Archive for August, 2012

Dealing with the Crazies

August 30, 2012 1 comment

So now all of America has seen what the left has been saying all along, that Paul Ryan will say anything to gain acceptance from his radical right wing fundamentalist base. Even Fox News was amazed at the utter disregard Senator Ryan has for the facts when he was inciting his crowd at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night. Sadly, this seems all too familiar.

Mitt Romney has been accused of changing his mind to appeal to whichever group he is talking to, but to his credit, over the last year of campaigning, he has settled on some stances that he is taking into the final weeks of the campaign.

So I have to ask, why would a former governor, a businessman, and longtime public figure take an entire year to make up his mind on issues that shape his run for President? Someone with his background should not be incapable of making up his mind. And once he has decided on a platform, why would he choose a running mate who stands up and lies to excite a crowd?

The answer, sadly, is what seems to be shaping American politics in this century: accommodating the radical wing of your party.

In the election cycle of 2000, Al Gore decided Ralph Nader was too far to the radical left to be considered a real threat. Nader split the Democratic block and George Bush won.

In 2008, John McCain was starting to lose the enthusiasm of the radical right wing of his party. So before they split off and pulled a Nader on him, he chose Sarah Palin as a running mate. At first the plan worked. The far right came back into the fold. But Palin turned out to be such a loose cannon that she drove middle of the road undecided voters over to the Democrats and Barack Obama won the election.

This may happen again with Paul Ryan. Sarah Palin scared people with her flippant attitude. Being exposed as a liar should be seen as even worse.

But before we get too excited about Senator Ryan’s mendacity, we should consider where the radical wings of each party are pushing the rest of politics.

At the moment the radical left is grousing about how slowly the economy is recovering under President Obama, and how it appears too many concessions were made to the big banks. Barack Obama has always been a pro-business economics wonk. I think the radical left hoped he would somehow come around after they joined in the effort to get him elected and now they are disappointed that he did not. But they are scared enough of the Romney ticket that no one is talking schism within the Democrats.

On the other hand, the Tea Party has made it very clear they will walk if they are not appeased. They created their own party name and have elected their own candidates, separately from and in some case in opposition to the Republican Party. The Republican Party must take them seriously, or they will destroy any chance Republican candidates have.

One would hope the folks who run the Republican Party could find a way of educating their radical wing voters on the values and ideals and solutions that mainstream Republicans have always embraced. That seems to have worked for the Obama team in 2008. That plan seems to be holding the Democrats together in 2012. This is clearly not working for the Republicans.

It’s not working because the radical right, the self-named Tea Party has adopted a mob psychology. Facts don’t matter to them. Being called a liar is endearing to them as a sign of bravery. Even contradictions in their own positions do not concern them. They only care about vilifying anyone who is not one of them and doing whatever it takes to ensure they win.

Even being told they are being played as patsies by the richest power players in the world does not change their mind. Exceptionalism, provincialism, racism, sexism, tribalism, these are powerful gut-level motivators that ignore facts like how their policies will destroy their own livelihoods and drive even more money into the corruption they so vocally protest.

So what do you do when a mob has taken away a big chunk of the votes you need to get elected? You can’t just firehose them the way would disperse an actual mob. By definition you can’t reason with a mob. The only plan being attempted in American politics today is to try to appease them, to allow them a voice in your camp, to throw them bones if those bones aren’t too crazy.

It is a great irony that zombies are currently such a popular theme in American fiction. I’m afraid the Republicans are going to wake up one day and find their efforts to appease the Tea Party will have amounted to inviting the zombies in to eat you.

In other countries such schisms lead to the creation of a multiparty system. We have the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party and any number of others, but they have always been little more than platforms for narrow issues to find a public voice.

Letting the Tea Party split off would mean a lot of Democrats winning elections in the short term. On the other hand, it would allow the Republican Party to see just how many followers they have. Personally, I am sure many Republican voters are not happy with the concessions being made to the Tea Party. They only continue to vote Republican because the only thing worse than the compromises is letting the Democrats win. It is also very likely that many middle of the road voters who have moved over to the Democrats since the rise of the Tea Party would come back to the Republicans if they jettisoned the radical wing.

Wouldn’t it be better, wouldn’t it be more in keeping with a democracy, if folks had political parties that promoted issues and solutions the people actually support, instead of having to accept distasteful compromises because they are the lesser of two evils.

I propose that America is headed to a three party system. Getting there will not be easy. At the end of the day I would like to think the Tea Party would have small enough numbers that they would stop winning elections. They would unfortunately continue to be a drain on Republican votes. In the best of all possible worlds, enough right-leaning Democrats would rejoin the Republican party that the Democrats and Republicans would each get half of the remaining pie, say 45/45/10. I could live with that. The mob would still have its voice, they just couldn’t damage the rest of us by winning anything. Containment instead of appeasement. And the rest of us, who care about facts and lies, can get back to having healthy arguments about how to actually govern and improve the world.

So I’m a dreamer.

Categories: Politics

How Many Revisions?

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Another in a continuing series of essays on the craft of writing.

A lot has been written about the “process” of writing. I recently gave a seminar on how to stay motivated to finish a book, in which I discussed outlining as a way to avoid trapping yourself in your plot. One aspiring writer in the audience felt very strongly that outlining strangled the creative spirit, so much so she felt compelled to leave the presentation. Indeed everyone approaches this very personal endeavor with very personal methods and expectations. So let me emphasize from the beginning, what I share with you here is how I do it. I happen to know a lot of writers who also do it this way, but that does not mean it will be the best way for everyone. I invite you to try it, as it may work for you. If it does, then you will have one more tool with which to express yourself.

Whatever your initial inspiration for a story, you will need to decide the rest of the basic story elements before you can start writing. These are characters, plot, setting, and the main conflict to be resolved. Once you have those figured out, you can make your decisions about beginning, middle and end. Many writers leave the ending open until they flesh out more of the story and get to know their characters better. Even without a pre-determined ending, you will have to decide what conflict resolution concludes your story. What are the victory conditions that your ending will eventually have to fulfill? By deciding this early on, you will have a goal to work toward.

Once you have these basic building blocks, even if they are molded out of Jello® and not concrete, you can develop a road map for your story. If you have a firm vision of where you want the story to go, this road map can be a fairly detailed outline. Even if it is not, it is useful to make a record of the decisions you have made. You don’t want the time you have spent thinking about the story to be wasted.  If you have made good decisions, you don’t want to have to go back and make them again just because you didn’t write them down.

This is the first time you have enough of the story figured out and written down to be able to use this as a script to tell the story out loud. So this version can be called the Talking Points Version.

Some writers do not outline and like to fly by the seat of their pants on faith that their storytelling abilities will rescue them from any conundrums.  Those brave souls will take their Talking Points Version and start writing in earnest – straight to the first draft. I have spent to many hours, no actually years, trying to find my way back out of storytelling traps I set for myself by blundering ahead until I ran out of road. So I outline. Extensively. As I said before, this is how I do it. To each his own.

I take the Talking Points Version and expand and reorganize it into a chapter by chapter breakdown of what happens in the story. Clearly a lot of detail is left for later, but at this stage I make myself decide how the story unfolds.  I include every detail that I have figured out to date. This synopsis/outline/chapter map is usually at least 20 pages. A stranger can read this version and understand what it will be like to read the completed book. This is the story. I call this Version Zero.

I find the experience of bringing a story up to Version Zero is different than diving in and writing the story itself, which is the next step. A well crafted Version Zero has a certain satisfaction and charm. In fact, I find I can go back and read a Version Zero and get myself all fired up again and start writing it in earnest. So when I am cooking with big godlike ingredients (What Ifs and Why Nots) and coming up with entirely new story ideas, I develop them up to this stage before I set them aside. I want to be able to come back months later and see whether I am up for moving this story to the front burner and making it the current project. I usually, and currently, have six Version Zeros waiting for their turns in the spotlight.

When I get excited enough about a Version Zero story, I go do the research needed to tell the story believably. You can only write what you know. So I need to know before I can write.

Once I start writing actual draft text, I first focus on those things that move the story along. When I finish my first draft of a chapter, it will tend to be heavy on action and dialogue and light on descriptions. As I see the characters playing their parts and the action unfolding, I come to see what things look and smell and feel like. So I add those things in after I get the other more critical decisions made. I usually don’t go much further than a chapter or two before I go back and add the descriptions. So there has never been a complete draft of just the dialogue and action. The fact remains that I do make a separate pass through the book (a chapter at a time) to add descriptions. So one could think of the next version as the Action & Dialogue Version.

Once I have added the descriptions, the story can be read start to finish. This is the First Draft.

By this point I will know these characters and this story much better than the words I have put on paper. So I read the book as a jaded editor who knows the story, and I fix inconsistencies, add details I missed the first time, clean up clunky dialogue, make the book sing the way it is supposed to. This becomes the Second Draft.

I show the Second Draft to my posse of reviewers. The membership of the posse depends on the book. The book I just finished, Daughter Cell, is a medical thriller with a big supernatural twist. The Daughter Cell posse consisted of a cancer researcher, a critical care nurse, an English professor, a religious scholar, and an independent film producer. The reviewers mark it up and I review their changes. Often they will see something I missed and the fix will involve more than just tweaking a bit of dialogue. So incorporating their changes can take quite a bit of time.

You know you’re done when every time you go to make a change you reconsider and keep it the way you had it. This is the Final Draft. This is the story you pitch and show to agents and editors. The professionals who pay you or get you paid will make changes. When their changes are made, the book is done and it goes to press.

So to recap:

1)      Talking Points Version

2)      Version Zero

3)      Research

4)      Action & Dialogue Version

5)      First Draft

6)      Second Draft

7)      Review feedback

8)      Final Draft

9)      Editorial changes

10)  Published work

So in this method a book moves through ten stages and seven versions from idea to print.

At the heart of this analysis is the truth that everything you write is just words on paper, and it can all be changed later. You want to capture all of the thinking and decisions you have made as you go along. But you should never feel compelled to keep something that does not fit with all your other storytelling just because it was cool when you first thought of it. That’s the road to dead end and frustration and writer’s block.  If you embrace the notion that a book is going to go through versions before it is done, you will be free to make what changes you feel like as you go. You know you will revisit them in the next draft, and the book will just keep getting better and better.

Good luck, and keep writing!


Categories: Writing

Winner Best Thriller

August 19, 2012 Leave a comment

The Chosen was voted Best Thriller by the Independent eBook Awards.

Categories: Writing

New interview up at Critic Studio Magazine

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment

New interview up at Critic Studio Magazine

“Writing which in its depth invokes past masters like Crichton, Benchley and Straub. No, the dark connections that you will find in Hartlove’s world comes from understanding what it takes to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Namely, equal portions of great plot, fascinating characters, on-point research and literary insight.”

Categories: Writing
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