Back

It’s been a quite a while since my last post and in the meantime I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and settled in Silicon Valley. During this time, I haven’t been able to keep up with my writing at all, so I have much to catch up on.

The drive from Florida to California was grueling  and I don’t recommend it unless you’re a masochist. A fully loaded 22-foot diesel truck with a car carrier is not something fun to drive through mountainous terrain or at night with no street lighting. I’m glad it’s over, oh so very glad.

Best parts of the trip:

  • Leaving Florida
  • Visiting family members along the way
  • Seeing some of the US’ amazing landscapes
  • Getting to California in one piece

Worst parts of the trip:

  • Driving at night, tired as hell
  • Texas
  • Every Motel 6 besides the one in Lebec, CA
  • Driving through Los Angeles during rush hour

I’ve read quite a bit during the trip and while we settled in the area, but wrote nothing this whole time. However, this is going to be remedied shortly since I’m all set up and ready to go. I’ve even found a writing group that I may end up joining since they seem like a nice bunch of people.

– Red

Red Reviews: 11/22/63

Spoilers ahead, proceed with caution.

It took me a while to finish Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, which consists of 849 pages. It’s not as lengthy as Under the Dome or It, but still a daunting task, especially since it’s written in the first person, which, to me, is always a bit hard to read and because of a few fatal flaws.

I’m a big fan of Stephen King, I’ve read many of his novels, and he is a very big part of why I started writing when I was a teen. I think I’ve watched every interview with him in existence and I devoured a great many of his books. So it pains me to say that I’m not sure that if 11/22/63 were my first King novel, he would have played a large part in my life. Don’t get me wrong, 11/22/63 is fun, but probably only if you are a King enthusiast like myself or have a lot of time to spare.

I found myself reading a dozen or so pages, and then putting it down for a few days. I had to muster up the energy to read this book. While I was reading it, I read several other books and finished them long before I did 11/22/63. I purchased the book on July 7, and finished it only a few moments ago, on the evening of September 16 — it never takes me months to finish a book, not even a lengthy one like this.

The main reason for this is, in my case, I could not stay interested when the protagonist and narrator, Jake Epping, arrived in the town of Jodie, Texas. It wasn’t that the events that happened there weren’t interesting, but they seemed trivial. Now that I’ve finished it, and watched the puzzle pieces to fall into place, I don’t understand why so much time was spent on those little story branches. All of the 1,000 puzzle pieces connect in the end, but it left me with a “that’s it?” feeling.

Out of the entire book, the first parts where the protagonist Jake travels around Maine preventing the murder of a family, was the most fun to read. Probably because the setting is fresh and the character is thrown into a bygone world that he knows almost nothing about. This part is quite reminiscent of It in some ways and there’s an eerie feeling that there’s a creepy supernatural entity lurking just around the corner. However, once this part is completed, and Jake travels to Florida, I feel that the story starts to slouch a little.

The end play was really not interesting to me and kind of read like a sloppy science fiction book. It felt kind of like an easy ending, an explanation for certain plot elements scribbled together at the last moment to finish the whole thing up an get it off to print. Especially since there was a build-up of Kingian supernatural tension, which was explained away with science fiction. There have been a few other weak endings in King books, but this one really felt like a whimper. I think King had more fun researching Oswald and the Kennedy assassination than writing a fresh story, to be honest.

Still, it’s a fun story, it never actually bored me, but there were moments when it just kind of dragged. Having criticized the book enough, I have to say that there are parts of the story where I was at the edge of my seat and couldn’t put it down. The part leading up to the assassination is one of the parts that shines as an example of King’s fantastic writing; it’s really an amazing piece to read.

– Red

Writing Tools: Olympia SM9

I was going to wait until later to do this post, but I couldn’t resist. The latest post in my “Writing Tools” series is about my favorite typewriter, my 1972 Olympia SM9.

My Kingdom for a Typewriter

In my search to find a proper typewriter, I’ve owned and used many machines. I’ve gone through brands like Smith-Corona, Remington, Olivetti, Royal, and a bunch of others. I’ve read many reviews and recommendations, but if you’re looking for a typewriter to do a substantial amount of work on, a lot of them fall short. Most of the reviews online drip with nostalgia, so it’s really hard to get an idea of what’s a good workhorse typewriter.

So, if you’re like me, raised in an era where typewriters were rare and obscure, it becomes a process of elimination. And boy, have I eliminated typewriters: typewriters that are too light and dance around when typed on, typewriters purchased because famous authors used them, others because of online reviews, some because they looked nice, and some for the hell of it.

One typewriter I bought for the hell of it was my Olympia SM9. I had read something about it, and in a fit of impulse, pulled the trigger and purchased one for a good price. I wasn’t really in love with it, it looked kind of “meh,” you know, that 70′s look, but I was willing to give it a shot.

First Impressions

It arrived packed snugly in a gigantic cardboard box on my doorstep, the UPS guy must have loved lifting that heavy thing. I didn’t know it when I bought it (the purchase being impulse and all) but it has a 12″ carriage, so when I pulled it out of its gargantuan black case I was a bit shocked at first sight.

Holy crap this thing was massive! It was heavy, wide and unwieldy, and not very pretty. The white plastic parts had discolored to a smokey yellow, and it was very, very, dirty. Like most typewriters when you buy them second hand, this one really needed a bath and then some.

I was not impressed.

I got a piece of paper and put it in the machine. The platen turned with a crescendo of clicky high-pitched squeaks, but it fed the paper properly so it could have been a lot worse. I typed some words and it worked, the ribbon was still working as well, which was nice.

Things were improving, and it turned out that all the mechanical components were in great condition, it just needed a good cleaning, which it received.

Main Machine

At the time, I had four typewriters, all of which soon fell into disuse because I was warming up to my SM9. It just felt better and didn’t move around when I typed on it because it was so damn heavy. Soon enough, two of my older typers from the 1920′s retired into the living room as decoration, the other ones just stayed in their cases.

I’ve since sold all my typewriters except for the SM9 and a portable Olivetti Leterra 32, which is also nice to bang a few words out on, but very far from the SM9, which is the workhorse that I looked for all these years.

I’ve even warmed up to the look of it, which consists of sparse and straight lines, a very functional design. It looks like it could fit into a swanky 1970′s decor, but it’s also slightly reminiscent of the Bauhaus design style, which I can appreciate. One feature that I thought was very a beautiful touch is the hood style cover to get to the ribbons and machine internals. Instead of having to operate in a very restrictive area, the entire thing just opens up and gives access to the entire machine.

Call me crazy, but when you remove the white cover altogether, it kind of reminds me of one of the Cylons from the reimagined Battle Star Galactica. A dark red cast iron frame lurks beneath a collection of grey and chrome metal, it’s really quite beautiful to look at. The image on the left doesn’t really do it much justice, but that’s all I can accomplish with my limited photography skills.

Frankenstein

For the last three, almost four years, the SM9 has been my main machine, I’ve written most of my first drafts on it, and wrote my daily journal entries on it for two years. It has become a good friend, but there were some things that could use improvement.

There was some rust on some of the components, and those discolored plastic parts never really cleaned up to their original white. I scoured eBay for a while until I came across a $10 SM9 that looked descent and I purchased it right away.

I’ve dubbed it “Frankenstein,” since I’ve been taking off its good parts and sticking them onto my main machine. All the bad, rusty, discolored parts are accumulating on this $10 machine, and it’s really only good for parts since it’s banged up pretty bad. For a minimal investment, I now have years worth of replacement parts, ensuring my future with my favorite machine.

Conclusion

If you can find a good 70′s SM9, I cannot recommend it enough as a daily typer. This a fine piece of West German engineering, heavy, durable, reliable, and if treated right, will probably outlast you for a very long time.

– Red

P.S.: Some folks on eBay charge an arm an a leg for an SM9. Don’t overpay, there are plenty of these still around in great condition for far less money.

Getting Into the Groove

A few days ago, I came up with a story idea, loved it, and I’ve been working on it feverishly ever since. I love that feeling of getting into the groove of a story, watching it unfold in front of me. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but when a good idea takes hold, it’s like the words come out automatically; as if my hands are guided by some mysterious force.

Last night I began the second chapter. I planned to write out a rough idea I had for a few minutes, watch a movie afterwards and go to sleep. I ended up writing all night, and banged out the entire second chapter. It was the middle of the night when I typed the final words, looked at the clock and noticed the time. Talk about being zoned out. I love it though.

Which reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk from a few years ago about inspiration, muses, and geniuses. Certainly my favorite TED talk:

– Red

Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge

A few of the books mentioned.

The blog Bookreviews.me.uk posted this two years ago, and it’s apparently very popular, but I only happened to find it yesterday via Goodreads: The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.

I’m not a fan of the Gilmore Girls, in (sad) fact, my ex kind of required me to watch it together with Everwood, which wasn’t as bad as the fast-talking, headache-inducing Gilmore Girls, but still not great. The shows were aired in succession, first Gilmore Girls, then Everwood, so I guess Everwood was kind of the hard liquor chaser to make the Gilmore Girls pain go away. Ugh.

In any case, the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge is a list of 339 (!) books that the  character read on the show. She may have been insufferable, but her taste in reading material was pretty damn good. The challenge, of course, is to read all these books, presumably in a lifetime, maybe longer.

Perhaps I’ll post my reviews of the books I’ve read on the site, if I do, you can find them labeled under the RGRC tag. I’ve attached the cleaned up (scrubbed of annotations) Microsoft Excel version of the list to this post.

Download it here: Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge Microsoft Excel File

– Red

P.S.: Why is it that whenever I think of Rory Gilmore, this comes to mind?

Ermahgerd Berks!

Writing Tools: Software

I use many “analog” tools in writing, as you’ve seen before (and there’s more to come on analog), but I think one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal is the software I use.

OmmWriter

Before I switched to using a computer for writing, I wrote everything on a typewriter at the dining room table or at a small desk in my bedroom. It provided me with a distraction-free environment, something that I could not get on a computer. However, lugging a ten pound typewriter around the house isn’t something you can keep up for very long, and editing on paper when you’re used to working on a computer is tedious.

OmmWriter Screenshot

So began my quest for a good writing app that provided me with a distraction-free interface, and there are many of them. I tried them all. Out of all of the full-screen, distraction-free writing software out there, OmmWriter was the one that stuck. I don’t think I’ve ever been this productive on my computer as I’ve been using OmmWriter, it’s a great environment that allows you to keep going and going (see the screenshot for what it looks like).

OmmWriter’s UI

What I like about it the most (besides the distraction-free aspect of it) is the design of the user interface. When you start the application, you’re presented with a column of icons on the right side that contain editing and UI customization options (see screenshot on the left), but once you start typing, they fade out until you’re left with nothing but your text. I’ve dabbled with Microsoft Word for a while, but I am easily distracted, so a few paragraphs in I found myself tweaking the font, line spacing, and checking my spelling and grammar. OmmWriter generates plain-text files, doesn’t include a spelling or grammar checker, so there are no excuses but to be productive.

Scrivener

Whereas OmmWriter is a great tool for banging out paragraph after paragraph and being super productive, Scrivener is a great tool for structuring your story. While I don’t use most of its features (I don’t really plot out my stuff in advance), it’s really geared towards writing, and it shows. It’s jam-packed with features to facilitate the creation of a novel or short story.

Scrivener’s UI

I mostly use Scrivener to put my story together in a logical structure and for editing. There’s a fullscreen mode that you can use for distraction-free writing, but it’s not as immersive as OmmWriter’s. So while I don’t really use it to generate content, I do use it to edit and polish whatever I wrote in OmmWriter.

OS X (Honorable Mention)

While not really a writing tool, OS X is really an inspirational environment for me to work in. I was a Windows user for many years, and being a software engineer working primarily in Windows, I can attest to its power, but the beauty and ease of use of the OS X operating system really inspires me.

This may sound like I’m an OS X user because it looks pretty, and certainly, that’s part of it. Especially when it comes to being creative a nurturing, environment is key. There are many things I do to prepare for writing, and having the proper operating system in front of me is one of those things.

– Red

Going Too Far

Last night, I wrote about 1,400 words, the beginning of a new short story. This story is formed behind an idea I’ve had since 2009, but I’ve never really worked it out before.

While I won’t go into the story itself here, I noticed that within those 1,400 words I had done some really awful things to, and with my characters, including: torture, rape, murder, voyeurism, masturbation, and physical attacks.

I didn’t really consciously set out to do this, but it happened nonetheless. And looking back, I also don’t think the story would work without it.

But did I go too far? When I read what I wrote for the first time, there were quite a few times where I really think I did. What would others think of the craziness if they read it? Worse still, what would they think of me if they read it? Does something like that reflect my mental state? Do I have a little Patrick Bateman hidden inside of me itching to crawl his way though my fingers into my writings?

I don’t think so.

Maybe two hundred years or so ago, writing something like that could get me some nice quality time together with Napoleon in the asylum, but as a society, we’ve moved away from punishing writers for their characters’ behaviors. That’s what it comes down to: being able to imagine rich and lively characters with many flaws.

So, what would my character do? Would he run over puppy dogs with his car or eat children’s faces for breakfast? Yes, and then some. As a writer, I can let my characters do whatever craziness they want to do, and they should. But, I make sure that they do it for a reason. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, so that mental state has to come from somewhere. Senseless slaughter is boring no matter how gory the description, and never justifiable.

– Red

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 13: Shipwrecked

I’m calling my August 2012 Camp NaNoWriMo attempt a bust. A failure, a car crash, a shipwreck.

Last week I received a job offer that I couldn’t refuse. Normally, that wouldn’t impact my writing, but this one requires me to move across the North American continent to California. Yowza!

So I have about a month and a half to sell most of my material possessions, break my lease, find a place to live in California, and scrounge up enough money so that I can finance all of this (around $10,000).

It’s going to be tough, but I’m sure it will all come together.

Because of this, my Camp NaNoWriMo activities have to suffer, but I’m not giving up on my writing or my story. I’m slowly continuing, but I’m not setting the one-month deadline. I’ll take it slow, the old fashioned way so that I won’t lose my damn mind in the process.

– Red

30 Harshest Author-on-Author Insults

Mark Twain on Jane Austen:

I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

29 more amazing insults, right here.

– Red

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 4: I’m Behind!

So I thought I was going to be able to work, travel, and write simultaneously.

“Pah!” said the Universe, scoffed at my plans and threw them in the Universal garbage bin. “I’m going to make it impossible for you to write even a single word.”

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge looking towards San Francisco.

Each day of this week I woke up at 8:30 AM, got ready, left for work, and didn’t arrive back to my hotel room until late the same night. Most of the time in an a state of inebriation (beer) or exhaustion (jetlag), so writing was pretty much the last thing on my mind.

On the plus side, I did get to see San Francisco in all its vertical glory and went sight seeing around the Bay Area, which was amazing for someone who’s used to “flat ‘n straight” landscapes.

So, I’m going to catch up on my word quota today and see if I can get to 6,452 of them written — according to Scrivener, I’m currently at 1,586.

– Red