On Facing 100,000 Words and Not Getting Bored

I freaked out a couple of weeks ago. I had written a 2000 word scene for The Novel that I was reasonably happy with. Then I realized I had to do it 50 more times. Holy Crap.

I started thinking about how to break the novel down into three acts, and then roughly allocating the number of words per act. (That’s about 35,000 per act for those of you playing along at home.) Ken Scholes, who is an honest-to-god-published-sf-author, just finished a 34,000 word novella in four months. And he has a full-time job and twin babies. I have a part-time job and two cats. (I know he would also say that he’s been writing a lot longer. Good point, Ken.)

I realized that one of my science-fictional premises invokes a mystery, and I want to have that come home in the third act. The problem is I don’t know who-did-it so to speak. And that’s been hanging me up for a week.

Then today I meshed that hang-up with another one of my fears: that I can’t write a novel because I’ll honestly get bored before I’m done. I mean, I don’t finish a solitaire game once I know I’m going to win. So, as much as anything, my writing method needs to to keep me interested until the damn thing is finished.

I don’t need the answer to the mystery for the first act. So I’m going to write, and let my brain keep working on the puzzle of the upcoming mystery. I don’t know how it’s going to end. And that may be more fun. At least for 30,000 words.


Some Favorite Bad Movies

I hesitate to make a list of “Top Ten Bad Movies” because I fear commitment. No sooner would I post a list then I would think of another awful film and have regrets. So let’s just start with a few, shall we, and I’ll add them as my memory serves me.

Bad movies are best when you run across them flipping channels. Do not attempt to rent and watch a bad movie from start to finish.

Number One All Time Favorite Bad Movie: Commando

Demonstrating my inability to commit to my fear of commitment I do have an unequivocal number one.

Reasons I love it: Single Dad kills everybody to save his daughter. Arnie’s arms like tree trunks. Brave little Alyssa Milano spitting at a bad guy. Shopping at the weapons store with the hilariously well stocked vault. Rae Dawn Chong launching a LAW. Twice. Arnie in a swimsuit. Arnie painting himself with camouflage sticks. Machine gunning the heads off roses.

Best lines:
Arnold: Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? I lied.

Rae Dawn Chong: These guys eat too much red meat.

Other Favorite Bad Movies in No Particular Order

Zorro the Gay Blade

Reasons it’s Fabulous: Zorro has a gay identical brother. Named Bunny. Outrageous Spanish accents. Lauren Hutton’s acting range from A to B. Brenda Vaccaro going over the top, and back around and up and over again, God bless her.

Best Lines:
Fifth Don: I am Don Luis Obispo from Bakersfield.

Esteban: Is it red like an apple or red like a radish?

Zorro: The sheeps! In the field!

My Blue Heaven

Reasons I love it: Steve Martin plays a mobster and chews up a Jersey accent. Rick Moranis is an unlikely Fed. Rick Moranis kicks a guy’s ass and throws him out the house. Joan Cusack is in it. Joan Cusack is the love interest. Demonstrates the value of knowing how to merengue. Scene title slides like “As I am not trained for anything else, I re-embark on former career.” This movie forever changed my tipping philosophy.

Best lines:
Steve Martin’s cousin: “I thought Wankel invented the rotary engine?”

Steve Martin: “It’s not tipping I believe in. It’s overtipping.”

Down With Love

This one’s really bad. Just watch the clothes. Appreciate that the filmmakers bravely swung and missed. Think of Ewan McGregor jetting around Hollywood in the vintage Porsche roadster he bought to get in the mood of the period. Wonder if you’d look good in a hat.

Best Lines:
Sssh. Don’t listen. Watch the clothes.

Memorial Day, Starship Troopers, and the Value of Service

The Tuesday after Memorial Day there was still a field of flags along the west bank of the Willamette river. As I mentally paused to give thanks to those who have served and are still serving, the book Starship Troopers popped into my head. That was unexpected. I spent the rest of my drive to work sorting out why my brain had made that connection.

People often categorize the philosophy of Starship Troopers as fascism or militarism. But I think it is fundamentally about service. It is about putting others before yourself and recognizing there are things more important than your own life. Some of those things are people, some are ideas.

Heinlein’s works are full of heroes who sacrificed themselves for some greater good. In Space Cadet the Corps’ heroes, posthumous medal recipients all, are memorialized by being included in every role call. In “The Long Watch” the hero sacrifices himself to stop a military coup – the final unforgettable scene is of him blowing radioactive cigarette smoke into a Geiger counter, awaiting his inevitable death from radiation poisoning. In Starship Troopers Johnnie Rico’s* ship is named after a real WWII soldier who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valour. Heinlein was making a point.

While it focuses on the military, the Federal Service required for citizenship is broader than that. Not all who serve in Troopers are killing things, some are doing dangerous research or dangerous labor. All have volunteered to sacrifice their time and perhaps their health or lives.

It is a profound statement about the importance and nobility of service. It is one of the core values of Christianity. It is Daniel in the den of lions and David facing Goliath. It is believing in the power of an idea or caring for your people so strongly that you put your one and only body at risk. This is not unique to Christianity or Judaism by any means. It is an aspiration in many religions and philosophies.

I’m not trying to say there is nothing else going on philosophically in Troopers or advocating its system of government. (Though that would be a fun debate sometime, if you feel like it.) I am saying that this message, the nobility of service, is what has buried itself in me during my many readings of the book.** In my belief system, which is also based on Christianity, Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle and Che Guevara, it is an anchor point. It is why a bank of Memorial Day flags makes me think of Johnnie Rico.


*Of all the many things that pissed me off about the movie version, the one I shall never forgive is that Johnnie wasn’t Fillipino.

** That and the value of a good flogging. Kidding! Kidding. Che wouldn’t approve. Unless they were Imperialists.

What Would That Matter?

I’m writing a story that’s got a bit of darkness, and that darkness is based on a less than pleasant part of my life. I have been encouraging myself to keep going by remembering this scene between Lord Peter, and the mystery writer Harriet Vane, in Gaudy Night:

“You would have to abandon the jig-saw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.”

“I’m afraid to do that, Peter. It might get too near the bone.”

“It might be the wisest thing you could do.”

“Write it out and get rid of it?”


“I’ll think about it. It would hurt like hell.”

“What would that matter, if it made a good book?”

Submissions, Interviews and Connie Willis

First, welcome Stuart, my first commenter whom I don’t know, and almost the first to whom I’m not related. Yea!

I have a theory that submitting stories to markets is a lot like interviewing. For some interviews, it will be clear you are a very nice person, with lots of skills, and not right for the job. Editors, like hiring managers, have to make the cut based on what they need. As someone who’s hired a lot of people, I can tell you that I remember a lot of nice, skilled people I didn’t hire. Some were just barely beat out by a more suited candidate. Some were wrong for the job but I wished I’d had something for them because I knew they’d be a great addition to the team. Some were just fascinating and I wished I could give them my card and go have a beer with them.

The difference between writing and interviewing is that I believe almost every person being has many jobs they’re suited for. But many stories should never see the light of day. I have a decent track record hiring talented people. With writing, I’m still learning to tell the difference between a dud and a winner.

On a different topic, I found the article I referenced in my comment on my last post. Connie Willis and Persistence The Connie WIllis bit is the twelfth paragraph down.