#Nanowrimo 1 of N does not equal N And Never Complain, Never Explain

Arrghhh.  Math.  Sorry, but it’s the best way I can explain this concept.  What this formula means is that just because you can go to the bookstore and buy a best-selling book written by so-and-so, the famous writer, that does not mean you can write a similar book and get it published.  What I’m talking about is those people who sit there and complain that their book is just as good as such and such and, damn it, they should not only be published but have a bestseller.  Also, those people who look at book number 5 from a best-selling author and complain about how bad it is.  Yes, there are many book number 5’s from best-selling authors that if they were book number 1 from a new author, would not get published.  But the primary thing that sells a book is author’s name.  I’ve always said Stephen King could write a book about doing his laundry and it would be on the bestseller list.  Stephen King earned being Stephen King and to misquote a vice-presidential debate, I’ve read Stephen King and you ain’t no Stephen King.  Neither am I.

Nanowrimo coverAnother thing people do is they see a technique used in a novel and use the same technique, and then get upset when told it doesn’t work.  They angrily point to the published book that has the same technique and say, “SEE.”  Unfortunately, what they don’t see is that that technique is part of the overall structure of the novel.  It all ties together.  I remind you of the story of Frankenstein.  Just because you can put all the pieces together, that doesn’t mean you can necessarily bring it to life.  There are some techniques that only work when put in context of other parts of the novel; thus using it in isolation can be a glaring problem.  You can’t take the type of beginning of one bestseller, tie it in with flashback style from another, and have a similar flashy ending as another and expect the novel to automatically work.  This is my Novel Writers Toolkit and other writing books are trying to show you not only the pieces, but how to pull them together.

Every part of a novel is a thread connected to all the other parts.  Pull on one piece and you pull on them all.  Tear apart a novel or a movie and see the pieces, but then be like a watchmaker and see if you can put them all together again as the writer did and if you understand why they go back that way.

For example, Quentin Tarrantino ignored the classic three act screenplay structure with PULP FICTION.  Yet the movie was a great success.  So therefore, a number of new screenwriters decided they didn’t need the three act structure.  However, what they failed to see is that it was not so much the unique story structure that made PULP FICTION such a success, but rather the intriguing dialogue.  Tarrantino’s structure without the Tarrantino dialogue would have spelled failure.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little fire burning deep inside believing you are better than those people getting published, but I think that’s the sort of thing that should be used to fuel your writing, not expressed loudly so everyone can hear it.

John Gardner once said that every book has its own rules.  Remember that when you examine a book to see what you can learn from it.  Look at the parts from the perspective of that book’s specific rules.

I think Henry Ford uttered the famous line:  Never complain, never explain.  This applies in the writing world in several ways.

One thing I do when I critique material is ask a lot of questions.  I tell my students, ‘Hey you don’t have to answer those questions to me’ (in fact I would prefer they don’t), but rather they are to get the students to think.  What I don’t tell them is that the more questions I have to ask, the worse job they’ve done.

The reason I don’t want answers is because you don’t get any opportunities to explain your book once it’s on the shelf in a store.  You also don’t get any opportunities to explain your submission when it’s sitting on an agent’s or editor’s desk.  So if they don’t “get it” the first time around, they won’t get it.  Get it?  All your explanations and defenses mean nothing because you not only won’t get the chance to say them, you shouldn’t get the chance to say them.

The never complain comes from the fact that there are people running this business.  You won’t agree with some things, particularly rejections, but do not complain or write nasty letters, make obnoxious phone calls, send dirty faxes, etc. etc.  Because you never know when you are going to run into those people again.  My first book was published by a publisher that had rejected my own query reference that same book.  I had disagreed strongly with some of the things they put on that first rejection letter, still do as a matter of fact, but I ate it and drove on.  If I had sent them a nasty letter, methinks they would have remembered me and not even considered the manuscript when my agent submitted it.

Here is the golden rule:  If an action you plan to take, words you plan to utter, a letter you want to write, an email you want to send, could have anything other than a positive reflection back on you, DON’T DO IT.  Negativity begets negativity.  Acting out of anger, frustration, righteous indignation, etc. will bite you in the butt, to put it mildly.

Be positive.

Think back to the last time you reacted and lashed out.  Did it help you or hurt in the long run?

Three books in one:  The Nanowrimo Survival Kit

The Last Czar: Leadership Failure

Russian_Imperial_Family_1911Quote: “I am not prepared to be a Czar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling.” Nicholas II, last Czar of Russia.

We still feel the effects of this catastrophe a century later. Few events have changed the course of modern history more than the Russian Revolution and the man most responsible for it occurring was Nicholas II, the last Czar.

The Facts: Nicholas II became Czar of Russia in 1896. He led his country into 2 disastrous wars, both of which were lost. He also presided at a time of great social unrest as the traditional serf system was breaking down during the technological revolution. He eventually abdicated in the face of unrelenting pressure, throwing Russia into an intense civil war between the Whites and the Reds, which led to his execution (along with that of his family) and the rise of the communist Soviet Union.

The Timeline:

19 May 1868: Nicholas II is born

20 Oct 1894: Alexander III dies and Nicholas II becomes Ruler

14 November 1894: Nicholas II marries Alexandra

14 May 1896: Nicholas II is crowned Czar of Russia; over 1,000 die in a stampede at the celebration festival for the people; that evening Nicholas attends the French ambassador’s gala

8 February 1904: The Russo-Japanese war begins with a sneak attack by the Japanese on the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur

15 October 1904: The Russian Baltic Fleet begins a journey halfway around the world to reinforce the remains of their Far East fleet

27-28 May 1905: The Russian fleet is defeated at the Battle of Tsushima

9 January 1905: Bloody Sunday starts the Russian Revolution

27 June 1905: The Potemkin mutiny

5 September 1905: Treaty of Portsmouth ends the Russo-Japanese War; Russia lost the war

17 October 1905: The October Manifesto promises civil liberties and a parliament.

15 July 1914: World War I begins

5 September 1915: Nicholas II assumes command of the Russian Army

17 December 1916: Rasputin is murdered.

23-27 February 1917: The February Revolution begins

2 March 1917: Czar Nicholas II abdicates

17 July 1918: Nicholas II and his family are executed

DEFINITION: Cascade Event: An event prior to a catastrophe that contributes to the actual catastrophe, but by itself, is not catastrophic.

CASCADE TWO: The Russo-Japanese War was a disaster for Russia & particularly Czar Nicholas II.

Later in this book I’m going to point out that the Japanese prior-to-war-declared assault on Port Arthur foreshadowed what happened at Pearl Harbor. Three hours before they declared war on Russia, the Japanese attacked the Russian fleet anchored at Port Arthur and crippled it.

It would only get worse from there for the Russians.

With the Far East fleet crippled, Nicholas II decided to send his Baltic Fleet to the Pacific. One only has to look at a map to question this decision. Add in the fact that the English wouldn’t allow passage of the Suez Canal after the Russians had mistakenly fired on some British trawlers, and the Fleet would have sail halfway around the world in order to just get to the battle zone.

It took the Baltic Fleet eight months to sail to the Pacific.

Port Arthur had already fallen, so the Fleet tried to make it to Vladivostok undetected. They almost made it. The Fleet was blacked out, trying to slip through the Tsushima Strait, which goes between Korea and Japan. Except for a Russian hospital ship which had its lights on in compliance with the rules of war which negated the blackout the rest of the fleet was operating under.

Things went downhill from there. At the end of the naval engagement, the Russian Fleet was essentially destroyed in one engagement and the war was lost.

To get an idea how this reverberated throughout Russia, by May 1905, the Black Sea Fleet had been stripped of experienced sailors and officers to join the doomed Baltic Fleet. When word reached the Fleet of the defeat at the battle of Tsushima Strait, morale plummeted. Activists spread dissension on the ranks.

On 27 June 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin revolted when they were served a meal of borscht made with meat infested with maggots. The ship’s captain was killed and the mutineers took over the ship.

This was a microcosm of what was developing in Russia.

ShitDoesntJust2_(8_smaller)(1)LESSON: Regimes rise and fall as wars are won and lost. Critical decisions such as going to war, and how to conduct the war, require decisive leadership, which also realizes when it is over-reaching.

Not only did Russia lose the war, they lost to an enemy that at the time was considered ‘inferior’ by the European powers; a humiliation piled on top of defeat. It greatly diminished the Czar’s image.

There are some who believe that Russia’s defeat indirectly destabilized the balance of power in Europe and led to the events that started the First World War. And looking even further, it could be argued that Japan’s victory built up a false sense of success that a generation later would lead to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the Second World War in the Pacific.

The defeat certainly damaged the Czar’s relationship with the Navy and the Russian Armed Forces. And a monarch relies on the military in order to stay in power.

Available at all platforms via this landing page.

11 More Tropes of Science Fiction

Because 7 aren’t enough.

  1. Things are never that far away. In Falling Skies, the hero takes a sailboat escaping out of Boston and the next morning he’s pulling into Charleston Harbor. You can barely fly that quickly between the two cities (your flight is likely to be canceled). In Revolution, they walk all over the country like it’s no big deal. One of the hard things when I write a thriller is I actually get a map out, calculate distances, and have to accept it takes time to get from one place to another. In Eternity Base, one of the hardest things was getting all the people down to Antarctica because it’s a long way to get down there!
  2. It’s not just science fiction, but prevalent everywhere. The punch that knocks the other person out. Essentially, when you knock someone out, you’re giving them a concussion. I used to box at West Point and in da’ Bronx and also got a black belt in martial arts, and I can tell you it’s very, very hard to KO someone. It isn’t that hard to put someone out if you can get behind them and they allow you access to there neck and you get a chokehold. Lights out pretty quickly.
  3. Key and Peele had a skit about a secret agent who snapped everyone’s neck, just like that (even by throwing a Frisbee and hitting the bad guy in the head and then his head hits the guy next to him and so on). It was pretty funny. Because, seriously, it isn’t easy to do. And it’s pretty much completely a TV/movie thing, not realistic.
  4. Okay, one of my biggest peeves is the explosion that doesn’t kill someone in the blast radius, but moves In this era of IEDs and traumatic brain injuries, we really need to understand if the explosion moves you, then it most likely kills you; at the very least, it scrambles your brain.  Stop it, Tom Cruise! Watch the opening of Hurt Locker for a more realistic portrayal.1245957311_the-hurt-locker_1
  5. Okay, so the aliens can cross interstellar space, get here, but they can’t open a doorknob? Seriously, dude?
  6. So the aliens can cross interstellar space, get here, but we can write code for their computer and totally crash it, but my Mac can’t talk to a PC without special voodoo?
  7. So the aliens can cross interstellar space, get here, and they want gold? Really?
  8. So the aliens can cross interstellar space, get here, and they simply don’t make our populated areas into parking lots with their advanced weaponry?
  9. So the zombies are on the loose and the best you can do from a convoy of cars out of Atlanta is find a set of nice knives? Seriously? I guarantee you could arm an Infantry battalion with all the guns you’d find in that convoy.
  10. So the zombies are on the loose, and the best you can do is a crappy old camper when there’s lots of new fancy ones abandoned everywhere? Yeah, I know it had his wife’s name on it, but we’re talking survival dude.
  11. I know we have to make people look a little different in scif shows, but is buttoning the top button on the shirt really that radical a look? And isn’t it uncomfortable?

#Nanowrimo Yes, Writers, You Need A Mind

Yeah, you do sort of need one to be a writer contrary to what many who know me think of me.  I’d like to say a little bit more about the mind for two reasons: one is that it is the primary tool you use when writing.  Second, to write good characters, you need to understand the mind because it is the driving force behind your characters’ actions.

As a “machine” the brain is very inefficient.  Physiological psychologists estimate that we use less than ten percent of our brain’s capabilities.  (Rent the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life and see how he uses this in his story.)  In many ways, that is what makes writing fiction so hard and draining: you are trying to expand the portion of your mind that you normally use and tap into your subconscious.  A little bit of understanding of that other 90 or so percent is useful.  It is commonly called the subconscious or the unconscious and plays a very large role in determining our character (key buzz word).  Whether you agree with people such as Freud and Jung, it is useful to know a little bit about their theories.  A fully rounded character has a complete brain and while they may only consciously be using ten percent, that other ninety percent affects their actions.

As a writer you will start having dreams about your story and your characters.  That is your mind working even when you consciously aren’t.  You will also run into “writer’s block” which I believe, when real, is your subconscious telling you to hold until you realize in your conscious mind something important with regard to the story.  This is where the “write what you feel” school of creative writing comes in.  I believe what they are focusing on is this very thing:  the power of the subconscious (90% vs. 10%).  It is more than feeling though; it is a large part of your brain and the better you can get in touch with it and use it, the better your writing will be.

There are many experiences a writer should have in order to understand both their own mind and the minds of other people.  You have to remember that you are not the template for the rest of humanity.  Hard as it may be for some to believe, there are differences between people.

I’ve sometimes said the best thing about a writers’ group is not necessarily the critiquing or networking, but rather watching the different ‘characters’ in the group and trying to figure out what is motivating them to act the way they do.

If you don’t understand yourself both mentally and emotionally, you might have a hard time understanding others.  Therapy can be a very useful tool for a writer to dig into their own mind to figure out where they are coming from.  Yes, if you’re a writer, you need help as I recommend in Write It Forward.

After listening to many authors speak of their creative processes I realize they are talking on two levels.  There’s what they are saying and there is what they are meaning.  The saying part often varies, but they almost always mean the same thing.  For example, there is the issue of outlining.  I know writers who swear by outlining and others who say they don’t outline at all, they just write.  However, I’ve also found those who don’t outline tend to do a lot of rewriting, thus the first draft of their manuscript might be considered a very detailed outline.  Those writers who do a lot of outlining tend to not want to do much rewriting.  But in the final analysis, although the two methods seem very different, they are actually the same in creative essence.

Also remember that there are two sides to the brain.  The right side is your creative part while the left is more analytical and logical– this is where the editor part of you resides.  Sometimes you have to silence that editor while creating or else nothing will get done.

Are you left brain dominant or right brain dominant, or just plain nuts?

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