Category Archives: Brett Battles

If You Know What I Mean

I’m sitting here in my living on my couch, my laptop on a small table in front of me, my TV (on, of course) another six feet in front of that. Beside me is the book I’ve been reading, and on the recliner to my left the latest issue of SEED magazine, something I’m anxious to get to. And to top it all off, on the arm of the recliner, barely six inches away from me, my phone with full internet access and my daily sudoku puzzle awaiting my attention. Did I mention my brother gave me a Wii for Christmas?

At the moment I’m wondering how I ever even wrote a short story let alone a novel.

Distractions are everywhere, and they are no more evident than when I’m at one of those points in my manuscript that seems to just drag along. Where every sentence…scratch that…every word needs to be wrenched from my keyboard with a crowbar, or, if necessary, plastic explosive.

This all comes to mind because I’m at one of those points now. It happens with every manuscript, but it still annoys me. Each time I start a new novel, I think, Not this time. I have yet to be right.

How do I combat this? How do I keep the distractions out of my way?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. I give up.

Okay…I don’t give up. I enjoy writing too much. But even with this enjoyment the distractions are often more than tempting. They way I do it, and the way I think most successful authors probably do it, is to keep a specific schedule.

I think I remember reading in Stephen King’s ON WRITING that he writes for a specific amount of time each day…it might have been writes a specific amount each day…I guess I could go upstairs and get my copy and check, but the TV’s on, remember? And right now there’s this cool documentary about building a manned base on the moon…anyway…King has a schedule and he keeps to it.

I have a schedule, too. Mine is kind of a combination between time and quantity. I get up every weekday morning at 5 a.m., and am sitting in front of my computer by 6 a.m. latest. I’ll write for a couple hours and try to get at least 1000 words. Don’t always make the goal of quantity, but I try to keep to my goal of time as often as possible. Weekends I try to snag at least a couple of hours on one of the days…hopefully both. This is what works for me. This is what gets the stories written.

And the distractions? That’s what evenings are for.

And since it’s evening when I am writing this, you’ll excuse me while I go bowl a game or two on my Wii before I finish that sudoku puzzle then get back to the book I’m reading, because I gotta tell you, 5 a.m. comes around pretty quickly.

What do you do to keep on track?

Brett

Are You Experienced?

As a writers, we use many tools to create our stories and characters. Many of the tool are forged from experience, from trying new things, from stepping outside our comfort zones. Some experiences just happen. Some we go in search of. They all effect our writing, some more directly than others. A hike through the Hollywood Hills might translate to the burn a fugitive feels as they escape from their prison into the wilderness. Or turbulence on a cross country flight might become a plane nearly out of control with no idea if they will make it down or not.

We’ve all had experiences, both big and small. In my case, I’ve jumped out of airplanes, been “baptized” with cold water and reindeer’s milk at the Artic Circle in Finland, and crawled around the rafters of the Silverdome in Detroit. I’ve talked with the last man to set foot on the moon in a kitchen in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, gotten the “I-don’t-think-so” raised eye from Dudley Moore when I offered to move his Bentley out of a crowded parking lot, and listened to Rusty the Bailiff – from the old Judge Wapner version of The People’s Court, tell his weekly dirty joke to anyone who would listen. (Those last two were from my first year directly out of college when I worked at a small studio in Hollywood. Fun times.) I’ve gone to the shooting range to feel the recoil of a pistol in my hand. I’ve flipped an eight-ton equipment truck on its side on the main road between Mexico City and Veracruz. I’ve ridden the S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains in Berlin for hours with no destination in mind.

I’m not trying to boast about anything here…hell, who would want to brag about crashing a truck and causing a major, multiple hour traffic jam? What I am trying to reinforce is that we all have experiences in our lives. As I mentioned before, big ones and small ones. Sometimes we need to recognize them and take advantage of them. They add to the texture of who we are, and, therefore, add to the texture of the stories we write.

A lot of the experiences I listed are things that just kind of happened to me. Sure I put my self in a position for them to happen, but when they did, they were often a surprise to me. Some, though, I made happen. Jumping out of a plane, for instance, and going to the firing range.

One of the most important experiences in my life, as far as my writing is concerned, was something I made happen. It was a class I took in college.

The class was beginning acting, and my teacher was fantastic. She was kind, supportive, and encouraging. We would perform scenes from famous plays. Sometimes it was two or three of us. Sometimes it was a monologue we would do ourselves. My teacher would really push at us to understand the character we were playing. We would even improvise scenes that had nothing to do with the actual play with these famous characters, forcing us to make up the dialogue on the spot. That meant really getting into the characters head, and acting how we thought they should act.

She did something else that was also really cool. She’d have us write character essays about the role we were taking on.

As you might imagine, I dove deep into that. I wouldn’t just write a dry character description, I would make it something else entirely, something that really exposed the character in an interesting way.

The one I remember the most was when I did a monologue from Our Town…I think from the third act. I was George. For the character essay, I decided to write it as a prose scene between a newspaper report and George at a diner many years after the end of the play. I actually think that character essay was one of the best things I wrote in college.

That class continues to be invaluable to me. I had actually done a little acting in high school and community theater before that, but that particular class really focused things for me. The lessons I learned back then are directly responsible for the characters I create and the dialogue I write today. For example, I’ll act out scenes to myself using some of the improvisational methods I learned.

My point is this…some experience happens to you, some you make happen. Soak them all in, and take every advantage possible.

As a sub-note, enrolling in an acting class is something all writers can do, and the benefits will be great. Don’t worry if you think your not any good. It’s not about your ability as an actor, it’s about what you learn when you have to “become” someone else.

I’m sure many here have other suggestions for active experience. Would love them if you want to share!

OFF TOPIC: I’m sure JT, Toni, and Rob will be talking about this in their posts, but next Tuesday the KILLER YEAR ANTHOLOGY edited by Lee Child hits stores. It’s a fantastic collection of crime and thriller stories, and all four of us have contributions in it. It’s been getting great reviews! Hope you consider picking up a copy.

Live it up,
Brett

Believe

2008.
2008.
2008.

I’ve been practicing writing it down for a few weeks now. It seems every year whenever I have to write down the date I’ll spend the first few months writing the previous year by mistake. Sometimes I’ll get he hang of it fairly quick only to revert inexplicitly in June or even July. Neuro pathways get crossed for no obvious reason at all.

But 2007? Yes, 2007.

I never had a problem writing 2007 down. From January 1st I was on it. Never a mistake. Never a crossed out ’06.

See 2007 was a special year. Like a couple of the other Murderati bloggers – Rob, Toni, & JT – 2007 was the year I debuted as a published novelist. It was something I’d been dreaming about since I was in Mr. Hodge’s sixth grade class back in the High Desert of California. Honest. I’ve wanted it that long.

As has happened to many of us, perhaps most – and perhaps is still happening to many more of us – life got in the way. School, youth, doubt, family, career…they all threw up roadblocks that I let stop me, sometimes for a month, sometimes for a year, and sometimes for several.

Then I finally got my act together, and really began concentrating. I finished a novel. It was actually my second, the first having come ten years earlier. It was great to get back in the groove again. I knew that with my concentration back, publication would soon follow. So I prepped a batch of queries and fired them off. When the majority of those came back as form letter no-thank-yous I didn’t worry. I just checked them off the list and moved on to the next batch.

In total, I sent out 72 queries: 54 form rejections, 3 bad address, 5 no response, and 10 requests to see material. Out of the 10 who requested more, 5 passed and the other 5 I never heard from again. I know all this because I kept a spreadsheet tracking progress. Yeah, pretty geeky of me.

But again, I didn’t let it deter me. I credit my mentor, the late William Relling, Jr. He taught me that it wasn’t easy, and that sometimes you just had to say maybe this wasn’t the one and it was time to move on to a new story.

So I did. I wrote another novel. Truth be told, I began it while I was sending out queries on the other one. That was another hint from Bill. Keep moving forward, always have a project your working on.

When I finished, I sent out queries again. I didn’t keep quite as good records this time, or if I did, I must have hid them someplace I can’t remember. Nonetheless, I’m sure I sent out about the same amount. And, as it turns out, with basically the same results.

This time I couldn’t help but feeling a little discouraged. I’d written a book I thought was pretty good, and I’d had a lot of very positive feedback on it. But it looked like I was going to have to put it on the shelf and start something new. I did start something, a book I was going to call NOT FOR US, about a writer who got feed up with being rejected and who goes to confront the person who rejected him last and accidentally kills him. It was a black comedy…with an emphasis on satisfying revenge.

But not long after I’d started, my mentor unexpectedly passed away, and I lost interest in the book. Because of Bill’s passing, I came into contact with an old friend and writer, Nathan Walpow. Years ago, when I’d written that first novel, Nathan and I had been in a writing group that Bill had run. Now Nathan had several novels published. When I told him about my frustration with all the rejections – an aliment I was well away all authors share – he offered to help me out. At that time he was being published by a small, well respected house called Ugly Town. He told me to send them the manuscript for the novel that I’d gotten the latest batch of rejections for to them, and he’d put in a good word for me.

So naturally I did. What happened next was…well…a whole lot of nothing. For almost eleven months I hear nothing. I reverted to what I knew Bill would have told me to do, that is write another book. Then one evening, while I was sitting at Starbucks doing edits on my newly finished book, I got a phone call…no, not a phone call, THE phone call. Ugly Town wanted my novel.

I was going to be published.

Only that wasn’t the end of the story. Six months later, just three months from when Ugly Town was going to release my novel, they had to suspend operations. Being a small publisher is never an easy game. I thought I was back to square one, but I wasn’t. Jim and Tom at Ugly Town didn’t kick me out the door. Instead they got a hold of an editor friend they had at Bantam Dell and pitch my book to her. Long story short, Bantam Dell bought my contract, and subsequently gave me a three book deal. That book that I almost shelved was obviously THE CLEANER.

So not only did I know every day of 2007 what year it was, 2007 is a year I will never forget. For God’s sake it was hard enough to get there.

For all of you out there still chasing that first deal, I don’t recommend using the path I took, but you should note that there are many paths to get there. But the two most important things you need to always remember is patience and persistence.

Patience and persistence…and then hopefully you’ll have your own year that you will always remember.

Thank you Pari and JT and the rest of the ‘rati gang for inviting me to play.

Murderati Newbie,

Brett

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