Saturday, June 30, 2007

No Restraint

I don't know what's up with me lately, but I can't seem to tell a story within 6000 words anymore. I've been going backand forth between two stories this week - and they've both broken the 5000 word barrier, and neither is close to finished. (And now that I look at it, 10,000 words within the past week is pretty friggin' sweet.) I know that these are both in the first draft stage, but I have a habit to add in the re-writing stages. Is this my sub-conscious telling me it's time to get back to novel writing and forget about shorts for a while? It's funny to think that I sometimes had trouble coming up with a decent word count for a flash fiction piece.

So, I'll continue with both stories this weekend and hopefully finish them both; then I can go back and see what I can do with them. Wish me luck.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Is It Worth It?

So, I was just going over the course offerings at UMaine for the Fall and decided to register for a class in Copy Editing - good skill to have if you write, I should think. The course is actually in the Journalism Department, where I started my academic career before transferring and getting a BA in Political Science and then the MFA. But going over the requirments for the BA in Journalism, I realized that I only need 18 credit hours in the department, including the copy editing class, for another degree. Is it worth it? Another part of the equation is that I used to be a journalist - and I absolutely fucking hated it. I worked seven days a week, 14-plus hours a day. I went through two bottles of Pepto Bismol a week. And my boss was this wrinkled old troll that should have died twenty years before. To tell you the macarbe truth, I can't wait to see his obituary in the paper so I can go piss on his grave. I also had to deal with his psychotic son who I almost got into a fist fight with after he threw a phone book at me. (I got my vicarous revenge when I watched from my office window as some guy beat the living shit out of him in front of the building.) So, the chances of ever taking a 9-to-5 as a reporter ever again is pretty slim.

So, should this be a legitimate pursuit? Would another BA on my resume mean anything? It will have to be done over the next year-and-a-half, so a couple of classes a semester worth of work at a time. Advice?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In Case You Need a Refresher before Die Hard 4


I feel special. The great and powerful David Anthony Durham has graced my blog with his presence. It's not everyday I get someone in the comments section whose book (Acacia) was a featured review in Entertainment Weekly - grade: A-. A line in the review states that the book "is crawling with wickedly fascinating scumbags," which pretty much describes the people he hangs out with at Stonecoast - so, it's nice to know we are his collective muse. In the acknowledgement page he blames us for bringing him to the dark side.

The fantasy novel was also mentioned in Time Magazine as one of the 50 Things to See, Hear, Read and Do This Summer, however, along with exhibits on Matisse and The Bourne Ultimatum, they also mentioned Bon Jovi and Toby Keith - just to put it in perspective.

In all seriousness, David is a talented writer who has won a lot of awards and his books are all terrific and yadda yadda yadda. And I'm pretty sure he also knows more about Jagermeister than anyone outside of the city of Wolfenbüttel - or maybe he's drunk more than anyone outside of Wolfenbüttel; well, him and Mötley Crüe - and to tell you the truth, there isn't much difference between them.

So, go out and buy his new book and the others as well. Rejoice in their brilliance, and then dispair in the knowledge that your work will never be as good. Maybe I can coax him into an interview...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


The Maine International Film Festival starts in a couple of weeks, and for the first time in about three years, I'll actually be free to go. The movie I'm looking forward to the most? THE TEN.

This year's mid-life achievement award is going to Bud Cort of HAROLD AND MAUDE fame. Despite HAROLD, which is one of the best love stories ever told - too bad it has that annoying Cat Stevens soundtrack, Cort is a pretty disappointing choice considering previous receipients include Jonathan Demme and fucking Terrance Malick! They get Malick to come out of whatever cave he hides in to accept an award and the best they can do this year is Bud Cort? Oh well.

Watcha Watchin'?

So, along with distractions in the news and books (currently reading SLEEPING BEAUTY by Ross MacDonald and ACACIA by Jagermeister David Anthony Durham), I've slowly settled into more television and movies lately.

Best new movie on DVD I've seen recently: RENO:911 MIAMI is absolutely hilarious. Loved it. It was so wrong in so many ways, which sums up my sense of humor.

Current television show on DVD fixation: VERONICA MARS. We've been watching an episode or two a night from Season One. I already bought Season Two. Too bad the show has been cancelled. (But I am glad to find out that Kristen Bell is much older than her character, because I don't feel so much like a creepy guy who digs high school chicks.)

The only movie I've seen in the theaters recently: FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER. I'll admit, this movie is a huge improvement over the first one; but that was helped in great part by the Surfer, who has to be my favorite comic book character (at least on equal footing with Batman) - an metal-colored alien who rides a surfboard through the cosmos, what's not to like? OK, to those who aren't familiar with the FF mythology or the Surfer, the movie probably seems a bit disjointed; but I don't think people should expect anything the Oscars will be paying attention to next year. But (SPOILER) the end does suggest a Silver Surfer movie. My inner geek is just drooling at the prospect.

Reality Show: I'm not big on the reality shows. AMERICAN IDOL? I couldn't care less. But ON THE LOT seemed like it would be interesting (filmmakers competing by making short films), and for the most part it is; but the original concept was much much cooler. This show is a mess, and so is its website with all of its typos and poor navigation. It seemed like the show would document each filmmaker as they made their films, but it appears that the producers have abandoned that idea and gone with something akin to AMERICAN IDOL, complete with public voting, etc. I think the only reason this still holds my attention is the subject matter of filmmaking; but the show needs some major work - disappointing considering that one of the producers is Spielberg.

Best Kid Shows I Like Better Than My Kids: FAIRLY ODD PARENTS - consistently funny with plenty of jokes for the adults who get sucked into it. TEEN TITANS - cool characters and out-of-this-world animation make this a great show. Don't be ashamed to watch it, it's worth the embarressment.

Back catalogue DVDs watched recently: PLATOON - still awesome. THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK - the film holds up for the most part, but the special effects heavy (not to mention slightly confusing) ending sinks the movie. Director George Miller's talents definitely shine through. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - it will always be the best STAR WARS movie. It proves that Lucas can be a brilliant filmmaker, if he lets other people take his ideas, write the screenplay and direct the movie. BOWFINGER - as funny as I remembered it. Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy make a terrific pair. I wish they would do another movie together. (Happy Premise #1: There are no aliens. Happy Premise #2: There is no giant foot waiting to squash me. Happy Premise #3: Even though I feel like I'm going to ignite, I probably won't.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Where to Go From Here

So, since this day has been filled with all kinds of things to distract me, I haven't thought about my current story - convinent since it has since stalled on me (or I have stalled on it). But regardless of blame, there are always items that take you away from the craft.

For instince:The Supreme Court in all of its socially conservative wisdom ruled against a former Alaskan high school student who displayed a 14-foot-long banner that read,"Bong Hits 4 Jesus," stating that schools may prohibit the free expression of students if their message advocated drug use. However, the shout out to the King of Kings did get the kid some bonus points in the eyes of the Prince of, I mean Jusice Scalia.

In another injustice to freedom of expression, though this may have some merit since the writer was an idiot to sign contracts with her ficitional personality's name, a New York jury found Laura Albert, a.k.a. J.T. Leroy, guilty of frauding a movie production company. OK, the obvious reason she lost this case was the fact that she signed a legal contract with a fictional name! Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. However, the fact that the production company brought the suit proves that they were more interested in the life of the writer than in the novel. Albert published fiction - it was shelved under fiction - she never labeled it non-fiction or straight out memoir. The story behind how it was written and why was not what the movie company was buying - they bought the film rights to the novel Sarah, not the film rights to J.T. Leroy's life. Granted, the fictional story behind the story was that it was supposedly based on real life events in Leroy's life, but again, the rights to Leroy's life were not what the company bought. If Albert had signed the contract with her own name, this case shouldn't have had any merit, but she's a fucking fruit cake with too many nuts.

Today is also the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner. I remember reading the young adult novelization, a book that film studios would never be able to get away with today - a book based on an R-rated movie, targeted for those ages 8 to 13. Wow, there sure was a lot in that book that I didn't understand, which made watching the movie over and over again in its various forms (I think there have been four or five cuts of the movie, with another one coming out later this year) such a treat. Since first seeing the movie in 1982, I have read Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which only heightened my fascination with the story. (Deckard is a robot?!? What the hell does the unicorn mean?) So, I'll have to drag out the DVD sometime this week and watch it, much like I re-watched Star Wars last month for its 30th anniversary.

I also managed to zero out my office budget for the fiscal year to within $100. The added cushion is in case something gets charged in the next few days that shouldn't be. I have to tell you that I am very proud of myself since I couldn't read the damn ledger a month ago - but now I am the master of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So, as you can see I've been way too busy to think about my story. It's not like I'm a replicant, I'm not "more human than human." It's just that when I get stuck on something, I can get easily distracted. Now, where was I?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Playing to My Strengths

I have two strenghts in my writing: dialog and action. Description, not so much. I write genre, so plot isn't a problem once I figure it out; but action and dialog are the tops in my talent pool - as limited as it is. I had an instructor who told me that we all write to our strengths after telling me how good my dialog was. Now she is incredibly flakey, and as someone else pointed out, absolutely nuts; but she is also very smart when it comes to writing fiction - she consistently presented some of the most thought provoking and intellectual seminars at Stonecoast - so her observations were usually right on. (However, she wasn't as widely read in most popular fiction genres. Genre writers in MFA programs who get mixed in with the general population need to develop the skills to weed out the great writing advice from the usual prejudices toward pop fic.)

I also had an agent tell me that I write terrific action (and this was a few days after he had dinner with Lee Child), but again, the agent didn't represent genre fiction - as to why he was reading my creative thesis, well that's a long story - so, his observation was taken with a few grains of salt. He also suggested my main character needed a unique feature like running an antique shop or work as a chef - great ideas if I wrote cozies, but the novel is heavy on dark emotions and violence. I don't know too many antique dealers who routinely shoot people.

Where was I? Strengths. I'm guilty of leaning on what I do best. First drafts are dialog heavy, but a lot of crime fiction tends to be conversation heavy anyway. There is also some pretty good action, which for some reason I have to write in the present tense and then edit back to past tense (if that's what I'm using in the rest of the story). Again, a lot of crime fiction has plenty of action, so I'm not incredinly worried. But I have a goddamn MFA degree, which means I should be a little better with the whole prose thing, description, etc. when I write my first drafts - but the initial writing usually sucks. Now, I know from Anne Lamott that first drafts are usually the shit drafts, but mine are very shitty indeed. I actual put notes in my writing like "add some description here" or "better prose needed" rather than take the time to do it right then.

So, why is this on my mind? Well, I'm avoiding my current story and have made the mistake of taking a break to think about it. The entire thing is mostly dialog with a few stage directions - I haven't even gotten to any action. But once the time comes for the second draft, I should be in a better place, but I do hate re-writes. I really really do; even though I'll go over drafts at least a dozen times. To me, it's the second hardest part of being a writer - the first thing is actually getting started. But I guess I'll use my lopsided talents as crutches to get through this draft - even if the damn thing will take me the rest of the summer. Oh well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I was pretty happy about fifteen minutes ago. I was in bed with the lights off when my mind started wandering like it usually does, quickly getting to the story I've been working on this week. And bang! I knew who did it. Out of nowhere, and it makes sense and it works and it turns the story upside down. I jumped out of bed and went to the computer and immediately typed notes about the rest of the plot. And, let me tell you, it felt really really good. This story is turning into one of those mazes that I never thought I could really write. I'm straight out estatic at this point. And then I thought about how much time it will take to tell this story - not in terms of days and weeks it will take me to type the damn thing out, but how many words this is now ending up needing. This was supposed to be a short story. It was a simple excercise intended for a 6000 word max story. I look at the damn thing now and it's already over 3000 words and my hero is just getting started. Looking at it now and doing some quick thinking, I figure that this will take about 60,000 words. I don't need to start another novel. I already have two I'm ignoring now. Shit.

Where the Hell am I Going?

So, the other day I wrote for a couple of hours straight, producing about 1200 words, which is a nice number. It's a short story about a P.I., but I didn't know that at the time I wrote the first sentence. The only thing I knew when I put that first word on the screen was that it would be gritty and in the first person. I was flying blind, which can be pretty liberating. I haven't returned to the story since the initial writing, but I hope to get back to it sometime tonight. The trouble is that I don't know where it's going right now and so I'm a little reluctant at resuming the story, perhaps because I've had time to think about it.

Now, I'm not one for writing puzzles; I don't think I'll ever write a true whodunnit mystery story, but I'd like to see this story unravel like a gentle ride in the country, and then go ballestic, like hitting a steep hill, losing the breaks and hitting the gas to Mach 1. (Wow. That was a bit hammish of me.)

I guess the trick will be in not re-reading what I already wrote before continuing; just start writing at the point I left off and allow the story to just come to me. Making it comprehensible is what the second draft is for, right?

However I did know what one of the characters was going to drink: Martini! Man, that still kills me. Does anyone else find that as funny as I do? Admittedly, you have to be quite the Star Wars geek to even begin to find that joke amusing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I think I've watched the Star Wars episode of Robot Chicken about twenty times now. It just gets funnier each time I see it. My favorite bit is the Jawa ordering a drink in the Cantina. Everytime I think about it, I start to laugh uncontrollably. My wife kicked me out of bed last night because I kept thinking about it and laughing.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I'm now the proud owner of a car payment! My wife and I signed our lives away to our credit union and we won't be able to eat anything but plain spaghetti and Ramen noodles until the kids go off to college...well, that's an exaggeration, it's more like junior high.

But we drove off the car lot last night in a new 2007 Pontiac Torrent. It's blue and we named it Fletch. Why Fletch? Because I'm a huge fan of Gregory McDonald's fictional reporter - and my wife wouldn't name our son Fletcher. Now we have to decide which Maine license plate to get (Lobster? Loon? UMaine?) and if we should get a vanity plate or not. Fletch was already taken. Any suggestions? It can only be six characters.

My mother also drove off in a new car last night about an hour after we left (trying to keep up with the Joneses), but it was a piece of crap Chevy that can't compare to the awesomeness that is the Torrent - plus she spent more than we did. Ha ha.

Mom's New Ride

Mom Behind the Wheel

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sunday Interview: James Patrick Kelly

I know it's been a few weeks since I last posted an interview, but I took a little time off from this because I wanted to focus on other things. However, you are in for a treat because today's guest is science fiction writer James Patrick Kelly. The author of many, many, many sci-fi short stories, Jim is a master of the form and could go toe-to-toe with any other short story writer out there. Check out both of his story collections, THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR and STRANGE BUT NOT A STRANGER. He has also written a number of novels, including INTO THE SUN, PLANET OF WHISPERS and WILDFIRE. Jim was recently awarded his first Nebula Award for his novella BURN, ending his always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride streak with the Nebula, for which he was nominated nine times before BURN. As for the Hugo Awards, the other graddaddy of sci-fi awards, Jim has two.

But Jim has also gone beyond the medium of the printed book, writing radio plays, planetarium shows and stage plays; as well as being a pioneer in Podcasting. But that's still isn't the end of Jim's work. He is a columnist with Asimov's magazine, where he has published a short story in every June issue since the beginning of time, I think. He is also a brilliant writing instructor, having taught at the Clarion workshop, Viable Paradise and the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. And finally, but far from the least of his achievements, he was mentor to one of the greatest literary minds of the new Century.

And without further delay, I give you James Patrick Kelly, one of the few men outside of my family I'm on a hugging basis with...outside of any money changing hands.

Noir Writer: What are the differences between the themes of crime fiction and science fiction? Are there any differences?

Jim: If it were possible to circumscribe the themes in any genre, it would reduce that genre to formula and we could outsource the writing of it to our robot colony on Altair IV. It seems to me that crime fiction is the literature of transgression. Science fiction is a little more slippery. I heard a colleague opine recently that it is the literature of unlikely juxtaposition. I'm not sure I agree, but I've been processing that.

Noir Writer: How much do you expect readers to bring to a story? In other words, what do you trust they will be able to comprehend without coming right out and explaining everything?

Jim: There's one of the big differences between crime fiction and science fiction: the world building. It's a difficult problem, because we sf practitioners have to explain what is different in a strange environment without clotting the narrative with lectures, whereas crime writers more often than not operate against a backdrop that their readers are familiar with. Science fiction has been undergoing a kind of crisis of confidence. Some have worried that our stories are too often pitched at that narrowest of science fiction audiences, those who have spent lifetimes reading the stuff. The world building had gotten so complex that readers who are new to the genre get confused, then frustrated and then many give up. There has been a call for a more accessible science fiction, which still maintains the virtues of the genre. I was hoping to answer that call with BURN the novella that recently broke my lifelong Nebula Award jinx.

Noir Writer: You've written elsewhere that characterization should come from some part of the writer, especially when developing antagonists. Do you think this affects the writer, at least mentally, when they need to accept their own wickedness in fully realizing their villains? Do you think writers in general examine themselves more than other people?

Jim: I think writers can delude themselves as well as any profession -- with the possible exception of politicians. However, I do believe that writers must be willing to put themselves on the line to expose facsimiles of their own wickedness through their fictional surrogates. It is sometimes uncomfortable when someone you know well turns the last page of your story and then gives you an that uncertain stare. You know that they're wondering what color your soul is. But if you want to be comfortable in your work, take up accounting.

Noir Writer: Let's discuss one of the big daddies of American fiction, Kurt Vonnegut. Is Vonnegut sci-fi, or is it only Kilgore Trout? If Vonnegut can be placed in the literature section of the bookstore, why can't Octavia Butler or Kelly Link?

Jim: Good question. I recently co-edited a book called FEELING VERY STRANGE, The Slipstream Anthology, which attempted to make this very point. The ToC includes literary fiction luminaries like Michael Chabon, Karen Joy Fowler and George Saunders along side of genre stalwarts like Mary Rickert, Bruce Sterling and Ted Chiang. If we decide that a story is in genre because of content, then Aimee Bender writes fantasy and Kurt Vonnegut is sf. If we decide that a story that is acutely observed and superbly crafted is literary, then Kelly Link belongs on the shelf next to Jonathan Lethem, even if she writes about zombies.

Noir Writer: Do you think the really shitty books in popular fiction bring down the rest of the genres? Is everyone branded by the lowest common denominator?

Jim: Are you talking about those who actually read in genre or those who have already decided that crime/sf/romance stories are beneath notice? Yes for the latter, no for the former. I've been reading Raymond Chandler's intro to the collection The Simple Art of Murder. He writes, ""I have been fortunate to escape what has been called that form of snobbery which can accept the Literature of Entertainment in the Past but only the Literature of Enlightenment in the Present."

Noir Writer: How much do you think the lack of genre texts in high school and college literature classes effect the attitudes toward genre fiction? Does it create an artificial hierarchy?

Jim: It did, but I think there are more genre texts showing up in lit classes as teachers realize that plot and character drive the interest of younger readers more than decorative prose.

Noir Writer: Along the lines of litfic v. popfic, what do you think of literary critics who credit Phillip Roth for inventing the alternate history genre with The Plot Against America?

Jim: These would-be critics have no excuse for being poorly read.

Noir Writer: You've embraced many different media in telling stories, most notably podcasting your entire novella Burn. Do you think more writers will need to embrace such innovations in the future if fiction is to survive? Is the traditional book doomed?

Jim: Yes and yes. We are at the end of the age where writers can make a living purely on writing traditional books. They are going to have to diversify in order to have careers. Some will teach, some will perform. Podcasting is a way I have decided to branch out from dead tree publishing. I started Free Reads a couple of years ago as a way to grow my readership by giving my stories away. Currently on Free Reads I'm halfway through my novel LOOK INTO THE SUN. But Free Reads paid off beyond my wildest expectations when, the largest online seller of audiobooks, approached me with an offer to podcast my work for pay. Over on James Patrick Kelly's StoryPod ( I'm reading fifty-two of my previously-published stories over the next year. This audio collection represents almost all of the short fiction I've published to date. I do all the production myself. In effect, I have become my own publisher of audiobooks. The idea behind StoryPod is to mashup the traditional audiobook and the new form of podcasting. I introduce each story, read it and then in an afterword I discuss some of the ideas behind the story, or talk about how it came to be written.

Noir Writer: You've had the privilege to collaborate with the Literati's golden child of transcending genre, Jonathan Lethem. Did he get any MacArthur genius on you? And if so, did you get any of the money?

Jim: I visited with Jonathan a couple of days after he won the MacArthur and he seemed fine. A little stunned. Maybe an inch and a half taller. But he was enjoying his new status as a resident of Maine. Wait, are you saying I'm not a genious … genus … not that smart?

Noir Writer: Let's talk about your time with the Buffalo Bills. You led your team to the Superbowl four years in a row, but never managed to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. How does that feel?

Jim: Oh, of course it was frustrating. A real disappointment. Then my knees went I had to retire and fall back on my science fiction hobby, except then I lost nine Nebulas, which is almost as bad. I was going to have my pal O.J. Simpson stop by and break some of Connie Willis's fingers, but he was busy that night. Something about trying on gloves.

Noir Writer: OK, let's focus on your career in martial art films. You worked with Bruce Lee on Enter the Dragon. (I have to admit I didn't recognize you with the afro.) What was Lee like? Do you still miss him?

Jim: Bruce was way into Georgette Heyer and Regency romances so our tastes in literature were totally different. But he did come up to the house one fall weekend and split three cords of firewood with his bare hands. Now that he's gone, we heat with propane.

Noir Writer: Let's talk about your first triumvirate of Stonecoast mentees. Suppose Sandra, Lyman and I were drowning in a lake and you could only save one of us; what would you say at Lyman's and my funerals?

Jim: Umm, where are you boys going to be planted? You're way the hell up there in Maine, aren't you? Stonecoast pays my miles, you know.



Noir Writer: As you know, there is a secret pop fiction cabal of alumni and current students of Stonecoast. Do your ears burn when we talk about you?

Jim: I'm sure you're all saying nice things. You'd better be saying nice things. Do you want me to post ~those~ pictures on my Flickr account?

Noir Writer: You were my mentor and were forced …er… I mean had the privilege to read a lot of my writing. Would you say I was a great writer, or the greatest writer?

Jim: You are, without doubt, the greatest writer I ever … hey, your check bounced!

I want to thank Jim for taking his time in getting back to mean taking the time to answer some questions. I hope you enjoyed the interview and will go out and read or listen to Jim's work - you won't be disappointed. Until next time, have a great week.

Friday, June 08, 2007


So, I haven't done much in the way of writing fiction lately. I jot down notes and start stories, usually only the first few sentences, but I haven't been able to finish anything for quite some time. Lack of time and energy are the main culprits, as is motivation. I haven't even read that many books since the beginning of the year, so I haven't been able to keep up with what's being published. I must get out of this rut if I'm ever going to reach my goals. Maybe the summer will inspire me a little.

I'm off to camp this afternoon, so maybe a little bit of hanging out at the lake will jump start my creativity. I'm bringing the laptop just in case.

And for those of you who have missed the weekly interviews here at NoirWriter, it returns this Sunday with Science Fiction genius, Hugo and (finally) Nebula Award winner (and my old mentor), James Patrick Kelly.

Friday, June 01, 2007


This article I found on the Huffington Post ("Hey TB Guy, the Rest of the Humans Would Like You to go Fuck Yourself") pretty much sums up my opinion on this TB asshole.