Monday, December 19, 2011

Even My Twelve Year Old Daughter Knows About Showing vs. Telling

All I can say is OMG!

Today I let my twelve-year-old daughter read the first chapter of my story to get her opinion on its current state. Since she loves anything having to do with Harry Potter, I wasn't expecting much in the way of criticism. (She thinks any YouTube video set to the music of the Benny Hill theme song is awesome, so her bar of excellence isn't set too high).

So I asked her about the very first paragraph, and she told me that it would be better if I showed more instead of telling. I kid you not! Once I picked myself off the floor, I asked where she had heard the terms "Showing" and "Telling", and she replied, "her sixth grade English class."

I'd only heard about Showing and Telling two years ago. Man, they're teaching kids a lot faster these days.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Insecure Writer - Part II

Today is my December's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

What makes me an insecure writer this month?


Yes. Reading.

We’re all told that to be good writers, we need to be good readers. Read as many books as you can, they say. It’s good for you. See how published writers write. It will make you a better writer.

Perhaps. But it also makes me a depressed writer.

I read books on story structure and discover how poorly my story is structured.

I read books on the do’s and don’ts of fiction writing and find my story is chock full of don’ts.

I read fiction and discover how much more fluid everyone else’s writing is compared to mine.

The first two problems I can handle. It may take lots of practice, and oodles of time revising, but for the most part, everything I’ve read on how fiction works makes sense to me. I believe I can put together an interesting plot. I believe I can arrange my story so that I hit all the proper beats at the appropriate times. I’m confident I have an active enough imagination so that I’ll never run out of ideas about which to write.

It’s the last problem that keeps me up at night. Almost every time I read fiction, I’m reminded of how much better everyone else is at wielding words. Even in books that I find flawed (poor structure, too many dialogue tags, large wads of backstory, etc.), the authors still have a way with words that makes me envious. And I have no reason to assume that I’ll ever be able to do anything about it – no matter how much I practice.

So please forgive me if I don’t read any other fiction this month. I'll be much happier for it in 2012.

P.S. But I'll still keeping reading the writing how-to books.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Massacring Your Darlings

The keyboard is covered in blood. My desk is awash in the stuff. And don't even ask about the floor.

And for this, I blame my son.

He came down with a cold on Friday and spent much of the weekend in bed, requiring me to stay home with him while the wife and daughter went to the movies on Saturday and again on Sunday when they drove down to the in-laws for lunch.

What did this mean for me? It meant I had a ton of time to work on the manuscript. Yippee!  (Admit it, you thought this was going to be depressing story, didn't you? By the way, my son is feeling much better today, thank you very much. A win-win situation all around.)

So what was all that about a bloody keyboard, you ask? Well, a recent count of pages revealed that, although I still have several more chapters to write, my book on Hogwarts is currently going to top 700 pages. Now perhaps J.K. Rowling might be able to get away with that, but I can't, so I'm looking for places to condense. I've already reduced the manuscript's length by combining scenes and merging characters, but it's still not enough. So I spent most of the weekend cutting out huge chunks of the story.

I've been told that to be a successful writer, you need to be able to "kill your darlings." But when you lop off this many darlings in such a short period of time, it's more like a massacre. Makes me feel a little like a serial killer, if you know what I mean. I'm sure it will make the book better in the long run, but as most of you know, it's still hard to do.

What about you guys? How do you deal with it?

Friday, December 2, 2011

You may already have seen these jokes about writing, but I felt compelled to share this link with you since one of the jokes involves a chemist.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving From The Chemist

I'd like to wish everyone a belated Happy Thanksgiving. And if you don't live in the U.S.A., then I wish that you have plenty to be thankful for. I certainly do.

I've been working hard on my manuscript, which is one reason I haven't posted more often as of late. Thanksgiving weekend was a fairly productive time, all things considered. No new chapters -- just massive revisions -- so I have no word count to report like everyone else seems to do on Twitter. Seriously, seeing tweets about the 3,000 words someone just wrote that evening does not improve my spirits. I'm happy for them, of course, but it gets a bit depressing sometimes.

Fortunately, I still enjoy working on this story and that's all that counts.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Torturing Your Main Character

I almost didn’t respond to this week’s Warm Fuzzies assignment – to describe the worst thing or things you’ve ever done to your MC. As I’m still working on my very first book, and as my MC’s journey is still ongoing, I didn’t think I had much to talk about. But after thinking back over what my MC has been going through so far, I think I can describe his torture in one word.


Insecurity over whether anyone is ever going to accept him in his new job.

Insecurity about his age and whether he’s too young for the task that gets dropped into his lap.

Insecurity that someone will discover his dark secret.

Yep. That’s the theme all right. Although perhaps a better word would be fear. Fear of doing the wrong thing. Fear of failure. Fear of discovery.

Hmmm... Sounds familiar, somehow. Makes me wonder if the MC is really just me in wizard’s robes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can You Really Call Yourself A Writer?

I just came across this post over at Write It Sideways and felt I had to share it with everyone here. I understand exactly what she saying. Hop on over and take a look.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Inspiration - Part II

Last week I posted a picture of an old church I use as inspiration for writing, but I have another source of inspiration I'd like to share. My garden.

I took these pictures this morning. As you can see, the arrival of fall has converted my brightly colored garden into a dreary mess. While most people (like my wife) would find this depressing, I have to admit that seeing my garden like this fills me with a certain joy. It's not that I'm into death and decay or anything. But this picture reminds me that it's fall - my favorite time of year - with long, mysterious nights, leaves blowing eerily across the yard, and the feeling that everything we took for granted over the summer is fading away. It reminds me of graveyards and old stone buildings and empty castles. It what I think living in and around Hogwarts must feel like.

As long as I'm working on my Hogwarts book, or any subsequent books (which will almost surely include castles and magic), October and November will always be my most inspirational (and productive) times of the year

I've spent enough time talking. Time to get back to my story. Novermber will be over soon!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Can You Guess My WIP?

This is week #2 in the Warm Fuzzies Blogfest.

Our assignment was to post a photo that we use for inspiration when writing our stories. Here's mine.

I like to wander around this building whenever I need an additional kick in the pants to keep working on my story. It's the only building like it in my area. Too bad I don't live in Britain. Sigh.

There's no point in asking if any of you can guess the type of story I'm writing, since you've probably already seen the blog's title, but I'm sure my next story will use the same photograph.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Insecure Writer

This post is my first entry for Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Question: Why am I an insecure as a writer?

Answer: Why shouldn't I be?

After all, I'm a chemist. I've never written a book or short story before (except a one page story about a silly rabbit back in fifth grade). I didn't grow up wanting to be a writer. I've never taken a single course on writing and I've only recently learned that the term "fiction novel" is redundant. Up until a few years ago, I thought the ability to string together enough words to create a story was reserved only for certain god-like beings granted "THE GIFT".

Oh, and one other thing. I've always hated writing.


With the fire of a thousand suns kind of hate.

It's not as though I've had no experience with writing. I've written technical reports at work and submitted a few papers to scientific journals, but only when my boss or advisor made me do it. My big problem is that translating my thoughts into words on a sheet of paper (or computer screen) ranks as one of the most difficult things I can ever imagine doing. It's like swimming in molasses. It's like climbing a mountain while wearing lead weights. It's like passing a kidney stone.

I'm just guessing on the last one, but it sounds about right.

Writing just doesn't come naturally to me. I've often likened my writing process to that of trying to sculpt a statue from a metal block by repeatedly pounding it with a hammer. Eventually it kind of resembles what's in my head, but that's about it. And my revision process consists of repeating the process over and over again with successively smaller hammers. I don't create sentences -- I beat them into submission. My manuscripts resemble battlefields, not something anyone would want to read. Slow and painful.

And yet, two years ago, I decided to become a fiction writer.

This paradigm shift had nothing to do with any surgical procedures or dalliances with drugs. It occurred two and a half years ago when I began contemplating how a certain well-known author (hint: see blog title) might go about beginning another storyline, and I discovered just how much fun it was to create fiction. Developing new worlds and unusual characters and intricate plots is simply a hell of a lot of fun. I'm hooked. Forever. I think about my story every free moment. How should I introduce such and such a character? What is their motivation? What's the most horrible thing I can do to them and still keep readers interested?

So no matter how painful the process of getting all those thoughts down onto paper can be, I just can't stop.

So why am I insecure about writing?

Because no matter how great my plots might be or how well I've crafted my characters, I don't know if I will ever be able to conquer my seeming inability to convert thoughts into words -- at least well enough to be published.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cardinals Win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals, winners of the 2011 World Series.

Special thanks go to the Rally Squirrel too!

Now maybe I can get some writing done tonight!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fan Fiction, Harry Potter, and Me

In my last post, I used the term “fan fiction” and a few of my readers indicated they hadn’t heard that term before, so I thought I’d elaborate a bit.

Fan fiction is fiction based on someone else’s work. Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Harry Potter have inspired legions of viewers/readers to write their own stories using the characters described in the shows/books. It’s one way for fans to hold on to a piece of the world they’ve come to know and love. With the ability to post these stories to the web, fan fiction has exploded over the last two decades. Over at FanFiction, for instance, the number of Harry Potter stories submitted has reached over 500,000!

Since my story takes place in Hogwarts, a location within the world of J.K. Rowling, my current story would also be considered fan fiction, although it’s somewhat atypical in that I do not use any of Rowling’s characters or any of the original storyline. My story is completely new -- partly because I felt the whole Harry Potter saga had come to a end and partly because I didn’t feel comfortable messing around with Rowling’s characters. In fact, the whole reason I started down this road in the first place was because I began wondering how Ms. Rowling might go about writing another book in the series.

Besides, if I don’t use my own characters and storyline, how can I expect to learn anything about writing?


P.P.S Why? I’m originally from the St. Louis area.

P.P.P.S. That last fact didn’t make me too popular in Michigan back in 2006 when the Cardinals spanked the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Warm Fuzzies BlogFest entry

Juliana Brandt has invited everyone to share the best response we've ever received after having told someone that we are writers. I don't have any good stories myself; simply because after two and a half years of working on my story, I haven't told more than ten people about it yet. I didn't even tell my wife until after the first year! After all, I already have a job as a research chemist, there are plenty of projects to be done around the house, and my story can't even be published (as it's mostly fan fiction). I'm not sure I could have even explained what I was doing to myself, much less others.

Since then, I've told my sister-in-law, her husband, and several moms in our school district. Not the dads, though. The only guys I've mentioned it to so far are close personal friends. Don't know if I ever told my brother. Why the reluctance with guys? I guess I just feel women will view "writing" more favorably.

Perhaps once I finish my story and move on to my own story worlds, I'll be more willing to admit to my passion for writing fiction.

Then again, maybe I'll wait until I actually publish something first.

Darn insecurities!

Friday, October 21, 2011

On Revising Too Early

Several weeks ago I mentioned how I had stopped working on the current chapter of my first draft to go back and revise some earlier chapters. I know you’re not supposed to do this, but after battling a chapter for a while and not seeing much progress, I find that going back to those earlier chapters (which are usually in much better shape) helps reenergize me again.

The question, of course, is what happens when you go back to an earlier chapter and discover that it’s just as wretched as the chapter you abandoned? So much for reenergizing.

And that’s what I’ve been struggling with the past two weeks. Chapters 10, 11, and 13 were fine. They still need a lot of work, but I could show them to someone and they’d be able to figure out what was going on. Chapters 12 and 14 were steaming piles of crap. It was quite the shock.

Why were these chapters so much worse than I remembered? Simple. Back when I wrote them, I hadn’t yet begun reading about scenes and structure. Now that I’ve read James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure, along with a good heaping of blog posts on the subject, I realize I have a lot of revising to do.

That’s the problem with learning while you write.

Question: What writing technique have you learned in the middle of a manuscript that made you want to go back and do it all over?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's My Birthday and I'll Post If I Want To

First off, let me point you to Mel Fowler's blog, which has a great Harry Potter themed video set to Katy Perry's music. Great find, Mel.

As you may (or may not) have noticed, it's been several weeks since I last posted. The reason is simple. I've been spending all my free time on my manuscript.

Why? Because it's October, of course! Halloween (one of my favorite holidays, BTW) is coming up soon, and what more inspirational time of the year can there be to work on a story about Hogwarts? October rules!

So why am I taking up valuable manuscript time to post today? Because it's my birthday (another reason to love October) and I thought I deserved a little time off. Don't worry, I'll get back to working on the WIP tomorrow.

Okay, so I haven't been completely truthful here. I did spend some of my precious time on the social media front. I finally got around to uploading my profile pic to Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter. And if that wasn't enough for you, consider this. After lurking on Twitter for the last year, I tweeted for the very first time a few weeks ago. Yeah, I know. Pretty sad. But it's progress.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Innocence of the Non-Writer

I’ve read several websites that suggest that one good method for learning about plot and structure is the technique of watching movies and tracking how and when various plot points happen. Kristen Lamb has used the movie “Finding Nemo” for just such a purpose on her website. Here is just one of many examples. Up until last night, I’ve never tried this technique – at least not consciously – but in the last week I’ve suddenly started figuring out plot twists on television because I recognized the writer’s attempts to divert my attention elsewhere.

Last night, my wife brought “The Lincoln Lawyer” home from the library. It’s a decent film, starring Matthew McConaughey, which tells the story of a lawyer who discovers his client is guilty of the crime of which he is accused, but is prohibited from doing anything about it. There’s more, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Suffice it to say, five minutes into the movie it occurred to me to watch for various plot points and record when they happened. Along the way, I felt it necessary to point some of these things out to my wife, including:

1. How the openings scenes were there to set up the “normal world,”
2. How the purpose of the first major scene was to show us the MC in action and help us relate to him before the “real” plot started,
3. Exactly when the inciting incident occurred,
4. Announcing that the first plot point (the point of no return, when the MC has to make a choice) would happen at the 40 minute mark(assuming the film followed standard structure.)

I’m sure this probably annoyed my wife to no end, but she let me talk anyway.

Turns out the first plot point was way off, not occurring until the midpoint of the film. Oh well. Maybe that’s why I’d never heard of the film?

Anyway, I bring this up because during one of the slower parts of the movie, it suddenly dawned on me that the first major scene, the one whose purpose was to introduce us to the MC, had gone on for too long and been more complicated than it had needed to be. And in that moment of realization, I knew that the secondary purpose of the scene was to introduce us to the biker gang that was going to show up later in the movie and solve some kind of problem. When they showed up at the end of the movie and… wait for it… solved a big problem, I leaped off the couch, shouted “I knew it!” and did a happy dance in the family room.

The wife only wept for a few minutes. She's getting better about this kind of thing.

So, now that I’m seeing movies in this new light, can books be far behind? And will my quest to learn about plot and structure eventually doom me to being unable to watch a movie without spotting clues or upcoming twists too easily?

This is all Kristen’s (among others) fault.

But would I give up writing fiction to regain the innocence of being a non-writer again?


Monday, September 12, 2011

On a Roll!!!

Woo hoo! Not only have I posted twice in three days, but the Detroit Lions also won a game! Armageddon approaches!

Seriously, it’s not like posting every couple of days should be that hard. Most of the blogs I read do it. Even I managed to do that on my previous blog (now dormant except for the occasional comment – usually spam), but that was before my decision to learn how to write fiction. In fact, it was this obsession with fiction that caused me to stop posting at my old blog in the first place.

Rachael Harrie announced the first challenge for the Build Your Platform Campaign a week ago, but due to my being away on vacation and them being really busy when I came back, I never got around to taking up the challenge. The quality of the fiction written by those who did take up the challenge was quite good. Makes me jealous!

Some of my fellow campaigners have been posting “10 Random Things About Themselves,” so I thought I’d join in.

1. I used to run three miles a day many years ago, even though I hated running in high school. My longest run ever was 9 miles.

2. I’m a research chemist by day, and a part-time chemistry instructor at a local community college by night.

3. I love castles. In fact, I love all old stone buildings – the older the better. Actually “love” is probably too weak a word, but if I told you how I really feel about castles, this post would most likely get banned in some countries.

4. I enjoy reading books on alchemy and trying to replicate their experiments. Hmmm, alchemy, castles, teaching at a school... Is there any wonder why I feel such a connection with the Harry Potter books?

5. My wife and I rarely watch television real time. We record them and watch them later, when it fits our schedule. Unfortunately, this often results in a three month backlog of shows by the time April rolls around, requiring marathon viewing sessions in order to finish them all up before summer.

6. My memory for names and faces is abysmal. Rarely can I make it through a movie without having to ask my wife who’s who at least once. They all look the same. And don’t even think about asking me to help the police sketch artist come up with a composite. One of my biggest fears is that all the characters in my book will end up sounding the same. I may not be able to tell!

7. Autumn is my favorite time of year. Halloween, the start of school, milder days, cooler nights (with just a hint of mystery), and my birthday. The biggest problem with fall up here in Michigan is that it doesn’t last very long. Summer hangs on too long and then it just passes right on through to winter. Sometimes we only get about two weeks of real fall weather.

8. I love video games, although I no longer have much time to spend on them. I’m also the one responsible for getting my kids hooked on Portal. Sorry, honey, I didn’t mean for it to happen. (Yeah, right.)

9. I believe I have finally entered the “Blog Event Horizon” (ala Douglas Adams), which means I am now following more blogs than it is possible to read in a 24 hour period.

10. I would love to retire in Britain someday. The castles and history alone are worth it.

Bonus random fact:
My long term plan is to eventually get around to writing my own series, sell a bazillion books, buy a castle in Britain (a haunted one would be best), spend all my time developing the Philosopher’s Stone, and pay someone else to read blogs for me.

Now all I have to do is learn everything there is to writing fiction and finish my book about Hogwarts. Baby steps, Ken. Baby steps.

P.S. You probably noticed all the extraneous qualifiers (probably, really, actually, etc.) sprinkled throughout the post. It’s best that I get them out of my system now instead of them showing up in my WIP later. Sorry if they made your eyes bleed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend. (Yeah, so I'm a little behind. What else is new? At least the writing is progressing.)

As far as my wife and I were concerned, Labor Day mostly involved lying around the house. We had just returned from a trip down to Missouri and were trying to recover from the shock of going from 100 degree days in Missouri to 60 degree days back here in Michigan. Quite a shock to the sinuses, let me tell you.

Of course, when you return from any trip that lasts more than a day or two, you always have to face the debris which builds up while you're away. For me, the largest debris pile was Google Reader, which held over 400 entries from all the writing blogs I follow. I've been rushing through the posts as fast as I can, but the queue seems to be refilling almost as fast. I suppose that's one of the consequences of having made so many new friends through the Building Your Platform Campaign. (Which I heartily recommend, BTW. Thanks, Rachel.)

Now all I have to do is start posting a little more often to give all my new followers a reason to keep coming back.

On the writing front: Even though I'm only about two-thirds of the way through the rough draft, I've gone back and started editing the first third of the book (again). I know you're not supposed to do that, but I just can't help it. Besides, after beating one's head against a chapter for a week or two and realizing it's still crap, it boosts my morale to go back and see how much better the earlier chapters read. Gives me hope that even when I write crap, it's still fixable -- at least in theory.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Third Writers' Platform Building Crusade is Here!

Yes, I know I'm still not posting regularly, but that's kind of good news because it means I'm spending all my free time writing. It's not that I can't think of anything to blog about, but every time I start to think about what I should write, my mind drifts back to my WIP. Despite all this, I'm still keeping up with everyone else's blogs.

Thanks to a post over at Rebecca Enzor’s blog, I joined Rachael Harrie's Third Writers' Platform building Campaign. It's a good way to meet other writers, so if you have a blog and are a writer, I suggest you drop on by and sign yourself up.

Not only am I meeting all sorts of new people, but I’ve already received more traffic in the last day than I had the entire month.

What are you waiting for? Join up!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Harry Potter - Books vs. the Movies

My family and I finally got around to seeing the Harry Potter movie this weekend. Previous commitments, conflicting schedules, and a desire to view it in 3D at the IMAX theater conspired to push our viewing date back well into August.

But it was worth the wait.

I enjoyed this movie much more than the last, in part because it felt more like a Harry Potter movie. The previous one had felt as though the director had decided to “Twilight” it up a bit.

But I have another reason for mentioning the movie. Back when the movie was first released, I ran across several websites (on writing, of course) that mentioned how Snape had loved Harry at the end. Now this struck me as odd, since I didn’t recall Snape as being anything but disdainful about Harry, even at the end, but since it had been a while since I’d read the book, I just chalked it up to a poor memory.

But during the movie, they played up Snape’s seeming anguish over Harry’s requisite death so much; I couldn’t believe I had been that far off. I asked some other people at the movie whether they remembered Snape being that concerned about Harry in the book and they didn’t recall it being that way either. So I went back and checked the book, and sure enough, Snape didn’t strike me as all that worried about Harry. Indeed, he appeared far more worried that all the time he had spent protecting Harry (for Lily’s sake and at Dumbledore’s insistence) was going to be wasted. Now I don’t care why the decision was made to play the scene that way – it’s not the first time the movies have veered away from the books. My point is that it’s easy to confuse what’s in the movie with what’s in the book.

And this whole idea of confusing books and their movies is important to me. A year and a half ago, I made the decision to write my Hogwarts book as if it were to be THE eighth book. To match Rowling’s style, imagination, and sense of humor so closely and to stay so consistent with her universe, that if she put her name on the book and released it to the public, no one would think twice about it. (Whether I can actually pull this off is another question, of course, but that’s part of the fun.) But to do this, my book has to be based solely on what’s in Rowling’s books. Not the movies.

Turns out this is more difficult than I expected. Thanks to DVDs, ABC, and the ABC Family channel, I’ve seen the movies so many times that the line between the books and movies has become very blurred. (The LEGO Harry Potter games haven’t helped either.) When I reread the books in preparation for my book, I was shocked at how many facts I thought I remembered from the books were actually scenes from the movies and not in the book at all.

And based on the various Harry Potter sites I’ve visited for the purposes of research, I’m not the only one confusing the two.

Only time will tell if I get my book right or not.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Harry Potter Sings The Elements

Just came across this video from the Graham Norton Show on BBC One. It shows Harry Potter (aka Daniel Radcliffe) singing the element song. Not exactly alchemy, but enough to warm the heart of any chemist.

Youtube is blocked where I work, so I won't be able to verify that the link is working until I get home. Let me know if there is a problem.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Two Blogs I Enjoy Most

I've finally gotten around to adding a blogroll. Considering that I'm tracking over 100 blogs on the subject of writing -- no wonder it's taking me so long to write my book -- it's embarrassing that I haven't gotten around to listing some of my favorites.

The first two blogs I'm adding today are the blogs I enjoy reading the most. The first is Janice Hardy's blog, The Other Side of the Story, which I've been reading for nearly a year now and her posts are the one I bookmark most often. She explains concepts well and gives lots of examples, which I find VERY useful. And although she does caution against telling, she allows that it's sometimes okay to tell, as long as it's in moderate doses. As someone who is firmly in the "you need a good mix of showing AND telling to keep your readers hooked" camp, I find this to be a breath of fresh air. Many writing sites view ANY telling as the work of the devil.

I discovered the second blog less than a month ago, but it's already one of my favorites. It's Harry Potter for Writers and the goal of the site is to use the Harry Potter books as a guide for learning how to write fiction. Susan Sipal analyzes the techniques Rowling used in her stories and shows how to weave them into our own. Since I'm trying to match Rowling's style in my book, it's the perfect website for me.

I'll be adding more blogs in the future. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Antimatter Enthusiasts, Rejoice!

One of the topics I promised I would blog about is Chemistry.  After all, I am a chemist.  But after 40 posts, I haven’t blogged much about anything related to Chemistry, so promised myself I would stay up tonight until I wrote something that sounded at least vaguely scientific. Beware.  It's late and I've had some wine, so if the wording seems confused, at least I have a built-in excuse.

A month ago, I ran across an announcement that a research team at CERN, the European particle physics lab, had managed to produce and store antihydrogen (the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen) for over 16 minutes. Woo hoo! As antimatter is an integral part of many science fiction stories, I thought I’d mention it here.

Antimatter particles are old hat these days. Positrons, the antimatter equivalent of electrons, are used every day in hospitals during PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans. Antiprotons are a bit more rare; mostly found in large particle accelerators like the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN, where protons and antiprotons are whipped around very large racetracks at nearly the speed of light and then smashed into one other to see what happens. Pretty cool, eh?

Hydrogen consists of an electron orbiting a proton, so antihydrogen has a positron orbiting an antiproton. Antihydrogen has been made before, but it disintegrates immediately upon contact with matter so it ain't easy to work with. The big news is that these scientists have come up with a device for holding antihydrogen in a stable form for much longer periods of time.  Sixteen minutes may not seen all that long, but in the antimatter world, it's an eternity.

It’s only a matter of time before we’ll be able to buy this stuff at Costco.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hogwarts on Hold

Yes, I know I've been a bad boy for not posting here for awhile. Yes, I promise to do better in the future. Really, I do. It's just that I have so little time for all things writing-related, (60-120 minues a day, if I'm lucky) I feel bad when I take time away from, you know, actually writing the book.

Especially right now.

You see, I'm fighting my way through a rough patch at the moment. I've spent the last two months working on one stupid chapter. Seriously. And it gets worse. This is the first draft. Please don't laugh. I know you are supposed to get through the first draft as quickly as possible and come back later, but my mind just doesn't work that way. I can't leave a chapter until I feel it's come together, no matter how badly I want to move on.

In fact, that's kind of where the problem started. Two months ago I was three chapters past this point when I glanced back at this chapter and was horrified to find just how big a mess it was. Apparently, I had told myself it was good enough for me to move on to the next chapter - obviously a big mistake! So I promised myself that this time, I wouldn't move on until I got it right.

I never would have imagined it would take two months.

I think I've almost got it now. Oh, there is still a truckload of revising and polishing yet to do, but the structure is in place now, and that's what's important.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hilarious Amazon Reviews

Not much writing happened this weekend. I mostly worked out in the garden. Man was it hot!

Anyway, here is a link to PCWorld's top 15 hilarious Amazon reviews. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Alan Rickman's Thank You to Joanne Rowling

I've seen this posted on a few different sites, but since I'm blogging about my attempts to write a book based on Rowling's universe, I thought I should mention it here too.

Well said, Alan.

What else can I say? Not only did I enjoy the Harry Potter series, but it was her books that led lead me to the discovery that I enjoy writing fiction.

I thank you too, Joanne.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Life As a Chemist

I want to be a writer someday, but right now most of my working time is spent being a chemist. For the most part, nothing much exciting happens where I work, but we did have a bit of action the other day.

Unfortunately, I was the one responsible for all the excitement.

I do research on fuel cells and one of the more common fuels for these devices is hydrogen. So when I disconnected one of our test systems without completely shutting down the fuel stream, the escaping hydrogen set off the laboratory alarm.

There was no danger involved. Hydrogen can be explosive when sufficient quantities build up in a closed area, but the amount I was leaking was almost a thousand times below that limit. Unfortunately, the nearby carbon monoxide sensor is also sensitive to hydrogen and its alarm level is set at a much, much lower level, so the alarm went off when it shouldn’t have. Inconvenient, but better to be safe than sorry.

Normally this wouldn’t have been any problem. Just a few flashing lights in our lab to let us know there was a leak. However, the company had just recently tied our room’s alarm system into the building’s main alarm system and so an “evacuate the building” message was broadcast throughout the entire building. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining that day.

Although the matter was quickly resolved and everyone brought back inside, I did have to explain all this to the chief engineer for the project. No fun!

Who ever said chemistry was all fun and games?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Diagnosis: Is It Showing or Telling?

Lately, I've run across quite a few articles on showing vs telling and I'd like to share two of the best ones with you.  One of the posts is from April, which tells you just how far behind I am in updating this blog, but both of them come from Janice Hardy.  I read her blog every day and highly recommend it. I follow the feeds of nearly 50 blogs (no wonder I can't get any writing done!) and Janice's posts are the ones I bookmark most often.

In both posts, Janice describes some methods she uses to distinguish between showing and telling.  In the first article, she explains how POV can be used to distinguish between the two.  In the second article she demonstrates a another trick she uses to tell the difference.  She writes:      

One trick I use to show and not tell is to imagine myself acting out whatever it is my characters are doing. If I can do what they do, I'm showing. If not, I'm telling.

Be sure to check them out.  I'm still struggling with being able to spot the difference between showing vs telling, but with all these wonderful writing blogs out there, I'll get it sooner or later. 

I hope.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What Makes a Book Young Adult, Anyway?

Even though I spend most of my time working on my Hogwarts book, I still occasionally think about what I will write once it's finished. After all, if I ever want to be published, I can't keep writing what is essentially fan fic. I do have a story in mind, but there is still one big decision to make -- the age of the main character.

My first instinct would be to have the MC be a twelve year old boy, which would make it a MG (middle grade) novel, since I think my whimsical writing style lends itself to that age group. But as the story involves learning about magic in a castle, I wonder if that will make it too much like Harry Potter.

I could easily have the MC be someone who just finished college, and that does have a certain appeal to me. After all, think of all those people who grew up with Harry Potter, but have since graduated from college and who desire to read stories similar to the HP series, but filled with characters closer to their own ages. Unfortunately, I've been told by a few authors that adults read mostly dark fantasy or high fantasy, with very little whimsicalness.

I could make the MC a teenager, which would make it more of a YA (young adult) book, but I've been told that YA books are heavily focused on female protagonists, with lots of emotional angst, and coming of age themes. Most importantly, they require being able to write in a YA voice. Don't think I would be very good at that.

Why am I mentioning all this?

Last week I picked up The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott. I haven't finished the book yet, but I already have one big question.

Is this book considered YA?

I mean, it was in the teen fantasy section, and the MC's are in high school, but they don't sound like high-schoolers at all. Scott occasionally reminds us that the MC's are young by giving them thoughts such as "she hated it when adults did that", but 99.9% of the time the MC's talk, act, and think like adults.

The book made the best sellers list, and there are three sequels, so it must be at least somewhat popular, so I can only see two possibilities. Either this book is not considered YA (so lots of adults or middle graders must be reading it instead) or YA books don't require all that much of a YA voice to be successful.

Anybody know the answer?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Air Traffic Patterns

This video has nothing to do with writing, but it's interesting and I need to stall for time while I'm working on the real post.

It's a 24 hour map of the flight paths of all large planes compressed into a couple of minutes. Notice the patterns as day and night sweep across the planet.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Congratulations to William and Catherine

The title says it all. No I'm not British, but as an confirmed Anglophile, I sometimes wish I were.

I don't know if any of you saw the ceremony, but I caught most of it, and although the commentators were mostly concerned with who was wearing what, I was far more interested in the views of Westminster Abbey. Man, that place is magnificent! I've been there in person, but some of the views from the more strategically placed cameras were just awesome.

It's no secret I'm fascinated with old buildings, castles, and ruins in general. Just can't get enough of them. It's one of the reasons I'm I'm writing a story based around Hogwarts.

Sigh. I wouldn't mind retiring in Britain some day. Perhaps if I make a ton of money writing fiction....

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Showing Vs Telling: Whom Should I Believe?

Maybe it's just me, but lately it seems everyone is blogging about "showing vs. telling." And for this I wish to thank the blogosphere. "Showing" has been one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp as a writer, and even after working on my story for nearly two years, I'm still struggling with the concept.

Now I do understand it well enough to catch the more obvious cases. For example, I realize

Everyone in the room was nervous.

is telling. And I know it's better to "show" that everyone was nervous.

Jane paced around the room in circles while George kept wringing his hands. (Lame I know, but whatever. I'm writing this during lunch.)

It's with the less obvious examples that I run into trouble and part of this confusion stems from the fact that not everyone agrees on what constitutes telling. It's easy to find conflicting views scattered across the myriad of writing blogs available. Even worse, writers often can't even agree on the amount of telling that should be allowed. On one end of the spectrum, I'll hear experts say that you should "always" show, whereas other writers will acknowledge that some telling is okay, perhaps even necessary at times, in order to keep the reader's attention. After all, showing often involves describing things to the reader in a less direct manner than telling, which requires more work on the reader's part to translate. This extra work is what makes the reader more emotionally involved -- one of the reasons for showing -- but too much showing will wear them out.

BTW, I'm firmly in the latter camp. Unless the author is very, very good, I find books that strive too hard to avoid telling often sound too writerly, and I usually put them down, unable to get into the story. On the other hand, I loved the Harry Potter books and there was a lot of telling mixed in there with the showing.

I recently came across a post by Victoria Mixon in which she discusses exposition and whether or not it should be in your story. She writes:

"Now, when you write in exposition—when you tell your story instead of showing it—you’re putting yourself in front of your characters and interpreting what they go through for your readers.

Readers don’t like that. It’s talking down to them. They really prefer to interpret for themselves."

Now, Victoria dispenses a lot of excellent advice on the art of writing, and I would strongly encourage you to read her blog, but on this point I have to respectfully disagree. Sure, poorly written exposition that's stuck into the story to make things easier for the writer is not a good thing, but for me, well written exposition can be just as enjoyable to read as dialogue. It pulls me into the world, not out of it. Just ask fans of JK Rowling or Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). Neither of them made me feel as though I was being talked down to, despite long sections of exposition. IMHO, a good dose of well written, enjoyable, and sometimes humorous exposition can be a good thing.

Now I admit that I'm still an amateur and there are plenty of things I don't know, but the Harry Potter books were rather successful, and this leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. Here I am, reading books and blogs, trying to learn how to write well, so that an agent might take me seriously someday, but at the same time I'm practicing my craft by writing a story set in Rowling's world, in Rowling's style; a style that broke a lot of the so-called rules of writing (exposition, narrator intrusion, a multitude of adverbs, unusual dialogue tags, etc.)

Who should I listen to?

Perhaps you can argue that the Harry Potter books, at least the early ones, were MG, so the rules don't apply as much, but I have no idea. If that is the reason, I suspect my first real book will no doubt be MG.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Heating Vent Zombies Are Back!

Two posts ago, I said something about the end of heating vent zombies. [Shakes snow off feet] Nevermind! Damn Michigan weather!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yet Another Periodic Table!

What's with all the periodic tables having to do with writing these days? Now from Let The Words Flow I find out about the Periodic Table of Storytelling. When will the madness end?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Heating Vent Zombies

Yes! We hit 80 degrees yesterday here in Michigan. Must have brought this awesome weather back with us from Florida. If we're lucky, this may just mean the end of heating vent zombies.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I Survived Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey!!!!

Yesterday, my family and I returned from a four day trip to Orlando – three days at Universal Studies theme park and one at Disney's Epcot. It was an excellent time; the weather cooperated (for the most part), no one got sick (at least not until we got back home), and I’m extremely happy to report I rode the Harry Potter ride three times.

You have no idea how surprising that last bit is.

You see, I’m a huge chicken when it comes to rides. I hate the dropping sensation that comes with rollercoasters, or log flumes, or even fast elevators. Just absolutely hate it. The stuff of nightmares. So when I read reviews of the ride that mentioned there was at least one sharp drop, I was sure I was going to have to pass.

On our first day at Universal, we made a bee line to the Hogwarts area. Hogsmeade was nicely done, although seeing fake snow on the roof of the buildings seemed weird in 80 degree weather. We tried butterbeer, which I was told was JKK Rowling's own concoction (or at least had her seal of approval). Conclusion: not too bad. We checked out the merchandise in the gift shops, but unfortunately all the things I was interested in purchasing were the props used to make the shops look more authentic. Too bad. Then we headed to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.

I waited in line with the family, since the queue takes you through a nice tour of Hogwarts, but I left before it was time for the ride itself. After they finished the ride, my wife and daughter worked very hard to convince me that there really wasn’t much of a drop and that I would love the experience. Had it been any other ride, I probably wouldn’t listened, but... it's A HARRY POTTER ride. Who was I kidding? I love the world of Harry Potter, I wish I had been able to attend Hogwarts when I was a student, and I'm writing a book based around Hogwarts. How could I not take the chance? I might regret it forever.

So I rode the Harry Potter ride.

And it was wonderful.

For those of you who haven’t been on the ride, there are several times where it convinces you that you're diving toward the ground at breakneck speeds, but the effect is almost all due to the video you see in front of you (or actually below you, since you are facing straight down when this happens). You don’t physically drop all that much; but your mind tells you that you're accelerating downward. Close your eyes and the effect vanishes. Amazingly, it was the drops that I looked forward to the most on subsequent rides. (BTW, I did not close my eyes.)

I should take the time to point out that, although the ride is okay for chickens like me, if you are prone to motion sickness, I suggest you stay away from this ride. You are bounced all over the place and even though I don't consider myself prone to motion sickness, after riding it twice in a row, my head strongly suggested that I not try it again for a while.

As I expected, being surrounded by Harry Potter paraphernalia has motivated me to work even harder on my Hogwarts book. Not that I needed any additional motivation. I was, however, reminded that the movies and the books don't always match. And since I've made the decision to base my book on Rowling's books, and not the movies, I'm going to have to work hard to ensure I don't get them mixed up when writing.

Now it's time to recover from the vacation.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Periodic Table for Writers

I came across this post at Janet Reid's blog today, and as a chemist, I just couldn't resist mentioning it here. Someone has put together a Periodic Table of Typefaces which is just gorgeous and fun to read.

Here's a picture of the English version.

Go and check it out.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Long is Too Long?

I spent some time last night counting the number of pages in my Hogwarts book. This may seem like a trivial task, but each chapter is in its own file and I have to open each one up separately and add the totals by hand. I’m currently on Chapter 20 out of an expected 30 chapter book and I wanted to get a feel for how things were progressing.

The result?

Just over 600 pages!


Now, I admit this number is somewhat misleading. Although I’m officially only on Chapter 20, I’ve done quite a bit of rough writing on many of the subsequent chapters. (I tend to jump around a bit while writing.) And some of the earlier chapters have multiple versions of the same scene, much of which will be cut later. But still, at the current rate, this book is going to hit 900 pages if I don’t do some heavy trimming.

To think there was a time when I worried I wouldn’t be able to come up with 300 pages.

Anyway, I’m already thinking about which parts of the book to cut. I know many writers will say I should wait until I get to the end before I do this, but I’m just not built that way. I’m going to fret about this until I do something, so I might as well do some of it now. Besides, if I don’t, I just know I’ll subconsciously start to write the rest of the chapters as short as possible to compensate. And that’s no way to write a first draft.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Exposition? Nothing wrong with it.


I know, I know. It’s been over a month since I last posted. Entirely my fault.

I’ve been busy with a lot of things at home - painting the living room, repairing holes in the wall, working with my daughter’s robotics group (I’m the coach and the competition is in less than two weeks). It’s not like I haven’t had a few minutes here and there to write, but my story insists on coming first and spending time posting to this blog leaves me feeling guilty (and a little dirty). You may look at this post and ask yourself, “How long could it have taken to write this?” Unfortunately, I’m a notoriously slow writer, and even a post as short and simple as this one will take over a half hour. Lord knows how other bloggers can manage to write multi-page posts and still have time to work, or eat, or sleep.

Anyway, I ran across this blog post about “exposition” today and it caught my attention enough for me to stop and share it with you. In the post, the author rails against the notion that exposition is “always” worse than story. I completely agree. In my opinion, exposition, written well, and in an entertaining manner, is just as much fun to read as dialogue.

As a newbie, unpublished, wannabe writer, I suppose my opinion doesn’t count for much, but many of my favorite books contain exposition – Harry Potter, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, SciFi by Arthur C. Clarke and Issac Asimov, etc. I’m not saying all exposition is good. I’ve been turned off by badly written exposition, but I’ve also been turned off by poorly written dialogue, so what’s the difference?

Feel free to comment.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

To Double Space or Not To Double Space…

I admit it. I’m a double spacer. When I type that period (or question mark or exclamation point) at the end of a sentence, I hit that space bar twice as a prelude to the next sentence. I’ve done it for decades and I’ll probably keep doing it for decades. It feels so natural. A period by itself just isn’t enough to signal the end of a thought. Who could dispute that?

Not convinced of my correctness? Consider Microsoft Word. It doesn’t complain when I put two spaces together at the end of a sentence, even though it notifies me whenever I do it anywhere else. How can it be wrong if Word doesn’t complain? (Note: A little fact checking reveals that Word does have an option to flag it as an error, but it’s not the default setting, so I rest my case and declare victory.

Astute readers will already have noticed there is only one space between the sentences in this post. If you use Blogger as your platform, you already know the reason why. No matter how many spaces you place between your sentences when you submit a post, Blogger removes all but one. When I first discovered this a few years ago while working on my first blog, I spent over an hour trying to trick Blogger into accepting more than one space. My soul crushed by this failure, I resigned myself to this fact of life and it no longer bothers me (very much). If our overlords in the cloud think this is the way it should be, who am I to argue?

If you care about this topic at all, here are links to two dissenting points of view:

Against double spacing

For double spacing

Friday, January 14, 2011

Too Many Blogs, Not Enough Time!

I’ve been a naughty boy.

Instead of spending the little free time I have diligently working on my story, I’ve spent the last three days searching the Internet for web sites devoted to writing. And what I’ve discovered is there are a bazillion writing blogs out there; each chock full of links to more sites, which contain even more links. At the rate I am collecting links, I won’t be able to finish checking them out until sometime during the summer.

It appears every writer on the planet has a blog, which probably isn’t all that surprising when you thing about it; but between all the posting by the owners of the blogs and all the commenting by other writers wo visit, who is getting any real work done? Of course, I’m a (newbie) writer myself and I keep a blog and make comments on other writers' blogs, so I shouldn’t point any fingers, but searching for writing blogs has become damn addicting. I may have to unplug the computer from the net for a while if I expect to make any progress on my story this year.

So I curse all of you whose blogs have stolen time away from me.

I’d also like to thank you for all the great blog posts and excellent tips.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Emotional Attachments to One's Book

I had a bit of a scare this morning. My wife chose to wash my pants while I was in the shower – pants which still held my phone and the USB thumbdrive I carry with me at all times. My wife found the phone when it fell out of the pocket (before being thrown into the washer), but she didn’t notice the thumbdrive.

That thumbdrive holds every chapter in my Hogwarts book, and that’s where I’ve stored them since the very beginning. The reason I carry it with me is because I never know when an idea will pop into my head or when I might find myself with some free time next to a computer. So you can imagine my reaction when I realized what might have happened. I pulled every soggy jean out of the washer and searched every pocket. I had no idea if a USB drive could survive immersion in soapy water, but I was going to give it a shot. Eventually my wife discovered the drive in one of my son’s boots next to the washer. Like the phone, it had fallen out of the pocket prior to washing. My relief was indescribable.

Too be honest, this was an overreaction on my part. I have the book backed up in multiple locations, so no material would have been lost had the drive been ruined, but after having carried it around (nearly) every day for the last year and a half, I’ve developed an emotional attachment to it – something I didn’t realize before now. To me, that drive symbolizes THE BOOK and all the work I’ve put into it. I would have mourned its loss.

But it’s safely back in my pocket again. So, really, much ado about nothing, I suppose.