Monday, November 14, 2011

From The Query Goblin: "My Protector: The Calling" by Hope Roberson

Hope Roberson has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for My Protector: The Calling. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Thursday, October 20, 2011

From The Query Goblin: "The River" by Anonymous (literary fiction)

An anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for The River. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Don't Second-Guess Your Gut

Anyone who follows me on Twitter probably witnessed my abject geek-spasm at the possibility of seeing (as Sarah Laurenson phrased it) a flaming schoolbus cross the sky, i.e. the UARS satellite as it flamed out in the atmosphere. Y'see, it was gonna be passing right over me at the time it was estimated to be due to bite the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, UARS proved to be a ninja satellite. No one saw it sneak in. That tricksy metal minx.

But that's okay; I found something of equal geeky worth to tell you about tonight!

Wired posted this article about making hard decisions, which led me to this article about intuitive thinking

The second article mentions some interesting experiments, and the one I found most intriguing was where they noted that if you ask people to answer the following:
Are these sentences literally true?
-- Some jobs are snakes.
-- Some jobs are jails.
-- Some roads are snakes.
...their response times slow down measurably on the second and third sentences.

In fact, you probably noticed that effect yourself when you were reading the three sentences. The knowledge that the second and third may be metaphorically be true interrupted your determination of whether they were literally true.

That's because your "Type 1" (or "intuitive") thinking is very fast and often provides more information than is actually available. It's the type of thinking that makes associations, that provides leaps of logic, that fills in the blank spots.

Type 2 thinking requires more effort, but it gives you answers based on the evidence that is really there. To quote the article:
Type 1 is automatic, effortless, often unconscious, and associatively coherent ... Type 2 is controlled, effortful, usually conscious, tends to be logically coherent, rule-governed.
And this is why your brain slowed down reading the second two sentences. The parts of your brain responsible for Type 2 thinking were doing their thing, slowly and rationally, and then the parts of your brain responsible for Type 1 thinking got to an associative answer faster and blurted it out, so to speak.

Then, after that interruption, your Type 1 thinking resumed and got to the correct answer.

Now, that's not to say you shouldn't trust your Type 1 thinking. In fact, that's the point the first article makes: when it comes to making a decision based on very complex information, your intuitive, Type 1 thinking can often do a better job than your rational, Type 2 thinking.
[R]esearchers have demonstrated that the emotional system (aka Type 1 thinking) might excel at complex decisions, or those involving lots of variables. If true, this would suggest that the unconscious is better suited for difficult cognitive tasks than the conscious brain, that the very thought process we’ve long disregarded as irrational and impulsive might actually be “smarter” than reasoned deliberation. This is largely because the unconscious is able to handle a surfeit of information, digesting the facts without getting overwhelmed. (Human reason, in contrast, has a very strict bottleneck and can only process about four bits of data at any given moment.) When confused in the toothpaste aisle, bewildered by all the different options, we should go with the product that feels the best.
The article describes an experiment that showed this. The researcher gave a group of subjects information about a set of 4 cars. Each car was rated according to 4 criteria, for a total of 16 pieces of information.

The subjects who were given a chance to think rationally about the information chose the best car about 50% of the time, and those who were distracted with an alternate task, then prompted to make a snap judgement about the cars, faired worse.

But that was the "easy" decision. The researcher then repeated the test with a different group of subjects but he instead gave them 12 pieces of information about each car, for a total of 48 peices of information.

The subjects who were give a chance to think rationally about the information in this case did very poorly. They chose the best car less than 25% of the time, i.e. they performed worse than random chance.

The subjects who were distracted, then asked to make a snap decision, however, chose the best car 60% of the time.

When faced with too much information, your rational mind becomes overwhelmed, but the intuitive mind--your "gut" instinct--performs better.

Interestingly, a group of researchers who reproduced these results found you could also undo your correct "gut instinct" choice if you tried to think rationally about the decision later. Your Type 2 thinking would get muddled by the complexity and cancel out the sureness you had felt when your Type 1 thinking produced the correct result.

Remember when you were in school and took a multiple choice test? Didn't it always seem like, if you changed an answer, it always turned out later that the first one had been correct? That may have been because your intuitive mind provided an answer your conscious, rational mind couldn't figure out, but then your conscious mind second-guessed that insight.

I find it fascinating (and beautiful) that science can actually address things that seem so magical as flashes of intuition and gut instinct. Pretty nifty stuff, and I hope it will help me listen to my instincts better when I'm feeling confused by complexity!

Ooh, and just to tie it all back to writing, in this "Show, Don't Tell" blog post, I noted that you can trust the reader's brain to fill in details, provided you give it enough to base its predictions on.

Now I can back that up with science! What is happening is that if you give the reader's brain enough information to trigger their Type 1, or intuitive thinking, they will come up with a more complete picture than would be possible if they were assembling their understanding based only on the information you provide.

The principle of "Show, Don't Tell" is about triggering the intuitive mind.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Friday, September 23, 2011

From The Query Goblin: "Hard Nox" by Anonymous

An anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for Hard Nox, a YA Paranormal. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Callous Seducer of Good Books

I'm currently more than half-way through two great novels right now, which is odd because I'm usually monogamous about reading.

You see, I was going out of town for the weekend (to be fed to the point of rupture by my absolutely lovely mother-in-law), and I had neither enough of the first book left to guarantee not running out of reading material nor enough space in my luggage to take two books with me.

Thus, that first book--a solid and dependably-enjoyable sweetheart of seven-hundred pages whom I have been commited to for over a week, now--is unaware of the flashy hussy I picked up at the library and had a weekend fling with.

And that hussy? Well. Let's just say you can tell that novel has been read a lot.

Still, I know my first book will take me back and everything will be just as good as it once was--although I can't foresee being with the poor dear for much longer.

And my relationship with the hussy will also soon run its course. I mean, you don't exactly settle down with a fast little number like that.

Always more books in the stacks, my friends. Always more books in the stacks.


Thank goodness for Twitter buddies! My friend Dale McGladdery caught something I might well have missed while I was away--my flash fiction piece Wetware Woes finally came up on Escape Pod.

This is a piece that started life as a winning entry for one of Janet Reid's contests. It's great to see it finally out! (And both weird and edifying to hear someone read what I wrote--Editor Mur Lafferty did a great job, but I'm not so in love with some of my odd-ball sentence constructions now, I tell ya!)

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

From The Query Goblin: "The Privileged" by Anonymous

An anonymous writer has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for The Privileged. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Useful Information for Non-US, Self-Published Writers

Roz Morris has assembled a very clear guide for how to apply for an ITIN number from the United States IRS if you are a self-published author who is not a US citizen.

Having an ITIN number allows you to then ask Smashwords and Amazon to withhold less of your earnings for taxation, provided you live in a country that has a taxation treaty with the US (as many of them do.)

Please note the IRS is damned cryptic about how to do this sort of thing, so please pass this link along to anyone you know who self-publishes but is not a US citizen. It's very useful information!
How I Got My ITIN Number

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From The Query Goblin: "The Light of Emet" by Freya Morris

Freya Morris has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for The Light of Emet. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The E-Avalanche | Conan No Give Up! | Fear or Hate | GoodReads

A slightly scatter-brained collection of odd thoughts today:

The E-Avalanche

It used to be literary agents insisted on getting query letters, partials, and full manuscripts in hard-copy. Paper was considered easier on the eyes.

Obviously that's changing, because when I was assembling my list of dream agents recently, I noted that of my top 25, only 5 still want paper queries. The rest either accept, or say they strongly prefer, email queries.

In fact, I noted one agency said they started accepting e-queries not because they wanted to, but because they had realized writers will query the agents who accept email first. So by not accepting e-queries, the agency was knocking itself down everyone's "desirable" list.

And as we all know, there's nothing to make an agent froth and fret more than the threat of losing something good to a competitor!

Conan No Give Up!

Sean Hood, a professional screenwriter, had some somber-but-wise words in the following article about the disappointing performance of Conan the Barbarian, which he worked on. It's worth a read because of what he has to say about perseverance at the end:
What's It Like To Have Your Film Flop At the Box Office?
Trumpet positions in major orchestras only become available once every few years. Hundreds of world class players will fly in to try out for these positions from all over the world. I remember my dad coming home from this competition, one that he desperately wanted to win, one that he desperately needed to win because work was so hard to come by. Out of hundreds of candidates and days of auditions and callbacks, my father came in....second.

It was devastating for him. He looked completely numb. To come that close and lose tore out his heart. But the next morning, at 6:00 AM, the same way he had done every morning since the age of 12, he did his mouthpiece drills. He did his warm ups. He practiced his usual routines, the same ones he tells his students they need to play every single day. He didn't take the morning off. He just went on. He was and is a trumpet player and that's what trumpet players do, come success or failure.
Fear or Hate

It always struck me as odd that homophobia gets the suffix -phobia, which means fear. To me, the behaviour described by that term seems more like hatred.

It makes more sense when you understand it derives from the idea that fear of the 'other' leads to a reflexive hatred.

Sexism is understood to be a form of hatred too, and a lot of YA books these days are aimed squarely at girls, with publishers justifying that fact with the statement, "Boys don't read."

Which is sexist. Of course boys read, but they won't read books that don't appeal to them, and if that's all that's on the shelves, then no. Boys don't read.

Why do the publishers believe this? I'm sure not many of the individuals in these companies are sexist, but the last two YA titles that turned into utter blockbusters--Twilight and The Hunger Games--appealed strongly to girls, and in trying to reproduce those successes, the publishers give in to fiscal paranoia. They make generalizations that are sexist and thus do a low-level, but pervasive, harm to society.

Likewise, a while back, there was a lot of anger in the YA reading community over the white-washing of book covers, i.e. publishers putting a white face on the cover of a book featuring a non-white protagonist.

Again, I doubt the liberal-heavy New York publishing industry consists of many very-racist individuals, but I'm certain it contains a lot of people quite leery of doing anything that differs much from that which proved successful in the past.

And putting a person of colour on the front of the book meant for the mainstream would be different. Thus, out of fear of losing money from (presumed-racist?) book buyers, the publishers will white-wash the cover. And again, by responding to their fears, they've generated something indistinguishable from hate.


I'm on GoodReads now! Um, but I'm really unsure how to get the most of it...? If anyone wants to explain the concept, I'd much appreciate it. :-)

Also, feel free to tell me what name you go under there, and I'll (try to; I'm a bit incompetent still) add you as a friend!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wait--WHAT Time Is It?

Yeah, so, I had this fabulous nap tonight? One of those ambush naps.

And now it's more officially bedtime and I have no blog post written or thought up, but I do feel fabulously refreshed. Hence, I abandon responsibility for the content of the blog! It's all in your hands this week.

Ask me a question! It can be about pretty much anything that's not overly personal. Physics? Writing? Orchids? Rock climbing? Chess? Cheese? Full-body contact tree yoga? (Warning: I may not an expert on that.)

If you can't think of a question, ask me to draw you a picture! Those will take me a bit of time to put up, but I'll try to add them to this post as promptly as possible.

I look forward to being your blog-slave!

PS: For anyone interested in how my query letter is progressing, I've posted a new version in the comments of this post. Feel free to critique anew! As always, your comments are very much appreciated.


Sarf requested I draw him a picture, but I'm cheating a bit. His prompt was for the most impressive place I've been, and I had to finish the image in 30 minutes.

I chose the royal palace in Bangkok, Thailand, and that's the sort of place that demands a colour image, and I SUCK at colour. The result was not turning out as well as I'd hoped and wouldn't be fixed within the time limit, so I flagrantly reinterpreted my answer to the more general "Thailand" and did another picture.

This is the golden Buddha, also in Bangkok, which is a 7 ton, solid gold Buddha that was discovered inside a concrete Buddha. How was it discovered? They tried to move the statue and broke their crane.

My apologies, but I really do suck at colour. I like the way the face turned out, but the body doesn't really look metallic the way it should.


I asked her what she wanted a picture of. She said, "A cat? A robot?" So naturally, I drew both:

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Baby Got Book

I finally got my hands on Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher, then promptly slurped it down.

The book sold out everywhere in my city on release day, so after much frothing and flailing, I broke down and ordered it online (then, when it arrived, boogied around my apartment in smug possessiveness, much to El Husbando's amusement.)

I'm astonished that the major bookstore conglomerate in Canada didn't realize this title would be kinda-sorta-like-whoa-maybe-just-a-tad? in demand. But I've no reason to complain on that score. Last month was my personal geek nirvana, what with A Dance With Dragons, Ghost Story and the final Harry Potter movie all coming out in a very short time frame.

Also, China Mieville has no reason to complain about the book not being in stock either, because in my frustration over not getting Ghost Story, I walked out of the store with Kraken instead. Impulse buy, for the win!

Or to put it another way: I like big books, and I cannot lie. You other readers cannot deny, when a book is fat, you wanna get with that and...

Yeah, white girl can't rap, and it wasn't my idea anyway:

Super-segue! Actually, no segue at all, I'm just changing topics with whiplash disregard for your attention span's personal safety.

Thank you for everyone's suggestions last week regarding my opening scene. If you're interested in reading (and critiquing anew? Hey, I'd love it!) my changes, please click the following:
The Blooddrinker and the War Angel.

I'm also currently letting the denizens of the Query Goblin site chew on my book's blurb. If you'd like to join the fun, please click here:
In Soviet Russia, YOU bite Query Goblin.
ETA: New version of the query now posted in the comments section of above link!

(And thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you who already have commented! I'm getting fantastic feedback over there.)

Ooh, guess who's got Baby Got Back stuck in her head now...

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Thursday, August 04, 2011

From The Query Goblin: "Enoch's Device" by Anonymous

An anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for Enoch's Device. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

From The Query Goblin: "Guardian" by Anonymous

An anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for Guardian. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two Favours Done | One Favour Asked

This past week, Tracey Wood demonstrated to me how powerful word-of-mouth can really be.

The Query Goblin had been suffering a very empty maw for several weeks when Tracey put a single endorsement for it on Query Tracker, and BOOM! The Goblin's tummy was abruptly full-to-bursting with delicious queries!

So thank you, Tracey, for doing me such a good turn; I truly appreciate it.
(Psst; everyone! Go visit Tracey's blog--it's brand new!)


And if that weren't enough, Melodie Wright recently asked if she could interview my green alter ego on her blog, Forever Re-Wrighting. Please click through below to read the result:

Thus Spake Zarathustra Goblin

Thank you, Melodie! It was an honour.


In other news, I'm in that stage of writing wherein I wonder if I'm delusional.

In other words, I'm editing what is inching toward becoming a final draft, and I'm liking it! And then I'm second-guessing myself!

Because the problem with having birthed anything is you're kinda prone to adoring it unconditionally. I really don't know if I'm being objective about the merits of this manuscript, so I intend to put it away for a month, write other things, then come back to do a hopefully-more-objective final pass.

Erm, but in the meanwhile, would anyone be willing to critique the first scene of my science fiction novel titled The Blooddrinker and the War Angel?

You can get to it via the link below, but you'll have to come back to this post to leave your critique. Anonymous comments are on, however, so let fly! I really do want to hear what you think, good or bad. :)

First scene of The Blooddrinker and the War Angel

Thank you in advance to anyone who chooses to leave a comment--I very much appreciate your donation of time and thoughtfulness!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

From The Query Goblin: "The Zero Line" by Anonymous

An anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for The Zero Line. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

From The Query Goblin: "Honor" by Mary_J_59

Mary_J_59 has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for Honor. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Thursday, July 28, 2011

From The Query Goblin: "The Black Desert" by Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo (no relation, I'm sure) has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for The Black Desert. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From The Query Goblin: "Future's Prophet" by Anonymous

An anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for Future's Prophet. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From The Query Goblin: "A Special Someone" by Robbin L.

Robbin L. has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for A Special Someone. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

From The Query Goblin: "Power's Pawn" by Anonymous

An anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for Power's Pawn. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

From The Query Goblin: "Redemption for Liars", by Anonymous

Another anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for the novel Redemption for Liars. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Power of Words...and Science!

Would you believe science can show that words have power--that even tiny changes of wording affect people in measurable ways?

The following article discusses just that:
The Power of Nouns
A researcher wondered to what degree words can influence actions. He sent a questionnaire to voters on the day before an election asking them a question worded in one of two different ways.

The first way was: "How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?"

The next day, 82% of the people who answered that question actually went out and voted.

The second version of the questionnaire instead said: "How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?"

96% of those people voted.

The researcher did three versions of this study, and the results were robust: Yes, wording matters. By using a noun instead of a verb, the questionnaire was able to encourage people to identify more strongly with the idea of being someone who votes.

The article is worth reading because it outlines why the researcher thinks this works--what the psychology behind the effect is--and that may give you ideas for how to reveal character in your writing. The rule of thumb is that when someone says, "I am a [noun]", they care more deeply than someone who says, "I [verb]."


And since I'm discussing the power of words, here's an interesting article on the predictive power of words. It may be possible, by analyzing the wording used by journalists talking about the economy, to predict some of the behaviour of the stock market:
Fewer Verbs, Nouns in Financial Reporting Could Predict Stock Market Bubble

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Query #24: Title unknown, by Anonymous

An anonymous author has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for their book, which sounds like a middle grade novel. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

The Mirror

There's controversy over whether addiction should be called a disease. Some people think about how they define the word "disease" and decide that addiction doesn't count.

For this post, I won't call addiction a disease, and this is not to imply it is or isn't, but only to keep that word from being a distraction from what I'm trying to say.

When a person becomes addicted to a substance, it's no longer a matter of willpower or choice. It's a matter of biology and chemistry.

Addiction means the person's body has re-calibrated itself and now considers the drug crucial to its survival. The person's mind--what they want, how they'd like to live their life--has become mostly irrelevant. Addicts truly do lose control of their actions.

I want to explain the science of what happens when a person becomes addicted to heroin, because I think heroin provides an analogy that makes it a bit easier--for a person who has never been addicted to anything--to understand how hard it is to kick a drug habit.

There are things in your bloodstream called sugar receptors that help you digest sugar. Heroin is chemically similar to a sugar your body metabolizes naturally--so much so, that heroin can latch onto your sugar receptors even though it doesn't quite fit them.

But heroin is chemically active. It alters your sugar receptor to make it effectively a heroin receptor. If enough receptors become altered, not only is your ability to process sugar impaired, but your body now considers heroin an essential nutrient--something it will die without.

Would you have enough willpower to starve yourself to death if you knew where to find food?

That's how much willpower a heroin addict needs to kick their habit. When they quit the drug, their body is convinced it's dying for lack of an essential nutrient. It uses every evolved response it has, every trick in its arsenal, to coerce the addict into getting more heroin.

So again--could you starve yourself to death? In the presence of food? Think how desperate you would feel, because that's the desperation a junkie feels; their body is using that same response on them, trying to drive them to take the drug.

If your answer is no, you couldn't voluntarily starve to death (or couldn't do it easily), then have empathy for addicts, because when you look at them, you're looking in a mirror. That person is you, if you'd had the bad luck, poor judgement, or youthful naivete to wind up addicted to a drug. Their body is designed the same way yours is; it could have been you.

And I'm not even done telling you about heroin.

Suppose a heroin addict kicks their habit, fixes their life, and goes on to live a clean and meaningful existence. Remember those altered sugar receptors? Those hang around in the body for years.

When a person kicks a heroin habit, their cravings decrease sharply in the first few weeks, and more slowly over the next few months, but they never go away. A person who has been sufficiently addicted to heroin will crave the drug for the rest of their life.

Also, because heroin is similar to a natural sugar, sweet foods can trigger withdrawal symptoms even years later. Imagine having successfully kicked a heroin habit at 20 years of age, then eating a candy bar at 40 years of age and going into withdrawal symptoms again. (And, by the way, heroin withdrawal is nasty.)

How abjectly unfair--and there's only biology and chemistry to blame for it. Same as for the original addiction.

Now, is addiction a disease?

A disease is something physically wrong with your body. Addiction is something physically wrong with your body.

Note I'm not talking about drug abuse, here. Drug abuse often leads to addiction, but addiction is a separate issue--addiction is the state of one's body physically craving a drug, regardless of what one's mind desires. Abuse, in the absence of addiction, is still a person's choice.

Addiction is certainly different than a disease like appendicitis, because appendicitis happens to people who have done nothing to increase their risk of getting it. Addiction requires conscious action, at least to begin with.

However, appendicitis doesn't make you feel worse when you're getting better. Addiction makes you feel horrible when you try to get better.

And appendicitis doesn't feel good when you're actively aggravating it. When an addict uses, they get a moment's relief--even though they're digging themselves in deeper. It's a heartbreaking Catch-22.

I'm not going to make a call on whether addiction should be called a disease because I have no expertise on this matter. I've never been addicted; no one I cherish has ever struggled with addiction (that I know of.)

But in general, if you want to know what something is like, you ask an expert, and in this case, that means an addict or a recovering addict.

And if they say addiction is a disease, then that's probably the truth, isn't it? They would know better than we who sit by the sidelines of dangerous living and wonder what it's like.

What makes us all human (and, in some cases, what makes us writers) is an ability to empathize and a willingness to understand someone else's struggle. Humanity has many strengths--intelligence, courage, artistry, athletic prowess--but the one attribute we have that the world always needs more of is kindness.

So please, always remember, when you see someone made pathetic, grotesque or even dangerous by their addiction, they're responding to it roughly the way you would if you had been unlucky or unwise enough to get yourself into that state. You're looking in a mirror to an alternate universe--one that shows you, if things had gone wrong.

Amy Winehouse was a beautiful woman who apparently felt ugly, a talented woman who thought she was worthless, an addict. Her body yearned for substances that eventually tore away everything her heart and mind had yearned for. Have empathy for her; what a terrible thing.

May she have peace now, and may her example give other addicts the will and courage to fight their way free. Amen.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

From The Query Goblin: "Saving Andromeda" by Rewrighter

Rewrighter has graciously allowed the Goblin to massage the query for Saving Andromeda. Please pop by and see/say what you think!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thy Olde-Time Grammar...Thou Just Made Thyself Look Like a Moron, Thou Didst

Here's a fantastic post from writer-buddy Angela Perry. It's the most clear and understandable outline I've ever come across of how to use thee/thou/thine and ye. Great resource for fantasy writers!

Have At Thee

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Outlining My Pants and Pantsing My Outline

Hurrah! I finished my first draft for my WIP this week! Sha-boogaloos and happy dances for everyone!

I'm pretty pleased with what's there, too. Fingers crossed, and touch wood for good measure, but I'm hoping the edits will be fairly painless.

The following quotation by E. L. Doctorow sums up what the experience of writing this book has been like:
It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
Word. With this novel, it seemed like I was never very sure what was going to happen next. I had a vague idea of what the ending was going to be and what the characters were going to experience--and that was it. I brainstormed every new scene as I came to it.

And it's not that I didn't try to outline the novel in advance--it's just I finally realized I might as well be struggling to write the book instead of struggling to write the outline.

I'm not really a seat-of-the-pants writer. I do need to know what the scene I'm going to write contains before I start typing it up. However, I'm obviously not quite a plotter either. And although I find it anxiety-inducing to not know where a story is going, maybe this isn't such a bad way to do things.

When I write scene by scene, I'm always focused on this moment. I have to concentrate on making the scene pop to life and feel immediate because--Gandalf and Yoda preserve me--it's all I've got. I cannot skip ahead. There is no "ahead". Not yet. Big ol' black hole waiting to eat me, right there.

I think most writers fall somewhere between the extremes of "Seat Of Ma Pants, OMG" and "Full Metal Outline". Where do you fall, and how do you split things up? When do you sit down and brainstorm, and at what point do you just dive in and write? Do you always do things one way, or does it change from project to project? I'd love to hear about your technique.

P.S. - I just finished A Dance With Dragons, and George R. R. Martin is an evil, evil, black-hearted man. Oh, how I love him and his wonderful books!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Italy Pic-spam!

Hi all!

So part of the reason I haven't been online much the past few weeks is I took an utterly lovely trip to Italy. El Husbando speaks Italian, so we didn't book any tours but just got a room in Florence, took a day trip to Pisa while we were there (including a visit to the towns of Sienna and San Gimignano), then had a room in Venice for the rest of the trip.

Since we didn't do an official tour, I don't have a lot of information on the stuff we saw, so here's a pic-spam post showing you some of the highlights. It might be more fun this way!

This is the Arno river on the night we arrived in Florence

In Italy, the insides of churches are like classical art galleries.

The front of El Duomo, the cathedral in Florence

More of El Duomo in Florence

Pretty building in Florence

Rooftops in Florence

A pretty building in Florence

I believe this is a courtyard that is part of the Uffizi Gallery; it's certainly right beside to the building where the gallery is housed, but I'm unsure whether they're officially part of the same complex.

Across the Arno river, the city gets a bit more rural (and less touristy; it's nice!)

Another scene while we were across the Arno river (there is city there too, but green spaces like this one also.)

A parade in Florence. These fellows were tossing their flags high in the air as they walked.

The start of our day trip to Pisa: This is in the main square of the town of Sienna, which was rich enough at one point that they tried to rival Rome. Then the black plague came along and left everybody either dead or broke--usually dead.

This is the fountain in the main square of Sienna.

This is the bell tower for Sienna's cathedral, which we were going to see. (Note the swallows and the moon!)

This is the front of Sienna's cathedral

The bell-tower of Sienna's cathedral

The inside of Sienna's cathedral

A painted roof inside the library in Sienna's cathedral

A view of wine country as we're driving toward San Gimignano

San Gimignano is a medieval city that is preserved but still has people living in it. Very quaint and cute place!

The cathedral at Pisa with the leaning tower in the background. And here, you see why El Husbando froths about my tendency to take crooked shots. Yes, the tower is supposed to be leaning--but the cathedral is not!

The leaning tower of Pisa--leaning slightly more than usual due to my incompetence with a camera.

The inside of Pisa's cathedral

The inside of Pisa's cathedral

A door at Pisa, possibly on the cathedral

Okay, we're back in Florence! El Duomo is the main cathedral in Florence, and we walked right up to the top of the dome. That's a bit less than 600 steps, and most of them are in these tiny, claustrophobic spiral staircases or along steps where you have to crouch because the dome is curving right over your shoulder. It was cool! Well--sweaty and a lot of work, to be accurate--but you know what I mean!

This image is of the paintings on the inside of the dome, which you get to see right up close when you do the walk-up to the top of the dome. The daylight you see at the top is the level where we ended up.

View of El Duomo's bell-tower from the top of the cathedral's dome

View of Santa Croce from the top of El Duomo

Here's what half the stairwells looked like when you climbed to the top of El Duomo in Florence

Now we're in Venice! It was the height of tourist season, so some of the canals looked like conveyor belts of gondolas at certain times of the day. No, we did not take a gondola ride--it works out to being about $150 (100 Euro) for a 40 minute ride. We knew we would enjoy it, but that much...?

San Marco in Venice; there seemed to be a lot of work being done (cleaning? restoration?), so unfortunately quite a few of the landmarks in this piazza had plastic sheeting up over them.

A detail on the cathedral of San Marco in Venice

The Doge's palazzo (Duke's palace) in Venice

A view from inside the Doge's palazzo (where you're not actually supposed to take photos--shh!)

The gold-and-glass mosaic tiles of the ceiling inside San Marco's cathedral--where, um, you're also not supposed to take photos.

The ceiling in one of the museums that rings San Marco piazza, where...look, as far as criminal behaviour in foreign countries is concerned, taking photos when you're not supposed to ain't that bad, okay?

View along the grand canal in Venice (where you are allowed to take photos!)

View across the grand canal in Venice

The inside of one of the cathedrals in Venice. They have SO. MANY. CHURCHES.

Inside a completely different church in Venice

A Venetian mask in a store window. You can also see some glass beads; Venice is famous for its blown glass.

This is a public sculpture on nearby Murano Island, which is famous for being where all of Venice's famous blown glass comes from.

The view coming back to Venice from Murano Island on the vaporetto (ferry.)

And finally--I don't usually post photos of myself on the internet--but here's me eating a meringue cookie that's nearly as big as my head!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: