About KM Scott

A catchall of everything that manages to make it past the barrier of my skull and onto this blog.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty – Dead Eyes

The following is my post for this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, which you can find here.  The one rule:  Fifty words.  Take it away, me.

It’s those dead eyes that get me.

Her stuff is everywhere, and it’s free. Wildly festooned scenarios all. Someone put time and work into these. No one works harder than her.

But every time I see her, I see those lifeless, empty eyes. I don’t know how she does it.

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Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp: Now it can be googled.

Figuring out my audience while trying to communicate with them

So Alicia, my dear friend and co-conspirator, recently informed me of this wonderful new channel of communication called the Internet.  While most have dismissed it as little more than a fad with the staying power of Nu Shooz (they made a song with video that had all kinds of stuff moving around), Lis is an irresistible saleslady, and so I gave in.  Thus, about a month ago, with the power of WordPress in my holster, I have begun work on the Legends of Steragos blog.  It’s pretty bare-bones now, but it’ll grow.

Legends is a book for young readers I self-published in August, whose story is centered around the battle between three talented, enterprising, tough-as-nails princesses and the very vengeful, heavily-armed Baba Yaga, who has kidnapped a prince that the Royal Trio are trying to rescue.  As if her inestimable help with the book wasn’t enough, Alicia has also helped me build this Frankenstein, drawing on her experience in building this very website that you’re reading.

So, Steragos.  It’s a fictional, fairy-tale country where all the action takes place, a peninsula on the planet Unica.  As if I have some kind of genetic deficiency which prevents me from making my stories short and sweet, I’ve been unable to resist my compulsion to build a big, whopping world and history around my characters (I haven’t yet established the longitude and latitude of the country on a Unician globe, but gimme time).  While the primary use of the blog will be to promote the book (as well as future books in the series), I’d like for it to take on a life of its own as the place to read about the universe of LoS.

Have you ever had any experience in doing this kind of thing?  I stink at self-promotion, so any advice offered would be appreciated.  This is a project that Alicia has a lot of enthusiasm for.  Let’s not let her down!

KMS

25 December 2013

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp 6: Sublime felines.

Holy cats, I’m self-published.

(Blinks)

Oh, there’s a bunch of digital rigmarole [rigital digamarole] I’m still sorting out – such as the appearance of the actual Amazon page that features the book, getting the “LOOK INSIDE!” feature set up, and all that other none-too-challenging jazz to do.  But then, I stop dealing with that (and the student reports I have to type up, and the Flash games I’ve been playing, and the constant Rifftrax Twilight vids I’ve been watching), and it hits me …

Holy cats.  I’m a self-published author.

The book’s been available now since about lunch today (August 22, 2013).  And yet, I’ve been a little hesitant to toot about, given that I want to make the amazon page and other associated webpages really sing.  But for now, I can’t help but toot like crazy (or tweet, I guess they call it), because today, for the first time in my life, I have published a book. Two emotions hold sway over my mind right now.  The first is thankfulness – to God, to my friends, my dear family, my awesome editor, my great collaborators, my inspiring students, my amazing illustrator, and the gallons and gallons of cola that fueled the whole ordeal.  The other feeling I have is indescribable, so until more sophisticated language comes to mind for me to more adequately express myself,  I shall simply have to settle for the following:

Holy cats.

EDIT:  BTW, if you want to check out the fruits of my (and my illustrator’s) labor, you can find it here.

LoS Large coverLoS back cover

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp 5: Back at Last.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited upon you, good reader, the plights of an aspiring writer trying to self-publish his first book.  Admittedly, a large part of my absence has been due to the pronounced lack of such plights.  Some delays were inevitable – waiting for illustrations to be finished, which my very talented artist finished at amazing speed.

There was the slightly panic-filled adventure where I found myself desperately trying to find and master an inexpensive (free) layout program after figuring the Word Starter bundled with my laptop wouldn’t do the trick.  The problem was easily settled by changing my mind and using Word anyhow.  Turns out it works pretty well.  It’s not professional level layout software, but not being a professional layout artist, I wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of software anyway.  So, everything worked out.

After a trip to a printer, I discovered to my pleasant surprise that what I feared would be some unruly monstrosity actually looked pretty good in the industry-standard pocket book size that I was aiming for.  And, during another episode of You Don’t Know What You’ll Find on the ’Net until Needs Demand You Look, I also found some neat software for drawing maps.  The Kingdom of Steragos and surrounding nations can now make an appearance in my book.

At times like this, I find myself dwelling on how many great resources I’ve had helping me make this mess.  One of my dearest friends is a mother of three, and a fan of fantasy.  Not only was I able to get her valuable input, but the input of her daughter as well.  At eight years of age, she may not yet be in the target demographic, but she’s a smart kid with a lot to say.  What’s more:  she’ll grow.

I don’t know where I’d be in this project without the help of my dear friend Mae.  If you hadn’t met her before, Mae’s the founder of this site, and can be recognized by her piercing blue eyes, physically visible love of punk music (there was this one time where she raised her left eyebrow, and the Edward-Scissorhands guy from the Clash just appeared right next to her.  Man, he was baffled), and the massive supply of classical and modern literature being fed directly into her bloodstream via IV.  She has been of inestimable help to me in this adventure, pointing out my gaffes (on my request!), serving as a fashion consultant (the book is set during a fictionalized 1920s period, a part of history Mae is fascinated by), and being a much-needed soundboard in many different ways.  She’s been an awesome friend and consultant, and I value her counsel greatly.

Kurt and Tessa, my bosses and friends at my teaching gig, have put in a tremendous amount of helpful input, including the suggestion of putting a map of the fictional country I created in the book.  This was something I’d have never thought of doing on my own, simply because I didn’t think myself capable of doing so.  Never made a map before; how do I do one now?  Well, as it turns out:

Steragos

Now, I may not be the greatest cartographer ever, but I’m proud of this.  I didn’t know I could make anything like this at all, and thus, didn’t think I could do it.  It’s funny to think about how this project has presented me with seemingly daunting tasks which turned out to be skill-broadening challenges.  If you’re going to write a book, you’re going to have to bring your A-game.  I don’t know if I’ve done that, but I made a map anyhow.

Next time, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of print-on-demand.  I’m going with Createspace this time; I’ve heard good things about them.  I’ll be sure to hit you with all the details of any skull-bursting headaches if they come knocking.

’Til then.

 

 

Toys Gone By

My mom has long been one of my heroes (heroines?) and a champion of my creative impulses and flights of imagination.  One of the earliest examples of her limitless support was the Fiddlesticks sets she bought me.

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Here it is. The Knickerbocker Fiddlesticks World of Mazu building set. Been looking for it for about five years now. This is one of the earliest toys I can ever remember having.

Gaze upon this image and appreciate it. You don’t know what I had to do to get it.  Well, okay, I actually just had to look it up on Google, but it was only after five years  of searching for the set, in addition to another couple of nights looking for it again  (due to the fact that, uh, I forgot what it was called).  But MAN, that second search was ridiculous; there were virtually no pictures of the set anywhere on the net, no matter how many search terms I submitted.  Eventually, I had to resort to looking in the one place I suddenly remembered the pic would be – on my Facebook page, where I posted it three years ago.

This is what happens when I put things away.  I can never find them again.

The Knickerbocker Fiddlesticks sets were comprised of a series of multi-colored tubes, about the thickness of a #2  pencil, which varied in length, along with  a variety of two-, three-, and four-pronged connectors for putting the tubes together.  Every unit was packaged with larger, plastic shell pieces that allowed the builder to make various objects, from vehicles, to buildings, to otherworldly Lovecraftian horrors of gargantuan proportions.  “Action” figures (they could bend over and sit down) were included with the sets.  The Knickerbocker company had a long tradition of making toys from licensed characters, and they continued in that vein with several popular Marvel and DC superheroes, including Spider-Man and Superman.  One side of the figures was decorated with decals, with the characters standing invariably with arms akimbo.

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Above:  A Batman set.  I had that one too.

 As my little brain grew more and more complex in its ability to comprehend and appreciate my toys, I began to realize that the Fiddlesticks World of Mazu set had a certain aspect to it that I hadn’t noticed in other building toys:  you could build stuff with Legos and Lincoln Logs, but this thing was candy-colored conflict and excitement in one large box.  On the one hand, you get two astronauts.  On the other, you’re presented with an absolutely massive alien, the dimensions of which you, the builder, could dictate.  Though it’s solid, intimidating face and clawed feet looked a bit incongruous when mounted on its skeletal rainbow body, for one of the first times in my young life I had been presented with a toy that contained both antagonist and protagonists (or vice-versa) in one package.

Being a child who enjoyed the simple narrative of good-vs.-evil, the two astronauts would always have to be on their guard from becoming a snack for the malignant Mazu (I don’t recall ever using that appellation, however.  Prolly just called it ‘the monster’).  For his part, Maz was no passive threat.  He was packaged with two huge pincers that the builder could operate manually, trapping the perpetually-in-profile explorers and dragging them off to their doom.  Sadly, it wasn’t in my nature at the time to spin an adventure wherein the obviously enraged Mazu was an innocent actor somehow being provoked by the astronauts, possibly bugged by their environmentally-destructive attempts to score some unobtanium or some such.

But it mattered little.  What I had was a toy that allowed me, though I was unaware at the time, to explore my ever-growing love of speculative fiction and storytelling.  This was a toy that I could build into almost literally anything I wanted (a spaceship could be constructed as well, as the packaging shows), with an obvious push towards the realm of the FAR OUT!  If I wanted to follow the included instructions and build Mazu, or a starship, or just a plastic thingamabob from Fancyville, I was free to do so.  It wasn’t the little white connectors that kept my creations together, it was my imagination.

And this was one of the many reasons why my mom was my hero.  No matter what my report card may have said, no matter how unprofitable a future in being a chronicler of the impossible may seem, she never stopped feeding my imagination, never stopped inspiring me, pushing me, challenging me to consider things from different angles in order to become a better storyteller.

Between that, those wonderful memories of her showing me how to put Mazu together, and the tireless work she did to keep Mike and me rolling in toys to begin with (obviously having dealt with proper food, housing, and healthcare first), my mom enriched my life in ways I can’t begin to thank her for.

Nevertheless:  Thanks, Mom.

Things Your Autopsy Report Should Not Say

And now, in the interest of public service, we present:

  • Short, wheezy Harry Potter-lookin’ geek with glasses and inhaler actually did know magic

  • Sweet-natured, fun-loving personality aside, Barney is still a Tyrannosaur, after all…

  • Mistakenly thought safe word was ‘faster’

  • Inoperable rectal cancer resulting from prolonged radiation exposure due to constant photocopying of buttocks

  • Meddling kids and dumb dog accidentally ripped off actual face

  • Died a little inside.  Considerably more so outside

  • Faked death a little too well

  • Crushed under gigantic pile of naked cheerleaders

  • Run right over by usually gentle “Lightning” McQueen

  • Ultimately, ironically, literally proved you had no brains

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp 4: Hey, first draft’s finished. AAAAAAARGH!

Figuring out my audience while writing a young reader’s book.

#4

You know, I would’ve thought that the spirit-crushing doubt that one experiences while stitching up their monster of a writing project was the worst part of the creative ordeal.  Turns out I was wrong.  The trepidation that kicks in after you finish the first draft can be just as daunting.

Ever hurt yourself in one of those “Ssssssssssssst-OOH!!” kind of ways?  Like, you’re shaving a part of your body that you can’t see all that well with a cheap “safety” razor, and then you zig when you should have maintained a nice, smooth, even zag?  You hear that “KRTCH!!” of flesh being ripped open, that uncomfortably familiar feeling of something viscous and sticky running from some intimately internal place, and the reality-boggling pain of having shredded the skin off of an inconceivably tender area?  If you haven’t, stop reading and go do it, and then you’ll know what I mean.

Arright, so now, you’re in this amazing amount of pain, and you know you’re bleeding.  But do you look at it right away?  Logically, you would – but there are many of those in this world [me] who would pause before taking a look at his handiwork.  There’s something about not looking at the thing that somehow puts off the magnitude of what happened. If I don’t see it, it’s not as bad as it feels.  Out of sight, somewhat out of mind.

Right now, I’ve put my story out of sight.  I finished the first draft of The Princess Project one week ago (28 October), and I haven’t really looked back since.  There’s something mildly unpleasant about reviewing the work I’ve done, as if doing so would show just how truly incompetent I am with the written word.  You would think that not glancing back at the finished draft would be a comforting thing, but no – it really only serves to ramp up my sense of dread about what I’ll find when I double-click the file once more.

The theme of this post was going to be doubt, but I find there’s plenty of that to write about here just by thinking about what I wrote.    The fear that I will inevitably be razzed for anything I put down is a powerful one, and it works on my whether I’m actually writing or not.  I gotta find a way to get over it, to surmount this dread and move forward.  It’s really not helping me meet my deadline at all.

KM Scott is an aspiring writer currently teaching English in South Korea.  He is currently sweating over a young-reader’s book, the development of which he chronicles in this blog.  Pray for him!

Things Your Autopsy Report Should Not Say

And now, in the interest of public service, we present:

  • Saw doppelganger at night

  • Told Bond entire plan

  • Attempted to hypnotize cobra with flute despite its clearly established passion for the bassoon

  • Refused to let elitist, classicist, leftist, socialistic governmental attempts at intrusion on personal freedoms keep you from tormenting lions

  • Dominatrix lost focus for split second

  • Looked a little too much like an elderly Hitler

  • Crushed by overwhelming sense of meaninglessness in an empty universe  and/or tractor dropped from roof

  • Realized too late that the phrase “Leave me! Save yourselves!” is best spoken to dedicated loved ones and not panic-stricken strangers well out of earshot

  • Figurative statement taken literally

  • Junior weren’t never none too good with workin’ the safety on Ol’ Betsy

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp 3: Arrested Character Development.

Figuring out my audience while writing a young reader’s book.

#3

I’ve always felt that my writing process was akin to the evolution of living species on planet Earth:  It is crushingly slow and a lot of things develop that are going to prove unnecessary to the success of the end product, kind of like having a second appendix.  One of the things that causes me to drag my feet when getting something down on paper is the “incubation period”, the length of time that I let an idea marinate in my mind before trying to manifest it somehow.

This is where I heavily contemplate detailed elements of the idea, from character quirks to the history of the world the story is set in (the term “thorough daydreaming” would work as a good shorthand, except it’s longer).  Normally I’m content to do this to a certain degree, so long as I’m actually producing something.  Usually though, the truth is that the incubation period is criminally long in comparison to the production period.  It is far easier to think about the story than actually work on it.

However, with this Princess Project that I’m working on, I haven’t allowed myself the luxury of time.  I’ve a deadline now, and need to meet it if I’m going to reach my personal goals, not just as a writer, but as a teacher who wants to give his students a gift.  That’s not to say that I haven’t gone whole days without writing a darn thing, but nonetheless, the level of dedication I feel that I’m supposed to have is admirable.

Having to work without an extended cooking time is an interesting [frustrating] experience.  In truth, I’d come up with the idea several months ago, and so had plenty of time to think casually about the characters, technology, setting, et cetera.  This, I found, was the easier part of the story to write.  Those parts of the story that I hadn’t already envisioned were pretty easy to make up on the spot.  From a technical standpoint, the writing wasn’t a problem.

The voice of the story, on the other hand, was another matter (I’m writing in the past tense here because I’ve finally gotten the first draft done HALLELUJAH).  What I mean here is, what techniques should I use to tell the story?  Should I use narrative tricks, employ ambiguity to inspire the imagination, be explicit in the detail of the narrative?  What kind of language should I use?  I mean, my main characters are royal princesses.  Keeping my inscrutable audience of young readers (8-14, I guess) in mind, should I write down to what I would have to assume is their level, or should the ladies speak with a learned, scholarly, regal vocabulary?

And how do they speak to each other?  The protagonists can be described as Z, the Leader, Ayomi, the Adventurous One, and Ballista, the Smart One Who Shoots Things.  There are several different creative avenues to explore here.  Should Z be pedantic and virtuous, as Leader heroines are often depicted as, or should she be sly and forward thinking? How exactly do I present Ballista as both a reserved bookworm and wisecracking action heroine at the same time?  Does she actually crack wise, or does she make simple, somewhat philosophical statements that turn out to be witty one-liners when one sits and thinks about them?

There are two challenges here.  First, I have to get the voices of the characters straight.  I know who they are (roughly), I just need to develop how they sound.  Second, I have to bring those voices together in harmony; establish how they contrast with each other, bounce ideas between each other, and finish each other’s sentences.  In short, they need to become an old married couple (in an all-female, polygamous relationship way).

I find myself missing the incubation period.  This would have been spent composing the music of the characters interaction.  Sure, it would have taken a ridiculous amount of time, but I would’ve felt more comfortable going into the project.  And yet, maybe comfort is not what I need here.  Maybe I need to be a bit on edge here, unfettered by any sense of security, in order to challenge my limits and get my best work.  This could be a perfect opportunity to train my brain to produce more over a far shorter period of time, which would be an excellent talent to bring into writing for television.  Indeed, come to think of it, comfort only delays my desire to create.

I sure liked having it, though.

Next time:  DOUBT.

Like Pulling Teeth. Out of my Scalp. : Always with the self-editing!

Figuring out my audience while writing a young reader’s book.

#2

In my previous blog post, I outlined a writing project which initially started as out as a children’s book, then became a short story for young readers.  As I’d already started the book out with simple, child-friendly language, I found that my workload had doubled up: not only did I have to finish the story, but I had to re-write what I’d already written it for my new audience as well.  This endeavor was made all the more complex by the fact that the notion of who exactly my audience consists of is a bit fuzzy to me.

As for the current state of progress on the project, well … allow me to let my inner monologue hold forth on that a bit:

AAAAHHH IT STINKS IT STINKS IT STINKS IT STINKS IT STINKS AAAAHHH!!!

Yeah, that just about sums it up – but not accurately, and not fairly either.  There was a certain confidence and ease with which I had written the initial story, two rare aspects of my writer’s mind that were very blatantly absent as I sat in the McDonald’s that night, gently coaxing my simple tale into a complex monstrosity.  How could rewriting something be so difficult?!

Upon reflection, the reason why is obvious:  The story (let’s call it Fighting Princess Story for desperate lack of a better title) was indeed simple; I’d written it not merely for children, but children for whom English was a foreign language.  What’s more was that the students I had in mind were my students, so the text, tone, concepts, and plot of the adventure were strongly informed by the familiarity I had with my small audience.

So now I’m trying to write for an unfamiliar audience, and as one of the posters on my debut article mentioned, writing for “young readers” is difficult in that such a group can mean a large number of people at different levels of maturity, even within specific age groups (8-10, 10-12, and so on).

This has resulted in a bit of a creative paradox.  On the one hand, as the upper-limit of maturity of the reader is vaguely defined, I feel a bit freer in what I can do, including lengthening the story, adding some complexity to the plot (not too much, of course), and expanding on the opening badminton game (two of the protagonists like badminton).  On the other hand, the lower limit of the potential reader’s skills is almost just as ambiguous, and as such leaves me to wonder just how advanced should the vocabulary be, how much detail is too much detail, or if the dialogue/narrative ratio equals out.  Or should it?

Now, honestly, having to deal with such questions would be no massive problem if I were to simply think them through before writing. I’m on a bit of a schedule, however, and so have to deal with these issues as I write the thing. And it was then that I discovered one of the reasons why I am so reluctant to fire up the word processor (or screenplay software) and just spit out one opus after another:  self-editing.  Not the act of going through a finished piece and looking for typos or places where improvements could be made, oh no – this type of self-editing happens just as you’re beating against the keys.

A line of snappy dialogue pops into your head, and you can’t get it down fast enough.  However, what emerges onscreen isn’t the Wildeworthy bon mot you heard in your mind.  So, you stop – you stop the whole #*@$ train! – just to rewrite that line.  And … okay, so, this time, it’s a little closer to what you wanted, has a little bit of that spice – but then the issue of whether or not your audience will get it starts nagging at you before you’ve even looked it over good.  Will they understand the irony?  Is “predicament” a word too high over their heads?  Will they comprehend what the character said to begin with?  Was the line actually witty, or is the reality that you, the writer, cannot communicate wit, irony, or even a coherent sentence in English even if possessed by the spirit of a dead grammar book?

This, I realized, is literally quite tiring.  A wealth of creative energy is being used on these pathetic little hiccups that could probably be resolved far more casually in a second or third draft. It’s hard to see that when in the thick of it, of course, at which point the idea of doing a second draft seems ludicrously cruel since you haven’t finished the first.

But nitpicking and over-agonizing ain’t the half of it, oh no.  See, when you start dealing with one tiny conundrum after another, those conundrums seem to pile up.  Soon, the belief begins to creep in that what you’ve written is not a story so much as it a gigantic collection of inadvisable, self-important screw-ups which serves better as an example of how to fail as a writer than a piece of literary entertainment.  This kind of thinking eats into your self-esteem. You feel bad because this thing that you made in your mind is not behaving the way it should.  What kind of writer are you if you can’t control your writing?  Maybe you should have done what your mother insisted and become a neurosurgeon.  Pft.  Shyeah, right. You would’ve blown that too.

Then after slinking off your laptop and letting things sit for a while, your level-headedness kicks in (though not enough to tell you to stop being a writer) and reminds you that you haven’t cleared the middle of the story yet.  It’s too early to start cutting yourself down.  There’s plenty of time for that after the story is finished.  But no, seriously – the thing is not that bad.

I get so bogged down in silly little details and self-consciousness that I forget (neglect) to get the thing done.  I have to remember that sometimes the best thing to do is just smash through to the end of the story, let it go for a while, and then go back and revise.  Trying to be peerlessly brilliant on the first attempt is simply putting myself in a pressure cooker for no good reason.  I need to learn to relax and, if humanly possible, enjoy the writing experience.

To this end, I have made it a point not to worry so much about what I should or shouldn’t write – I’ll just write it.  The fixes will be simple and readily available after the first draft is completed; there’s no reason to worry about a poor result so early in the development stage.  You must first learn to walk before you can run headlong into a telephone pole.

Next time, character development on the fly.