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Saturday, May 12th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Theme Week: Trailer Boy on Blogging

Howdy folks and Happy Saturday!

The second week of every month is theme week here at Genreality.Net and this month’s theme is blogging.

I have a blog that I used to use over at www.livejournal.com called Discombobulated Pensivity in the Doublewide of Life.  I’m sure to resurrect it once I’ve gotten a blog built into the website (which I’ve had an offer to help build here in WordPress and just haven’t finished sorting out the details) but it was getting hard to keep up with.  So I started relying heavily on Facebook as my primary tool for frequently connecting with readers online — along with my friends and family.  I like the way it works, though I’m not sure I’ll keep feeling that way once I’m pulled into the vortex that is Timeline.  Still, I’m a technophobe and FB is really user friendly.  But it has limitations — like a cap on friends — and I find myself every-so-often unexcited about their approach to privacy and the constant sense of having to police after my settings.

On Facebook, I try to post three to five status updates per day — some are links, some are photos, some are updates on book progress or what I’m doing.  And then I post longer “notes” sporadically.

And of course I blog here weekly on writing or the writer’s life.  That gives me a set day — Saturdays — and I found early on that it was far more manageable to have a weekly blog in the madness and pandemonium that is my life.

But there is so much more that I could do.  And I’m hoping as life settles down a bit and I move into the land of being full time, I can have a more impactful social media presence and strategy.  For now, I’m doing pretty bare-minimum work.

That’s the blogging I’m up to.   As for the blogs that I read:  Well, I scan my agent’s and editor’s blogs periodically.  And I scan most of my friends’ blogs even less than that unless there’s something specific going on that I want to check on — I’m just too busy.  My life BARELY lets me leverage the words I need, let alone read everything I’d like to read.  But I manage to read Jay Lake’s blog every day.  And I rob his link salad nearly daily for my own updates because he and I frequently land on the same side of most issues and he always, always finds interesting, cool stuff out there.

And that’s Trailer Boy on blogging.  Have a good Saturday.  Play nicely.

 

Saturday, May 5th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
The Trailer Boy Strategy for Becoming a Full Time Writer

Howdy folks and happy Saturday!  Great comments last week!

It’s been a helluva time around here.  I was four or five weeks ahead on my blog posts and barreling ahead on the last act of my fourth novel when the fickle finger of fate intervened yet again.  Four weeks ago, my stepmom fell ill and within days she was in hospice.  She passed peacefully, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, the Monday after Easter.

I’ve faced a LOT of death in my life.  And just in the last five years, my wife and I — between our two families — have lost eight people.  Four parents, two aunts, a nephew and a grandmother.  That’s a lot.

The funny thing about death is that it forces you to think about life.  And so I’ve been living out a John Denver song in my head, minus the muppets.  ”I’ve been lately thinking about my life’s time….”

Over the course of that same five years, I’ve also become a novelist, become represented, landed a five book contract and written four books of a five book series and a handful of short stories, novelettes and novellas.  Not bad for a kid from a trailer.

And over the course of that SAME five years…well, nearly three…I’ve become a parent to two of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever studied in the wild.

Now, we all knew it was going to be a pretty full plate.  We didn’t know about the losses and all that they would bring to the party.  And we didn’t expect Nature’s grand twofer deal but all in all, we’ve fared well.  Lots of goodbyes and some very important hellos.  I’m really glad I waited to have kids, despite the energy trade off of being 44 and a new Dad.  I’ve had time to gain perspective about life…particularly through the lens of all the losses.   It’s made it even more clear to me that the most important investment of my time, resources, energy are my daughters.

And its made it even more clear to me that I work too hard.  I have an amazing dayjob working with great people, but even with my hours reduced to 32, it equates out to 11 hours days once I count my commute.  What could I do with that 11 hours?

A lot.  I could get back to the balanced life I believe is best for us humans, including that family time.  I could get adequate sleep and rest.  Maybe get time to read a book every week.  And with better rest and sleep and more focus, my output will increase.  My introverted needs will also be better met, cutting out all of the “peopling” that is a part of my dayjob, leaving me with the energy to take on teaching a few night classes per year at one of our nearby community colleges.

So we’ve been talking a lot since January about a Trailer Boy Strategy for Becoming a Full Time Writer.

And today, I’m going to share that strategy with you.

My goal is to be a full time writer by September 2014, when the girls go into Kindergarten.  I have two years and some change to get there, give or take.  Here are some factors that should make that possible:

1)  I have a working spouse.  This can’t be over-emphasized.  I think barring unusual circumstances (like runaway bestsellers and blockbuster movies), most writers either need dayjobs, working spouses, or some other form of income or savings over the course of their careers and certainly at the beginning.  The writing by itself can certainly make money, but it takes time and it trickles in from a lot of different rivers.  And there’s no health insurance for writers typically unless you pay for a plan of your own or have someone working with benefits.  So going full time for me hinges on Jen’s career and the benefits tied to it.

2)  I have two little people who will no longer need daycare.  It’s the cost of a mortgage basically.  And since a big part of going full time as a writer is about getting more time with my kids, I don’t mind the idea at all of being the Dad-on-duty who gets them to and from Kindergarten.

3) I have a series that earned out the advance for all five books by the time the third book was in hardcover for a few months.  So I’m already getting royalties — not tons but it’ll grow as I finish the series (there are spikes in numbers for each book that comes out — domestic and then my share of the foreign rights advances.)  And if you know anything about advances, you’ll realize that I also still have advance money due from Tor — they come to us when we turn in a book and when the book comes out.  So I have committed revenue over the next two years from those advances as I finish the series.

4)  I’m nearly finished with my series, which means within the next year I’ll be figuring out a next project and, whenever the time is right, ideally landing a contract for it.  I know whatever I do will be a slightly smaller project than five books, but I do like writing in multi-book series.  And because the Psalms of Isaak is enjoying some relative success (not huge numbers but the fans who love it are verbal about it and it’s gotten a lot of critical acclaim) I hope to tap that success by including at least one P of I related book in whatever my next pitch is.

5) Under relatively normal circumstances I have good work habits and discipline.  I know how much I can write when my brain isn’t fogged with grief or exhaustion and I have a plan for diversifying my writing business into other mediums beyond books and short stories — and to add teaching occasionally to my list.

So with all of that in mind, our plan over the next two years is to reduce our debt load to a place where, without the debt and without the daycare bill, we can afford to have me home spinning tales (and cash) out of my imagination.  Our goal is get two years of operating revenue into the bank so that I have a runway to work  from and then…off I go into the Wild Blue Yonder!

Now, the best laid plans of mice and Ken are just that.  I’ve learned enough from the last five years to know that plans can and will be interrupted by life (or death) as often as not.  But this is the goal and direction I’m setting.  I think it’s solid.

So here’s the part where you can help:  Buy my books.

Next week is theme week here at Genreality and it’s on…blogging!  By then, I also might be done with Requiem.  Woot!

And now, I’m going to meditate and reflect upon my soon-coming trip to the Scappoose Cinema 7 to see Avengers in 3D.

Avengers…assemble!  Trailer Boy out.

 

Saturday, April 21st, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Short Fiction Bonus Round for a Saturday Sick Day

Howdy folks and Happy Saturday.  I’ve been under the weather with a ghastly cold (compliments of my daughters) so today, you get fiction.  This is a piece I wrote back in 2005.  It was inspired by a chat with Jay Lake in AIM where he said “Someday, we’ll all be Scholeses” and some kind of creative tick required that I reply “No, soon we shall all be Saunders.”  Then I typed it again:  ”Soon we shall all be Saunders with his greasy hair and his sweaty hands and his stink of onions and menthol shaving cream” and went away immediately after chatting to nail down this bizarre story.  It first appeared in Wheatland Press’s Polyphony 6 and now finds a home in my first short story collection, Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys. It also taps into my days working for Thompson Merchandising Supply, where I repaired label guns for a time.   I hope you enjoy it.

Soon We Shall All Be Saunders

By Ken Scholes

Soon we shall all be Saunders with his greasy hair and his sweaty hands and his stink of onions and menthol shaving cream.  We’ll all wear stained white shirts and our bellies will push and pucker at the buttons and we’ll leave our jacket opened because it could never make the stretch to be otherwise, especially sitting at our gray desks in our gray cubicles underneath those gray lights.  Our shoes will be scuffed and the hem of our pants will ride just a few inches too high and on weekends, at the grocery store, we’ll stoop and fix shopping cart wheels gone wrong and give the manager our cards.

I wonder if it will hurt?

I wonder if my wife will still recognize some part of me when Saunders walks in the door at the end of the day?  I don’t think she’s met ‘Phil from Inside Sales.’  Maybe she’ll scream at the stranger in her home in those brief moments before she becomes Saunders, too.  Or maybe Saunders won’t go home to my house.  Maybe all the Saunders in the world will go back to that apartment that smells like cat litter and vanilla-scented Glade Plug-ins, spilling over into the hallways, into the street, into the neighborhood, into the city.  Hundreds — no, wait, thousands — no, wait, millions — of Saunders lining up across the world, just wanting to go home.

The epidemic started just after lunch and spread quickly.

Saunders hit his monthly numbers today — Tuesday — just two weeks into June.  Was it a coincidence that today was the day for the Big Announcement?  Bob the VeePee called us all into the lunch room.  We packed ourselves in and felt the temperature rising with the pressure to perform.

Bob gave Phil Saunders theSpecial Parking Place.  He gave Phil Saunders the Plaque of Appreciation.  He gave Phil Saunders a round of applause and we joined in with feigned enthusiasm.  Then, he gave us the Encouraging Speech.

“You should all watch what Saunders does,” Bob said.  “This man is a selling machine.  You would all do well to be more like him.  Andrews Merchandising Supply and Bag Manufacturing could use a dozen — no wait — a hundred more like him.”

“Why stop at a hundred?” Larry from Accounting said just loud enough for some of us to hear.  “Imagine a whole world of Saunders.”

And suddenly, Larry was Saunders with his big class ring and his chewed-down nails and his glasses smudged from greasy fingers pushing them up his pock-marked nose.  Bob looked up, surprised, and then he changed, too.

I ran from the room, waving my arms.

“Where’s Bill off to?” a half-dozen Saunders asked behind me.

I’m fortunate.  At our office, I’m always the last to catch the various bugs that go around.  Maybe I’d be the last to catch this bug, too.  I raced past Madeline at the front desk.

“What’s wrong, Bill?” she asked from behind her headset, finger poised above a button on her phone.

“Saunders,” I said.

“Employee of the month again?”  She smiled.  “Don’t take it personally, Bill.  We can’t all be Saunders.”

But oh yes we can, I thought.  Soon we shall all be Saunders.  Saunders who specializes in the personal touch, the plastic bag logo design by fax, the over-the-phone label gun repair tips, the never ending stream of cash register paper to customers who just keep coming, coming, coming back.

“Leave while you still can,” I told her as I left the office.

I doubt she listened to me.  Now, she’s Saunders, too.

#

          I was afraid to go home.  I called instead.

“Sarah?” I asked when she answered.

“Yes Bill?”

“Pack a bag, take the baby, drive to your Mother’s.”

“Bill, my Mother’s inMichigan.”

“I know,” I said.  “Trust me.  Something bad is happening.”

Sarah sighed.  “Did you start drinking again?”

“No,” I lied.  I was calling from the bar.

“Bill, someone from your office called.  They’re worried about you.  They say you just up and ran out in the middle of a staff meeting.”

I closed my eyes.  “Who called?”

“Phil,” she said.  “Phil Saunders.”  She paused.  “He seemed like such a nice guy.”

“If he comes over,” I said, “Don’t let him in.”

“Why would he come over?”

But I hung up the phone when Saunders walked into the bar.

#

          “It’s not bad being me,” he said over drinks.  Saunders drank cheap light beer and didn’t mind at all if I smoked.  Saunders smiled and his crooked teeth looked slightly green in the hazy light.

I waited.  Waited for my clothes to tighten, waited for the beer and pretzel cravings to grab me, waited for the sudden impulse to ask the bartender what model of cash register he used or where he currently purchased his merchandising supplies.  Nothing happened.

So Saunders and I talked in quiet tones and one by one, the people changed around us and drifted over.

“Hi, I’m Phil,” they kept saying to me and to one another.

I learned about his ex-girlfriend, Paula in Shipping, who he’d only slept with the one time after the Christmas party last year.  I learned about his cat, Frisky, and his collection of Batman action figures.  I learned about his father, the war hero who never came home, and his mother (the twinkle in her little boy’s eyes) who lived in the apartment upstairs and had him up for spaghetti every Friday night.

While he droned on, I pondered my immunity.  Which would be worse, I wondered?  Being Saunders or being with Saunders?  And I imagined going home, unlocking the door, walking inside and seeing the whole house full of Saunders, imagined going to the crib and looking down at the tiny little Saunders with his greasy hair and his sweaty hands.  I swallowed my scream along with my bourbon.

He kept droning on even after the drinks stopped coming because the bartender — now also Saunders — drifted over to join the growing crowd.  Eventually, I left my money on the counter and walked out into streets crowded with blue slacks and brown jackets, white stained shirts and green-striped ties.  Shaving cream and onions all around.

“Hi, I’m Phil,” someone said when they jostled me.

#

          I walked into the pawn shop and put four hundred dollar bills on the counter.  “I need a gun,” I told the man who stood there watching.

Behind him, on the news, pandemonium and madness spread out from the city.

“There’s a three day wait,” he said.

“I don’t have three days,” I answered.  I put another five hundred dollar bills down.  He stared at me in disgust until I added another three.

He pulled out a .38 special and set it on the glass.

“Bullets?” I asked.

He shrugged.  “I don’t sell those.”

I brushed past Saunders on my way out the door.

#

          I sat in the park and stared at the empty revolver.  Saunders stopped by and sat on the bench.

“Hi Bill,” he said.

I looked at him.  “Hi Phil.”

“What are you doing with that gun?”

I didn’t say anything.

“Are things really so bad?” he asked.

I still didn’t say anything.        A dozen more Saunders joined us in the park.  Saunders with his gray raincoat in the summer and his silly, crooked smile and his thick, hairy ear-lobes.

“Is that thing loaded?”

I shook my head.  “Any idea where I could find a bullet?”

Saunders put his hand on my shoulder.  “Listen Bill, maybe you should reconsider.  I’m really not sure that gun’s the answer for you.”

I stared at him.

Saunders stood.  He reached into his pocket.  He pulled out a carefully folded plastic sack and handed it to me.  “Have you ever considered the possibility of plastic?  Less mess.  No bullets required.”

I took it.  I dropped the pistol in it.  “I’ll think about it, Phil.”

He smiled.  Then all of them walked away to give me time to think.

I sat for a long while.  Sat until long after dark, until long after the streets emptied as a city full of Saunders went to bed in their cotton pajamas with their orange tabby cats.

I must have drifted off myself.  I dreamed about ham and onion sandwiches.  I dreamed about big-boned Paula sweating on top of me with a vacant expression in her eyes.  I dreamed about my mother’s spaghetti and my new parking place at work.

Soon we shall all be Saunders, I thought, when I opened my eyes.

A homeless man pushing a shopping cart full of his life passed by.  He was the first person I’d seen who wasn’t Saunders.  One of the cart’s wheels made that grinding noise that sounded like music to my ears and I stood up.

I smiled at him.  “Let me fix that for you,” I told him.

END

Saturday, April 14th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Theme Week: Best and Worst Writing Advice I’ve Ever Been Given

Howdy Folks and Happy Saturday!

It’s theme week here at Genreality and the topic is…best and worst writing advice ever given.  (You may want to read this is post in conjunction with my earlier post on giving and getting advice.)

I’ve been given a lot of good writing advice over the years.  And not much bad.  So I thought that today, I’d just list some of it.

1.  Take the typing class (from my Mom when I was 15 years old and handwriting my stories.)

2.  Heinlein’s Rules  – all of them in their various interpretations (I think from John Pitts or Patrick Swenson initially, around 1997 or 1998.)

3.  Read poetry and essays (from Bradbury’s essay “How to Keep and Feed a Muse,” first read around 1982)

4.  Read your work aloud alone before you do it in front of a group (learned the hard way during my infamous “Seaman erupted from the underbrush” incident while reading “A Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes” with nods to Harold Gross for bringing it to my attention afterwards with great hilarity back in 2005 and at least annually thereafter through his re-tellings.)

5.  Go write a novel in this world with these characters  (from Shawna McCarthy on her rejection slip for the second short story in my Androfrancine Cycle in Fall 2006 — this advice along with advice from Sean  Wallace and the advice/dare from Jay Lake and my wife Jen led to me cranking out Lamentation on a six week binge.

6.  It doesn’t have to be good, it has to be done AND you’re willing to practice your guitar, now go practice your novel (from Dean Wesley Smith over lunch at the Hilltop in Lincoln City, OR, in 2005.)

7.  You need more strong female characters (from Jen after reading the first half of Lamentation in September 2006 this led to the creation of Winters, Meirov of Pylos and later, Ria, Mother Elsbet and others in the Psalms of Isaak.)

8.  Shut the F@ck up and Write! (co-invented and used as a frequent mutually motivational shout between me and John Pitts.   I still want this embroidered Grandma-style, framed and hung over my computer.  Uncensored, of course, like Grandma would want it.)

9.  If you want to fix the problems in your writing life, fix the problems in your personal life (from Kristine Kathryn Rusch at an anthology workshop in 2008.)

10.  Don’t be a jerk  — people remember when your’e a jerk (from Kevin Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at my Writers of the Future workshop in 2005.)

I could put down a LOT more good advice.  I’ve been give a ton of it.  And for worst advice, I think I’ll fall back to an event in 2007, the weekend that Tor was spiriting me around the Saratoga World Fantasy Convention, introducing me to writers I’d never met before — members of our pantheon — and announcing the five book series.  This advice shook me up hard enough that I called Jen in tears (aided, I’m sure by the introverted con-exhaustion and wild, emotional book deal ride that I was in the midst of).

A well-meaning person — very well placed in the industry — pulled me aside.  We’d met before in passing but I don’t know that he remembered me.  And I think the advice he meant to give was actually pretty good:   “Don’t let success change you from a nice guy to a rotten guy.”  But his delivery gets points for being the worst ever.  He introduced himself to me and said he wanted to shake my hand now because (and I quote) “in a few years you’re going to be such a prick that no one will want to.”  Later, in talking with mutual friends, I learned that indeed this was a delivery fail and said person probably intended it as his version of “Don’t be a jerk.”

But the way he went about it was tough on my Trailer Boy psyche.  Still, four years later, folks still want to shake my hand.  So I figure I’m doing just fine.

I’m not sure what we’re going to be up to next week.  But I’m sure it’ll be fun.

Until then, Trailer Boy out.

Saturday, April 7th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Writing Short Stories for Fun and…What’s Next? (Part the Eighth

Happy Saturday!   Today, we’re wrapping up eight weeks of focus on short fiction.  I hope it’s been helpful for you.  I’ve not seen a lot of questions, so I’ll assume I’ve covered it well enough to meet your needs.

Last week, I talked about getting through the first draft and then sending it out to your beta readers.  This week, I’m going  consolidate the next steps mostly because they’re things I’ve said before in earlier posts (for instance, my blog series So You Wanna Write Your First Novel.)

So let’s jump in.

During the time that your story is out being looked at by your beta readers go start the process of figuring out your next story.  Why?  Well, first, it’s a good work habit to use your time as effectively as you can and produce as much “inventory” as you can.  Second, it’s good practice and the more you practice, the better you’ll get.  And third:  If you’re thinking about the next story, you’ll be less likely to worry about this one or be so attached to it that you can’t hear what your beta readers tell you about it.  So go find that next idea and start twisting it into a story.

Once your beta readers get back to you, it’s time to revise.  And usually it’s a good idea — at least until you become more comfortable with the process that works best for you — to read the story yourself and make your own notes in it before you read your beta reader comments.  When you read their comments, keep in mind that not all beta readers have the same strengths.  So know their strengths and listen for what they have to say about the areas they are strong in.  Also, if five out of seven beta readers didn’t understand what you were doing in a scene, it is likely that you need to re-work that scene.  Don’t be afraid to challenge or ask questions…but also, don’t be afraid to just listen.  And ultimately, it’s your story.  You get to decide.

I try to reduce the number of passes I take on a story as much as possible.  I want to get it as right as possible and then let it go out into the world.  It can always be a better story, especially if you are growing and stretching as you practice.  So don’t fall into the Never Done trap.  Take a pass.  Take two passes.  Go through the document, make the changes.  Double check your essentials:  A person readers can care about in a place that readers can believe in facing a problem that readers can identify with…with the character taking direct action upon their problem.

When you think you’ve finished the revision consider reading it aloud to hear how it flows.  You will probably catch things you’ve missed.  And if you’re feeling too shaky about it, you can always ask someone else to read it.  But here, I don’t recommend going back to the people you’ve already heard from.  Get some new eyes on it.

When it’s done, call it done and put it out to market.  If you didn’t have a market in mind when you started, drop over to www.ralan.com and find one.  Follow the instructions in the submission guidelines, log it in your spreadsheet (where it went and when with a place for you to log the date you heard back and what its status was.)

And once it’s out to market, go celebrate.  You have another paper child.  A bit of intellectual property of your very own.  Another story for your inventory.  Do something fun for yourself to reward your productivity.  Because you did it…it’s in the mail!

And after celebrating, go draft that next story that you were scheming on before you started revision on this one.

So those are my thoughts on that.  As always, if you have any questions please leave them in the comments.

Next week is theme week here at Genreality.

Trailer Boy out!

 

 

Saturday, March 31st, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Writing Short Stories for Fun and…How? (Part the Seventh)

Howdy folks!  Happy Saturday!

We’ve spent several weeks on the hows and whys and whats of writing short stories.  Today, we’ll wrap up the drafting portion.  Then next week, I’ll conclude the series with an abbreviated post on the next steps after finishing your short story.

The great thing about short stories is that they are small enough that you can wrap them up (most of the time) in a relatively short amount of time.  It’s not unheard of for writer’s to finish off a short story in one sitting depending on how long it is.  My record is a 10k story (a novelette named “Driving Lord Dragon” that’s never seen the light of day) on a Saturday writing blitz.  On the other side of that coin, the story that took me the longest was actually about 6k long and took me 3 years.  But usually, I work on a short story scene by scene in 1-2k bursts over the course of four or five days.

There are benefits to moving at a brisk pace.  You don’t lose the voice and thread of the story if you work it every day.  And you build solid work habits.  It is good to keep in the back of your mind that time is money…at least some of the time.  Because someday, that may be important.  For example, if someone offers you .10/word for a 5k story that takes you 20 hours to write (from idea to revised and mailed) then you know that you’re making $25 per hour.  But if you can whittle that down to 10 hours then you’re doubling your hourly pay rate.  And your banking 10 hours for some other project.  I don’t think we should always  bring things down to that equation — some projects take longer for less pay but there are other motivating factors.  But I do think that we should push ourselves to be good stewards of our resources, including and especially our time and energy.  And even if no one ever knows beyond ourselves, it is good to know how much time a project takes us and how much we are being paid for that time.

So I say move briskly through your draft.  A big (and often challenging) part of writing is learning to work consistently, whether it’s every day or five days out of seven, or whatever you choose.  If you treat your writing like a job with required hours, your writing will be more likely to treat you as if its a job, too.

And part of moving briskly is to learn the balance of when to pause and think and when to push through.  There are schools of thought that say “Don’t stop ever…leave a mark in the document and come back to it.  It’s better to have a completed first draft that needs fixing than an unfinished story.”  Sometimes, I think that’s the right answer.  Another answer is “Measure twice and cut once.”  Sometimes, the story (and you) are better served to stop and think it through.  But be self-aware enough to know when it’s the Chattering Head Monkeys talking you out of writing as opposed to a real problem in the story that you need to puzzle out.

Set deadlines for yourself and keep them.  I think a week or two is about right for most short stories depending on how fast you write.  Your mileage may vary.

And once you finish the draft, give it a quick polish and get it out to whoever your beta readers are.  Then, put it away and don’t look at it until you’ve heard back from them.

Next week, we’ll wrap up the series.  This would be a great time to put any unanswered questions into the comments below.

Trailer Boy out!

 

 

 

Saturday, March 24th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Writing Short Stories for Fun and…How (Part the Sixth)

Happy Saturday!  Last week, I told you  that as a part of my series on short stories we’d dissect one of my older bits — “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk.”  There will be spoilers ahead if you’ve not read the story.  Just saying.

I wrote “Edward Bear…” in June of 2000.  I did three passes of revision during that month based on feedback from writer-friends John A. Pitts, Manny Frishberg and I think Steven Hunt may have even weighed in on it.  At the time, I probably had 20 short stories total under my belt, including some written in high school and college.  I’d sold my first short story a year earlier and my second right around the time I sat down to write about my favorite bear of little brain.

The idea, as I think I said earlier, came from a co-worker in 1991 — when I worked as a label gun repairman — who one day walked in on windy day and exclaimed, “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day!” for unknown reasons.  This was six years before I came back to writing.  It stuck with me and a few years later — during my preacherboy days in in Bellingham — I was given the collected Pooh stories by Milne.  My exposure to Pooh was entirely by book — and an LP of someone reading some of the stories when I was in the first grade.  I’ve avoided the cartoons my entire life.  I’m Classic Pooh all the way.

So I re-read the Pooh stories around 1993.  And then, seven years later there was a spark.  The notion of Pooh in a starfighter trying to save the universe.  When I was early in twisting the idea into a story, I was at lunch with Patrick Swenson and telling him my idea.  Amazingly, he’s the editor that eventually put it into print the first time.  But that day, I think he was amused by the notion and skeptical about whether or not it could be done.

When I sat down to write, I had the first line immediately:  ”He was a bear and his name was Edward and he lay twitching in the corner of a room that smelled of death.”  In hindsight, from a dozen years later, I’d swap out “of” for “like” for the consonance.  But otherwise, it does what I wanted it to do — bring the reader into the story rather abruptly with the cadence of a children’s tale followed by the smell of death.  It hints at a problem, which shows up quickly on the heels of the opening line — it’s a room full of dead children.

Now, I broke a pretty big “rule” there.  I’m not even sure I’d try to break that one these days.  After becoming a parent, my threshold for stories that harm children is much lower.  But anyway, it’s what I went with back in 2000.  Edward Bear is twitching in the corner of a room that smells like death and has a vision of sorts — a holographic image of a familiar friend who tells him that he needs to leave the nursery, setting him on his hero’s journey.

Edward Bear’s initial problem turns into a much bigger problem once he escapes from the nursery and finds the AI of the dying starship (named for a poem, actually) who tells him that not only are the children dead, so are the rest of the colonists, and more are coming in another ship. And unless they learn about the virus that is waiting for them, they’ll all die, too.  Because the ship is damaged and dying, she can’t send a message.  But she can send Edward Bear with a little red hover-wagon to climb a mountain and push a button on a transmitter.  I wanted it to be a simple solution for a simple toy bear.

Along the way, he makes some friends…the Parrotishes…and I tried to telegraph something more ominous in that they always left before dark and returned after sunrise.  I also used the Parrotishes along with the other aspects of the setting to reinforce the notion of just who my protagonist is.

The next significant hitch in Edward Bear’s journey is when he wakes up to discover his wagon and transmitter is missing.  But more than missing, it’s been stolen and hidden away in a cave.  Our hero is given a weapon and sent into the cave where he’s faced with his big decision and his final “try” attempt at solving the problem that’s been set up at the front of the story.

In the first draft, Edward Bear goes into the cave, goes to get his wagon, realizes that there are Parrotishes being held captive and makes a quick decision to help them, only to accidentally wake up the slumbering monsters while he’s in the midst of freeing the captives.  The battle ensues with Edward Bear eventually being rescued by the Parrotishes outside.

But this wasn’t quite strong enough — feedback from my first readers pointed this out.  Edward Bear’s choice needed to be clearer and more consequential.  So in the second draft, I changed it up so that he sees the Parrotish prisoners — realizes that they are children — and frees them, getting them outside to the others before going back for his hover-wagon.  There is more emphasis on the fact that these are children, too, just as much as the human children that need him to haul his wagon to the top of the mountain.  This made his choice to help the alien children he’d encountered along the way more impactful…along with his choice to go back into the cave after his wagon once he knows the Parrotish children are safe.  And that choice then makes the Parrotishes’s choice to come to his aid more impactful, I thought, too.

One of the more poignant parts of the story for me, at least, is when they fashion a teddy bear replica of himself and give it to him as a comfort during the last leg of his journey.  And in the end, Edward Bear truly has surpassed his programming — he is a changed Bear of bigger brain and bigger heart than when he started, though those changes came from choices that cost him his life.  And the button is pressed.

Next week, I’ll tackle my last post on drafting your short story.  Then we’ll talk about what comes next.  Meanwhile, it is open season on Edward Bear.  If you have any questions at all about what I did or didn’t do in that story, please post them below and I’ll try to tackle them.

That’s all for now.  Trailer Boy out.