Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How To Be Badass (By Professor Nick Ryves)

Face it. You are never going to be badass if you think that you can learn the necessary skills on some blog run by unpublished wannabes. Badasses are born, not made. But I guess I can give you a few tips to get you through your next pathetic office power struggle or meeting with your ex-spouse's lawyer or whatever you people without real problems do in your spare time.

1) Cop an attitude. The world's best ass-kicking can be undone by an apology. Don't be nice. This is the real world, not kindergarten. Mr. Roberts isn't going to give you a gold star for not hurting Elmo's feelings or whatever. (See, look, I just did it.) Having a conscience is what prevents my brother Alan from fully embracing the badass he was born to be. You can be a nice guy, or you can be a badass. No mercy.

2) Have weapons. Personally, I prefer blades--when fighting magicians and demands, you can't go wrong with a good sword. However, knives aren't practical in some situations (like American airports) and anytime you use a sword, you have to expect an amount of good-natured ribbing from family and friends about compensating for something. If you're awesome like me, you'll just cut them to ribbons, but if you're not quite as cool as me, you're probably better off with a lethal instrument that attracts a little less Freudian analysis.

3) Be a man, man. Even if you're a woman.

4) Practice. Nobody ever became badass without hard work. And let's face it (Jamie, I'm looking at you), getting into shape is just the tip on the iceberg. If you don't have dangerous enemies tracking your every move and just want to get a leg up in your fantasy football club, I guess you don't need to spend a lot of time at target practice or learning to identify demon marks, but a little basic combat training never goes awry. Just remember--watching UFC is fun, but there's no substitute for the real thing.

5) No fear. Any time you spend being afraid is just time you could have spent sharpening your weapons.

Well, that's about it. If you want to hear more from me (and be honest, how could you not?), you can check me out at http://www.sarahreesbrennan.com/ . I understand she's on a mission to make the world a little more badass one book at a time. Me, I don't trust books, but, hey, it's worth a shot.

[transcribed with great reluctance by Mae Crawford]

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A (Writing) Exercise in Desperation

11:33 AM. Polish off second cup of coffee. If I leave now I'll get there earlier than yesterday. Means I'll wait longer before they get out, but I'll be farther ahead in the line. Fine by me.

11:45 AM. Forgot that this road leads back from lunch to the largest single employer in Georgia. My advantage over yesterday is totally shot.

11:48 AM. Moody is clear and I make an easy left onto 96. Maybe I've beat the rush.

12:00 PM. Stop driving perfectly on time...in a line of cars at least a quarter mile from the school.

12:01 PM. Cars fill all visible road behind me. State Road 96 is now a parking lot.

12:10 PM. Ten-minute mark. Realize that thought process resembles apocalyptic log.

12:11 PM. See woman walk by toward the school. Wonder where her car is.

12:13 PM. Regretting that second cup of coffee.

12:14 PM. Several cars pull out of the line and turn around. The majority of us have nowhere else to go.

12:16 PM. Gentleman jogs pas the car. Heat haze makes me think that cars ahead of me are moving. Just a cruel mirage.

12:17 PM. Girl and her little sister walk toward school. Their mom must have stayed in her air-conditioned car.

12:18 PM. Really regretting that second cup of coffee.

12:19 PM. Playlist ended. Can't be bothered to find new tunes.

12:21 PM. Moved twelve feet forward. Saw first woman walk back with happy daughter.

12:22 PM. Movement becoming more frequent. Still not in sight of school.

12:23 PM. Catch glimpse of highlighter-yellow-vested traffic cop. Second gentleman walks back. Daughter as tall as he is.

12:24 PM. Gentleman gives truck driver behind me directions. Truck skirts around me and bypasses the madness.

12:25 PM. In sight of school. Moving frequently. Memorizing log entries for later transcription.

12:26 PM. Intensely regretting that second cup of coffee.

12:27 PM. See cars pulled over in grass on side of road, drivers walking. Tempting, but it's prohibitively hot and I'm a wuss.

12:29 PM. Aforementioned grass-car is under the impression that she can make a left back onto this road. Due to the mercy of strangers she somehow succeeds.

12:30 PM. Kid rides by on bike, wondering what in the world is going on. I'm right there with you, kid.

12:31 PM. World has turned sufficiently that my window arm is now in the shade. Small mercies.

12:33 PM. Realization hits that the school has consolidated its two pickup lines into one for the day. WHY?! is unclear.

12:34 PM. Hope I turned off the coffee pot. Try not to think about coffee.

12:35 PM. Highlighter cop's job really sucks.

12:36 PM. Regretting every cup of coffee I've ever had.

12:40 PM. Turn on J-Rock, sing along, and headbob so that the woman in front of me who keeps looking in her rearview will wonder what I'm doing.

12:42 PM. See more grass-cars. Tempted again, but I'm so close now.

12:44 PM. Enter the school parking lot. Pass by king of the highlighter cops.

12:45 PM. Reach the point at which I stopped driving at noon yesterday.

12:46 PM. Can't quite bring self to regret discovery of coffee bean.

12:50 PM. Spot a parking monitor huddling in a rare patch of shade. Lucky guy.

12:56 PM. Pickup successful. First order of business: find a bathroom.

12:59 PM. Can't get back onto 96 from Flash Foods. Take an alternate route home. Have an adventure.

1:37 PM. Arrive home. Confirm that I did, in fact, turn off the coffee pot.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Names, Part 3

Some final thoughts on names, naming, and the dangers therein.

[Words] When naming fictional people, we've noticed that it's easy to lift names light-fingered from anyone who's standing too close. Naming characters after people you know can be a fun diversion (Ink's taken requests before, when friends found out she was writing a book and, in one case, wanted a villain named after him), but it poses obvious hazards.

[Ink] I don't think I've ever named a major character after somebody, but a couple of times I've named a character and realized that I know somebody by that name. The FMC in my urban fantasy series is named Kate. I know so many Katherines, Catherines, Kathryns, Kaitlyns, and Katies it's not funny. I have two cousins named Katie and three good friends named some variation of Kate. I actually kinda hope they all think that they're the namesake.

I also recently realized that I named a ruthless Old West bankrobber the same name as the wonderful, cool, amazing lady who ran the youth group at my school. In my defense, Kelly was a boy's name in the 1800's. I hope she never finds out.

One time, I named a character Jordan, just on a lark. Then I realized the girl who sat behind me in Spanish class was also named Jordan. We usually didn't talk that much, but after naming the character that, we got to be friends. It was kind of weird, but cool.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Name That Injustice, Episode 1

April is the cruelest month, and we're celebrating! We figure, our readers are an intelligent, well-read, socially aware group of fine upstanding world citizens, so we present a game we like to call Name That Injustice. We give you a list of famous injustices and incidents in the last sixty years of American history, and you give us the names! Simple enough?

And, of course, what's any game without prizes? The commenter who answers the most of these correctly gets a sidebar shoutout to their very own blog or webpage for the entire month of April (spambots need not apply). All answers should be in English and fairly close to correctly punctuated (if you value your soul). Comments close Sunday afternoon - late Sunday afternoon, if we're feeling merciful.

You've probably seen references to many of these instances on TV. Such a sad state of world affairs, isn't it?

1. Authority figures mocked by unwashed masses, who are rewarded for this behavior. Most egregious offense included a lifeguard being deceived by the children he was sworn to protect.

2. Bird trained to belittle mental illness and support substance abuse in minors.

3. Children rewarded for neglect and animal cruelty.

4. Recent immigrant to America harassed and chased, deprived of his only beloved possession, a talisman from the Old World.

5. Elderly, flamboyant ex-Navy officer leads children into life of piracy and crime.

Good luck!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010



As of this afternoon, Miri and Ink will be in the same state for the remainder of the week, thus making it easier to geek out about various topics, plot dastardly deeds, and, of course, update the blog.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Dream of Similar Triangles

Has anybody else ever had nightmares about the SATs? Not just taking them or whatever, but about the subjects on the test? I keep having nightmares about geometry.

Anyway, due to my SAT-related insomnia, I changed all the colors on the blog. Hope y'all weren't too attached to the old ones, because I have no idea how to get it back to normal.

Goodnight, all!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Enemy of the Good

"The perfect is the enemy of the good."

I'd never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I mean, I'm a WriMo. I don't care if something is good, as long as it helps me along the way to 50,000 words, right? If anyone suggested that I was a perfectionist when it came to writing, I have several thousand inane words of my characters joking about cannibalism that beg to differ.

Last month, I went to read through the book I wrote before this past November, a book I thought had a ton of potential. My sister loved it. My mom said I had finally mastered the art of creating a tight plot. Even Miri liked it. Me, I got about 100 pages and had to put it down. The thing was a corny mess. I wondered why I was still writing.

A couple days later, I started wondering where I went wrong with this book. It occurred to me that it might not be that the book was that bad, but that my expectations were too high. I thought about it a little more and realized that I had thought that this book was going to be a classic--maybe even a Great American Novel. Embarrassing but true.

Once I realized that nobody writes a Great American Novel on the first try (and that historical political fantasy/romance is probably not going to get on the classics shelf anytime soon), I could start reading again without being so critical. I even started enjoying it a little. A lot of the novel still sucks, but I don't hate so much any more. Now I know it doesn't have to be perfect.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For Those Thinking About Publication...

I'm probably not the best person to dispense advice on how to get published, seeing as I'm not even close, but I'm going to give it a try anyway.

Last year, I sent out 25 queries. I got 22 form rejections, one personalized rejection, 1 request for the first five pages (I know, it didn't make sense to me, either), and one request for a partial. Then I got a form rejection for the partial. That's a 4.34% success rate. So the batting average for 2009 was Not Good. I got the names of AgentQuery, and it said that all of them were seeking new clients.

This year, I sent out four query letters to agents I found here. So far, I've heard back from two agents, and both were requests for fulls. That's a 100% success rate. 2010 is on fire.

Here's the clincher. I didn't change my query letter, and I've made only minimal changes to my book. All I changed was the recipients of my query letter. I started sending to people who really want new clients. Judging by the numbers, that makes all the difference.

To wit: only query agents who really want to be queried!

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Sad Saga of the Permanantly Clear Desk

Last October, with NaNo bearing down on me, I thought I'd take charge of my desk and put it in order, once and for all. This article from Zen Habits seemed appealing, so I decided to start there. I started out with the best of intentions. I sorted all my stuff into three piles and got rid of the bits of novel notes and weird little maps I hadn't used since the middle of November of 2005. It really did help keep my mind clear. I could find exactly what I wanted when I wanted it. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever.

Stuff started to creep up over time, in small increments. I think it started in earnest when I grabbed a piece of scrap paper to work out a math problem, and then wrote a phone number on it, then wrote "e-mail Emily" or something on it. Then I realized I needed a separate piece of scrap paper to keep notes about the novel I was working on at the time. Then I left my watch on my desk with the idea of using my nice clean(ish) desk as a vanity and putting it on the next morning. The watch disappeared under a pile of papers and I couldn't find it the next morning. I haven't been on time in months.

The final death knell was Christmas. First I thought it'd be okay to leave a few gifts I needed to wrap on my desk until I could get to them. Most of them made their way to their intended recipients, but one (a stamp with a robot saying 'Hi' on it) I decided would be happier with me. Then I left some gifts that I'd gotten on my desk. It's February and they're still there.

It's only gone downhill from there. I started leaving books on my desk and now it's just one big pile of novels. I also installed Windows Seven (I know, I know, but it's working so far), so all my CD-ROMs are everywhere. And there's an envelope with nothing inside of it and the words "Secret Agent Velocioraptor" written on the outside. I have no idea what it's for, but I'm terrified to throw it away in case Secret Agent Velocioraptor comes to collect. My desk is worse than ever before.

Such is life.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Names, Part 2.

My characters don't name themselves. When I give a character a name, it's the result of a lot of work on my part. What's weird, though, is that after the first main character is named, most of the other names come pretty readily. (But that first one is a killer.)

For example. In the novel I'm working on now, the Heretic King, I had two main characters. It's offworld fantasy, and one of the main characters is from fantasy-Egypt/Greece and the other MC is from fantasy-India. I had a bunch of scenes in my head that I was just bursting to write, but I've never been able to start a novel without named characters. So I spent a day (literally, 8+ hours) trying to think up names for these characters. I must have read half of behindthename.com. Then I had to go to a baby shower. I spent the car ride there and back (and the whole party, except, of course, while we were having cake) thinking of names. At twelve that night, I finally came up with some names and started writing. (The girl's name is Sabrai and the guy's name is Ptolemael, in case you were interested.)

I've never really given a character a name that had a meaning, like Miri does--I go more for form than function, I guess--but I really like most of my character names all the same. So the moral of this story is: when it comes to names (and most other things), do what works for you.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

On Names, or, Characters Do Name Themselves, I'm Not Crazy, I Swear

Anyone who knows me and has been on speaking terms with me since mid-October or so has heard me chatter (nigh incessantly at times) about my fifth National Novel Writing Month Novel, Clockwork Wings. And anyone who's spoken to me further knows that I attribute a lot of rather active traits to my characters - that I discuss them more in terms of living "people" than most people really get.

This year's effort stood out in a number of ways. From a practical standpoint, it's the second NaNo I've finished within November (the fourth NaNo I've finished overall) and the first I've finished within November with a book-length wordcount (my first year didn't precisely limp to its conclusion at 52k, but there wasn't a great deal of urgency in its pace). This year presented me with my greatest extra-NaNo workload - all the high school juniors in the audience can sympathize here - and somehow it was my best showing to date. (And I confess I'm worried about my next attempt, considering that several fellow Mooselings suffered something of a sixth-year NaNo slump. But I think my stubbornness is equal to the challenge.)

Maybe I'm finally learning to finish what I start. Maybe it's true that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person to do it - to quote Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, if you've already got a million things to do, adding number one-million-and-one is no big deal.

But I'd be remiss in not crediting this year's monumental sucess at least in part to my cast of characters - an astounding group of people that I'd known (if you'll forgive the conceit) anywhere from two weeks to four years before I started writing their story.

My focus on the characters was an interesting reversal: while many writers I've spoken with (though by no means all) identify themselves as either a plot writer or a character writer, I've always been an avowed setting writer. A compulsive worldbuilder. I started drawing maps shortly after reading The Chronicles of Narnia in the second grade - my middle school notebooks are riddled with them. I love flags, I love cultures, I especially love languages (as anyone who's seen my class schedule can attest) and there's no greater intellectual joy than creating a world that is complete unto itself, with its conceits and dysfunctions providing and enhancing any conflict, any story I could place there.

This time, now that I'm thinking about it, I guess the setting did come first, or a very (dimensions-wise) small part of it: the Gray Tower, the site of the execution of traitors, my analog to London's Tower Green. (I can admit this.) For most of 2006, I planned to write my second NaNo about a young captain of the royal guard who would be forced to execute her two best lieutenants and best friends. (I was a morbid twelve-year-old. Sue me.)

The captain's name, from the first time I pictured her, was Marsa. I didn't look into it, didn't run searches on word elements like I do now that I've discovered BehindTheName.com. I just knew that it was her name, that it fit.

Marsa. My duty-bound militant guard captain.

Mars. Roman god of war.

I put this together in December (2009) and it blew my mind. I'd read mythology before, so I'm sure I was very, very subconsciously thinking it when creating this character, but it still surprised me, this accidentally perfect name.

That's not the only example. My main character this year popped up in a scenelet I wrote on the bus last May, and that morning in first period I asked for a female name at random. A good friend said, equally at random, "Claire." I decided I liked it, stuck it on, and didn't think much more about it until October came and I was putting together a plan for my story. Claire's clarity - her clear vision of problems and solutions, her brightness of outlook - were her defining characteristics. Another perfect name, without any input from me.

Now, several of my names were researched and planned. The deciding factor in naming the bodyguard Alexei was that one of its meanings was "protector"; my wing-technician Ciel was very intentionally named for the sky. Claire's parents were named, in a roundabout way, for the gods of tricks and fire in a couple of different mythologies, and that says a lot about their personalities. I liked names that say something about the character - I think it's my right as a writer to have as much fun as I possibly can with them.

And I do. Names are fun. Great fun.

But they're even more fun when they present themselves to me whole-cloth, hiding their true importance until I stumble across it.

Names. Reason number #23 I love writing.