Calling All Worldbuilders

I don’t know how some of you do it. Worldbuilding is really something else, and I’m having a little trouble with it.

I’m sitting here, “working” on one of my projects (staring at the screen and thinking a lot) before NaNoWriMo is upon us, and it’s my first story that requires any real worldbuilding. All of my previous work has been pretty deeply rooted in the real world, with maybe a couple of otherworldly exceptions. I had foolishly thought worldbuilding would never be something I’d have to think about much because fantasy and sci-fi are not really in my writing wheelhouse.

While based in the real world, this story involves reapers. Not The Grim Reaper, per se, but more like a global network of reapers. Figuring out how they operate, where they go and why, what they look like and why, etc. has got me a little stymied. With the rough draft I kept it pretty simple, but now as I try to tighten everything down and ensure everything makes sense, I realize I have some unanswered questions to…well, to answer.

* I did not build this world

Due to circumstances partially beyond my control, I’ve found myself moving 4 times in the last 5 years. As you can imagine, things have a way of getting shuffled around. As such, I’m going to have to go on a hunting expedition through my garage and basement for a buried treasure: Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach trilogy—the first of which, Annihilation, was adapted into a film). I’ve written about my love of this writer’s guide to “creating imaginative fiction” before, as it’s far more engrossing than your typical all-text book. Full of wonderful, fantastical illustrations and more advice than you can shake a stick at (from a who’s who of authors to boot), Wonderbook is an indispensible resource for nearly any writer. As it happens, it’s also the only book I own (other than novels) that can help me understand how to build my little reaper-infested world for my own book.

If you don’t own it, buy it

In the meantime, however, while I look for my buried treasure, if you have experience worldbuilding I’d love to know how you got good at it. Was it just by doing, or did you read anything (instructional, novels, or otherwise) that helped you figure out what to do?

NaNoWriMo, Who’s With Me?

I’ve got a secret.

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. I did it in spirit one year, but it wasn’t “official”. But first, let’s back up a step—just what the heck is NanoWrimo, anyway?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer. As such, you may already know, but if you don’t, NanoWriMo is the official shorthand for National Novel Writing Month, which lasts through the month of November. In fact, if you listen closely on the morning of November 1st, you’ll be able to hear the pouring of coffee, the uncapping of pens, and the clacking of keyboards all across the country.

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

The goal of NaNoWriMo is, as you may have guessed, is to help you write a novel in a month. More specifically, 50,000 words in 30 days. That breaks down to 1,666 words a day (if, of course, you write every day). Does that sound like a lot? I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not. Provided, that is, that you go into it at least somewhat prepared. Which is why I’m blogging about it six weeks in advance—in this one instance, at least, there IS a method to my madness.

Now, don’t get me wrong—you can complete NaNoWriMo with little to no preparation. There’s a good chance, however, that what you’ll be left with on December 1st is a mountain of unintelligible garbage THAT YOU WILL THEN HAVE TO EDIT.

As for me personally, I’ve decided to give NaNoWriMo an honest shot this year because between you and me and the fencepost, I need a shot in the arm and a kick in the butt. I’ve written painfully little in the past year, but have ideas and partially written projects coming out the wazoo. I feel like I’ve lost my mojo, and am more than willing to try NaNoWriMo to get it back. I reviewed my WIP’s and settled on the one I think is the best bet for me: A supernatural horror/thriller that will (potentially, hopefully) be the first in a series. I outlined the beats of the story and even started a rough draft, but something just wasn’t…right. But now, I have a month and a half to make sure my plot is tight and everything is ready for me to sit down on November 1 and just…write. Naturally, it’ll still have to be edited (no amount of planning/outlining can eliminate that), but hopefully it won’t be the arduous task it could be.

Last Chance! Women In Media Late Entries Close Today! - B&T

So, what do you do if you decide to give it a shot? Well, NaNoWriMo has a website where you can sign up—for free—to get pep talks, resources if you get stuck, a nifty project tracker, find buddies, etc. that help thousands of writers get through the month successfully. Or, if you’re more the loner type, you could…well you could just write. Start the 1st and write your 1,666 words a day (more some days, less others) and find yourself putting the finishing touches on a novel over Thanksgiving weekend.

Those of you who have participated, what was your experience like with NaNoWriMo? Do it every year, or did it once and never again? Whether you use the official website or toil away in solitude—hell, even if you don’t finish the 50,000 words in 30 days, you’re still a writer. Just keep writing.

Good luck!

You Think You Know Anxiety? Get Blurbs for Your Book

A couple of posts ago, I casually declared that the rewrites/edits for my upcoming novel would be done “in the next couple weeks!”

Fool. Moron. Idiot. Buffoon.

Finishing those edits took longer than I anticipated (luckily my editor is beyond patient and told me to take my time, so as to ensure quality), but they are being turned in this week. Yay! There will still be more edits to come I’m sure, but they will be small things—typos, the errant comma, etc. That means that it’s time to look ahead. We have cover design, marketing, and one thing that I’ve been encouraged to pursue sooner rather than later: Blurbs.

You probably already know, but for those who don’t, blurbs are the little quotes praising your book (or sometimes just you) coming from either your contemporaries, a prestigious reviewer (The New York Times, for example), or other such luminaries. We’ve all seen them (although whether we actually read them is another story):

“The greatest story about competitive duck racing ever told.” — The New Yorker

“A tale of lovelorn Postmates drivers that will have you gasping at the final page!” —Reader’s Digest

Those are obviously fake, but there is one I’ve always remembered: “I’ve seen the future of horror; his name is Clive Barker.” —Stephen King

I don’t have to tell you the kind of weight a quote like that carries from Uncle Stevie. Clive Barker has even spoken about how that simple blurb changed his life completely. So all I have to do is go on Twitter and ask Mr. King nicely for a blurb, and I’m all set!

No, of course not. But the process of getting blurbs can seem almost as ridiculous. To a large degree, it amounts to this: contact authors you (hopefully) know, and that have some relevance to your genre, and ask politely. What if you don’t know any authors to ask? Good luck. That’s the importance of networking, people!

As for me, I don’t know how it’s going to go. I’ve got a list of about 10 authors I’m friends with on Facebook that I plan to ask. Of those, I’m almost certain 3 or 4 will say no (but I’m asking anyway because I’m big fans of theirs). Another 2 or 3 are somewhat likely to say yes. The others, well…I just don’t know. There are two that I would be floored to get blurbs from, both because I hold them in high regard, and they are well known in the world of dark fiction. I’ll keep you posted!

What about you, do you read blurbs? Do they make you more or less likely to give a book a shot?

The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir [Netflix, 2014]

One of my favorite things is discovering a band that is already established, and you get to immerse yourself in their entire catalog, seeing the choices they made from one album to the next, etc. It’s been a while since there’s been a band I dove headlong into like that, but here I am with a band that can be somewhat divisive, but also a band you’ve certainly heard of: Grateful Dead.

I can’t honestly say I ever disliked the Grateful Dead, I just dismissed them as a drug band for hippies and never really gave them a chance. I knew Truckin’ and Casey Jones from the radio growing up, and that was about it. Then, it was with great surprise that I found out that my first wife’s favorite band was, in fact, the Dead. I listened to them a little, and realized they had some pretty good songs, but overall they just didn’t quite do it for me. To make a long story short, their music chipped away at me over the years, and now I’m in the middle of a Grateful Dead-fueled obsession. I’ve also decided to learn more about the guitarist who isn’t Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir. So when I found out there was a documentary on Netflix about Weir, I was all over it.

Talk about an interesting life! Weir recounts the early days, hanging out at the local music shop as a teenager and meeting Jerry Garcia, who at the time was known around town as sort of a hotshot banjo player. They hit it off immediately and formed a band. After a couple of evolutionary steps, they settled on the name Grateful Dead and started to develop a psychedelic rock sound, a change of pace from the more folksy jug band they initially started.

The film walks through The Dead’s career in fairly broad strokes, as it is really for the more casual fan, or the non-fan who knows nothing about the band. And while this is certainly not a “warts and all” documentary, they do address things that could’ve been left unspoken: the copious amounts of drugs they took in the early days; Weir’s voracious sexual appetite on the road (and how much the rest of the band appreciated him attracting women to the group); the seeming disdain Weir had for some of the fans they amassed in the late 80s after their song Touch of Grey made it onto the charts; and Garcia’s ailing health due to morbid obesity and heroin use. In fact, on that last topic, the film grows unexpectedly sad—seeing fans mourn Garcia’s death, one of Jerry’s daughters who clearly still misses her dad, and Weir himself, who said after a brief mourning period he went back out on the road with his band Ratdog, in part because if Garcia found out he was moping around at home and not out playing music, “he’d be furious.”

The film does end on a heartwarming note, however, as the adopted Weir locates his biological parents and forms a friendship with his father. I’m quite the sucker for music documentaries, so it would go without saying that I enjoyed The Other One, but as an ever-emerging Deadhead, it was a nice way to get a brief history of a band that was once described as, “not the best at what they do, but they’re the only ones who do what they do.”

What’s the Big Idea?

A quick aside before I get to the topic at hand: It’s cold, y’all. I’m aware that the majority of the country is facing unprecedented low temperatures this week, so it’s not like I’m telling you something you don’t already know, but just damn. As I sit typing this, it’s -14° outside with a wind chill of -24°. Even though I’ve lived in the Midwest over a decade, I’m a born-and-bred Southern Californian, I’m not equipped to handle weather this cold! But seriously, if your teeth are chattering too, hang in there.

A while back I had an idea. I either woke up with it, or had it as I was falling asleep, I can’t remember which. But as soon as it struck me, I thought “Wow, that’s either really good or total garbage.” I was consumed with this idea for at least two weeks, researching it, thinking it through, the like. It’s now sitting on deck as my next new rough draft once I finish edits on my novel (which I’m hoping to be in the next week or two, finally!). Still, there’s a chance it’ll be a stinker. So you can imagine how much encouragement I found in the following exchange between two writers on Twitter:

I’ve had some wild ideas before, or at least I thought they were wild, but when you’re gaining your footing as a writer and building your confidence, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not. But now I’ve been writing for longer than I care to admit (considering the amount of success I’ve had), and I feel like I know a good idea when I hear it. So when I thought of this story, I thought maybe I had fallen off the deep end (seriously, this idea will prove me to be either a genius or an idiot). Seeing that more established authors have the same doubts was pretty comforting.

So that got me to wondering: how many of you have had ideas like that? Where you wonder if it’s worth pursuing, but if it is, it could be amazing? Have you ever disregarded an idea because you thought it was just too ridiculous? If so, what was it? One thing I’ve learned is that there’s a crowd out there for pretty much everything. If an idea strikes me and I can’t stop thinking about it (as was the case with this new Great Idea), I have to pursue it or it will eat at me from the inside. And without getting off on a tangent, I’m already making up for lost time as it is, I’m not going to worry too much about silly little things like “what if no one reads it?”. To quote Frank Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “I don’t know how many years on this Earth I got left. I’m gonna get real weird with it.”

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet [Apple TV+, 2020]

Here we go again, so let me say: I apologize to anyone who doesn’t have Apple TV+, for talking about a show you can’t watch. I did it a while back with the disarming optimism of Ted Lasso, and I’m back to talk about a different comedy with at least one familiar face: Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.

Created by Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day (both of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and Megan Ganz (brilliant writer for more great comedies than I can list), Mythic Quest stars McElhenney as Ian Grimm (pronounced “eye-an”), the creative visionary behind the titular online role playing game and his staff of outcasts and oddballs as they prepare to launch an expansion to the game, called Raven’s Banquet. So it’s a quirky workplace comedy, and a pretty good one, but it shows signs of becoming so much more.

Now, I’ll admit that I think the show was really finding its footing as it went along, and its second season could be absolutely hilarious. This show has some amazing characters with a ton of potential for big laughs. Highlights from the first season include Sue, the perpetually happy head of Customer Relations, who is practically locked in her basement office and read the thousands of angry emails sent to the company every day, and Jo, the Midwestern-bred conservative who is hired as an assistant to Executive Producer David, but in actuality lives and breathes to serve Ian, to an alarming degree.

But like I said, there are glimpses of what this show can grow to be, and that’s why I finished the season. Two glimpses in particular showed me how this show might hit that sweet spot of being a great comedy with heart and feeling, too.

The first is Episode Five, a standalone episode that features none of the regular cast. Titled A Dark Quiet Death, the episode follows the life cycle of a popular ’90s video game, and along with it the life cycle of its creators’ relationship. It has its lightly comic moments but it’s not a comedic episode by any stretch. It’s actually a touching, rather sad piece of storytelling.

The second is a bonus episode that came out after the season finale, once the pandemic had taken hold of the country. While the majority of the episode is fairly clever and funny, filled with Zoom-based humor, it ends with a reveal that shows that two of its characters are far more three dimensional than they seem.

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a pretty good show, but it has the potential to be really great, and that’s pretty exciting.

Hating What You Love

Netflix alert: There’s a highly entertaining limited series out now, called Pretend It’s a City. It features author/humorist Fran Lebowitz chatting with Martin Scorcese, giving her opinions on an array of topics. If you’re not familiar with her, Lebowitz is incredibly smart and almost unbelievably funny. The show is broken into half hour episodes so it’s easy to digest, though it’s equally easy to binge if you choose.

Of special interest to fellow artists, I would recommend Episode Two, titled ‘Cultural Affairs’. In it, Fran espouses about art, music, talent, and has an interesting conversation with Spike Lee about the difference between an athlete and an artist. One part especially rang true for me, however—when she mentions her disdain for the very thing that gave her the career she’s had: writing.

“I loved to write, until the very first time I got an assignment to write for money. And then I hated to write.”

“I’ve only known one really good writer in my life who loved to write. Most people who love to write are horrible writers.”

I can’t speak to the first part, as I’ve never actually had a paid writing assignment. That second quote though…that hits home. Because as much as I love writing, and for all the time I spend poring over the written word, I actually kind of hate it. I’ve never known any other artform that artists seem to love and hate in equal measure. It’s not just me, either. Plenty of writers have spoken about how they loathe what they love. While watching Pretend It’s a City, I laughed at Lebowitz’s quote and told my wife how true it was, so she asked the question: “Then why do you do it?”

I had to think for a second, but this is what I came up with: It’s almost like a compulsion. I have these stories in my head that I have to get out, because to keep them solely in my head seems kind of pointless. I suppose there may be an odd sense of narcissism in believing they’re good enough that other people would care enough to read them, but I have to get them out. I quit writing once for a few years, then realized I hadn’t felt complete since I stopped. Then about a year and a half or two years ago, I almost quit again. That was when I decided once and for all that I would spend the rest of my life writing stories. Whether they get published or not, I need them out of my head to make room for other things, like why I walked into the kitchen, or what errands I need to run when I get home from work.

My dearly departed friend Michael Louis Calvillo (check out his incredible books here) was one of the first people I heard describe writing like that. At the time, I couldn’t really relate. Now, however, I totally understand. It’s almost like an itch that needs scratched or you’ll go insane.

So, fellow writers…what about you? Do you love writing? Hate it? Both? If you hate it, why do you do it? Is it an itch you have to scratch?

What’s in a Name?

I’ve been thinking about names a lot lately. Names of fictional people, specifically. I typically put a great deal of thought into what I name the characters in my stuff. My (hopefully) soon-to-be-published novel, The End of Jimmy Ray Day, features some names I just love: Sam Sneed, ‘Big’ Bill Byrd, and, of course, the titular Jimmy Ray Day. Those names all ring to me and I think sound great. I’ve begun to wonder, though, if there’s a such thing as names that are too ridiculous—I mean so ludicrous that they take you out of what you’re watching or reading. Last week I posted about Ted Lasso, which is kind of a lame name. I’ve also been watching another show on Apple TV called Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (still not sure how I feel about it), and they have a character named C.W. Longbottom. Pretty silly. But what, you may ask, started this train of thought? I have one word for you:


This gentleman is a character from the Amazon Prime show, Hunters. His name is Arthur “Bootyhole” McGuigan, but everyone just calls him Bootyhole. He never gets upset that he is called Bootyhole, it’s never explained why he’s called Bootyhole…he’s just Bootyhole. And for a show about hunting and killing Nazis (granted, with some comedic leanings), I found the name too damn dumb to let go. It took me right out of the show.

Maybe the writers of the show loved it because it made them laugh. Maybe there was a backstory to it that got cut out. Who knows? Doesn’t matter, I couldn’t take it. Also, I assume this is a mostly comedy issue. I doubt there are many dramas out there with completely ridiculous character names, although I’m sure there must be a few. What about you? Are there character names that are too dumb to bear? If you write, do you give any characters silly names? Tell me about your Bootyholes. 🙂

Ted Lasso [Apple TV+, 2020]

2020 was a crapfest. You know it, I know it, we all know it. If you’re lucky, 2021 has gotten off to better start, but speaking personally, 2020 really kind of sucked the life out of me on many levels. I do feel like the worst of it is over (hopefully, anyway) but I resolved a few months ago to be more positive and less cynical, since there is so much nastiness and negativity in the world right now. And what do you know, something to help me with that was hiding on Apple TV+ all along.

I’ll be honest—I forgot I even had Apple TV. I checked it out when I first got the service (it was free when I bought my last iPhone) and there wasn’t much on it except for a filmed version of Mike D and Adam Horovitz ‘s Beastie Boys Story and a lot of pay per view programming. So when I started hearing buzz about a show starring Jason Sudeikis as a fish out of water soccer coach in the UK, it took a while before I realized, Hey! I have that service! And while at first I wasn’t too impressed, I’ll be damned if Ted Lasso didn’t…rope me in. Get it?

Depending on how old you are or if you like to watch old sports comedies, the premise of Ted Lasso will sound quite familiar: A female divorcee inherits her ex-husband’s sports franchise, and tries to sabotage it since it was the only thing the rotten bastard ever loved. Sound familiar? It’s also the plot to the movie Major League, starring Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, and Tom Berenger. While the setup is the same, however, as Lasso progresses it becomes clear that the two really couldn’t be more different.

Ted Lasso is (was) the head coach of the Wichita State Shockers football team. He was adored by players and fans alike, and led his team to a championship. Ted is hired by Rebecca Welton, who acquired the team in the terms of her divorce from her wealthy husband Rupert, and who is intent on running the team into the ground by hiring an American goofus who knows nothing about European Football (soccer), ie, Ted.

Ted has a secret weapon, however. And that weapon is his optimism. Ted answers the most pointed criticism or vile insult with a smile and, if possible, a kind word. His demeanor instantly wins over some, but tends to further agitate most, like the already hostile British fans. This is merely the jumping off point for a show that becomes part workplace comedy, part underdog sports story, and part heart-wrenching drama (albeit to a much lesser degree).

Now, I’ll admit it: Ted Lasso didn’t win me over right off the bat. As a matter of fact, I almost gave up on the show in Episode Two. I stuck with it, though, and by the fifth episode I knew I was all in, as the show managed to surprise me with its range of emotion, showing to true depth of its main character, and in turn, many of the show’s stars. I’ve always liked Jason Sudeikis but never would’ve considered him a “serious actor.” And while I still can’t picture him performing Shakespeare, I still feel like I underestimated him. That’s the thing about this show that’s so remarkable—the show repeatedly exceeds expectations and wins over skeptics, just like the titular character. If you need a dose of optimism and feel-good comedy, I definitely recommend it.

Derek Delgaudio’s In & Of Itself [Hulu, 2021]

How do you talk about something, and encourage people to watch something that’s almost impossible to talk about? That’s the conundrum I face in trying to decide how much to divulge about In & Of Itself.

Derek Delgaudio is an esteemed magician, but this is no mere magic show—make no mistake, Mister Delgaudio performs a couple of cool illusions, some incredible sleight of hand, and two feats of…let’s call it mentalism, that may very well leave you as they left the audiences at his live show: speechless, mouth hanging open, possible shaking with emotion and/or tears streaming down your face. This is not hyperbole. Some might be immune to what happens over the course of the show, but most will be moved beyond words.

Derek performed this one man show over 550 times over the course of a couple years from 2016 to 2018, starting with a couple of runs in Los Angeles before taking the show to a small off-Broadway theater in New York. The film (directed, as was the stage show, by Frank Oz (Yoda!)) splices scenes from several different performances, which I imagine is partially done to help quell skeptics who might think he uses a plant when he calls for a volunteer from the audience.

So, what is In & Of Itself actually about? Hoo boy. When it comes down to it, the prevailing theme is identity—how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we often let how others see us influence how we see ourselves. Make sense? Delgaudio begins by telling a story about a man named “The Rouletista”, who would play Russian roulette for money and defied death numerous times, even after placing additional bullets inside the gun he placed to his head. A stranger told him that Delgaudio was The Rouletista, and Delgaudio carries that theme through the show. On a wall behind him on stage are six “chambers” that illuminate as the show proceeds.

To say anymore would be risking saying too much. This is one of those cases where it’s better to just go in blind. As for me personally, I don’t tend to get very emotional from things like TV shows or movies. I actually enjoy the challenge—I enjoy very morbid, sad things, and dare them to make me feel something. I didn’t shake with emotion of openly sob watching In & Of Itself, but I did get a little choked up, and at one point a tear did roll down my cheek. And if it can do that to me, I expect most people will take it much harder. That may sound like a reason not to watch, but it’s not actually sad. It’s more affirming, if that makes sense. All I can tell you for sure is this: No matter what think, no matter what you feel when it’s over, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

%d bloggers like this: