Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two down

I’m headed back to North Carolina for a few days, writing this on the plane. The countryside around Charlotte is rather nicely lit, as if it were featuring in a Wes Anderson movie. The glass of wine that was supposed to make me less aware of my sleep-deprived state has instead induced a sort of toddleresque fidgetiness, which is always so popular on planes.

Hence my decision to finally impart to you, dear reader, an update on the Awful Space Opera—I’m hoping a bit of frenetic productivity will stop my inner three-year-old from staring out the window and yelling ‘Down! Down!’

So, basically, I finished it. My draft I mean. Certainly not the final one. It needs an immense amount of work still. The last few chapters, in particular, are truly, utterly, definitively more Awful than all the rest of them combined. But that’s to be expected. You know, you go along, building your characters, juggling your plotlines, always tossing a few more balls in the air, and if you can finish without dropping every single one on the ground, you call it a win. 

Closing the show with a flourish and a bow is for the third draft.

I’m not entirely sure what to do now. Do I jump straight into yet another rewrite? Or do I take a break, work on something else for a while? I’ve an idea for a screenplay—not the one I was working on before, a new one—try to keep up—I’ve an idea for a screenplay about spies that I’d really like to get down on paper, before Vladimir Putin invades anything else and makes the whole concept hopelessly dated.

And changing gears again does have a certain appeal. Or I could take a shorter break, write something just for me, a TV episode or something. 

I just don’t know.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


It’s funny, how nothing ever matches your expectations. You go somewhere new, the things you expect to love are boring and the things you expect to hate are okay. You start a new job, and realize you like the humdrum bits better than the big exciting projects.

When I first started writing, I had this odd idea that dialogue would be easy. After all, I carry on conversations all the time. Descriptive prosenow that would be hard. How could you possibly really and truly convey the jagged, black latticework of bare wintery twigs against a sunset? (As ‘jagged, black latticework,’ apparently.) How could you explain that a character’s face was somehow ugly and beautiful at the same time? 

A picture is worth a thousand words, so do I need at least a thousand words to set every scene?

Well, as it turns out, dialogue, even to someone who babbles compulsively, is hard. It comes out wooden, dry, and not remotely like what any real person has ever actually said. Describing the scene is easy. Which is good, because when you decide to set your story on an imaginary world, you do really need to flesh out what it looks like. I can always slash it down to something concise in draft three.

Plus, if I keep rambling on about the color of the ducks (dark brown, with pink wings), I may eventually figure out what the people ought to be saying.


(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!"
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
  Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
  And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
  And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
  He went galumphing back.
"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
  He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

--Lewis Carroll

Monday, May 12, 2014

Midnight Cowboy, and some guy getting strangled with a phone, possibly by Jon Voight, but not in Midnight Cowboy

I was a child insomniac.

I was also a teen insomniac, and an adult one, and now I just sort of think of the first two-three hours of every night as ‘bored daydreaming time,’ but that's beside the point. When I was a kid, it took me forever to fall asleep, and that meant that if there was anything, anything at all, going on in the rest of the house, I was there.

This is how I ended up watching Midnight Cowboy. 

I want you to understand that my parents did not set out to watch movies about gigolos with a five-year-old; it was just really hard to keep said five-year-old in her room if you had a movie on. Far better to let her sit there on the carpet and fall asleep in front of the TV.

Only sometimes she didn't. Fall asleep I mean. Because a man in a cowboy hat who wanders around a city doing strange things in the company of a short man who coughs is perplexing, and perplexing things require attention. 

My parents watched a number of movies which were perplexing, mostly because of Trevor the film snob. Trevor the film snob would come to visit from Burlington or Hillsborough or Mebane or wherever he was from; there would be some kind of special dinner with actual meat in it; I would go to bed; and Trevor and my parents would watch perplexing movies. Which is when the whole 'go to bed' thing went all to hell.

They weren't all that much fun, these movies. People had boring conversations, hit each other, got angry for no particular reason, walked around all wobbly for no particular reason (I was as yet unfamiliar with the concept of drunkenness), and traveled places on buses or in taxis or on trains, all things that we did not do in Saxapahaw. But the one that really stuck with me, enough that I tried to remember the name so I could someday find out what was going on, was Midnight Cowboy. 

At first it seemed to be a Western. With chewing gum, which I didn't think Westerns generally had. Then it wasn't Western anymore, and there were a lot of streets crowded with people who yelled. Then the short guy went to sleep on a bus and didn't wake up.

I didn't learn the actual plot of the movie until I was well into my twenties. You know the basic story, either because you are terribly sophisticated and watched it or because you read the synopsis on Wikipedia—young guy leaves the rural west with a strange idea that he can survive in New York by sleeping with older rich women, fails to find said rich women, and ends up first being cheated and later mentored by a sickly Dustin Hoffman.

So I finally discovered what this strange collection of random images was actually about, which then led to another perplexing thing: I swear I remember a scene in this movie where Jon Voight strangled an old man with a phone. Apparently there isn't one.

A number of impoverished psychiatrists are probably clicking over to the About section right now to find my contact info; honestly though, I'm fine. I found whole phone-strangulation incident disturbing, but not as horrifying as you might think. I wasn't one hundred percent certain what I'd seen, and I think it was a couple of years before I realized there was any death involved. At the time, I'm not sure I knew strangulation was a way you could die.

My father doesn't remember ever watching a movie where someone was strangled with a phone. He further insists that he would not have allowed me to watch a movie where someone was strangled with a phone. 

On that point I'm inclined to agree with him. I wasn't even allowed to watch most cartoons. 

This suggests I may have watched this particular movie in secret, from the dark of the hallway, or maybe it was at someone else's house? I really can't see my friends' parents showing snuff films to children either, but I know I saw it somewhere.

All this is also beside the point. The point is, what movie was this perplexing strangulation in? I know it wasn't Midnight Cowboy. But I know I saw it. What movie? What was it? This just keeps bothering me.

I've asked around, as much as one can without getting strange looks. I've tried Googling 'phone strangulation movie scene.'

I don't recommend that last. 

Do you, dear nonexistent reader, do you have any idea what this movie was? Lonely old man invites drifter up to his apartment, drifter demands money, old man dithers, drifter strangles him with telephone receiver?

That's the receiver, mind, not the cord. The internet psychos are all about phone-cord strangulation. Such a cliche. Trevor the film snob would not approve.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

...it's just a freight train comin' your way-ay-ay


This book will never end.

Really, never. I never planned on forty-eight chapters; how in the name of all that is holy did it attain forty-eight chapters? And there’s still a major showdown to go. Not to mention wrapping up individual storylines and figuring out if everybody gets to escape the forbidden planet. (That’s right; I’ve got a forbidden planet in my story. What have you got?)

I think I will die writing this book. One hundred and thirty-eight thousand, six hundred and forty-three words. That’s like, three novels. I know I kept randomly adding action scenes early on, because I thought you might get bored by my terrible prose, but I still don’t understand how it got this long.

I would really like to be done now, please. There’s just so much work to be done in the third draft—it would be nice to get started on it. And don’t tell me I could just go back and start rewriting now. I did that already. That is how I ended up with a second draft that has no ending. I thought I was nearly at the end in the first draft, and that was, oh, 55,000 words ago. That’s right—I abandoned my first draft without an ending, because I thought it was all over but the shouting, and ended up nearly doubling its length in the second. 

Are plot lines normally this difficult to resolve? I mean, not figuring out how it’s going to end, but actually getting there. Is it my imagination, or does the action move forward at a snail’s pace once you get within sight of the finish line?

Most likely, my problem is that I made everything too complicated as I went along, meaning there are more loose ends to tie up. 

Yes, I think that’s the problem. The complications seemed to occur so naturally; making them all come together does not. 

Maybe everyone just needs to die, heh heh heh.

Just kidding. It will have a highly satisfactory ending. You will be glad you read through to the end. You will be recommending my work to your friends, and sending me emails asking when the next one’s coming out.

I promise…

Monday, March 10, 2014

Selling Babies

A guest post by novelist P.R. Johnson

You’ve finally finished your novel. Good for you. It’s only taken X amount of years and Y amount of re-writes. You’re an amateur writer; it’s not as if you’re relying on this novel, your baby, to earn your daily bread. You know it’s unlikely to be published the traditional way, but that’s OK – you’re pleased you can avoid those king-making submissions editors. You’ve reconciled yourself that for your baby to see light, you’ll have to self-publish. And again, that’s OK – the thought of YOU being in control is alluring.

You’ve proof-read your novel countless times and designed a nice book cover. You’ve successfully opened an account with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and you’ve got your head round formatting. A click of a mouse button and there she is: your novel, the cherished fruit of your labour, a genuine product for people to buy with genuine money. Congratulations on the new arrival.

Now all you need do is shout from the rooftops so people may come and pay respects. Ah, I knew there’d be a catch. It might turn out that you’re a terrible salesman. Maybe you don’t want your friends and family to read the book to avoid any possible embarrassment. Perhaps that’s why you wrote under a pseudonym: so people would not lay blame at your door. Maybe, despite your best efforts, the novel is drivel and deserves not to be read. But without that critical feedback, a truly unbiased opinion, you don’t know either way. You need to be a certain type of cretin to laud a product when you have no idea of its worth. A bit like a parent at a child beauty pageant.

So, you put your marketing on hold. You tell yourself that positive feedback will be the catalyst to fuel the inner salesman. Until, of course, you realise that a self-published novel will not sell without some encouraging reviews. And books that do not sell will receive no reviews at all, positive or negative. The circle of life is caught in a temporal loop.

It seems as though you’re stuck, just you and your damned baby. You love her, undeniably, and accept she might not be the prettiest infant in the world (some babies are downright ugly). All you need is for one random stranger, one honest soul, to look into the pram and smile: ‘Aye, that’s a bonny wee lass you have there.’

My name is (or isn’t) P R Johnson. You can find my novel ‘Life In Parks’ here:
Life In Parks eBook: P R Johnson:Amazon.com: Kindle Store
or, for U.K. readers, here: 

Or else you can follow me on Twitter.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Dazed and confused

Austin is having its post-holiday pre-spring just now.

Pre-spring is a lot like winter, being as how it's still miserably cold and all, with the key difference that a few early-bird trees have started to bloom, most notably the cedar trees. As best I can tell, pretty much everyone is allergic to cedar trees.

So the air is filled with pollen, wafting off the Central Texas hills, and my head is filled with a fog that four cups of coffee and two sudafeds refuse to clear.

And that is my excuse for using my lunch break to write a blog post when I should be novelizing. Actually, I should be journalism-izing, as I’ve got two stories to write, fairly lengthy ones, too, but I cleaned house and can’t figure out where I put my notebook. Also there’s no deadline on them. I don't know how anyone can be productive without a deadline. So the Awful Space Opera is Plan B. 

And pointless blog posts about allergies is Plan C. 

There’s not really much to say about allergies, is there?

Is there some particular reason why everyone is allergic to something these days? Didn’t allergies used to be sort of rare? Or did people just not complain as much?

And… okay, this topic is played out. Happy New Year, everyone.

I’m also allergic to dust mites.