Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Double-blind Word Cloud

I created a "word cloud" of my novel, Double-blind, at wordle.net. I discovered this site a few weeks ago and it's already provided me with hours of entertainment. The way it works is the cloud gives more prominence to the words that appear most frequently in the text. I pasted my entire manuscript into the word-cloud generator. And, for reasons I'm not sure I can articulate, I substituted my hero's and villain's names with "Harry" and "Voldemort."

You can generate an endless array of random clouds, but I like this one because it shows all of the main character's problems hovering above him like a literal rain cloud.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Published! (?)

It's a monumental event in my writing career: I had a story accepted for publication! Don't get too excited (though I certainly did); the story is only twenty-one words long. As I mentioned in this post, I submitted to Robert Swartwood's Hint Fiction Anthology, which will be published next year by W.W. Norton & Company. Out of over 2500 submissions, my story was selected to be among 125 in the book. The coolest part is I will share the pages with some big-name authors, from Joyce Carol Oates to Peter Straub. I mean, you could read JCO's story and turn the page and see Brian Crawford (perhaps the editor will go in chronological order but for some reason use JCO's middle name, and Crawford will be next; or maybe he'll group all the dark stories together, and since my story is dark and JCO's is bound to be -- she wrote Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? for God's sake -- we will be forever linked. 

What's more, I get paid for it. Twenty-five bucks. Not bad, more than a dollar a word. Now, if I could just get that rate for Double-blind, I'd have seventy grand.

Also, check out this MSNBC video about the anthology... Robert comes on toward the end. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I've officially started rewriting my manuscript (based on the editor's feedback). I have a ton of work to do, so I'm trying to focus on one piece at a time and not get overwhelmed.

My most weighty task is to reinvent my main character. Beginning writers often try too hard to make their hero likable. Newbies think they need to make the protagonist morally above everyone around him. This doesn't make the hero likable; it makes him boring. I am guilty of this with the lead character of Double-blind. There are interesting -- and often horrifying -- things going on all around him, but my protagonist often slips into the role of a decent, even-keeled, passive observer. Who wants to read about some passive goody two-shoes?

Take Don Draper from the TV show Mad Men. He repeatedly cheats on his wife. He neglects his kids. He lies to everyone. He's mean to his employees. He drinks and smokes too much. But we all root for him. We all love him. I mean, my wife really loves him.

So, as I'm revamping my character, I shouldn't be asking myself what I would do. What would Don Draper do?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A web log entry has been posted for perusal by the intended readers

I wasn't sure what to blog about this morning -- until my beloved Wall St. Journal came to the rescue. There it was, right on the front page: an article about the Plain English Campaign, a 30-year-old group whose goal is to stem "the ever-growing tide of confusing and pompous language" that "takes away our democratic rights."

Sign me up. SIGN ME UP. I still remember the patronizing sting I felt in college while watching an infomercial featuring a "live" audience. Halfway through the product demonstration, a message flashed across the bottom of the screen: "observers have been remunerated."  Now that's just pretentious and uncalled for. Were the producers hoping that anyone watching an infomercial at 2:00 a.m. wouldn't know that they meant "we paid a fake audience to act impressed"? 

And I won't even go into how often I see something like this at work: "this strategic initiative was chartered in order to design, develop and implement key functional processes in a collaborative effort to obtain operational excellence" (I didn't make that up).

According to the WSJ article, the Plain English Campaign's latest foe is the financial industry, where, founder Chrissie Maher argues, there can be real consequences from the use of bloated and ambiguous language -- such as "families losing their homes because of jargon-filled credit agreements."

Learn more at the Campaign's website, and be sure to check out the Golden Bull awards and the hilarious before and after examples, such as:

Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.

Thank you for your letter asking for permission to put up posters in the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won't offend anyone.

Speaking of offending people... while some gobbledygook is clearly deliberate and malevolent obfuscation (sorry), more often, people write this way to make sure their message won't offend anyone. One of my favorite examples is posted on every SF Muni bus (the pantheon of non-offensiveness).  A metal sign, tacked behind each driver, reads:

"Information gladly given but safety requires avoiding unnecessary conversation."  

What? Come on, it's a tough world out there. We can handle "Don't chat with the driver."