Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Learned From This Album

My band Pawnbroker recently finished the recording process for our second album. One song is up in the "Band Profile" section of the Facebook page as a preview. Buy the first album here.

Stay tuned for when it drops! Things I learned:

- My singer lives in the same house where Death Cab For Cutie lived in the 1990s. I know this because my friend Chris also lived there. When Chris moved in, a quick search of the attic yielded the detritus of Death Cab's "side gig"--clippings, fertilizer, reflective sheets and various other weed-growing paraphernalia.

- It's cool to look at my Shure SM7B and be like "I OWN THAT."

This is a bar mitzvah for musicians. I finally own a nice vocal mic!

- It's not that cool that it weirds out the pitch correction function in Logic Express. Our singer Nicole doesn't need pitch correction, but I'm not so good with the whole staying in key thing...

- Don't try to record an album and have a baby within a few months of each other.

- Unless you magically can live without sleep.

- I need like, five more guitars to be happy.

- I still don't know how to describe our music. "We want to put the 60s and the 90s together" is my best. Someone smart said, "sweet driving in the rain music."

- HEY! Readers! If you can come up with a better description in the comments, I'll send you a prize! (What's that? The prize that you want is for me to stop spamming you with my band stuff? Okay, wiseguy...)

- One can put songs together just through the process of recording. Two of the tracks did not so much have endings or arrangements. We kind of invented said arrangements, in our drummer's basement, during the recording sessions. Yeah! It's like free-form funk inspiration. Or possibly like the part on Spinal Tap where they decide to become an acid-jazz band.

- "Like the part on Spinal Tap where they decide to become an acid-jazz band" is not quite a good description of our music.

- For the last album, a lot of the material had been in heavy rotation for years, through the last two projects Nathan and I were involved in. For this album, we wanted to root our music in the current lineup, reflecting everything that is happenign now. We came up with six new songs and rerecorded one that we put on the first album. All seven of the songs on this album come from the current incarnation of Pawnbroker and from the gigging and writing and fun-having of the last year. I'm very excited to give birth to this thing.

- I wish I had money for another five guitars.

- I can't deny it any more. I need to lose some weight. There has definitely been more of me in the last year of band photos. On the world tour, when I tear my shirt off, I don't want everyone to be horrified.

- I like my bandmates. Speaking as the guy who sometimes creates the drama, this band has a low level of drama. Also, we actually hang out. Nicole and I babysit for each other, and our drummer Scott did my taxes. Who knew that drummers could do stuff like that?

Enjoy the music!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Great Never-Wrote

Writing Week! Subject to change, this blog now has a different subject each week, in an attempt to get some of my many many ideas out of this head.

It will go thus: Writing Week, Music Week, Food/Fitness Week and Teaching/Parenting Week.

This week, I discuss the Great Never-Wrote.

So who's your Great Never-Had, people?

If you haven't hear the term, the Great Never-Had is your hopeless crush, or a relationship ended before its time, or a relationship that died before it started.

My great Never-Had was an artist, a vegetarian, and a redhead. I tried to date her all through my junior year of high school and failed. When senior year started, she serendipitously reciprocated. A few blissful months later, my Spider-Sense told me she was not that interested in me and was about to break up with me any minute.

Disclaimer: my Spider-Sense sounds exactly like typical adolescent neurosis.

So I dumped her, then went right back to pining after her. She, rightly, surmised that I had broken her heart once and I was a farking mess.

She got over me. I piiiiiiiiined.

We lost contact for a while, then became friends again in college. At this point, she ate meat, gave up painting, joined the Army, and went brunette. I had a lot of fun with her, but I never dated her college incarnation. Yet if her high school incarnation showed up to my 22-year-old self's door and said she'd take me back... damn the age gap, damn the time travel, I would have done it.

You understand, people.

In writing terms, she has a cousin in the Great Never-Wrote. More accurately, the Great Wrote-But-Never-Got-Right. It's that novel or story that you pour your soooooooul into, cram all your ideas into, rewrite and rewrite and give to everyone to critique and then... send it out and no one even wants to look at it. Or you realize that you learned a lot, but the ambition of the project has contributed to its downfall. It's too big and unwieldy. The plot hinges on an event that just does not work. The story is an allegory for your faith, but you became an atheist. The love interest is based on your great Never-Had and you don't want her to recognize herself because now you're Facebook friends (that's a stupid reason not to write something, btw).

My Great Never-Wrote sits, unfinished, in the middle of it's fourth full rewrite. That's not revision. That is Re-Write, from scratch, starting with a blank page.

It started as a novel called Blood Earth, which I wrote in 2004. For this novel, I took the four or so fantasy ideas I had and threw them all together into a blender. The result was cool. Part epic fantasy, part portal fantasy, part doomed messiah, part religious war.

So by 2005 it was ready for submission, and I put together some subs and sent it out and... THUD.

That was a good year for form rejections. I hope you bought stock in stationary in 2005.

In 2007, I noodled around with a new version of the book. Although it had seemed perfect when I submitted it in 2005, by 2007 I knew where the problems were in the structure. I decided to try rewriting it. What could it hurt?

The original version had been set in a nondescript fantasy world. I made the whole thing more like the Crusades, my favorite historical clusterf***, and my elevator pitch became "it's the Crusades, if the Muslims were telepaths and the Christians were shape-shifters."

Version 2.0 was a mess, but a good one. I changed a lot, let it breathe, added characters, tried four titles and finally closed it out at 220,000 words. That's over one thousand manuscript pages. I whittled it down to 180,000 and gave it to my writing group to read. We were all in agreement that it was...

...still a mess.

I decided cut away some of the characters to simplify things. Instead of six viewpoint characters, we went down to four. I got kind of far in that version, but couldn't deal with the issues I had now created for the ending, because so many crucial characters had been cut.

I was tired. It was now 2010. The title of the work was now "The Betrayer's Song." I referred to it as The BS.

In late 2010, I attended Viable Paradise, a one-week science fiction writing workshop on Martha's Vineyard. At VP, I had a VISION.

I knew how to fix the Great Never-Wrote. I got home and finished NaNoWriMo 2010 in two weeks. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and burned out at 82,000 words, with about 60,000 words left to go. Stuck, I gave that version to a friend who said "Your first chapter really needs to be a novel of its own. This is great but it's Book Two." And, while this is dangerous advice to heed, I thought he was right. The advice clicked. So throughout 2011 and 2012 I wrote 110,000 words on the first-chapter-into-a-whole-novel version... and burned out with only 20 or 30 thousand words to go.

In the words of Tolkien, "Foresight had failed and there was no time for thought." Less profound: I have such a huge pile of The BS, and nothing to do with it.

This year, I started working on an entirely different project, although I'm recycling some of the stuff I threw away in early drafts of The BS.

I think about it often. Specifically, I think about the fun I had writing it way back in 2004 when I didn't know what I was doing. Or the joy of that late-night idea session at VP. My critique group's feedback on the second version. And the most recent version, for which I have notes and fix attempts from just a few months ago.

Occasionally I pine. But I don't pine for what I have now. What I have now is a huge mess. I pine for all the times I thought it was working, and I knew exactly what to do with it.

(However, I did cull a number of flashback sequences and publish them as the story "The Death of Roach." In case you want to know what the world looks like.)

How about you? What's your Great Never-Wrote?

(Although this is so 2006, I still believe in the virtues of a good comment left on the blog page, in the blog's format. So leave one if you have an answer. I


In Which I Am Not Dead!

I haven't written much since the baby was born. Because how can you write with this cuteness around? THE CUTENESS MUST BE HEEDED!

Buuuut, I went to the Cascade Writers workshop/JayWake the weekend of the 26th and I got myself all fired up. [Then I went to a wedding and forgot about this blog post. Bear with me.]

If you do not know of this workshop, you should. Karen, the grand poobah of the workshop, runs A Classy Joint. Crit groups roll with with published novelists and their New York editors and agents. Your tuition includes one-on-one time both with your group leaders and said agents.

When I arrived, I felt down. I've been going to this workshop since 2008, with one small break for 2010. Nothing much had changed about my situation this year from when I attended in 2012. In 2012, I was mired in the pits of an unfinished novel. Now I've given up on that one and I... am mired in another unfinished novel. Since last year, I published one story at non-pro rates, and then pulled it for a contract dispute.

Ask any writer, and you will find that there is a wall they want to leap ('step to take' doesn't describe the effort involved). For a long time, that wall is Publication, Oh, Please, God, Any Publication. Then there's where I am, More Respectable Publication. In SF, that means pro-rate pay of 5 cents a word US or more. I need one more pro sale to qualify for SFWA membership. Nice reviews and award nominations wouldn't hurt.

All writers have their wall, whether it's Sell New Novel Series or Avoid Internet Feuds. George R.R. Martin's is "Finish This Book In Less Than Six Years." JK Rowling's wall is "Keep The Next Pseudonym Secret REALLY REALLY JOANNE F.F.S."

I've been at More Respectable Publication for a long time. Since 2011. Not coincidentally, all through 2012 I had 2+ kids and 2+ jobs.

So I got to the workshop, collapsed on my hotel bed, and thought, "I should have stayed home. I'm not getting anywhere." Then I slapped myself for being a self-pitying dork and got up to prepare my presentations and critiques. Cue "Gonna Fly Now."

My first presentation was What Agents Want with Cameron, where I dragged out the part of my brain that, a long time ago, worked for a literary agency. I gave the usual shpiel, which I will repeat here for you: agents want to pay the rent. Give the agent a reason why people will buy the book.

Also useful: While your agent is shopping around your manuscript, write like crazy, blog like crazy, and generally put yourself out there. It's the writing version of Dan Savage's maxim "don't complain that no one wants to have sex with you; go make yourself into the kind of person people want to have sex with."

After What Agents Want, the good folk of the workshop gathered around and practiced pitching their novels. I critiqued every form of pitch, from elevator pitches, query letters, and rambling explanations of what the audience members' books were about. There is some serious talent out there, people. I heard about a lot of really excellent novels.

Pitch practice this year went a lot better than it did last year. I held a pitch practice session last year in which I tried, off the cuff, to pitch my complete novel The Great Faerie Strike.

The 2012 pitch was terrible. I couldn't pitch my own novel!

This year I stayed away from such things and just went with other people's pitches. We will come back to that abortive session last year, though. This year was a success, partially due to the fact that I didn't make a horrible example of myself.

Then, I got to explore the joy of grammar with Your Sentences Suck. This was an interesting presentation. Call me a weirdo, but there is no possible way I can squeeze my love of sentence structure into fifty minutes.

I started out by talking about structure, and the eyes, they did glaze over. BUT. IT'S IMPORTANT. You, dear reader, need to understand the difference between interrogative, simple, and cumulative sentences. I would have liked to spend more time on subjects, verbs and objects, because they trip everyone up. As it was, I moved on, in order to avoid said glazing over

I got to the good stuff, though. Partially thanks to Randy's handy handout. (I am not so much with the organization, so I got a guy to keep me in line.)

A sentence, like a prostitute masquerading as an FBI plant masquerading as a prostitute, offers many levels of proposition. A sentence like "Invisible God created a visible world" proposes all sorts of meanings. Oftentimes we aren't aware of everything we propose in a sentence, or For more, check out the Great Courses course by Brooks Landon.

Chrissy and the kids came down for JayWake on Saturday night. Much has been blogged regarding JayWake. I enjoyed it and was glad to show Jay our support. I even served as a pallbearer (for Jay's live body in a prop coffin). Quite unique and bittersweet. Despite best efforts, I cried. Lots of other people did too. We'll miss you, Jay. Don't leave yet.

On Day The Last, Cameron (and later Claire, the Tor editor present) asked me what I was working on. I brought up The Great Faerie Strike. Now, since last year, I've revised that novel and readied it for publication. Aaaand, I've worked on my pitch. Apparently I've done well, because both of them liked the pitch, and asked to see the book.

Pitches aren't much in the writing business, because they require a subset of skills that are only part of good writing. HOWEVER. I left knowing that I had improved since last year. The pitch that flubbed last year had been refined, purified, made goodenough.

And, I realized, I had submitted a novel for the first time since 2005.

Whether or not anyone takes the novel, that's definitely an important step in the work out to jump the wall.

How about you, dear readers? What's your wall and what are you doing to leap it? If any of you are secretly JK Rowling, you are exempt from leaving comments.