The Secrets is an ‘on again, off again’ podcast for aspiring writers wanting to learn the craft. It is well worth a listen.

The podcaster, Michael Stakepole, is a U.S. Sci-fi / fantasy writer. He’s written Star Wars novels and a large pile of his own stuff. The Secrets is choc full of practical advice from someone who has made a sucessful career as a writer.

A writing newsletter, also called the The Secrets, is available from the site ($1 USD an issue). There is a sample newsletter so you can check it out before subscribing.

Michael S is currently co-hosting over on The Dragon Page – Cover to Cover, which has up until recently has been more of a Sci-fi/Fantasy reader’s podcast. A key feature of Cover to Cover has been its author interviews, but with Michael’s arrival it now also has a writer’s slant.

According to Micheal The Secrets podcast will restart, but he has to fit it into his writing workload. He’s a busy boy so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Crying with a smile

22, February,2007

My uncle knew his body was wearing out. He picked this for his funeral.

All Is Well

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well.

Henry Scott Holland
1847-1918

There is some advice floating around which I think you need to be wary of. It goes something like this.

Keep writing until the novel is finished if you get stuck just put a note in the margin ‘insert x scene here’ and move on.

This is a trap. The temptation is to keep writing the fun bits (e.g. the fart jokes) and leave all the scenes that are a bit hard (e.g. key plot points, character development) until later.

I thought I was finished until I went back and started looking at those ‘insert here’ scenes.

What the f**k was I thinking.

Here are some examples of bits of your story that should not relegated to an ‘insert scene’ note in the margin.

A scene where:

  • the wise old man explains how the entire world functions,
  • the bad guy explains the totality of his motivation and or diabolical plan,
  • the good guy comes up with the idea to use a magical item (note to self – write in a magical item earlier in the story) to defeat the penultimate bad guy (note to self – write in a penultimate bad guy),
  • the good guy, cocky from his earlier victory, starts getting beaten by the ultimate bad guy, but uses some subliminally acquired knowledge (note to self – insert prior action to acquire the subliminal knowledge) to defeat the bad guy,

This one was a beauty “write a meaningful travel scene” to get characters from point A to point B. What?!? What does that mean?
I swear, I need to hire someone to look over my shoulder and smack me in the back of the head when I write something that dumb.

Mortality

19, February,2007

My uncle died this morning.  It’s not important to anyone except us.  I searched for his name on the net.  No hits.   

Son of a poor country baker.  He had a life, a family.  He fought in a war. 

Bruce Dyker, brother to Elva, son of Lillian and Sydney. 

Now he’s on the net.

I have a secondary character (Vation) who’s name is a variation of a name (Vatius) found in a piece of ancient Roman grafitti (you know, the old ‘hinting at methusala’ ploy). Vatius, mmm, a bit like Valentine I thought.  I might be able to tie that in as well. 

So I hit wikipedia, and this is what I found out.Well, St Valentine was possibly one of three men martyred in the late 3rd century during the reign of Emperor Claudius II.   That’s it!  That’s all we really know. 

He evolves from an unknown dead Roman into a romantic figure in the middle ages.  Around 1260 they have him restoring the sight and hearing to the daughter of his jailer before getting his head cut off.  Chaucer (despite being the writer of some truly excellent fart jokes) makes the mistake of being the first recorded person to link Saint V’s Day with romance in 1382.   

By the middle ages (the age of courtly love) people are just making things up. They have him passing love notes and arranging secret weddings. Saint V’s day as we know it doesn’t really kick off until the mid 1800s.  We can probably lay the blame at the feet of Esther Howland of Massachusetts, who started mass-producing valentines of embossed paper lace. 

In the second half of the 20th century the Halmarks and Interfloras of the world (always on the lookout for a sentimental buck) got seriously behind Esther’s idea, turning Saint V’s day into the manufactured celebration we know today. To honour her name (and the impact she has had on their bottom line), the Greeting Card Association gives an annual “Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary”.  

They do this with no sense of irony.
 

What does this say about research?  It can be a distraction.  It can be a waste of time.  It probably shouldn’t be wasted on secondary characters. I do have a positive research story, but I’ll save that for another time.

onward and upward 

‘in your pants’

3, February,2007

If you haven’t heard about this yet drop in on Maureen Johnson’s blog (YA chic lit author – is that a real thing or did I just make it up?) and have a look at the Brotherhood 2.0 vlog (YA author John Green and his brother Hank).

The basic premise is that the title of any book can be improved by adding ‘in your pants’ to the end of it.

Go ahead, turn around now and have a look at your book shelf.

No, not the technical manuals – Complete guide to MS Office ‘in your pants’ is not what we’re looking for.

Here’s a couple I found.

  • Vonnegut’s Breakfast of champions ‘in your pants’
  • Lem’s His masters voice ‘in your pants’
  • Foster’s The moment of the magician ‘in your pants’

Absolute minutes of sniggering fun.