January 21, 2021

The Lesson of Flashdance

Oh, hey everyone. What’s new with you? Anything cool going on?

I’ve had this idea on the backburner for… well, a few years now, but now that I’ve got a handle on it, I’d like to talk to you about one of the most important creative-arts films of the 1980s.

You read the title, so I’m pretty sure you can guess where I’m going with this.

Quick sum up, for those of you who’ve never seen Flashdance. Alex is an eighteen-year-old welder who dreams of being a professional dancer and makes side money as a… what would we call it? Exotic dancer? A non-nude provocative dancer. She’s got a friend who wants to be a professional ice skater and another one who wants to be a comedian. Alex also has a boyfriend who’s twice her age and also her boss at the steel mill, and there’s a lot to unpack there.

Actually, there’s so much to unpack in that relationship  it’s what a lot of reviews will focus on. That and, weirdly enough, how unrealistic it is someone could be a professional welder at eighteen in a union town. Probably the same people who complain about how lightsabers work and about how the military sets look in zombie movies.

Getting off topic. Sorry. Anyway…

In my opinion, those issues distract from the actual story, which—if you think about it—is a much more ‘90s story about a trio of young, aspiring performers all looking to break into their chosen fields. We’ve seen a few versions of that, yes? If we look at Flashdance in that light, what’s the story about?

Well, we have our trio of aspiring artistic friends. Alex gets a chance to audition for an exclusive dance conservatory and gets nervous and leaves without auditioning. Her friend enters an ice skating competition and fails (kinda horribly). Her other friend gets a chance to do his comedy routine at an open night mic and bombs (also horribly), but then he decides to move to LA where there are more comedy clubs to try performing at. Meanwhile, Alex’s boyfriend gets her another chance to audition for the conservatory and… she comes up with another excuse to not audition.

Seeing the pattern here? One of these things is not like the other. In this trio of aspiring artists, the other two are failing, but it’s only because they’re actually trying. Alex is the one who won’t take any risks. She’d rather stay in her safe, small pond where she’s a superstar rather than find out she’s not good enough to go higher. That’s her story—working up the courage to try. Because until she does that, nothing else changes. She stays where she is.

This happens to a lot of us in the arts. We get nervous about if we’re good enough and talk ourselves out of doing more. We can’t get rejected—we can’t fail—if we never put ourselves out there, right? Heck, there are even some folks who’ll twist failure into some sort of victory. “Yeah, I got rejected, but that just proves my writing’s too good for the homogenized publishing industry!”

As I’ve mentioned before, though, rejection’s just part of the process. Failure is how we learn and sharpen our craft. And we can’t fail if we never try to do more, to push ourselves higher. So if I’ve never failed… maybe it means I’ve just been playing it safe and not doing enough. Maybe it means, on some level, I stopped.

Y’see, Timmy, we need to push ourselves. We need to keep at it. Even when we get rejected. Even when someone says our chosen genre sucks. Even when they say our writing sucks. Like any art, the only way to improve is to keep doing it. To keep challenging ourselves again and again and again.

Ray Bradbury once said the only way you fail is if you stop writing. Which is the short form of this. So yes, I could’ve called this “the lesson of Bradbury,” but half of you wouldn’t’ve paid attention.

Next time, I’d like to talk about why you rarely see a good writer.

Until then, go write.

May 23, 2019 / 1 Comment


So, I wanted to blather on about something that seems to come up now and then.  I’m guessing for at least three out of four of you, this is going to seem kinda obvious.  But for that other person… you may really need to hear this.  No matter which direction you’re approaching it from.

I’m a big fan of recycling. Fan’s probably not even the right word. It just seems like a no brainer to me. Why wouldn’t you do it? Why would someone be against it? We recycle our glass and plastic. We compost a lot of our food waste and cardboard and even some old clothes. Yeah, you can compost old clothes.  Weird, I know.

We reuse and repurpose a lot of stuff, too. That comes out of, well, being poor.  Even though I’m on a much better footing these days, financially, I still try to reuse things. We never broke the habit of using those spaghetti sauce mason jars as glasses. Half our Tupperware is take-out containers. And I still look at frozen pizza boxes as potential tanks.

What’s odd, though, is a certain subset of folks who’ll mock you for doing this with your writing.

I’ve brought up many, many times the need to cut manuscripts.  We write so much stuff that gets trimmed away.  Clever bits of descriptions.  Cool dialogue.  Sometimes whole scenes, subplots, or even whole characters. When it comes time to hone and focus that first draft, all these things can fall under the editorial knife.

Now, weird as this may sound—like I said, for most of you this is going to sound bizarre, but—some people think this cut material’s gone for good. It’s been deleted. Even if some record still exists, it’s unusable now. Toxic. Radioactive. It’s somehow been tainted forever.

I think a lot of this comes from people who lean a little too heavily on the art side of writing. Oddly enough… the ones who don’t write that much.  They get a little too focused on the idea and the craft and the ART of it. I put these words together in this way for this story.  I didn’t use them like that or like that, and so pulling them out and putting them somewhere else would just be wrong.  It’s not what I first intended.  It’s not what those phrases were created to do.

If I listen to those folks too much… or maybe if I am one of those folks (it’s okay, admitting it is the first step)… I probably have a somewhat shallow view of recycled material.  Those dialogue exchanges that I cut, or that subplot or character… they’re not going to work anywhere else.  I’m not being artistically honest or something like that.  How could a character crafted for story A possibly work in story B? Dialogue that I’d intended for X just shouldn’t work coming out of Y’s mouth, especially if Y’s in a completely different book.
And if I do try it and it does work… well, that just says something about me, doesn’t it?  I probably don’t know what I’m doing. My writing must be pretty thin and generic if I can just pluck some material from here and drop it in over there.  I’m probably lazy as hell in other aspects of my life, too.

If you happen to be the one out of four who thinks this… sorry.  It just isn’t true.  In any way.  Just in case my tone wasn’t carrying through.

Of course I can repurpose material. Artists have done it throughout history.  We jot down notes for one thing and end up using them for another.  We cut from that and then repurpose it for this.  Exchanges of dialogue. Neat ways to describe something.  Maybe a whole scene of morning-after awkwardness or a supporting character who got nixed for space.

Granted, none of this is going to slide right in without a bit of work and some tweaks.  I’m probably going to have to change a few proper nouns, and possibly a few personal pronouns, too.  Maybe an adjective or three.  That’s just the nature of such things. But it’s still absolutely fine to use it.

And honestly, because it’s older stuff I didn’t use before… I may have improved since I first wrote it (hopefully I have). That was a great bit back then, but y’know, if I just did this it’d be fantastic.  Or maybe he seemed like a good character for back then, but now I realize this should all really be centered around her.

I’ve got a book coming out later this summer/early fall called Terminus(that’s probably what we’re calling it), and it’s got a discussion between two characters I’ve been trying to use for almost eight years now. Seriously. I had to cut it from another book, but it’s got some great character stuff and I’ve always wanted to use it. Terminus finally gave me a great place where it could fit. And, yeah, it needed some adjustment to fit in this story with these characters at this point in the overall story. But it’s still 80-85% the same and I think folks are going to love it when they read it.

Still not convinced? Are you one of those one out of four who’s ready to pop down to the comments and point out I’m one of those lazy hacks who barely qualifies as a real writer?

How about Ray Bradbury? Is he a lazy hack? Most of Fahrenheit 451 is recycled ideas, after all. Bradbury had already used the firemen (the book burning ones) in a bunch of different short stories.  They even show up in The Martian Chronicles.  He’d also done longer stories about book burning and corpse-burning (seriously).  The spider-like Mechanical Hound is from an old short story he’d never finished.  There it‘s a law-enforcement tool used by sheriffs and police. He lifted the entire description, almost word for word, and dropped it into 451, along with some dialogue about it. Heck, the whole book is an expanded version of his short story “The Fireman” which he expanded into a novella and then expanded again into a full book.

And he’s not alone. Lots of writers have files of material they had to cut. And they’re always trying to find that material a new home.

Y’see, Timmy, yeah, writing is an art. But like every kind of art, the “how I do it” is entirely up to me. My manuscript might be pristine and pure and new. It might make Frankenstein look like somebody with a small appendectomy scar. But honestly, none of that matters. The only thing that matters is the manuscript I have at the end. Does it flow? Are the characters believable?  Is the plot interesting? Does the dialogue ring true?

Then it’s good.  And that’s all that matters.

Next time… okay, to be terribly honest, next time is the day before my birthday. One of those milestone, “we should make note of this” birthdays. What I’m saying is, I’m probably going to be drunk. Which means I’ll end up talking about Godzilla or something.

Until then… go write.

January 4, 2018 / 7 Comments

Why Do I Do This, Anyway…?

            Joyous arbitrary point in the solar orbit!  Or, as some people like to say, Happy New Year!  Hope 2018 hasn’t been too rough on you so far.
            At the start of the year I try to scribble out something about why I keep writing this ranty blog week after week (sometimes twice a week) for year after year (over ten years now).  It’s not like I’ve got thousands of fans checking this page all the time.  Heck, I see the numbers.  The average post here barely gets 200 views, and I’m willing to bet a good handful of those are bots looking to drop some spam links about great opportunities mining bitcoins or something like that…
            Please don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the eyes I get. I’m honestly amazed by the half-dozen or so of you who’ve reading these rants for years now. Since long before I was considered any kind of pro.
            But let’s be honest.  If you added it all up, I probably put 80-100 hours a year into this blog.  I could write a third of a novel in that time—a novel I’d probably get paid for. Heck, that’s three other books I could’ve written in the years I’ve spent here.
            Hardly the best use of my time.
            Sooooo… why?
            Well, for a long time (and still sometimes) it came from frustration.  It’s annoying to watch a movie or read a book and see people make basic storytelling mistakes.  Not “oh, I didn’t like that choice”—full-on mistakes.
          And I see a lot of them because, in my self-flagellating way (oh, get your mind out of the gutter), I tend to watch a lot of B-movies.  Because I believe people can learn at least as much from the bad stuff as the good stuff.  Possibly more from the bad stuff (think of it as a literary Anna Karenina principle, odd as that sounds).  So I watch the B-movies, break down problems, and then rant about them here when I spot recurring patterns of mistakes.
            Writing these posts also helps me figure out stuff, to some extent.  I’ve approached some problems in my own writing from the angle of “how would I explain this on the ranty blog” (sort of like going to the doctor and saying “I’ve got this friend who’s been having, y’know… problems…”).  And once I’ve figure out a way to avoid a problem, I like to share it with all of you and the bitcoin bots.
            But there’s one simple reason I do it.  The same reason I look forward to doing the Writers Coffeehouse every month over at Dark Delicacies
            I wish there’d been something like this when I started out.
            Seriously, back in those heady days (when half the writers were shrieking about how papyrus was going to mean the death of clay tablets and anyone who didn’t adapt immediately was soooooo Old Kingdom) it was tough to come across decent writing advice.  Of the four fiction-writing instructors I had between high school and college, one was fantastic, two were okay, and one was just bad (as a teacher and especially as a writing teacher).  There were only two writing magazines that were easily accessible (and I say this as a college student whose campus had a huge newsstand).  The internet at this point was pretty much just six trained ravens, at least three of which were out at any give time carrying messages and they always made that horrible screeeeEEEEEEEEEchhhhhhhh…
            The idea a professional writer would toss out advice at random was just mind boggling to me.  Even when I got in touch with a few, like Ray Bradbury or Lloyd Alexander, the fact that they responded clearly had to be the exception, not the rule.  And I still see that mindset today—that pro writers are these crabby, closed off people who clawed their way to this point in their career and will scare off anyone who tries to take their perch from them.
            That’s nonsense.  To paraphrase a friend of mine “other writers aren’t my competition.”  Writers help other writers.  We offer those little leg-ups we wish we’d gotten from the start and try to steer folks away from the bad advice we followed for too long. 
            So that’s why I do it.  Because I want to help people.  Because there isn’t much solid writing advice out there, and a lot of what there is tends to be about how to make a million dollars by self- publishing your novel about the great Bitcoin heist of 2019.  Because it’s kinda fun.
            Seriously, though… why do you keep showing up?
            Speaking of showing up, next time, I’d like to talk a little bit about them. And what they know.
            You know who I’m talking about.
            Until then, go write.