Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wordcount Wednesday

Well, friends, as of right now, I am a little over 150 pages into Failstate. More specifically, I've expanded this book to 38,363 words, which means I was able to cobble together 11,416 words. Wow. That's a pretty high benchmark.

And now it's time for me to take a break from it.

I know, I know, forward momentum is my friend when writing a first draft. I'm not entirely pleased that I need to take a break, but I have to for two reasons:

First of all, I need some time to regroup. Failstate is turning out to be the messiest first draft I've ever written. For starters, we have the fact that the first 50 pages are in third person POV and the next hundred are in first person (a good decision, I might add; I think my crazy velocity on this manuscript is due to the POV change). Worse, the structure is a mess as well. I have misplaced scenes all over. One scene should probably come about ten chapters from where I am now. I just finished writing five chapters that need to occur earlier in the book. As of right now, I'm so turned around I have no idea what I should be writing next. So I need a little time to take a deep breath, figure out where I am, where I need to go next, and then get started.

Second, and more importantly, I need to get my entries ready for the ACFW Genesis contest. Yes, I said entries, plural. But seeing as their due by the end of March (and the suggested deadline is actually mid-March), I had better get cracking.

If I'm lucky, my little hiatus from Failstate will only last a week or so. But right now, I need the breather.

So who knows what I'll report next week. Maybe I'll manage to eke out a few more words by next Wednesday. Time will tell.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Armin Shimmerman is the man

I've kind of been prepping myself. Sort of. In a weird sort of way.

See, I'm (hopefully) going to have my grubby little hands on two video game sequels soon. Both Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock 2 came out recently and I've heard nothing but good things about both. I had been intending to get Dragon Age: Origins before that, but I'm thinking I can wait for the latter.

The original Bioshock was an incredible game. If you haven't played it, well . . . why not? Yes, it's a first person shooter, but the writers did an absolutely fantastic job with that game. Rapture, the underwater city setting for the game, is a sick and twisted place where society has basically been run off its rails. Picking through the rubble is fascinating. And the twist. The twist in the middle of the game. Such an awesome, awesome thing.

While I loved Bioshock right away, I wasn't totally enamored with Mass Effect. I think I picked it up on the cheap several months, maybe even a year or two, after it came out. But again, I've heard such great things about the sequel, I pulled it off the shelf and replayed it. Twice. The story is pretty good, but the twisting morality of the game kept me hooked.

But here's the crazy thing I learned recently: Armin Shimmerman is the voice of Andrew Ryan in Bioshock. I was absolutely stunned when I learned this. Mr. Shimmerman is best known to me as Quark on Deep Space Nine. Playing Bioshock tonight, when I heard Andrew Ryan's voice, I had to remind myself of Shimmerman's involvement.

And the heck of it is, as I was perusing Mr. Shimmerman's IMDB page, I noticed he also played the voice of Fai Dan in the original Mass Effect. I just played through Mass Effect recently and had no idea. None!

I doubt Mr. Shimmerman will ever stumble upon my little corner of the Internet, but if he ever does . . . Mr. Shimmerman, my hat is off to you. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wordcount Wednesday

No extended lessons learned about writing this time around. Just a little bit of forward momentum this week. As of right now, Failstate is at 26,947 words, which means I added 6,040 words this week. Onward and upward.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shrove Tuesday

Okay, so since Lent is almost upon us again, I decided I'd take things a step further this year. For the past eight years or so, I've given up all caffeinated beverages for the 40 days. I've endured the leg aches (don't ask me why) and tried to hold off my irritability with caffeine free pops.

This year, I'm giving up pop all together. No soda shall pass my lips until Easter. I drank my last Coke tonight.

I'm pretty sure this one's going to kill me.

So are you giving anything up for Lent?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Lightning Thief

On a total whim a few weeks back, I picked up a copy of The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. I think I may have seen copies of these books in the past but overlooked them. But since I had heard that it had been made into a movie, I thought I'd check it out. Yes, I know, that's a lousy reason to read a book. Sue me.

Anyway, the story revolves around the aforementioned Percy Jackson. He's had a pretty rotten childhood. His mother has married an absolute loser and Percy has been bouncing around from school to school. He suffers from ADHD and dyslexia. Things are not going well for him at all.

And then, one day, his math teacher tries to kill him on a field trip. It's only when his Latin teacher tosses him a pen that turns into a sword that Percy is able to defeat her. Only he seems to be the only one who remembers that it happened.

Soon Percy finds himself embroiled in a fight for survival because of who his true father is, namely one of the Olympian gods (I won't say which one, but if you've seen the TV commercials, it's not much of a spoiler). Someone has stolen Zeus's master lightning bolt and everyone seems to think it's Percy.

Now Percy has to find what was stolen and clear his name before a cosmic battle unlike anything anyone has ever seen overtakes the world. And he only has about ten days to do it.

I'm not sure I really liked this book. In terms of craft, much of it is kind of cliched and overly predictable. For example, Ares as a biker. I suppose that's clever if a bit spot on. It might have been more interesting make him, oh, maybe a corporate shark. Maybe the problem is I'm three times the age of the target market. I don't know. But I had most of the plot figured out about halfway through, which made it annoying since it seemed like none of the characters had any of it figured out until the very end.

Don't get me wrong, there's lots of adventure and action, plus some laugh out loud moments. I suspect that teens and tweens would probably get a kick out of Percy's smart-talking ways and attitude.

What bothered me most was the spiritual aspect of the book, which might seem a little weird since in general, I didn't have a problem with the Harry Potter books. But we see kids offering burnt offerings and praying to the Greek gods, plus a few somewhat overt swipes at Christianity (or at least, I thought they were swipes; maybe I'm overreacting). All told, it left me a bit unsettled.

Apparently there are four more books in this series and, as of right now, I'm thinking I'll pass. If I do indulge my curiosity, it'd be via the library.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sea Serpent Caught on Camera

Well, not really. But still, the fact that a crew caught an oarfish on video is still pretty cool.

The Restorer Revisited

A few months back, I received word that Sharon Hinck's fabulous The Sword of Lyric series was going out of print. That's a true shame. But one of the things Sharon asked her Facebook friends was what their favorite Restorer moments were. I have to admit, I didn't answer at the time because a lot of time had passed and I couldn't remember for sure. So I resolved to re-read the series.

It took me a while to get to it. Lots of good books (and several not-so-good books) got in the way. I finally had to pull them out of the shelf and put them in my "to be read" pile. Over the past week or so, I've gone back to the People of the Verses and relived some great adventures.

The three books are The Restorer, The Restorer's Son, and The Restorer's Journey. In the first book, Susan Mitchell, an "average" mom of four gets pulled through a portal into another universe. Before she can even get her bearings, she's caught up in a frantic struggle for survival. She's among the People of the Verses, a confederacy of clans who share a common faith in the One. But now the People are in danger, both from enemies within and without.

To make things even worse, Susan just might be a Restorer. These individuals are called by the One in times of great need to turn the hearts of the People back to the Verses and to offer them the help that they need. They heal rapidly. They have heightened senses. They are given great strength and fortitude (and other gifts, but that comes into play later). If Susan is a Restorer, then she's in a lot of trouble because she'll be facing a lot of enemies, all of whom want her dead.

I'm not sure what I can say about the other two books without giving away major spoilers. So, I guess, you've been warned. Abandon all hope, ye who have not read these books. I won't give away everything, but if I'm going to share my favorite moments.

Out of the three books, I think The Restorer's Son is my favorite. I like the main character and his story arc. I especially like . . . well, shoot, I'm not sure how I can explain this. Let's put it this way: I really like the scene that's depicted on the front cover. If you've read the book, you should know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, well . . . too bad. Go read it.

But in terms of other favorite scenes, I'd have to say I like Susan's whole story arc in the third book. Sharon puts Susan in a very dark place and the way she comes out is inspiring.

That's perhaps one of the reasons why I enjoy Sharon's books so much. There are a lot of adventure in them, lots of great emotions, but Sharon always manages to sneak in at least one or two really profound spiritual lessons, much deeper than a simple "God loves you!" or something to that effect. In many ways, Sharon's books seem to be geared for more mature Christians, aimed for those who have been walking the walk for a while and now need a nudge to keep them going in the right direction.

If you want to learn more, I did an interview with Sharon . . . holy cow! Three years ago? Well, I suppose. Anyway, it's divided up into three parts and can be found here, here, and here.

It's a real shame that these books are going out of print. So if you want a copy of them, better go get them quick. And no, you can't have mine. Just saying.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wordcount Wednesday

Two weeks ago, I jokingly wished that I could double my wordcount every week. I never actually thought that I'd be able to do it. But somehow, I managed to do just that.

As of right now, Failstate has grown to 20,907 words, which means that over the course of the past week, I somehow managed to write 9,316 words. That's really not too shabby. I doubt I'll be able to maintain my velocity, especially since next week is Ash Wednesday and that means a lot more work and a lot less caffeine for yours truly.

But once again, I had a weird revelation about my book, one that I thought I'd share.

Earlier this week, I was slaving away on a scene and I was having a rough time with it. As a matter of fact, Failstate has been kind of a slog so far. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but it seemed like each page was an intense labor, like I had to force myself to keep writing. I wasn't all that happy with the way things were turning out.

So I'm working on this scene, sweating each word, sure that I'm producing garbage (you know, the usual writer lament). And I got interrupted. I had to leave the computer and go do something, I don't remember what. When I came back, suddenly the words started flowing easily. I felt lighter.

It took me three sentences before I realized I had accidentally switched perspectives.

See, I had started writing the book in third person. When I started, I thought that would be good. It would allow me to "head hop" if I needed to. But this past week, I accidentally started writing in first person and it seemed to flow a lot better. It felt more natural. It felt fun.

I gave it some thought. I'm pretty sure I won't be "head hopping" after all. The whole story can be told from Failstate's perspective. So I decided I would write a chapter or two in first person and see what happened.

Well, I guess we can see what happened. I've racked up my highest wordcount on this project to date and things are falling into place.

The downside to all of this is that I'll have to majorly rework the first fifty pages or so, but hey, that's what the rewriting process is all about, right?

Now I have another week to go before Lent is upon us. I doubt I'll do as good as I did this week, but it does give me an impressive standard to shoot for, right?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

A Request for Help

They say when you find out you're going to be a father, your entire life changes. And from my experience, that's certainly true. But my experience was a little different than most. I was actually holding my son when I found out I'd be his father.

One of the greatest experiences I've had is becoming an adoptive father. A little over three years ago, Jill and I worked with Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota and, after a surprisingly short but wild ride, we met Isaiah's birthmother. Isaiah was four months old at the time.

This past summer, Jill and I started working with LSS again to start the process for our second adoption. We are home study approved and we're looking for your help. We're hoping to adopt a second child, ideally infant up through six months. We are more than willing to have an open relationship with the birthparents as we've stayed in contact with Isaiah's birthmother and have really enjoyed that.

If you know of a woman who is thinking about placing their baby for adoption, please let us know. You can contact us via e-mail at johnorjill (at) live (dot) com (replacing the items in parentheses with the appropriate symbols) and we can pass along more information.

Thank you in advance for your help!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Worcount Wednesday

I should have done much better than I did this week.

Stats first: as of right now, Failstate is 11,591 words long. I hadn't even realized I cracked the 10,000 word barrier. That actually has me worried; I was hoping to keep this one on the shorter side but that doesn't appear like it'll happen. We'll have to see.

But I'm afraid I must confess something now. I broke one of my cardinal rules of writing a book.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

One of the rules I've found really helps is that of no back-editing. In other words, once forward momentum has been established, I do not go back to fix anything in what has already been written unless I wrote it that day. So let me give you an example. Earlier today I realized that I should rework the first scene in the first chapter so I can introduce some important plot elements from the get-go. I have a pretty clear idea of how to do it too.

But if I go back to fix up that scene, that means I won't be making forward progress on the story itself. My forward momentum will grind to a halt, which will make it all the harder to get started once the back-editing is done. So I've made a note of what needs to be done and I've kept writing.

This system works pretty well. It keeps me going, working through the story. It doesn't let me get bogged down in little nit-picky stuff in a first draft but instead lets me focus on telling the story as a whole. And normally, I'm happy as a clam with this rule.


Only I hit a snag this week. I found myself slogging away through two chapters that really weren't working for me. Oh, the scenes were necessary. Some important stuff was happening. But it didn't feel right. The 2,700 odd words I pieced together just stared at me on the computer screen and I could feel their wrongness seeping into me.

I was ready to move on when, in a flash of inspiration, I realized what the problem was. Two characters had to be merged, which would require an extensive re-write of their chapter. The setting and manner of the next chapter was completely and utterly wrong. In essence, both chapters would have to be thrown out and rebuilt from the ground up.

I should have probably just taken my notes and kept going. But instead, I back-edited. I tossed out the first draft and rewrote both chapters, which actually turned out to be three chapters that came to approximately 4,200 words.

I feel much better about what I've written, but I back-edited. That was forward momentum that could have propelled me deeper into the story.

In the end, I suppose it was right for me to throw the rule book out this time. But I think I'll need to keep a sharper eye on what I'm doing. I would hate to have to do that again.

Oh, and come back tomorrow. I'll have something much more serious to talk about.

Puts It All in Perspective, Doesn't It?

First, watch this:

Now read this.


Seven Deadly Sins

The idea of the Seven Deadly Sins is nothing new. From what I understand, the Vatican released an updated list a few years ago, but you can't go wrong with the original seven. Wait. That came out wrong...

It's not the new list that Dan Boone wrote about in his book, but he treats each sin in a separate chapter and pulls back the mask to show how each of the seven lurk within modern Christianity.

On the plus side, this is a fast read. I polished it off in a few hours. Boone's writing style is very conversational, accessible. You don't have to be a theologian to appreciate his thoughts on each of the seven.

This is a great book for "afflicting the comfortable." There were many times that I was squirming in my chair as Boone's text held up a mirror to my life and showed me where the sins were hiding. But it's not so great at "comforting the afflicted." Boone seems very interested in drawing bright red circles around the the sins themselves but then moves on almost immediately to the next one without any real Gospel.

Also odd is the fact that Boone mentions that there are certain animals associated with each of the sins. I had never heard that before and wanted more info, but he never really developed the connection. For example, why is a frog associated with greed? Or why is a cow associated with lust? I'd think a rabbit would be better there, Playboy or otherwise.

All in all, it was an interesting read. I'm thinking it might just have to serve as the basis for a sermon series at some point (not that I'd read the book; I'd develop my own series based around the seven). But not this year.