Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Boys of Summer

In my last post, which was apparently the first in an accidental tangentially music-themed self-help series, the ghost of Beatles past told me not to worry so much about my prose (or something.) Today, Don Henley has this handy tip for getting first drafts done in a timely fashion: “Don’t look back – you can never look back.”

When it comes to first drafts, I ain’t historically the speediest of writers. I have a tendency to comb over a chapter until I’m completely satisfied with it before I can bring myself to move on, which means my completed first draft is pretty clean, but getting across the finish line’s like pulling teeth.

Two weeks ago, I began work on a new book. I’d like to have a first draft done by the end of the calendar year. Factor in the Day Job, the pending release of DEAD HARVEST, and THE WRONG GOODBYE to edit, and that’s a pretty ambitious timeline. So to stick with it, I turned to that most polarizing of writing tools: the outline.

Some writers outline everything. Some never outline. My approach to outlines is more situational (read: haphazard). THE ANGELS’ SHARE I outlined. DEAD HARVEST and THE WRONG GOODBYE, not so much. The new book, I’m kinda sorta outlining, by which I mean I’ve got maybe the first third of it outlined, and I’ve already started writing. I know the broad strokes of where the story’s going, but I plan to keep on outlining a little ways ahead of where I’m writing until I finish – as well as updating the outline-sketches of the chapters I’ve already written to reflect any details that may’ve changed. The former affords me the luxury of knowing the beats of a scene before I sit down to flesh it out, which cuts down on pointless noodling, and the latter provides me with a document I can use to confirm what’s come before to inform what comes next, without getting bogged down trying to iron out the prose every time I need to peek back. And if you ask me, it's the latter that makes the outlining worthwhile, which may make me the first writer ever to use an outline predominantly as a rear-view mirror. Or maybe this is something all serious outliners are hep to – but if that's the case, those sneaky bastards are mighty tight-lipped about it.

Maybe this little experiment of mine will prove a failure, but so far (knock wood), it’s working great. I won’t allow myself to read any chapters once they’re finished; if I need to know a name or date or salient detail, it’d better be on the outline. If it’s not, I’ll fix it in the second draft. And I’m writing faster than I ever have before – not to mention, having more fun. This weird hybrid method of mine is just the safety net my subconscious needs to soldier on without too much painful self-reflection, so I can just sit back, and watch the story unfold.

But of course, the real test will be how the finished draft looks...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

“On Style” or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Tell the Freakin’ Story”

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (Okay, actually, he was like the fifth person to be credited for that sentiment, but he’s the famousest fellow to utter the line, so like it or not, it seems the quote’s now his.) And seeing as how Lennon and I have so much in common (what? I’m a skinny white dude who owns a guitar), I’d like to not-so-humbly offer up a writerly corollary:

Your writing style is what you’re left with when you stop trying to write with style.

Crap. Hold up a sec. That came perilously close to Writing Advice. Writing Advice, in my opinion, is something I’m neither qualified nor inclined to dispense – except, on occasion, to myself. (That sounds weird, I know, but I find I’m constantly relearning stuff I thought I’d long ago internalized; you’d be surprised how much it helps to remind yourself of what few writing truths you know.)(Why the hell do I keep saying “you” when I mean “I”? For that matter, why am I posting this online if it’s only for personal reference? This post seems, at best, ill-conceived.)

But as a bit of self-instruction, it’s a useful one – particularly since I tend to write in multiple genres: crime, fantasy, horror, the odd bit of science fiction. See, whenever I sit down to write a story, I tend to think along the lines of what I’d like to see it shelved beside. “The World Behind” began as a coming-of-age story in the vein of King’s “The Body.” “A Simple Kindness” was a love-letter to Hard Case Crime. And I’ve always thought of “Seven Days of Rain” as my attempt to rewrite “The Tell-Tale Heart” as told by Michael McDowell. But that kind of thinking can sometimes lead to pastiche. So the trick, for me, is to leave all thought of style aside while I’m writing, and just try to tell the story. That doesn’t preclude making conscious decisions about prose; some stories demand short, terse sentences, while others support a more languid, descriptive style. But long or short, terse or florid, they’ve still got to sound like my sentences – not Ardai’s or McDowell’s or King’s.

The funny thing is, the only sure-fire way I know to write sentences that sound like me is to not think too hard about how they’ll read. Because the more I ruminate, the more my brain is liable to come back with some scrambled version of one of the billions of other people’s sentences I’ve got rattling around my head.

(An aside: do you people think about prose in terms of how it sounds? I can’t help but. To me, reading prose ain’t too far off from reading sheet music, except for the fact that I’m borderline illiterate when it comes to reading sheet music. Seriously, ask my 4th grade band teacher. Pretty sure I hold the dubious distinction of being the worst saxophone player in the history of Central Square Elementary.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On Endings, and New Beginnings

It's been quite a week.

Six days ago, I finished my third novel.

Five days ago, I started my fourth.

The novel I finished (in first draft, at least) is called THE WRONG GOODBYE. It's a direct sequel to my upcoming debut, DEAD HARVEST, and the first I've actually written under contract. DEAD HARVEST is scheduled for release in March of next year, with THE WRONG GOODBYE following that autumn. Technically, it's not due for another few months, which is good, because while it is now officially a complete novel, it's far from completed. There's doubtless a great deal of polishing to be done before I'm ready to let it out into the world, but it's much easier to make something good out of something rough than it is to make something out of nothing.

As for the New Book, it's a big-ass crime thriller, and maybe the most ambitious story I've yet told. I've got about a third of it outlined, and maybe a chapter and a half written. It has a name, but for now, I'm not saying what that name is. For now, that's all you get...

Oh, and a note for the mathematically inclined: yes, this post mentions I've written three novels. Yes, I only talked about two of them. The third, which was actually my first, is titled THE ANGELS' SHARE, and it's still looking for a nice home. So if you happen to have yourself a publishing house and you'd like to take a peek, you just let me know...

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A Couple New Reviews!

8 POUNDS is getting love all over the place! Seriously, that short story collection is a brazen, brazen hussy. But with a heart of gold, I tells ya.

First up, check out this gem from Unsquare Dance: "Chris F. Holm is one of the finest writers working out there today." I mean, damn. One can only assume by "out there," Stephen means "on Chris F. Holm's couch," but still.

And Ray Garraty had this to say:

Самиздатовский сборник Криса Холма включает в себя восемь рассказов, большинство из которых имеет солидный вес, отчего книга, вопреки своему названию, гораздо тяжелее восьми фунтов. Холм пишет в разных жанрах: есть здесь хоррор, есть современный неонуар, есть т.н «темная проза». Слово «темный» как нельзя лучше подходит для описания всей коллекции рассказов.

To be fair, I'm mostly just hoping that's a good review, on account of it's in Russian. But on the other hand, DUDE, I GOT REVIEWED IN RUSSIAN!

Okay, that's not entirely fair to Ray. See, though Russian is his native tongue (his Anglicized nom de plume is borrowed from a King tale, I believe), he also posts his reviews in English; you can read the translation of mine here. Still, it's way cooler in Russian.

Thanks to Ray and Stephen for the kind words. And thanks to all who've bought 8 POUNDS. If you haven't, but you'd like to, it's available for Kindle in both the US and UK, for the rock-bottom price of $0.99!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Rip Returns!

Wow. The latest installment of Beat to a Pulp's epic serial A RIP THROUGH TIME, titled "Chaos in the Stream," is live, and it is a doozy. Garnett Elliott is at the helm this time, and damn, does he swing for the fences. If you ask me, he hits it full-on, too -- but why ask me? Go give it a read and find out for yourself.

Oh, and if you want to see how Rip's saga began, peep my installment here.