Monday, December 28, 2009

Notes on novel writing

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of author Jim Butcher, writer of The Dresden Files and The Codex Alera. Well, after meeting him last April at a book signing, he referred me to his LiveJournal, which he has graciously filled with concepts and helpful ideas that he uses when starting a new book (admitting that his ideas aren't the only ones that work, but they work for him).

I read his posts before finishing is latest book, First Lord's Fury, and was able to pick out pieces of the elements he suggests using when writing a book (scenes occurring in 4 notable steps, followed by sequels with an easy-to-follow skeleton that helps to further develop your characters) have totally made me re-think the way that I write large pieces.

In a lot of ways, I've been following his steps in my short stories with much more success than I have in my novel attempts. I'm going to have to re-think the way that I write before I'm ready to submit that manuscript to a literary agent.

If you're a budding writer, I'd recommend having a look at it. And while you're at it, read some of his novels- they're excellent!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"The Gray Hat"

I watched Neil Gaimen's "Stardust" for the first time the other day (I want to pick up the book, so impressed I was with the movie) and it inspired me for a modern fantasy style tale. Also, more proof that I can write something other than thrillers. I can't promise I'll have another post for next week since its Christmas, but if I find time to during my time off I'll do my best. :D

Title: “The Gray Hat”

Written Dec. 2009- Aaron Matthew Smith

“Swear on my mother’s grave!” Humphrey spat when he talked, especially when he was bargaining. Rom wiped the spittle from his face and rubbed his chin.

“Humphrey, this is the same old grey hat you tried to peddle off on me last night!”

“Salt and stones it is not! This belonged to the fourth emperor of Thane, and was plucked from his very head by his son who murdered him for the throne!”

Rom rolled his eyes. “Last week it belonged to a treasure hunter who recovered it from the sunken chest of Balrog the pirate.”

Humphrey’s four-toothed grin fell, just a hair. He tossed the object over his shoulder, where it landed amid a waist-high pile of hats, belts, pants, jugs, figurines, canvases, and practically anything else that one could imagine.

Except, it seemed, anything of value.

Rom had been searching the Bell Crest Market all night without success. The market, which was known for the oddities and rarities that commonly and sometimes innocuously found their way there, appeared on the crest of Bell Hill only under the light of the full moon. This was the last night the moon would be full, and it would be more than forty nights before it would arrive again. He would have no other opportunity to find a proper birthday present. He’d spent hours scouring the most obscure bins he could find- after all, where else should one look for a rare and special birthday present but among the oddest oddities?

Hours of searching had turned up nothing. His coat was grimy all the way up to the elbows from digging through chests, trunks, crates and boxes, and all he had to show for his efforts was a small bite on the tip of his finger that he’d received from some creature that was living in a coat with particularly deep pockets. Frustrated, he slapped his hands on the top of Humphrey’s counter.

“Well, don’t you have anything suitable?”

“Just who are you trying to buy for anyway?” Humphrey’s huge, tangled eyebrows rose, and Rom felt his face flush. “Ahh, I know that look!” Humphrey said sagely. “It’s for a lady! And I have just the thing for that special lady in your life!” Humphrey turned to his left and, with a great groan, flipped back the lid on a wooden chest the size of a small bed. Rom rolled his eyes and turned to walk to the next booth with something caught his eye.

He lost it- it was a twinkled of silver, the tiniest flicker of reflected light from the white paper lanterns that lit all the booths on Bell Crest Hill. He shifted this way and that, and finally caught it again, coming from within the old, dusty grey bowler hat that Humphrey had just shown him. The ratty headpiece had landed on its top, and Rom could see something shining behind its band.

“Humphrey,” he said, trying to hide his excitement. ‘I’ve changed my mind about that hat. I think I’ll take it.”

Humphrey was standing from where he’d been bent over the trunk, holding what appeared to be a circus tent made out of lace and satin. His bushy eyebrows crawled up into his thinning hairline. “Oh?” He said, suspicion coloring his words. “Why the sudden change of heart.”

“I think it’ll match her jacket, is all.”

“That’s a man’s hat, boy. Stop joking with me.” His tone grew a bit darker. “But why do you want it so badly now.”

“Does it matter? What does it cost?”

“Forty pecks.”

Rom stuttered. “Forty pecks!?! You can’t be serious. I could get a new hat from the finest hat maker in Greystone for forty! You couldn’t have given that piece of junk away last night.”

“And yet you want it so badly now? Forty pecks.” Humphrey’s tone was hard.

Rom sighed and began to dig through his pockets. After emptying his wallet and removing his emergency money from the sole of his shoe, he still only came up with six pecks. Last night, Humphrey would have been happy to have sold the tattered old thing for half a peck.

As he fished through the inside pocket of his coat, his fingers fell upon the spare button that the tailor had sewn there. Well, if the old man wanted to deal…

With a deft yank, he removed the button and held it out in front of Humphrey’s face, along with the six pecks. “This is what I have.” The old man’s eyes wrinkled as he smiled.

“Come on boy, don’t waste my time.

“Do you know what this is?” Rom held the button up to the old man’s pale blue eyes. He squinted at it.

“It’s a button.”

“I’ll take that as a no,” Rom replied. “This is what I spent all the rest of my money on.”

“Haha, sounds as if you got taken for a ride young man!” Humphrey shrieked a laugh, but stopped when he saw the grim look hitched onto Rom’s face.

“This button goes on a coat.”

“Well, most buttons do, y’know.”

“Not just any coat, you old goof. This button is a piece of a very special coat. Please tell me you’ve heard of Salamar?”

Rom noticed the old man’s eyebrows perk up ever so slightly, though he said nothing. Rom continued, “This button goes on a coat made by the alchemist Salamar. When he made the coat, he made it so it would only work if it was complete.”

“Work? What are you babbling about?”

“This coat lets its wearer walk amongst the dead while they’re still alive.”

“Oh, please. Now I know you’re wasting my time.” But Humphrey’s eyes stayed locked on Rom. Humphrey liked a good story, and Rom was on a roll.

“Don’t believe me? Have a look at this button. See how the two holes in it are off center?” He held the button up to the light- sure enough, the two holes for the thread were too high. “Isn’t that strange? Doesn’t it make the button look a little like a skull?”

Humphrey’s eyes were wide as he studied the button, bur Rom snatched it away before the old man could get too close a look at it.

“I made a hard bargain for this button earlier, and if I had any other pieces of the coat I would never part with it,” Rom said quietly. “But I stumbled upon it and thought it was a great item to have. Good bargaining chip, y’know…,” he sighed. “But I do want that hat.”

“Well,” Humphrey glanced this way and that, as crowds of people wearing various garb from all across the world shoved past, “I think we could work something out.” Rom smiled broadly.

Ten minutes later, Rom walked away from Humphrey’s booth, turning over the dusty grey hat in his hands. The eastern sky was beginning to lighten as he ducked into a shallow alley created by two particularly high stalls. He reached into the hat and felt around beneath the band, which tore free with a small tug.

A circlet of shining silver, hidden away within the band of the hat, tumbled out into his open hand. It was etched with deep filigree and adorned with a tiny green stone set into the front of it. He chuckled, an exasperated sound as the wind rushed out of his lungs in surprise.

“I earned this,” he said to nobody, turning the delicate circle over in his hands. He laughed again, slid the item carefully into his coat pocket, and made for home.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"The Walk Home"

This entry is PROOF that I can write something other than thrillers and horror stories! Enjoy this frosty romance for Christmas.

Title: "The Walk Home"
Aaron M. Smith- written Dec. 2009

“I could not believe that guy today, could you?” Lisa asked.

“I know, what was his problem? Every time I brought him the drink, he was like, ‘I said NO foam!’ and I was like, ‘Dude, that’s the milk on top- it’s supposed to look like that.’” I said. She laughed, a beautiful sound, like the first bird chirping after a long winter.

The street was glassy, a sheet of black ice that reflected the orange streetlights in blurry patterns. There wasn’t a lot of traffic- this part of the city was quiet, peaceful, and this time of night most folks were already in bed.

“It’s really nice of you to walk me home like this,” she said quietly. I turned to reply and had to force myself to not stare into her eyes, so dark brown they were almost totally black.

“Naw, no problem. It’s not like it’s very far.” And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t wanted to walk her home since the day we first met, that year and a half ago at the coffee shop. It wasn’t as if I’d taken that crappy job just so I could get to know her better. “I mean, it’s too dark and cold to walk home by yourself.”

“No, I appreciate it,” she said, and glanced briefly up at me before looking back down at her boots. I waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t.

Tonight is the night, I swore to myself. I’m going to tell her how I feel tonight, after I drop her off at the door. I looked over at her, hoping she’d look back at me, but she didn’t.

“So what do you want for Christmas?” She asked abruptly. I nearly blurted “you”, but caught myself at the last moment. After a second, I said, “Oh, I don’t know. A better paying job?”

There was that laugh again, and I listened carefully to it, taking in every tone.

“Come on, you could get a better job, couldn’t you? Didn’t you go to college?”

“Yeah, for Theater Performance. Not exactly in demand.”

She smiled, and this time she actually did look at me. I took advantage of the situation.

“So what do you want for Christmas?” She sighed and looked away, up into the clear, dark sky. I watched her breath cloud in front of her perfect lips as she exhaled.

“I don’t want to say. I shouldn’t say.”

“Why not?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“Because I shouldn’t want it. I should be happy without it.”

“What?” I asked quietly.

She exhaled again, and after a moment, said, “A ring.”

My chilled fingers suddenly felt warm compared to my heart. I bowed my head into the collar of my jacket to hide my humiliated blush. “Oh?” I managed to say.

“Yeah. And I’m sorry I keep coming to you about my problems with Todd, I mean, you don’t want to hear about them,” she sighed. More quietly, she added, “But it’s been three years. I mean, is it asking too much? To expect something?”

“No, it’s not,” I said, just a little too quickly, but she didn’t notice my eagerness.

“That’s what I think, and that’s what my sister and my mom thinks,” she said, and I could hear the defeat in her voice. Her pain was so evident that my frozen heart shattered for her.

“I don’t want to interfere,” I lied, “but you’ve got to do what’s best for you, in the long run. If you’re happy, then maybe it is enough. But if you’re not,” and I could tell that she wasn’t, “Maybe you ought to look at it again.”

She was quiet for a moment, then said, “I guess I’m scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Of what it’ll be like if things change.”

“Sometimes change is good.”

“Shut up, you order the same nonfat-decaf-latte every single morning.” She slapped my on the arm with one gloved hand. I thrilled at the touch. She smiled at me, the dimples her cheeks standing out, her eyes shining behind her black framed glasses. She brushed one copper-brown lock of hair out of her eyes.

I smiled back, and said, “I’m serious, come on. Ten years from now, how are you going to feel when you look back on all this?” She smiled, and she said something, but it was lost on me as a realization hit me like a sack of coffee beans. I wasn’t talking to her. I was talking to myself.
I looked up, and suddenly we were at the steps of her apartment building. I’d been so caught up talking to her that I’d completely lost track of where we were. Now we were at her stoop, and I was out of time to prepare myself. It was no problem, I could just wait until tomorrow night, then we could—

No, a voice inside me swore. Conner, it’s been more than a year. Time to nut up or shut up.
She stepped up on her stoop. She was on the first step when she turned around.

“Thanks again for walking me back, Conner,” she said, and that enchanting smile lingered on her lips again. I opened my mouth to speak.

And, as if on cue, there he was. I knew the tall blonde guy stepping out of the apartment- she’d brought Todd to the coffee shop before. He must have been waiting inside the door for Lisa.
My heart sunk, settling somewhere near my pelvis. My first instinct was to say something, anything, to indicate that I didn’t want any trouble.

“Hey babe, where ya been?” He said in a monotone voice. His lips barely parted as he spoke. Lisa turned over her shoulder and looked at him, her face unreadable. Then she turned back to me, gave me the faintest of smiles, then began to turn back to Todd and the door.

And suddenly I realized that I did want trouble.

“Lisa, I love you.” I said in the most calm and even voice I could muster. She turned back around, her eyes serious, calculating. Todd looked like I’d just said something in Mandarin. When neither said anything for a second, I continued. It couldn’t possibly get any worse. “I think you’re beautiful. Your voice is like music, your laugh is like a song. You’re the only good thing about that god-awful coffee shop. I’ve never been able to say it before, but I love you.”
Todd finally seemed to understand the words that were coming out of my mouth, because his brow began to knit. I plowed on before he could interrupt.

“I can’t keep you off my mind. Even if you don’t feel the same way, and even if you never talk to me again, I can’t keep hiding it anymore.”

Todd stepped in front of her and attempted to corral her into the building. She dodged his arm, her eyes locked onto mine. Her face was unreadable, but something shined in her eyes, something rich that I’d never seen before. After another moment the smile that I’d just seen flickered on her face, just for a second, as Todd finally managed to wrangle her into the apartment door. He said something to me, but I didn’t hear it.

It was a full minute before I convinced myself to move off of her stoop. Finally, I turned and headed back down the street toward my own apartment, sure I would sleep better that night than I had in a year and a half.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Twilight" review, pg. 110

Okay, I admit it.
I'm reading Twilight. But not because I think it's a beautiful, riveting literary masterpiece. It's junk food, plain and simple. In an effort to maintain my masculinity, I'm going to blog a play-by-play review of the book.

What qualifies me, a writer with only one published (picture) book to review a New York Times bestselling novel? The Internet, that's what.

I'm on page 110, chapter 6 so far.
My first critique is that the characters don't seem to act like real people would act. Bella takes everything that Edward does way more personally than a real person would. After he saves her life from the speeding van, she doesn't seem at all shaken up or frightened after the life-threatening incident. She only seems pissed off at Edward for not answering her questions and pointlessly self conscious when "I almost died of humiliation when they put on the neck brace". Not a trace or residual fear. Come on.

Edward is sullen, then suave, then amused, then angry, then violent, then amused again. He tells her to go away, then asks her to go out of town with him, then tells her to go away again. For a hundred year old vampire (OMG SPOILER!) he sure acts like a professional teenager. I fail to see any chemistry whatsoever between him and Bella, besides the fact that she puts up with his misogynistic bullcrap.

I really am trying to keep an open mind about the writing style, but it's very difficult when, in chapter 1, Meyer writes:
"But all this is not why I couldn't look away."
(the quotes are mine- the line is written as internal dialogue).
Bella's first view of Edward contains both a double-negative and tense confusion ('is' in present tense, 'couldn't' in past tense). Good grief.
"But Aaron, if you don't like it, why are you even reading it?" You might ask.
Because I can't understand the torrent of hype associated with the "Twilight Phenomenon". The fact that this stinker is a best seller is literarily fascinating to me.