Back in (Orphan) Black

Orphan Black

Being addicted to TV shows while trying to write a novel is a futile endeavor. That’s why I have a rule: Follow no more than three series at a time.

I’m sure I am missing out on some terrific storytelling for the sake of attempting my own. But I also can’t hear every great album ever recorded or taste every delicious dessert ever baked. Life is making choices, and I want to publish a novel one day. Thus, three shows. If I want to pick up a new one, an existing one has to go.

Thank Zeus, then, that The Walking Dead just ended. Orphan Black is back and I’m not going to miss it.

BBC America’s sci-fi mystery resumes this Saturday night nearly a year after season one ended in a cliffhanger, and it’s well worth your hour. If the term “sci-fi mystery” turns you off, don’t let it. You don’t have to be a Star Trek geek to love Orphan Black (though I’d adore you even more if you were). This show is very soft science fiction: No space ships, no aliens, no laser beams. It’s all concept and story, Earthbound, and features little in the way of technical effects, aside from the ones you won’t notice.

Whatever your taste in TV drama, you should watch it for one reason, and that’s lead actress Tatiana Maslany. Brilliant is too tepid a word to describe her performance, for Maslany plays not one, not two, no three, but eight (!) characters, many of whom routinely interact. At several points throughout season one, Maslany even played characters impersonating other characters. Often I forget it’s one actress, like when I get a crush on one character while simultaneously being irritated by another in the same scene.

I think awards shows are self-congratulatory marketing tools at best, but if this woman does not win a best actress Emmy next year, that event is rigged.

Here is a gallery of her characters (a few didn’t make it to the end of the season, but I’m sure she’ll introduce new ones to replace them):

Sarah

orphan Black sarah

Beth

orphan black beth

Alison

orphan black alison2

Helena

orphan black helena

Cosima (My crush. Hey, she’s a sexy science geek. Can’t not)

orphan black cosima2

Katja

orphan black katja

Rachel

orphan black rachel

Jennifer

Orphan Black jennifer

 

How about you? Do you allow for TV time? What’s your show?

Writing Fiction meets NSA Surveillance

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Dear NSA,

I may have been flagged by your keyword software this week, brother. I can explain.

When I ordered a cheap, used copy of an operator’s manual for a single-engine aircraft from Amazon, you probably didn’t pay much attention. Yesterday, however, I downloaded floor plans for each level of The White House as well as an aerial view. I also googled, “White House glass bulletproof?” If your keyword algorithms are as advanced as I think they are, your software might have said, Small airplane + white house room locations + bullet proof. Hmmm. Interesting.

If you do some digging into my WordPress comments, you’ll also learn I have two laptops: the one I’m using this minute for blogging and downloading floor plans of the White House, and the one I use for fiction, which is not hooked to the internet and, thus, can’t be hacked. Eh, for all I know, your satellites can see what’s on my hard drive anyway. If they can’t, I’ll tell you: It’s about 400,000 words of text. Right about now you’re saying, “Yeah. Perfect length for a manifesto.”

But say it with a raise in pitch at the end of “o,” almost like it’s a question: Manifestuh-oh. It sounds snarkier that way.

I hope you guys aren’t the type to go looking for trouble. See, smart people understand context. I’m a writer of fiction. Fiction writers have to look things up, but we don’t typically write novels about the 2014 Hyundai Elantra or which gourmet cupcake shop has better red velvet. We write about exciting things like… I don’t know, government agencies spying on its citizens. By the way, did you see the new Captain America movie, with its theme of government agencies being so paranoid that they become the very bad guy they are ostensibly protecting us from? You were in it, sort of.

I’ll save you investigative time and explain why I bought an operator’s manual for a single-engine aircraft, downloaded floor plans for the White House, and wanted to know if the glass there is bulletproof:

1. A character in my novel flies a single-engine aircraft, and I don’t want to pilots to read it and say, “Cripes. That’s not how it works!”

2. Another scene, with different characters, occurs inside the White House, and I don’t want to put rooms next to each other that aren’t situated that way in real life, because that would be lazy.

3. This novel is not a frontier western set in Wyoming in 1846, it’s a near-future apocalypse story set in Washington DC. I need to know if the glass is bulletproof and how.

Oh yeah. I write on a laptop that’s not connected to the internet because I don’t want to get a virus and lose my hard work, and it’s also an old, slow, cheap computer that has difficulty displaying current web pages. Those 400,000 words represent 2.4 novels and about 25 short stories and novelettes.

Remember today’s vocabulary word: Context.

Side note: In your boundless power, could you please see to it that my Flyers win a flippin’ Stanley Cup before I die of old age?

Love,

Me

NSA: One of these

NSA: One of these

Interview with Music Journalist and Author Amy Yates Wuelfing

City Gardens bookFresh from her appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, music journalist and author Amy Yates Wuelfing sat down with little old me, of all people, to talk about her new book No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens. What was she thinking?

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For the unfamiliar, City Gardens was among the country’s most notorious punk rock clubs of the 1980s and ‘90s, and everyone from the Ramones to the Dead Kennedys to Green Day graced (?) its rickety stage. The stories told in this book are quite literally insane, the mayhem on stage frequently surpassed by the lunacy playing out on the dance floor and in the parking lot. It’s a must-read for music lovers, psychology majors, and people dangerously obsessed with fire.

EJB: Why write a book about a punk-rock club in New Jersey?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  City Gardens was in the middle of nowhere. Not Philly, not New York, but it was still a big club.  That fact that it was so close, and in the middle this dead zone, made the community of people who went there stronger and tighter. It was almost like college, you saw the same people all the time so they became your friends. That was the main thing for me.  And unlike the clubs in Philly or New York, the pretentious element wasn’t really there.  

EJB: People will be shocked by some of the stories recounted in the book. What are some of your favorites?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: I like it best when people have completely different recollections of the same event.  It is left up to the reader to decide who, if anyone, has the story straight.  The one story that people seem to gravitate
to is the riot at an Exploited show.  Some people say that the band’s van was completely ransacked and set on fire, CGardensother people say, no, just a broken window or two.  Which is correct?  You have to decide.  There is a similar story about the one time the Beastie Boys played there. Was it the best show ever – or the worst show ever? That’s why I love oral histories so much; you get every side.

EJB: You talked to members of The Ramones, Green Day, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and other big punk acts as well as plenty of pop, metal, and rock bands from the era. How receptive were these musicians to being interviewed? Did anybody give you a hard time?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  No one gave us a hard time, but some people just didn’t take part in the project and that’s fine.  In the end, the book turned out exactly like it was supposed to.  Anyone who passed on talking to us isn’t missed.

EJB: You told me a lot of publishers were iffy on your plan to interview “normal” people (as if City Gardens’ patrons could be qualified as normal) along with the bands, believing readers wouldn’t care what they had to say. However, I found that to be the most fascinating aspect of the book. I’m convinced a sociology course on disaffected youth could be built around this thing. What it your plan all along to paint that kind of picture, or did the theme and direction of the book evolve as you compiled and transcribed the interviews?

Amy Yates Wuelfing: The book started out as a project to write the memoirs of City Gardens promoter Randy Now, then it just kept expanding in scope.  Early on, I realized that the club was so important to so many people, that I felt it was essential to include those viewpoints as well.   The normal, not-famous people had great stories. cgardens2And you are not the first person to recognize the sociology angle!  It is a total case study in how misfits found each other before the internet.  As we began interviewing people, it all just came together.  The book became what it was meant to be, not to get too “new age” on you. The book had a force of its own.

EJB: This title is selling out all over the place. Someone stole mine before I could resell it on eBay for a profit!

Amy Yates Wuelfing: Dude, that’s so punk rock.

Where can people get a copy?

Amy Yates Wuelfing:  The first pressing, which was 2000 books, sold out in less than a month.  If anyone had told me this a month ago, I would have laughed and bought them a drink.  We are doing a second pressing right now.  To get a copy of the book, head to infinitemerch.com.  They are the first people we will restock with books when they come in, mainly because they are really close to my house, which is where the books will be delivered.  This whole thing is DIY, just like the old days.  No publisher wanted to touch this, so we have to do the grunt work, but we don’t mind.  The book was a labor of love and to it see it get this much attention makes me so happy.  At every signing we do, people thank [co-author] Steve and I for putting it together. That alone makes it worth the time and effort.

Co-authors Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico

Co-authors Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico

 

Eleven Rules for Freelance Editing

eleven car

Have you ever thought of taking up freelance editing? It’s a good gig for writers because you put your language skills to work and get paid for it, often earning more money than your client will as the author. And with the abundance of folks self-publishing their projects, opportunities are plentiful. After all, every writer needs an editor.

The bad news: Editing is skilled labor, not something you can pick up over a weekend. Before you spill a drop of red ink over anyone’s precious manuscript, you must know these eleven rules of freelance editing:

1. Write. Write some more. Write until knowledgeable people say you are a good writer. You have to understand the rhythm of language to edit.

2. Read. Read some more. Read all kinds of stuff, because it will help you understand the rhythm of language even better.

3. Know language mechanics and grammar rules (but don’t let them rule you).

4. Think expansively. You’re not simply editing words. You are editing words in a format within a genre using a language that serves a culture containing multiple sub-cultures. A book about the history of hip-hop in Los Angeles requires a different application of language than does a guide to refinishing antiques or a historical romance novel. In other words, “get” the material.

matt smith25. Respect your client’s voice. If your author styles herself after William Faulkner and you emulate Tom Clancy, you edit with William Faulkner in mind. Your job as an editor is not to make the story sound as if you (or Tom Clancy) wrote it. Write your own book.

6. Respect your author’s story. If you think chapter one is dull and needs an action scene to grab the reader, suggest that to your client. If you think your author’s inner-city drama about a middle-aged, married, white woman falling in love her 25-year-old gay, black, male parole officer would work better as a medieval-era papal conspiracy thriller about a robot triceratops discovered under the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, shut up and write your own book.

7. Understand that editing is a multi-stage process. Shaping the document involves reading the entire manuscript and identifying the parts that don’t work or the parts that drag or the sequences that confuse, and then suggest rewrites. In the line-editing stage, you will go line by line, eliminating redundancies and tightening prose until you have successfully removed that which blocked the full expression of your client’s voice. Proofing is the final pass, during which typos, grammar missteps, and punctuation mistakes are fixed.

8. Develop an eye for unnecessary words. Read:

“In the National Hockey League, 16 different teams make the playoffs at the end of the season each year, though only one of them will be able to skate away with the Stanley Cup raised proudly over their heads.”

Editing that, you can cut at least 15 words and up to 20, depending on the audience and the tone you seek. I hope your client writes less clunky constructions than the one above, but not all writers are equal.

Here’s the minus-15 version:

“In the National Hockey League, 16 different teams make the playoffs at the end of the season each year, though only one of them will be able to skate away with the Stanley Cup raised proudly over their heads.”

“In the National Hockey League, 16 teams make the playoffs each year, though only one will skate away with the Stanley Cup raised proudly.”

With 20 words removed, slicker but with less emotion:

“In the National Hockey League, 16 teams make the playoffs, though only one skates away with the Stanley Cup.”

9. Be consistent. If a movie title is italicized in Chapter One, it shouldn’t be placed in quotes in Chapter Four and bolded in Chapter Nine. You may not be ultimately responsible for formatting, but don’t set bear traps for the printer or publisher.

Lloyd10. Be prepared to fact check. Editing isn’t all limos and invitations to party with Justin Timberlake. Sometimes you have to make sure your author gets dates right, attributes the right quotes to the right real-life serial killers, and so on, whether you’re editing fiction or non-fiction. I recall reading a novel that mentioned a J.S. Bach symphony. I happen to know something about classical music, and I know that Bach did not compose symphonies; he composed concertos (there’s a difference). I can’t remember much about that book, such as its name for example, but that flub is still vivid.

Note that in my entry for rule #6 above, I joked about a robot triceratops found in medieval times under the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Thing is, St. Peter’s was not finished until the Baroque era. How embarrassing! Keep your flub radar on at all times when editing.

11. You have to be on, all the time. You can’t zone out halfway down the page. You must read every single damn word in the entire manuscript and look at every last comma. You have to look at them hard and interrogate them. You must outlast the text. If you have a short attention span, editing is probably not your gig.

For real meaty editing talk, visit Candace Johnson’s blog Change it Up Editing, the top of the food chain for such things. And feel free to tell me what I missed in the comments!

Recommended Writing Process for the Criminally Insane

Psycho

Do criminally insane writers exist?

I’m not even sure the phrase “Criminally Insane” means anything. A horror film called Criminally Insane came out in 1975, but it was not about writers and it was certainly not legitimized by the presence of APA-certified consulting psychiatrists on set. I prefer the alternate title, Crazy Fat Ethel, anyway. A movie should deliver on the promise of its title.

But I digress (if it’s possible to digress from a topic one hasn’t brought up yet). Now that I’m in the groove with my novel-in-progress, I believe I am taking pantsing to a new level of chaos. Warning: You plotters might experience actual physical pain reading this.

I have no outline, a given for a pantser. I am not using writing software (beyond MS Word). I have tons of characters existing in four overlapping subplots, none of whom have written biographies and all of whom are tracked only within the haunted labyrinth of my synapses. And the best part: I’m writing out of sequence. That is, I am not composing the story in the order that events unfold. I’m doing this because 1.) I’ve lost my mind, and 2.) I am realizing what this story is about as I go, and when the ideas hit, I often need to go back and set them up with a bridging event. Oh, I gave up on numbering the chapters for reasons that should be obvious. I’m giving them placeholder names like “Car” and “Run” and “What am I thinking?”

crazy fat ethelYou are no doubt thinking I have an unreadable disaster on my hands. It’s ok. I don’t blame you. No one can follow such a method and produce anything other than an incoherent word jumble. Funny thing is, it’s working for me. It’s like I have a box of invisible puzzle pieces and no idea what image I am assembling, yet an image is emerging anyway. Because once a piece is in place, the cloak of invisibility drops for that piece. Now I’m starting to feel the satisfying snap of pieces unexpectedly interlocking and creating clusters of pieces. I don’t know that I’ll ever work this way again, but I’m finding that chaos has its attributes.

In case you are a criminally insane writer, or just one who feels stagnant and is up for a change in methodology, here’s a summary of my steps so far. It’s the closest thing to an outline I’m composing this year:

I. Get a story idea from a three-word phrase that, of its own volition, pops into your head while you are showering

II. Write a short story based on the idea

III. Like the short-story enough to turn it into a novel, only set the novel years before the events in the short story take place

IV. Make the antagonists friends

V. Start in story in the middle, then tell the backstory

VI. Don’t think, just write. The characters and events will reveal themselves as you go

VII. Realize one of your minor characters is actually the villain and go back to fill in his story

VIII. Realize your characters are all connected and have been committing parallel acts (some overt and some symbolic), but with different motives, decide that is awesome in its organic-ness, and go back to build the bridges.

IX. Be confident that it will work and be interesting and different.

X. Nothing. I thought my outline would look better ending in “X”

That’s it. Happy insanity. Feel free to tell me I’m a fool in the comments!

The Main Difference Between Women and Men

Rambo

Warning: Paragraph three was deleted for being too boring. Sorry. It was actually quite informative. Subsequent paragraphs have been moved up in an attempt to fill the void left by paragraph three’s tragic deletion.

I try to keep my blog light and fluffy and apolitical, and I will continue to do so, but longtime readers likely have figured out by now that I am pro equality, pro diversity, and a civil-rights advocate. Everyone deserves as seat at the table, if you’ll permit me a cliché.

In my experience on Earth—which is admittedly limited by time, and by being only one person who can only talk to so many people, read so many books, and make so many observations—it is apparent that women can do anything men can do, though the possible paths to a given destination are many. Women can be aggressive go-getters just as much as men can be nurturing caregivers, and so on. Stereotypes are for philistines.

I conclude that, aside from obvious biological traits, men and women are different in only one notable way. Read this, think back on your life experiences, and tell me if I’m wrong: Men embellish their stories with sound effects and women do not.

If you’re a guy, try narrating the action above without pursing your lips and imitating a machine gun. I dare you! Ladies, do the same, but be sure to add the sound effect. Feels weird, doesn’t it? If any of my readers is transgender and feels comfortable discussing it in a public forum, please let me know how you feel about The Great Sound Effect Debate in the comments. Education is power, and I’m looking for power. I have to carry an old tube TV up from the basement. That beast is heavy.

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Related media:

A boring post… sweetened with unrelated media

MechaG

I’m using my blog as an actual blog today, which is to say I am reporting on my life as if it’s interesting to anyone other than me. Hey; at least I have the self-awareness to keep it short.

See, after letting it rust for about a year, I’ve sort of been working on my novel here and there recently, and I want to accelerate the momentum. Thus, I make this public pledge/shaming statement:

I will finish the first full draft of my novel by August 31, 2014, and I will finish the second full draft by December 31, 2014.

Yeah, I know. Who cares? If WordPress is an ocean, bloggers writing novels are plankton. But you know what the experts say about writing down your goals: You use up paper and ink.

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As promised, here’s some Unrelated Media, a concept I’m stealing from Michelle Proulx (she of the weird Canadian last-name spelling), inspired by a concept I’m stealing from Kevin Brennan, not Canadian to my knowledge, but that’s no reason for you Canadian readers to judge him. Get off your high horses already!

The other day, Kevin posted a photo of a fiction passage he admired and asked readers to guess who wrote it (we all failed. It was from Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates). I’m not going to make anyone guess mine. I’m simply showing you the opening paragraph from The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe because it is pure freakin’ genius writing. You learn everything about the narrator and know what the entire book is about in five short sentences and 70 words.

p mccabe