Posted on March 21, 2019
We actually got through an entire episode of this podcast without any of our recording apps crashing so we’ve got that going for us. Enterprise, which started off well with a solid pilot, has descended immediately into what I can only assume is an advanced case of Rick Bermenization characterized by a lack of imagination, gaping plot holes, and execrable writing.
Still we had a good time talking about it.
Stephen King said in On Writing that he believed most writers spent some part of their childhood physically isolated in a way that books became their whole world for a time. I don’t know if that’s true about everyone, but it’s true about me.
I was a TV kid at first. I have terrible ADD and was a slow reader with bad eyesight from the very beginning. I was also a story addict who got hooked on the exciting adventures read to me at bedtime before I could read them myself. The two I remember most clearly, both by Robert Louis Stevenson, were Kidnapped! and Treasure Island.
I learned to read early and could chew through weekly readers because they were comprised of very few short sentences on a page with pictures. Once I got my full library card and started trying to read grownup books, my ADD kicked in and I learned to read in a sort of haphazard way, skipping around the page and then back again to pick up what I’d missed, my bad eye squinted shut and a headache brewing behind my good one.
So I fell in love with movies on TV at an early age. They were pretty bad movies, most of them went on to be pilloried on MST3K (and rightly so), but I just saw robots and cowboys and fighter planes and flying saucers. And one time, evil, sentient crystals destroyed by flooding a model town with seawater.
But then, in 5th grade, we moved to New Jersey where my father bought a house in the country that was close to only a few families with kids. Which turned out to be okay because, once I met the locals, I didn’t like them very much. I spent a lot of time alone for the next two and a half years and I filled the emptiness with books.
I started from sheer boredom by thumbing through the wall of paperback science fiction books in my father’s office. Even if you were loathe to crack a book because you had trouble reading, those garish book covers couldn’t help but real you in. A lot of them were above my pay grade, but I read them anyway, getting out of them what I could. It turned out it was only a small percentage of what was there, as I would discover in later years when I returned to them as an adult. Especially Dune, which I have read many times and as four completely different people.
Then I discovered what were called “Juveniles” back before the term Young Adult became popular. Heinlein had a bunch, so did Asimov and Bradbury. If had been hooked before, I was now downright obsessed. I started checking hardcover books out of the school library and covering them to look like textbooks so I could read them in class. This got me in no end of trouble, but I refused to stop. I wanted the story the way a cocaine addict needs just one more bump before he quits.
Although I had stated my intention to become a writer before this time, I had been thinking mainly of the movies. Once we left New Jersey, I never stopped reading, not even when girls entered my life, and I never thought of being anything else when I grew up. I even resisted going to college because I felt like the best way to become a writer was to go gather adventures on the road.
The funny thing about plans is the unforeseen is so much more powerful than we imagine. I got a computer because I wanted a word processor. And then I read a book on Z80 assembly language and my obsession became programming. I never really quit writing, but then again, I never really started either. It was like watching TV with one eye while you do something else. I was never really into it enough to invest that part of myself that was required. Until one day in my 40s when the obsession with programming receded and I was back to words again.
Only then did I realize how long and difficult the road was going to be. That’s why you’re supposed to start when you’re young instead of in middle age. So I keep going, coming up with new ideas, writing every day, letting the rejections roll off my back, tucking perfectly good books into the trunk from which they will never be retrieved, because it’s what I know and, unlike everything else in my life, I can’t let this go unfinished.
Yes, we did this. We made it through this episode despite several catastrophes, loss of hardware two times and, even worse, it was written by Rick Berman. But hang in there (we did) and make sure you watch the episode before listening to the podcast.
Posted on March 9, 2019
If you’re wondering where Episode 5 of the podcast went, well, so are we. A technical glitch (that we have now ironed out) ate the audio.
This week we’re doing the last of our mandated five sequential episodes of Star Trek: TNG which finds the ship traveling to the unknowable parts of the universe… or something like that. That part wasn’t really clear.
But we had fun and you will, too.
The good news? The Last Outpost is better than Code of Honor. The bad? Not much better. But we are pushing forward because we know for a fact this show gets better!
Join us for this week’s installment of the Arriving Late Podcast.
This is a private downloads post for Twitter followers who got a password from my DMs for following me. Enter the (24 hour only) password below the title you told me you wanted and download.
Please no sharing. There’s no DRM here, just trust that you won’t waste my hard work by giving it away.
The Vengeance Season
My subversion of the 1940s noir detective novel.
My take on the modern detective novel.
The Answer Man
My post-Cold War, international espionage thriller.
Today’s lesson was about giving characters their wants and letting those desires drive the story. The assignment has to do with writing down all the needs of the characters in the novel I’m working on. Since that is a work in progress I won’t be posting it here.
The class is worth every minute and every penny.
“And then what happened?”
Lesson 5 was about story and plot, about “what happens next?” that most elemental of questions. I’m quite good at plotting – this class is tailored more toward beginning writers – but I did realize that I have a problem I need to address. Essentially, I have a tendency to take the easy way out. I plot the situations that are easiest to resolve.
Let’s say you have two possibilities in mind for what happens next: 1) A man comes into the room with a gun, and 2) A man comes into the room with a baseball bat. If your protagonist is unarmed then it’s much easier to write your way out of the “man with a bat” situation.
So, without thinking about it, in my mind I’m saying, “Well, no, he can’t have a gun because my character is unarmed and doesn’t know karate or anything.” But that’s exactly why it should be the man with the gun who comes through the door. That’s tension, which drives the story, and it requires creative problem solving which keeps people interested.
Realizing this is the case, I’ve set up a story to work on that will involve a constantly shifting problem set. Essentially, my main characters are unable to control where they go after solving a problem in their current situation and the mechanism by which they move to their next situation is random enough that how they solve their current problem doesn’t help them solve their next one.
I don’t think this will become a finished product. It’s more like a workbook to develop the skill of embracing difficult situations and drawing out the tension involved with them.
Still enjoying this class immensely.
We’re continuing our push to listen to a whole batch of early TNG episodes even though the pilot didn’t sit well with us. In The Naked Now you get to watch a whole bunch of people acting drunk which should be an entertainment category all its own.
And, yes, we’re still working out the audio problems of recording across the internet, but we’re getting closer to finding a cure.
Lesson 4 was about voice. Every writer goes through the process of finding his own voice by failing to mimic his favorite famous authors. Eventually, the mistakes become your voice because those are the parts that can’t help but sound like you.
I went through this in a very familiar way, my early work sounding cripplingly like Hemingway in both voice and subject matter before I moved onto Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. It took time, not quite 10,000 hours, but long enough, before I started to feel comfortable with my own voice.
The assignment was to imitate another writer. Since I’ve been through this process already (the masterclass is really oriented toward beginning writers) I decided to have some fun with it by doing my soundalike on the crusty old professor, Neil himself.
It’s just a paragraph or three:
It was a cold Tuesday in December when Donnie Prankum fell into the hole. He could be forgiven his misstep because it was not the sort of hole one noticed on a cold Tuesday in December. It wasn’t a pothole, or a chuckhole, or even an open manhole. It was a tear between two worlds; the world that Donnie Prankum knew all too well and a world of mystery.
He caught himself with his arms and hung there for a moment, his head and shoulders in the same old world and his bottom half dangling in mystery. Then, looking around, he lifted his arms and allowed himself to fall the rest of the way through.
And that is how Mrs. Merrill Prankum lost her only son.