from first person to third because … and I realize I have no real reason other than it would be different and fun, leave it alone.

Now, if an editor tells me to make changes, I’m on it! But because I know I can’t generally judge my work (a point graphically proven in the second workshop) I’m better off trusting my gut and then waiting to see what an editor says rather than trying to read minds.

I’ve also learned the value of a trusted first reader. If my first reader (or second or third, depending on where I am in the process) points out problems (and I agree), I change them. But as I’m changing, I don’t go through and second guess everything else I wrote. (OK, I do, but I’m trying really hard not to.)

It’s not about rewriting or not rewriting, but rather about trusting ourselves as writers. Letting our subconsciouses do the heavy lifting they want to do. It’s about felicitous accidents and Freudian typos and misremembered clichés and sudden bursts of inspiration — all which come into question too often in the rewriting phase because that’s when we kick the creative side of the brain into timeout and let the critical part come in with the shrill voice of authority better left to mall cops and low-level bureaucrats.

Of course, knowing the basic rules of grammar and writing is paramount if one wants to break them. And all that cool stuff that happens with the subconscious happens because of a whole lot of knowledge that has become second nature. I think.

Now, my views do not necessarily represent the views of anyone else (on anything. Ever. Really.). In fact, this may not even be what any of the workshop leaders wanted me to get out of the workshops. It may not be what other attendees got out of it. It may all be the colorful meandering of my own imagination. I may not have been in Oregon at all – no, wait, I’m sure on that last bit. There was this ocean and sand and clouds …

Look, I'm turning my back on the ocean! I'm a wild woman.

Category: writing  Tags:  6 Comments
Cindie Geddes

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