Category: writing

10 Questions for James Ellroy

Life has gotten in the way of finishing my latest draft, so I’m still at it. I leave you with James Ellroy answering 10 Questions for Time Magazine. All I can say as I sip my luke warm coffee is wow.

I first heard Ellroy speak here.


More Neal Stephenson

This video is an hour long,  or roughly two and half cups of coffee, but the first three minutes is worth it alone. In the rest of the video, Stephenson talks about Anathem. If you’ve got the time, watch. It’s fascinating to see how a sci-fi author delves the modern day for material.

Oh yeah, read Anathem.

While I’m Busy…

Until I finish this latest draft of my novel (I’m close. So very close), I’ll be posting videos of writerly and other artistic things. At least as I perceive them.  Hope you enjoy them until regularly scheduled programming resumes.

To kick things off, here is Neal Stephenson talking about SF/Fantasy Actors.

Tying It All Together – Finding Satisfaction in Your Ending

Photo by Toby Adamson

I was over at Victoria Mixon’s blog this morning reading her post about making your novel unforgettable. The entire post is well done, but the thing that struck me most was this:


    This is the part pantsers love doing but rarely know they have to follow up on. You know what we call fuses that aren’t followed up on? Loose threads.

For Mixon, fuses are plot threads that are lit and burn through the story. But the writer must be careful:

    When you pants loose threads without knowing they’re supposed to be fuses, you get to the end of your novel. . .and it doesn’t end in all the fuses coming together to make an almighty explosion, but in you, personally, getting bored. Sadly, the writer is the last person who ever gets bored. Guess what that means?That’s right. All your readers have already died of boredom and turned up their toes long, long before you finally meandered into your ad-hoc, how-can-I-get-out-of-this? WTF-ever ending.

    That’s not a CLIMAX. That’s just a fizzle…

    …spend some lengthy, intense, brain-breaking hours figuring out exactly how all those wild ideas can come together in the most thrilling, wonderful CLIMAX ever, the reason your legions of future fans are going to love this novel and read it again and again and again.

There’s the rub. Bringing it all together is the hardest part. It’s those brain-breaking hours that make it all worthwhile, that provide not only satisfaction for your readers, but for you, the writer.

Robert McKee calls the Climax “far and away the most difficult scene to create: It’s the soul of the telling. If it doesn’t work, the story doesn’t work.”

I’m in the third act of my third draft. I like the overall story for the first time and I want to get the ending right (and written).  While washing dishes the other night a thought came to me, an Ah Hah! moment that helped tighten the weave of the story and bring more of those fuses together.

I doubt there’s one correct way of approaching the ending of a novel, but it would seem that time helps me the most. Taking time to play out several scenarios, time to make mistakes and time to let ideas percolate.

Recently read books that came to satisfying conclusions (for me) include The Windup Girl, The Anubis Gates, Finch and Anathem. Two novels that left me flat are The Difference Engine (ending seemed to be more entropic than anything) and Mainspring (deus ex machina, although that may have been the point. Lack of foreshadowing made it seem out of the blue).

Robert McKee again:

…if anything will draw blood from your forehead, it’s creation the climax of the last act–the pinnacle and concentration of all meaning and emotion, the fulfillment for which all else is preparation, the decisive center of audience satisfaction. If this scene fails, the story fails. If you fail to make the poetic leap to a brilliant culminating climax, all previous scenes, characters, dialogue, and description become an elaborate typing exercise.

And there it is.

What difficulties have you encountered while bringing your novel to a satisfying close? What tools helped you along the way?

Coffee Break No. 20 – Being William Gibson

I’ve seen a good bit of William Gibson in the press due to his newest novel, Zero History, hitting the stores on Sept. 7. I’ve read one of his novels and some of his short fiction. I’ve not read Neuromancer, but it’s on my list. Here is an interview with Gibson where he talks about where he gets ideas, where he lives, and having genuine 21st century material with which to work rather than having to make it up. Dig the coffee mugs on the table in front of Gibson.

Master your genre…After you figure out what it is

Genres are not static or rigid, but evolving and flexible, yet firm and stable enough to be identified and worked with... Robert McKee

Robert McKee, in his screenwriting book Story, challenges the writer to see where their work fits:

Each writer’s homework is first to identify his genre, then research its governing practices. And there’s no escaping these tasks. We’re all genre writers.

McKee’s suggests it’s the overarching genre that keeps us going, not the particular ideas:

So, in addition, ask: What’s my favorite genre? Then write in the genre you love. For although the passion for an idea or experience may wither, the love of the movies is forever. Genre should be a constant source of reinspiration. Every time you reread your script, it should excite you, for this is the kind of story, the kind of film you’d stand in the line in the rain to see. Do not write something because intellectual friends think it’s socially important. Do not write something you think will inspire critical praise in Film Quarterly. Be honest in your choice of genre, for of all the reasons for wanting to write, the only one that nurtures us through time is love of the work itself.

Chew on this nugget related to the Art Film:

The avant-garde notion of writing outside the genres is naive. No one writes in a vacuum. After thousands of years of storytelling no story is so different that it has no similarity to anything else ever written. The Art Film has become a traditional genre…a supra-genre that embraces other basic genres: Love Story, Political Drama, and the like.