Monday, July 25, 2011

Them's fightin' werds!

"Take that, old bean!"
Fight scenes... I hate them. I hate reading them, I hate writing them. Blow-by-blow descriptions of battles small or army-sized, do not float my boat. Some readers love it. Not me. If I’m reading a book, and there’s a page or two of fight descriptions, I’ll just skip those paragraphs and take up where the story left off. My boredom with fight scenes naturally affects how I write them, and I’ve just gotten a little note from my editor telling me in none so many words; “Miranda, you don’t know what the hell you’re writing about. Your fight scenes suck.” And he is 100% correct. I suck at fight scenes!

If I could get away with it, whenever my books demanded a fight-scene (and they invariably do, because I am irrevocably drawn to writing about ‘power-chicks’ who kick ass, so I’m kind of digging my own hole here), I would simply write: “She came at her opponent like a spider-monkey and kicked his jerky ass into oblivion” for a fight scene, I probably would. But I can’t, so in this special case, I have to summon the assistance of someone who can. Luckily my editor has some experience in this realm, so he has helped me get through this first one. It makes me wonder about Tinna’s Promise and how much help those fight scenes require...!

The lesson here is that if you are knowingly weak about a certain subject; don’t try to fake it because it comes off that you’re faking it. It’s why writers who don’t have direct experience about something do research and make sure they get their facts right because invariably, someone is going to come along and say; ‘dude, that’s so wrong!’ And if you haven’t experienced something, you should refrain from trying to write about it, because again, your reader who does know about this stuff will be turned off. Credibility is an important thing when it comes to writing books, no matter what the genre. Aside from comic-book ‘credibility’ stumpers, like spider-bites and falling into vats of radiation (you ever wonder how it was possible that all the vampires and demons in the Buffy and Angel series were martial-arts experts as soon as they clawed their way out of the earth/hell-chasm?), most books try to create the incredible in a way that allows their readers to suspend their disbelief. And when you have small, feisty little dark-haired women kicking the ass and taking names of anyone that dares confront them, saving the world, and raising general hell, you sure as hell better be writing it all in a way that doesn’t sound completely contrived.

I spend so much energy and time espousing the benefits of editing not because I believe manuscripts (regardless of their being independent or commercially published) should be clean and professional, but also because an editor does so much more than fix apostrophe use and fix your homonym mix-ups; they are also your consistency checkers, they question your character points of view, they call you out on your bullshit and they help you shape your story into something *they* would want to read. And *they* are the readers you are striving to sell this story to. They are your test-reader, your first audience, so for God’s sake, if your editor is telling you something sucks, do not just sit there and whine about it or assume you know your potential readers better... listen to them and fix it. And don’t think so highly of yourself that you think you have all the bases covered and you know enough about something to just fake it.

Trust me. It just won’t fly

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Desirable End (and an update)

I know, I’ve been on radio silence lately, pretty much everywhere, including twitter, where I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with everything as it is. I’m such a whiner! I’m still here however, plugging away. Working on 2 stories no less (focus ADD girl!) while juggling all the realities of daily life. How exhausting.

We are at Chapter Seven! Only six(ish) more to go! Editing of Tinna’s Might is rolling along. It’s really a wonderful exercise to see your work through the eyes of another. I highly recommend it to all authors. In the interim, I threw together another one of my badly-written short stories for your perusal.

True silence could be deafening. It was something Adrian had never truly experienced before everything fell apart, although he had thought he had. But true silence meant removing the cars from the distant highway, and the planes from the sky, the background hum of electricity, the quiet whir of motors in the appliances, lights and infrastructure that he used to take for granted. The collective din of these things often made things like the wind and birdsong barely detectable on a day to day basis; mere background noise.

Now, the dead silence made these simple natural things seem raucous. He stood on the curb, looking out at the cracked pavement, where tall grasses had taken root in the fissures, and gone to seed, the feathery stalks swaying quietly in the breeze. He could clearly remember what silence was then, when everything worked. Now it was heavily, stonily still. He could hear the papery feathers of the crow on the cable above him rustle as it preened. He could hear the buzzing of the blue-bottles that circled a pile of horse manure in the middle of the street. Somewhere, a thrush made a song, and a loose sign creaked in the low breeze. He heard the horses coming long before they even touched pavement, their hoof clatter echoing off the faces of the empty buildings. With a smile, he stepped out just as the six horses came clip-clopping up the street.

The horse in the front, a solid, massive bay wearing a red, weathered halter, stopped and snorted. The large, dark eyes studied Adrian for a moment. There was grass sticking out of its mouth, and its tail switched impatiently at the buzzing creatures that followed them. The horse reached its large head down towards the buckets in Adrian’s hands. Like clockwork, they always knew when it was graining time. The sun was soon to go down, after all. Adrian moved purposefully with his two large five-gallon buckets across the street, and the pack of six horses followed. He led them to the large edifice where they were kept at night, an emptied-out motorcycle dealership. It was one of the few buildings with the space for them that also had metal grates over the windows and door. The glass was long-gone, but the metal kept the horses secure.

Inside, the motorcycles, the clothing racks, the posters, the desk, all the accoutrements of a thriving business had been removed. The vaulted warehouse-like space was now divided up into stalls with hammered together wood pallets and other bits of lumber, even a stray sign panel or two and the ribs of a futon. The floor was peppered with straw; a wheelbarrow hunkered in the aisle between the two columns of stalls. As the young man and the horses filed in, they horses knew where they belonged, and they dispersed into the stalls that belonged to them. He followed them in, and portioned out the food and closed each rickety door of each stall, leaning over the half-wall of one stall to watch the horse eat out of its feed-bowl, which was a simple tire thrown into a corner, the food he’d poured into the center of the ring. He then walked to the back to peel off some hay from the huge roll against the wall, and threw some of that in each stall as well. He liked the fresh scent of the clean straw and the hay. He liked the sound of the horses as their teeth bore down on the mouthfuls of food, their contented snorts, the switch of their tail, and the stamp of their hoofs. He never imagined he’d enjoy this kind of sound, and find it soothing. He never even knew he’d like horses. He’d never even seen one up close except once during a parade. Now he took care of them and he took great pride in it. He reached over and patted the big bay, who paid little heed to him and continued to munch out of its tire bowl.

He used a manual water pump in what was once the bathroom to fill buckets and make sure all the horses had fresh water for the night. His arms had grown quite muscled from hauling these weighty buckets, so much so, it didn’t seem like much work at all to him anymore.

When he was done, Adrian picked his buckets and exited, pulling down the rattling metal grate door over the broad, glassless opening. He released the two loops of chain from the steel barred windows on each side, and threaded them through the door. He clicked two solid, slightly rusted locks closed over the thick links of chain on each side. He then loped down the empty street two blocks, and came ‘round to a small common about six blocks square. With a hearty whistle, he invoked a whinny in return. Another, larger group of horses came thundering into view. Twenty four horses total, plus one small foal born only three weeks before, still clinging tightly to its dam’s side first ran towards him, and then veered a bit away.

The horses joined him as he opened up a wrought-iron gate stolen from somewhere else; affixed to the cement archway into the lobby of a to a low-slung seventies-style office building. The sign above the door was still clear and new-looking, advertising a law-office. The wooden doors were long removed now, leaving the old lobby open, the carpeting still present, although the gold acanthus leaves that curled on a burgundy background were only distinguishable on the edges of the wall, the remainder had been trampled into a brownish oblivion. The glass of one of the broad front windows was still intact behind the metal grates bolted to the outside. The reception desk was still there, the monitor of a useless computer still peering up from behind the bar-height portion of the desk. On each side of it, where there were once two wide doors, two corridors led back to a loop of individual offices. The high windows on the outside offices were all intact, the doors had been sawed in half just above the middle hinge.

The horses filed in one after the other down each side of the corridor, turning neatly into their own offices and then turning around to wait for Adrian to close them in, which he promptly did, making the circuit from the left corridor to the right as he did every night. He then walked through a door in the back to where what was once the best office with French doors that opened out into a small courtyard shared by a few of the other buildings on this block. In this commodious space was the main storage of grain and hay. He began to process of portioning it all out, throwing the food into the offices, pumping more water and pouring more into the buckets hung on hooks in each stall. He did pause long enough to pet the curious foal, delighting in the tiny muzzle wrinkling in his hand and the curious toothless bites on his fingers. The stalls were clean; he’d spent the whole morning cleaning all of them. They smelled fresh and the sounds of the horses settling in for the evening comforted him. He sat down in the worn leather wingback he’d saved from behind the reception desk, and listened to the horses for a while before putting his buckets away for the night and locking everything up.

There was simplicity in it all that he could not help but appreciate. He walked quietly down streets that had once terrified him, that had owned him. He remembered with a reflective sigh, the sense of belonging he’d found with the members of his gang brotherhood, how he spent his youth in anxiousness, fearing reprisal, ejection, punishment or death for a simple mistake, a betrayal, an expressed desire to escape the cycle. He remembered the pain of the tattoos that still covered his skin, he recognized the graffiti on the walls that he painted to mark their territories. He remembered it all.

“Hey Adrian, they all snugged up for the night?” a bass voice asked him from ahead. He broke his gaze from the cracked and heaved sidewalk to see Ed standing against the doorway of a townhouse. Ed was an sixty-ish year old man from out of town who got stranded in the city when everything fell apart. He was worn and leathery looking in the face, his eyes barely but glints from inside the folds of his eyes. He wore jeans that were stiff with soil and dirt, and his Van Halen t-shirt was blue-grey and had once been black. He wore a faded blue Red Sox cap.

“Yeah, the baby is a beauty, isn’t it?” Adrian asked. Ed nodded.

“Manny told me to let you know, we’re taking them out tomorrow up the pike to see if we can trade.”

“All of ‘em?”

“Nah, just the nine riders and a few of the trade horses. Manny wants to get one of those big ones that does pulling and stuff.”

“Draft. A draft horse,” he told him.

“Yeah, those. Says we could mix breed them, make some high-value trade horses.”

“I wouldn’t mind seeing a real draft,” Adrian admitted. “I’ll get the riders ready for you guys in the morning.”

“You sure about not riding, fella? You sure seem to love the horses, you’d think you’d want to ride ‘em. I'd be happy to teach you...”

“I’m good enough just taking care of them for now, Ed.”

“Fair enough, kid. Fair enough. But anytime you want to learn...”

“Maybe. Right now, I just like looking at ‘em.” Ed took this in with a nod and then turned and disappeared inside. Adrian continued up a few blocks to a house he shared with one of the riders. Nobody was home. He climbed up the front steps and sat down, reaching into his pocket to pull out some deer jerky. His jaw rippled as he chewed.

He remembered it all again, once more before the sun went down. He imagined the street in front of him full of people, cars, the reek of exhaust. Instead, two swans still paddled about in the pond in the common across the street, crows cawed, Max, one of the plentitude of dogs they took care of here, trotted by, giving Adrian a wag of acknowledgement in passing. No police, no unnecessary violence, no money issues, no debts. Just silence, real silence, and horses. Adrian took in a deep breath, listening to the little tree that was slowly busting up the sidewalk. It hissed in the breeze. He smiled wanly to himself before going in. Next door, Marisa was cooking something fragrant. He could hear her little girl squealing in giggles over something.

Everything is so much better, he thought, since the world ended.