Spoiled. Rotten.

My daughter took me to a show the other day, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how great it was. We went to a performance of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone In Concert”.

John Williams is one of my favorite composers. Of course, there are some scores that I like better than others (I’m not a fan of the “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Home Alone”). Just about everything else (“Jaws”, “Raiders”, not to mention “Star Wars”) have so many perfect, iconic moments that I will likely never forget. I love the music for all the Harry Potter films, but the Williams scores are the best of the bunch. Doyle, Hooper and Desplat all did great work, but Williams set the foundation.

Here’s how the Harry Potter concert was set up: the full symphony orchestra was assembled on the stage and a large movie screen hung above them. It’s that simple. The film played with all of the dialogue and sound effects, but had the music removed since it would be provided by the live orchestra. From the first notes of the celesta all the way through to the finale of the end credits, we were glued to our seats. The audience was prompted to cheer when something they loved would happen in the film (which they did), and for their favorite music (which was just aboThe ut every piece). We were lucky enough to be close to the stage, and we could see the conductor’s monitor, which also played the film and used a series of flashing dots (for time keeping) and scrolling lines (for cues).

So, now I find myself completely spoiled. Absolutely spoiled rotten. This is how I want to see EVERY movie. Watching the film but also watching for the musicians who aren’t so stuffy that they can’t get down and feel the music they’re playing. Hearing the subtle notes that might otherwise get lost in the sound mix. And what if the score is a little more esoteric? How cool would it be to hear a live performance of Jerry Goldsmith’s opening to “Alien”? Or even better, his score for the original “Planet of the Apes”?
I’m really looking forward to next year. The conductor at the Harry Potter concert said they would be back next year with “The Chamber of Secrets”.

What movies would you like to see “in concert”? (And don’t say “Star Wars” – we all want that)

I Have a Plan…

There seems to be no end to the debate, both online and in person at conferences or anywhere else that writers may gather, about whether it is better to be a plotter or a pantser. I see the merits of both approaches and, truth be told, combine them depending on the situation. While I’m certainly not expecting to go above and beyond what many other people have to say on the debate, I figured I would add my voice to the conversation.

I am a project manager by trade, so my natural inclination is to have a plan for just about anything. Even if it’s just the barest of bones, I need to know (or have a strong opinion about) at least three things before I begin a draft:

  1. Beginning
  2. Midpoint where main character is at their lowest moment
  3. Ending

Those are the things I must know in order to get a start. Seems pretty basic, I know, but I like to keep things as simple as I can (at least at the beginning of the process). Just like when I manage a project – if I can get away with using Post-it® notes on a wall vs. drafting a list of tasks in Microsoft Project, I’m going to do it!

How deep I go on the outline depends upon how complex I think the story is or may become. Some theories say that a writer should start with the end in mind, then work backwards to the beginning of the story. I’ve tried this and it works just fine, but I prefer to start at the beginning. I tend to write the first line or paragraph as I am thinking of the other two must-haves. The ending is usually the next thing to come to mind, once I have a clear(er) picture of the beginning and have had a bit of time to think about the opening inciting incident and/or the arc on which I want my character to travel. I like to have an idea of what event/scene/image is going to mark the end of this particular story. Typical for any project manager, I need to know what “done” looks like. I need to at least have a general idea on what the end product is supposed to look like.

Once I know how I’m starting and where I’m going, I’m free to either outline the rest to an appropriate level of detail, or to just start writing and see where it goes. Even if I am just going with the flow and full-on pantsing it, I still need to have an idea of where I start and end, but beyond that, it’s up to whatever spills out of my hands. Just about any time I go down this path, though, I end up pausing and doing a little outlining to give myself more of a roadmap – I draw the cities on the map, but no direct path drawn in. I will try to give myself the freedom to go with whatever comes out because, in this situation, I’m not outlining every single beat.

I naturally lean towards having things planned out (but appreciate the freedom of being able to go with the flow), I end up frustrating people when they ask if I am a plotter or a pantser. My answer is, simply, “Yes.” I plan as much as I can, or few like at the moment, and then fill in gaps with whatever comes to mind once I’m into the work itself. I don’t want to limit myself to one method or the other and don’t believe that there’s any one correct approach to writing.

I’ve read a few really good books on the subject of outlining/plotting. As for pantsing, well, just take a look at the Nike slogan and you have everything you need to know right there.

The books I recommend for outlining* are (in no particular order):

  1. “Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story”, James Scott Bell
  2. “Write Your Novel From the Middle”, James Scott Bell
  3. “Take Off Your Pants”, Libbie Hawker
  4. “Outlining Your Novel – Map Your Way to Success”, K.M. Weiland

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend one over another, as they all have something good to offer, but I do recommend reading more than one book on the topic. It’s always good to have more than one methodology or framework in your toolkit. You may even decide to combine them in some way(s) that makes your writing life easier.

* I am not affiliated with any of these writers and do not benefit from mentioning them here or linking to them.

Stuff I Dig: The Music Edition

“Stuff I Dig” will be a casual series that I’ll post over time. I’m not really into the idea of presenting a top 5 or 10 list of the things that you absolutely must do/see/experience/read/use. I just want to occasionally give you a list of things that I dig, and maybe prompt you to think about the same in your world.

This time it’s about music, which is huge for me. Probably for you, too. We don’t need to have the same taste in music to agree on the influence that music can have (and likely has had) on our lives.

I often go back and listen to the funk, R&B, and rock that I listened to on the radio during the mid-late 70’s. Of course, I’m all about the 80’s music and everything it brought along with it (skinny ties, no collar shirts, parachute pants, etc.). And, yes, there’s some country music that has made its way into my collection (albeit not much, but what’s there is gold). I remember watching the Donnie and Marie Show when I was a kid and I guess I took their song to heart… “I’m a little bit country, and I’m a little bit rock-n-roll!”

Vocals are a little distracting sometimes, so I’ve been focused mostly on instrumentals lately. Here’s a sample of what’s on the playlist this week:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre, “Oxygene Trilogy”
  2. Kraftwerk, “Tour de France Soundtracks” (okay, this one is pretty much always on the playlist)
  3. Tangerine Dream, “Exit” and “Sorcerer, Official Soundtrack”
  4. Jóhann Jóhhannsson, “Arrival, Official Soundtrack”
  5. Disasterpeace, “It Follows, Official Soundtrack”
  6. Deadmau5, “while(1<2)”
  7. Beethoven, “The Complete Symphonies”

Sometimes it’s about setting a mood, while other times it’s just about having a solid groove.

Of course, there are times that I don’t want to listen to music, but I need something to fill the blank space. Noizio is an app that I have on my phone that gets a lot of play. I mix some rain and thunder with a little coffee shop and I’m good to go. There are other apps like it, but this is my favorite one of the bunch. It’s available for iOS and Windows

If you’re a writer, or otherwise a creative type, what do you listen to while making your art? Music? Ambient sound apps? Nothing?

Self-Publishing and Small Press: A Journey, Pt. 1

The idea of self-publishing has always seemed a bit daunting and, well, a bit jinky. This is because I grew up in a time in which the big publishing houses were the only way to go. Self-publishing was done through small, boutique presses, and was considered an exercise in vanity.

Flash forward to 2016 and self-publishing is everywhere and small presses abound. Depending on which circles you choose to run within, doing it yourself is even expected. Who needs the big publishers when you can do it yourself or go with a small press? Sure, getting picked up by Scribner or some other big house would be nice, but one can be quite successful otherwise. Being self-published or publishing with a small press does not mean that your work will never be seen by anyone other than your family and friends. It simply means that you will likely need to take a more active roll in the publication process as well as the marketing and sales. It’s where art and commerce meet. Remember, though, it’s not about making money. It’s about getting your art out into the world.

I’ve been doing a bit of research on self-publishing and will, in all likelihood, be self-pub’d by the end of this year. The best part about self-publishing these days is that your network of writerly peeps is doing (or has done) it, too. So you have a built in network of people that can mentor you, share in the glory and the misery, and ultimately help you succeed in your goal of publishing. You know, a rising tide and all.

It remains to bee seen if I will be 100% self-published or if I will be able to get connected with a small press. Nevertheless, I’ll be checking in periodically on my journey to self-publication. The writing, the editing, the re-writing, the formatting, cover art, printing, marketing, etc. There’s a lot I didn’t mention in that brief list, but I’ll get to those things in later posts.

So now it’s time to get out there. Open those doors and see what’s on the other side. Don’t be afraid to fall, because you may surprise yourself and fly. Also, don’t be afraid to be weird. It’s what makes you cool.

Seriously. I mean it. Be weird. Be the force of nature that makes your own world turn. Come on, if this shit is possible…IMG_0603.2015-02-20_175011

…you can certainly write and publish a book. Don’t you think?



A New Darkness

My, my, but it has been a long time since I have updated this blog! The past several months have been interesting and, honestly, quite distracting from various parts of my writing life. Work, kids, extended family commitments, and so on haven’t prevented me from keeping up a regular presence here, but made it easy for me to become less motivated to do so. 

I am looking forward to getting back on the train/bike/horse/(insert your favorite metaphor here), and actively contributing to my community of inky cohorts.

That being said, I’m taking my writing in a different direction. Not a new direction, mind you, just down a path that I haven’t travelled in some time. I have been focused lately on writing that is completely enjoyable, but it has been work that isn’t where my heart truly is. And while I am content with completing the current WIP in all of its young-adult goodness, I am eager to return to a place in my mind that is more comforting to me. The one where the locals smile but have a secret stashed behind their eyes, where the local hotel is haunted, where streetlights flicker (if they work at all), and where every house is filled with dark corners.

It’s in those streets and secret rooms where trouble comes to visit but decides to put up shop that I find my happiness. Now, to blow out that candle and go headlong into this new darkness with my eyes wide open.