Concept vs Plot

For roughly an hour each night after our son goes to bed, my wife and I stay up to watch TV. We tend to have only one major criteria for what we watch: we both must enjoy it. Fortunately, due to TV being in a golden-age, it has been easy.

Shows are not only entertaining, but well written. Where in the ‘old days’ dramas/procedurals would often follow a bad-guy-of-the-week format with sprinklings of an occasional overarching plot, nowadays many shows are essentially shot like long movies moving the plot along over the course of 6 to 13 episodes. Or shows, like iZombie, that still follow a bad-guy-of-the-week style do it in an entertaining way, such as the brain of the week. But they also take into account that there is a greater plot underway.

Recent additions like Stranger Things on Netflix absolutely nails every aspect of good TV. Trust me. Watch it. And we can’t forget the TV branches of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) like Agents of Shield, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil, the latter two being two of the best shows out there.

These shows represent a thing I personally call writing for plot (aka story) vs concept.

Another show that my wife and I watch, somehow still enjoy, but is really not that good when push-comes-to-shove is Between on Netflix. It’s a dud. It follows a town under quarantine where everyone over the age of 21 dies of a mysterious virus. The plot is so riddled with holes that there could be no hope of ever holding water. Even as we watch it, we tell each other that it is such a cool concept, just it has no plot. It reeks of being something written around the concept.

This is not only restricted to TV. One of my chief complaints in science fiction and fantasy is that this used to happen a lot. It happens in other genres too. And no one is immune (or so I tell myself so that I feel better). Many of my stories start out as concepts.

Writing about a concept isn’t a bad thing. The problem there is whether or not the writer takes the concept and writes the story around it, or if they choose to make the concept only a part of a story. For me, I have two examples. One a success; one a dud.

Without mentioning details of the dud, it is a concept that fascinates the hell out of me, but I have failed to write it because I cannot figure out what the story is. If I don’t have a story, I don’t want to write it. This concept has sat on my lap for years, but nothing comes of it.

The second is the story that I  recently released part 1 for: Of Earth and Ice. This story was born out of a concept – what happens to the people left behind if Earth became a frozen planet. In the concept I found the story of Evie, so now the concept became the environment, the scene. Now I write about the people involved, not the concept. Granted, it is a rather easy path to take, but it worked.

For a show like Between, the concept is a little trickier to work around. For starters, how is it possible that any biological agent is able to distinguish that a person is 22 or older? Though there might be an answer, so far they haven’t even come close to tendering it. Liberties can be taken, but often it can then lead to a snowballing of poor plot/story decisions that continually compound on itself. Sometimes it can just be a lack of research or experts consulting. An example, I cringe each time I see a character as a HAZMAT responder in a full-face respirator that has no cartridges (I am Hazwoper certified, that’s why I see it so clearly).

What frustrates me though in this is that there are so many things in the plot that end up appearing as though they are written simply to keep the show moving in some direction. It is like a shark, just keep it moving and it won’t die. But it needs to. Oh god, it needs to.

Just like I keep going back to the concept I didn’t mention but rather spoke of its existence, I know there are people out there that just want to get a story out using their concept. Or in the case of what likely happened to the show (this is another ‘out-of-Jeremy’s-ass-guess’) is that they sold the concept to Netflix, but then were forced to write it, so they just did what they could.

My whole point though is that sometimes concepts just aren’t viable, no matter how cool they sound. Stories are what is important. Stick to the story, and you cannot go wrong.

Lack of Blog

I’ve been finding it very difficult to write blog posts of late (much less writing in general terms). Many posts that I’ve tried writing in the past week were sent straight to the recycle bin. Most I closed out and chose “don’t save” when the prompt appeared. Some stopped due to self-doubt. Others fizzled at some point during the writing process, so I just stopped and dumped.

There could be any number of reasons as to why. It is equally as difficult for me to uncover those reasons. A particular reason seems to stand out above others though.

One of the correlations that I have been seeing is that this occurs following my release or completing of a project. A week ago I published part 1 for my scifi novel Of Earth and Ice. Though I had most of the work already done prior to my pushing it out, it was an undertaking that took a lot out of me.

Think about it (if you aren’t already a writer): any piece of work that a writer produces and publishes is a direct reflection of that writer. No matter what the content is, each work is a piece of the writer. When that piece is put out on display as it is, it takes an emotional toll. Not to be crude, but it can be likened to an ejaculation for a guy for how I’ve been responding. I end up feeling exhausted; I want to just go to sleep.

Because of this emotional depletion that I encounter, I can only assume that it is a major cause of why I suddenly drop off in productivity immediately when finishing a project. And I don’t have to necessarily publish the piece to feel the effect. I’ve now been struggling to wrap up my next book after spending two years piecing it together, a book I hope to release in the coming month.

(Note: I deliberately built in a lot of flex time to deal with this dilemma of struggling on this next book. Too often in the past I’ve made unrealistic goals as to when I plan to get books out to the public and found myself unable to follow through.)

I even feel this way when I post blogs. Being that they are smaller in size (and generally in effort as well compared to a novel, etc) the effects appear to be far more muted. But they build up over time.

Here’s another analogy. This time I move to the less crude activity of lifting weights… and I’ll say let’s pick deadlifts for the example.

I can lift very heavy, greater than 350 lbs in a single rep. When I lift a high amount of weight, that one rep takes it out of me. Ask me to pick it up again and depending on the day, it may or may not happen. Conversely, give me just the bar. 45 lbs, that’s it. I can perform the deadlifts continuously for quite some time. Each rep seemingly will take nothing out of me. Enough of them and then I won’t be able to pick up that bar one. more. time. The novels, short stories, novellas, etc are the heavy rep; blog posts are the reps with just the bar.

Now, much like with exercise, as I continue with my growth in writing, the periods in between will get smaller and smaller. At least that is the hope.

Chess with Friends

So it started on a whim. Another writer (I am keeping said writer confidential as it would feel like a name-drop if I wrote it here) was wondering about chess games active around where he/she was.

Some time ago I had heard that there was a Chess with Friends app. I had never downloaded it myself, but it seemed like the perfect solution. I’ve been wanting to play chess and no one around me enjoys it save my one friend/neighbor… but he plays other board games with my family and I all of the time. No time for chess there.

Opportunity knocked, so I told this writer about the app and challenged. It was accepted. So I quickly downloaded it as well and we are now in the middle of a game. It goes to show you, trust your instinct and go for it. It’s a nice little boost to my mood to be playing, and playing against a person whom I look up to.

Want to challenge me? My user name is JeremyK591!

My Top 5 IPA’s (at this moment)

As a beer drinker, this is the best time to live in the US. The United States is experiencing its golden age of craft beer brewing. There are an unbelievable number of brewers out there all over the country and their beers are permeating the masses. I cannot even drink anything from the likes of Coors, Miller, or Anheuser-Busch anymore. They cannot even compete. It’s like a little league team trying to take on a major league team. Craft brewers are just kicking their asses.

One of the most recent movements in craft beers has been the IPA, or India Pale Ale. These beers are distinct for their hops flavoring and bitterness. They have become my favorite style of beer, hands-down.

As such, here’s a list of my 5 favorite IPA’s. In no way is this list comprehensive being as some breweries have more than 5 IPA varieties… and as I haven’t tried nearly all of the IPA’s available out there. At some point it might change, but for now here it is.

#5 – Goose Island IPA – honestly I want this to be ranked higher as this is my standard beer at this moment. When I go to get a case of beer to keep in stock, this is it. And since Goose Island is a Chicago based brewery, but alas, it’s number 5. It is not too heavy with hops and the bitterness is not too bad making it a nice in-between for those starting to venture into the world of IPA.

#4 – New Belgium Citradelic – This is one of two IPA varieties from New Belgium on this list. Pale Ales, if not blended with malt (i.e. Goose’s Green Line Pale Ale) or another flavoring, will often have a citrus tone. It is one of my favorite features of pale ales and to why I’ve gravitated to them. With Citradelic, New Belgium (already one of the top craft breweries in the country) blended tangerine with the distinctive hops flavoring to make a truly beautifully flavored beer that is delightful to the palette.

#3 – Victory Brewery HopDevil – being from Philly prior to moving to Chicago, I have a fondness for Victory. And they never disappoint. All of their IPA’s are top notch, but this is their flagship IPA, and it is hoppy. At a 6.7% alcohol level, it packs a little extra punch in addition to the distinct flavoring.

#2 – Firestone Walker Double Jack – This is a man’s IPA. You have to like IPAs to even consider trying this. At over 9% alcohol, it packs a punch just on that alone. In category it is a Double Imperial India Pale Ale. Its flavors are strong and it is full of hoppy goodness. This is a beer I seldom allow myself to buy as a) it costs as much as a 12-pack of Goose Island IPA for only a 4-pack, and b) it is a high alcohol content, meaning I get lit a lot faster than I often prefer, particularly since I am more of a guy wanting the enjoyment of flavors than to get drunk.

#1 – New Belgium Rampant – This only recently took Double Jack from the top spot. Like Double Jack, this is also a man’s IPA. Rampant is an Imperial IPA and boasts an 8.7% alcohol content, so like above, it’s a treat. At least that’s how I have to treat it. Its hop flavors almost hint at a sweetness through the bitter overtone. (Sounds absolutely crazy to a non-beer drinker, but trust me, even as a novice beer connoisseur, I am learning to pick up on a lot of the great subtleties of beers.) It’s a delight to drink this one.

 

To put this list into perspective, of the IPA’s I’ve tried over the last year (as it’s only been about a year since I was turned onto them), I’ve only disliked one out of the two or three dozen I’ve tried. Until recently though, I never thought to start keeping track of them, much less rank them. Have some you think I should try? Send me the names and I will add them to the list! As I get more versed and experienced with them, I will expand this to a top 10 or 20 too.

Honoring the Military

I believe in freedom. I also believe that this country has not accurately represented the idea of freedom for some time, and that it continues to decline in stature as a free country. But there are still signs that freedom is still alive.

Take the case of Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and his protest of the national anthem to bring awareness to Black Lives Matter. He chooses not to stand for the anthem. Good for him.

In my not-so-humble-opinion, that (Black Lives Matter) is a worthy cause. There is a group of Americans who feel as though they are being mistreated. They feel that their protests and pleas are not being answered. Instead, much of the media shows the backlash of people like Rudy Giuliani who call the protest a sham. And an equal number of people who believe Colin should be ashamed of himself and that he is disrespecting those who served the country by his protest.

How?

How is he disrespecting my father or brother or grandparents or uncles, and all others of whom served in the armed forces? Because he doesn’t pledge allegiance to a country that is not handling an injustice? If anything, he is HONORING soldiers and armed forces members with his protest. He is showing them that their work in fighting for freedom is holding true. That one of the country’s citizens is able to stand up against tyranny (even if some argue it is only perceived… I can rehash a great Louis CK quote for that one, but I won’t). That that citizen feels safe enough that he would not get imprisoned or executed for expressing his opinion, a fate that happens in so many other countries where people who are oppressed cannot speak out.

That is the highest representation of honor that can be bestowed from a citizen onto the military. Using their freedom to protest their government. If they weren’t able to, or chose not to in order to satisfy some social norm, how can we call our country free? And then what did our military fight for?

The Science Debate

It’s getting to be election time again! Exciting right? Not really. For one I am dreading the words that will be tweeted over and over once the Presidential debates between hillary and trump are put into gear:

“What about the debate on science?”

Happens every election.

So?  What about it?

It seems to me that there isn’t a whole lot of room to “debate” science.  There hasn’t been and there seldom will be much room for science in politics either.

Science is about fact.  It isn’t about democrats, or republicans, or fascists, or communists, or whatever other political party one can think of.  Those groups belong lumped into a mass grave doused in whatever flammable material you decide and then set fire.  I’d prefer a nice strong oxidizer, like an organic peroxide (not the diluted stuff like hydrogen peroxide from the pharmacy… the high-concentration blends that will start to ignite once the material comes in contact with organic matter).  Science is just what it is.  It is always right, because it is what is.  There’s no debating it.  Sure, we still call things theories and the like, but it is less to describe fact and more to describe elements still remaining unresolved.

We call it the ‘theory of evolution’ because its characteristics are still being studied and tested.  As it is a theory, it doesn’t indicate that the events didn’t happen, just that we don’t fully understand why or how it happened.

We call Relativity a theory for similar reasons.

We call Newton’s Laws “Laws” because they have been empirically trialed and tested to extensive ends and proven to be beyond theory.

In either scenario there has been rigorous experimental evidence that supports the “theory” or the “law.”

But we in the layman course of language distribution continue to banter the word “theory” around as though it is a guess. We say things like “I have a theory” to mean what the statement: “I have a hypothesis” truly means. It is a guess. It lacks anything more than brief observed happenstance.

Creationism isn’t a theory as some would even suggest. Although they would like to point to Michael Behe’s challenge to Darwinian evolution as scientific evidence, Creationism is a religious belief.

With all this, once politics and religion get involved in science, it is no longer science.  Neither side is interested in fact, only evidence to support cause.  Correlative effects are taken as causative, data is dropped and ignored, studies hidden, etc, etc just because someone doesn’t want to allow fact to get in the way of a good election or even God’s will.

The fact that any candidate would challenge science as a whole automatically boots them from ‘viable candidate’ status. It is a reason I’d be more inclined to vote for hillary over trump as it appears that the vast majority of the grass-roots republican party is steeped in denial over science. For moral reasons, neither candidate is viable. But at least one doesn’t deny science just to satisfy an agenda (although if push came to shove, I am sure she would as well).

So let’s put this debate about science to rest. Because there is no debate. Science will always prove itself.

Writing Science

Bear with me.

No, seriously.

Of the many things that I have wanted to do with my life as a writer is to write about science. Of that I want to write about science in politics (or the fact that it so rarely exists). But science is the one thing that I have wanted to write on for a long time. Afterall, I am a scientist.

Well OK, technically I am a middle manager in a science field, that field being polyurethane chemistry. I am the technical manager at a facility for a large chemical processor. Nothing overly fancy, but I do work in the science industry, so at least I have some cred?

Anyway, I do not wish to write about the polyurethane industry. That could tread too close to areas where I would need to retain trade secrets, etc. (That will change if I ever move to write as my job.) I do want to write more on science policy, science in schools and education, science discoveries, and of course how sciaence impacts our daily lives.

Now with anything, it is going to take practice in getting used to writing on these topics. I cannot write in the same way as I write about my fitness or writing life or how I write stories. Sure, I can still insert sarcasm and wit, but there is not as much room.

Plus my exposure has been very narrow since working in this field, and I am trying to expand that again.

So bear with me.

I am going to shoot at first for an article covering science every two weeks (there’s research to be had!). Between those articles will be the normal bullshit I spew out onto my blog. So please just be gentle. My ass is already sore.

Searching for My Success

I’ve been at this for 4 years. I’ve been writing for much longer than that, but 4 years ago I self-published my first book Remember the Yorktown, book 1 of my sci-fi saga Gravity. Since then I have added 5 other works to my backlist, 2 more additions to my Gravity saga (book 2, book 3), a short story, a poetry book, and a novel. I am also a few weeks away from another short story and a little over a month from publishing another novel. It sounds like a lot. In a way I agree. Many accomplished writers (traditionally published and otherwise) don’t get that many titles out in 4 years.

But it isn’t enough.

My goal is to make my career as an independent writer. I want to earn enough money to replace my current job earning a living from my writing. In no uncertain terms that will be an enormous undertaking. The vast majority of writers never get to that point.

When I look at where I am, the fact that I have so many books published means nothing. At one of the moments in writing this post I was ranked 724,807 in the Amazon author ranking. At my highest ranking (nearly 4 years ago mind you) I was 84,047. My guess is that I need to maintain my rank between 5,000 and 10,000 to probably earn the salary I am after. This is a guess in its purest form. It might be higher, it might be lower.

Every day I wonder how I am going to make it happen. For one, I certainly need more than the 5 current published works plus the 2 I am about to push out. I have this idea in my head that I won’t start making a consistent income (small, but consistent) until I reach about 10 books available, meaning that I have 3 more to push out after these upcoming 2. Of those 3 my thought is that 1 should be Gravity 4, another should be a short story, and the last should be a novel I initially wrote over 15 years ago (but updated with a revision). Looking at what I have and what I can get out quick, I am more likely going to have 3 short stories.

Of course that may earn me like I said: “a consistent income (small, but consistent).”

That isn’t everything though. As I wrote about a little in a prior post “Advice for this Newbie Writer,” there are a number of things that I need to start doing in order to increase my chances of being discovered by an audience.

I need to then keep building on top of the 10 books. Each year I need to put out some number of new pieces. How many? Some say 1; some say 4. I guess that the number will be determined by how much success each work has. If one title earns me what is my current salary, then it’ll be one (I laugh now because all of my books together have only eclipsed a few hundred in sales these last 4 years).

Then again, why am I worrying about all of this?

I worry because it is an ultimate goal. But at my stage that goal is still too convoluted too grasp. I could do all of the things and more and only make pennies. Now while I will never stop writing, eventually given a lack of success, I might just slow down. What I need to do long before that is to break my lofty goal into stages. Daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals would work. Examples would be like: hit 500 words written a day, update the site weekly, revise marketing strategy every month, and publish a work every quarter.

In no way is that what I’ve worked out at this moment, but it could look something like that.

More to the point, I need to break my goals down to daily achievements with that end goal in mind. Maybe, just maybe if I keep up with it, I will find my success. Even if it never ends up being financial as I would hope part of it is.

Finding What Works

It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve stopped eating breakfast. I have to admit that it is working out well for me. My waist is thinning out, I am able to sleep in a little longer, and I haven’t been feeling sick as I had been for the past few months.

Now as I page through fitness blogs, etc, what I end up finding is a lot of people swearing by one technique or another. They propose that what they do will ABSOLUTELY work for you! All that I can say is… “well… maybe.”

Truth is that everybody is different. It doesn’t matter race or gender. Although those do play roles in what I am about to put forth, they aren’t overarching factors for anything with some exceptions (more on the gender side of things).

What people have to look at is a myriad of items when determining what will work for them fitness-wise. Here’s a quick list from this non-expert fitness guy:

  • What are you after?
    This requires a bit of honesty. It can’t just be “I want to look like the Rock or Zac Efron.” I suggest particular goals such as “I want to be able to bench 200 lbs,” or “I want to have a 6-pack.” “I want to be a competition lifter” also works as well as “I want to run a marathon.” Just saying “I want to be buff” is an elusive goal for a number of reasons I won’t go into.
    For me, I am looking more for a competition level ability to lift, but also would like to keep my flexibility up along with general good health.
  • What is your schedule like?
    This is a big one for me. If I could, I would love to be able to slip in another 30 minutes of training a day at least. But I have a limited schedule. Either that or I would benefit from having a smaller, more deficit cardio-based session in the AM and the lift later in the day. Unfortunately, my schedule laughs at me when I even suggest such things.
    Know what you can fit into your schedule. Know what you can adjust. Do this before assigning a crazy goal. You can’t get to Iron Man endurance status if you can’t commit the time to train.
  • How much and what do you eat?
    More than the training, diet has a huge effect on health. My recommendation is to do a general calorie counting exercise and then keep track of what you eat. Getting to gnat’s ass detail only is required if you are going for a national body building or bikini contest, so in general just make sure you aren’t way under or way over what you need. Then, make sure that at least the bulk of what you eat are a healthy mix of good fat, protein, and good carbs (minimizing sugar for example – did you notice I didn’t say eliminate).
  • What sacrifices are you willing to make?
    I wrote a quick post a while ago where I came to accept that I wouldn’t ever get toned abs (aka a 6 or 8 pack). The reason? I like beer way too much. Beer is an enemy of toned abs. But being a heavy lifter? Not an issue.
    Depending on the goal, one might have to sacrifice a few things in order to achieve that goal. In the case above, I speak of a food. But it might also be an activity or other things. Who knows. Basically, if you cannot make the sacrifices necessary to achieve a certain goal… well then find a different goal!

Don’t be afraid to experiment too. With regards to both working out and eating, it is best to experiment. My not eating breakfast was an experiment with how my body would react because I was feeling a certain way while eating breakfast. I’ve also changed the style of my workouts a number of times. Sometimes the workouts I do don’t have nearly the impact as others. There’s also exercises that some swear by, but do absolutely nothing for me (or I simply cannot seem to perform them effectively).

The point is that everyone is different, not only in physiology, but also in diet, diet because of physiology (for example various food allergies, tastes, and intolerances), schedules, and in the goals we have. Take advice, but take it knowing that there is always a very good chance that it won’t work, and then again, it might.

Either way, you’ll need to figure it out for yourself.

Why I Like Novellas

I mentioned it in a prior post an article that stated there was a growing popularity with novellas. I like that this is the case. Novellas are a favorite format of mine to write. In fact, my scifi series Gravity is comprised of novellas. And I am debating on converting my two former web serials into serial novellas as well. I am also working on another stand-alone novella called Antlers.

So what is a novella anyway?

It all has to do with wordcount. Although there is a lot of grey area when you talk about what is what regarding word count, one can come up with a reasonable definition for each. Now much of it is debated, but here’s where my research has led me to:

Short story: up to 7,500 words. Up to 500 words, or somewhere in there are called vignettes or flash fiction, a subset of the short story.

Novellette: 7,500 to 17,500 words. Basically this is a long short story.

Short Novel: 40,000 to 50,000 words. I placed this in here because though I found evidence of those who support that novels start at 40,000 words, while A LOT of others say that novels start at 50,000 words.

Novel: 50,000 words or more.

Epic: 100,000 words or more. Still a novel, but a big novel.

Finally:

Novella: 17,500 to 40,000 words. Debates also will suggest that a novella starts from 7,500 words (they say around 8,000 words, so it still fits). Anything longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel can be called a novella. Truth is that ‘novellette’ is a term that is rare in comparison to novella. Many choose to call their longer-than-a-short-story-but-not-quite-a-novel stories novellas even at just over the word count line.

During my research I found a lot of conflicting information, but suffice to say that most of the numbers were close enough. Debating 40,000 to 50,000 words for the starting point of a novel is a big gap, but realistically it is up to the person writing it at this point. I wouldn’t fight a writer who wants to call their 39,999 word book a novel. My opinion is that if you are pretty damn close, you can call what you write whatever you want. Unless you are entering a competition that has strict word count delineations, it really shouldn’t make a nibble of difference..

Novellas are shorter, so in essence they tend to be quicker to write. Now in my case, it took me 2 years to put the 3rd novella in my series Gravity out, but of course in the meantime I was also writing a novel with a 80,000 word count, another novel I am up to 23,000 words, and various other projects.

I know that when I was just starting out I felt a lot of pressure to write either a short story or a novel. And like I also mentioned in prior articles, a novel in the eyes of many to meet “traditional” standards at the time was around 80,000 words. At the time what I was writing just didn’t fit in either of them. Writing and publishing novellas was almost unheard of. But like with everything else, novellas just weren’t out there enough to see if they were viable options.

Reading novellas are certainly not as intimidating as some of these novels that are. My Gravity novellas can be read in under two hours each (some variation depending on a reader’s speed).

Another reason I like writing them is that I can condense a story down. I am sure that if I needed to, I could push each chapter in my Gravity series to 50,000 or more words apiece and retain the main plot points. Pushing for longer stories sometimes causes wordiness. Not that I can’t boil down these books further, but I don’t believe in going too far in depth about every little item in the story unless those items are pertinent to the plot. (This is not a dig against writers of long books. This is however noting that some longer books don’t need to be as long.) Obviously since I have books that I am writing or have written that I have stories that can go longer than a novella, but in many cases I just can’t fit what I want into a short story… and there’s still room to grow into the novel stature.

The whole thing is showing that novels and short stories are not the only two viable storytelling options with the written word. Not that they ever were, but this gives it a much swifter kick in the ass. Novellas in my opinion will help to solve a lot of the problems that books are having in our modern society. Their shorter length will make them a favorite among readers and writers alike. I know this writer enjoys them. And with their lower word count, many writers may find themselves able to produce double or triple the volume of books than focusing solely on novels.

I think novellas are here to stay. And I couldn’t be happier.