Scrabble...don't make me cut a *****.

I have a confession to make – I play entirely too much Scrabble with my writer roommate (hey, at least I’m not alone in my addiction). We usually play about a game a day, give or take. We play with nine tiles instead of seven. All languages are up for grabs—we’ve thrown down words in Spanish, Latin, Japanese, you name it.

So, naturally, nobody else we know wants to play with us, because we smash them into literary oblivion. We’re pretty much only suitable for playing with each other or at the competitive level (do people actually play Scrabble competitively?)

Anyway, I have started writing down our words to save them for later, as sometimes I’ll happen on a couple of words in Scrabble that I really love. I think it’d be fun to take a Scrabble board and write a short story or vignette based around the words in any given game, but between working on We are the Weapon and Everybody But Lazarus, I haven’t really had much time to give this writing exercise a go. But if anyone gives it a shot, post or link to your results and let me know how it goes for you…

Here are a couple of boards from the past week:







Writers are often influenced by the literary works of others. Stephen King built his entire Dark Tower series around a single poem by Robert Browning titled “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”. (Incidentally, I did a huge paper in school about the thematic correlations and allusions between “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” and The Dark Tower.)

My own novel-in-progress, We are the Weapon, has also been inspired by a lot of different things – the PATRIOT Act, 2012 apocalypse hysteria, biblical Revelations, The Handmaid’s Tale, the War on Terror, 9/11, WWI war poetry, and (naturally) George Orwell’s 1984.

The most disturbing part about writing a dystopian novel over a period of several years during this particular time period is that I get to continually see elements which I believe should remain firmly on the page pop up in real life current events. Mass video surveillance and martial law are no problem in the fictional realm, and they’re even fun to play around with. But seeing these things in real life is not fun, and it’s not funny.

One small piece of inspirational literature that has molded my concepts behind We are the Weapon is the poem “The Second Coming” by William Yeats. It pretty much captures the essence of the world I live in when I don’t live in this one…

“The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming!
Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs,
while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

~ William Yeats, 1920

These are off of my Pandora music station “Brutus”, which I set up for music that reminds me of the protagonist of We Are The Weapon, Brutus Telfair. There’s some really good music for invoking dystopian California on there – I’ve been “training” that particular Pandora station pretty rigidly on my likes and dislikes so I always have an atmospherically appropriate playlist to turn to for writing practice.

“You Found Me” – The Fray
“Riptide” – Sick Puppies
“Headstrong” – Trapt
“The Ghost of You” – My Chemical Romance
“Capricorn (A Brand New Name)” – 30 Seconds to Mars
“Swing Life Away” – Rise Against
“Night of the Hunter” – 30 Seconds to Mars
“Shadow of the Day” – Linkin Park
“Your Guardian Angel” – Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
“Cleaning Apartment” – Clint Mansell and Chronos Quartet (Requiem for a Dream)
“21 Guns” – Green Day
“True Faith” – Anberlin
“Uprising” – Muse
“Apocalyptica” – Cult
“Famous Last Words” – My Chemical Romance

“Yo, sleeping beauty, up and at ‘em. We’re due for a Forecast in tee minus ten.”

The swaddled form in the bed grunted. Yuri rolled his eyes.

Yuri checked his watch, then drove a knuckle into the soft dozing form in front of him. He heard a muffled yelp. “I’m serious, get up Darl. If I get another demerit from that hardass Sowser in Systems because you couldn’t get out of bed at a decent hour, I’m going to shove you out of an airlock. I‘m not joking this time, I‘ll do it.”

No answer. Yuri ripped the blankets forcefully back from the circular bed. A tangle of arms and legs and surprised faces lay underneath. There was a shrill scream.

Yuri threw the covers quickly back on the bed, performing an abrupt about-face. He cleared his throat.

“Various naked people, if you would please remember that this is a Technicians’ Quarter, and you have to be escorted–”

A giggle from under the blankets.

“…Anyway, break it up. Darl, if you don’t get up this very instant, I’m going to recommend that you be transferred, preferably somewhere horrible.”

Yuri walked out of the quarter and leaned on the wall outside of Darl’s door, crossing his arms across his chest.

After a moment, a young brunette emerged, combing her mussed hair with her fingers. She eyed Yuri and flipped him a wink before sashaying off.

Yuri started to move for the door when it opened again. A young man with strong features and olive skin jerked back with wide eyes in the doorway. Yuri raised his eyebrows, then moved back with a No, after you gesture. The young man exited past him quickly.

Yuri walked back into the quarter. Darl was in the bathroom, taking a piss naked with the door wide open.

“You’re incorrigible.”

Darl walked back in when he was done and began to throw on his clothes. “It wouldn’t hurt you to lay some pipe every now and again.”

“Not very discriminating with regards to the plumbing, are you?”

“What can I say? They’re a cute couple.”

“Ugh, okay. Enough of that. Just hurry the hell up.”

Darl walked past Yuri in his pajamas and out the door. Yuri followed him.

“You know, I really think you abuse this casual Friday thing.”

Darl threw his hands up. “What does it matter?” He jumped up as he walked to slap at a hanging light. “We’re on the Big Voice, it’s not like anyone can see us.”

“It’s the principle of the thing.”

“I still think if you got a little ‘casual’ once in awhile you wouldn’t continually be on the edge of a nervous breakdown all the time.”

“Can you blame me for taking my job seriously, Darl? We’re in charge of climate for this whole damned colony. Without us the crops would die off, people would go hungry and thirsty, the biosphere would be destroyed–”

“Yeah, yeah, lives hang in the balance. Yuri, it’s just a little rain. It’s just a little sun. Lighten up.”

They walked into the climate cabin. They sat down at the console and pulled up the analysis screens. Humidity, air pressure, temperature, oxygen levels, carbon dioxide, light spectrums.

Darl put on the headphones while Yuri worked the switchboard.

“Should have got numbers for those two,” Darl said.

“Seriously, I haven’t even had coffee yet,” Yuri replied, disgusted. “You’re going live in eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.”

“Good morning Icarus! This is Darl Rock with your friendly neighborhood Climate Control, here to give you your daily Forecast. At 0630, there will be a rain shower lasting until approximately 0100 hours, so get those hydro collection systems ready and bring in the laundry. As a complement to the First Crop, we will be scheduling a series of gentle storm systems this week to aid germination in the Agricultural Station. Per standard operating procedure, we will also provide precipitation alerts prior to all climate activation. Thanks, and as always, enjoy that wet weather!”

Yuri took a slug of coffee from the side of the console and switched off the Big Voice.

“And that’s a wrap. I can’t believe you actually get paid to do that.”

“It’s the silky smooth vocals, my friend. They make all the little space bunnies moist.”

“A chimp could do your job.”

“Aw, that’s not even nice. You’re just being grouchy now.”

Yuri accessed the climate control panel, beginning the precipitation sequence. Darl adjusted the monitoring system.

“Beginning precipitation sequence for the U.S.S. Icarus, Colony Log Day 4116, Hour 0615,” Yuri said, his words clipped and professional.

“We’ve got a go for Rainmaker Five,” Darl said.

“Affirmative. Proceed.”

“Countdown sequence in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…”

Both Darl and Yuri waited for the rainmaking lasers to shoot into the sky of the colony, illuminating the seed cloud that hovered at its ceiling. Beyond it, they could see the glittering vastness of space like diamonds on black velvet obscured by a mist.


“Well that was underwhelming.”


Some writing statistics from JenkinsGroup:

80% of adult Americans want to write a novel.

33% of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

42% percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. 

70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. 

57% of new books are not read to completion. 

70% of books published do not earn back their advance. 

70% of the books published do not make a profit.

53% read fiction, 43% read nonfiction. The favorite fiction category is mystery and suspense, at 19%.

55% of fiction is bought by women, 45% by men.   About 120,000 books are published each year in the U.S.

A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies.

A successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies.   On average, a bookstore browser spends 8 seconds looking at a book’s front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.  

Each day in the U.S., people spend 4 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines.

…Still want to write a book? It better be a labor of love. In fact, you’d better be a literary lovestruck idiot to get into this business.

“I have great faith in fools; self-confidence, my friends call it.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

Tall Boy was deep inside his own head, standing and staring up at the skeleton of the mural with a can of cream paint in one hand and his hip in the other. He was contemplating techniques for reproducing lunar craters in trompe l’oeil when an unknown hand came down heavily on his shoulder and swung him around.

Inception (review)

Posted: July 26, 2010 in Movie Reviews, Reviews


– Exposition dump via sales pitch at the beginning of the movie – usually a bad thing, but in a complicated story like this, getting your premise out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible is important. The reason for this is that motivating scenes (any kind of buildup in which the character is getting ready to act) slow the story down. The place for this is not at the beginning of a story (usually). The beginning of stories should be immediate and charged with some kind of conflict. If the premise can be explained by a series of events rather than one or two character monologues, do it. Give us backstory, but do it in passing. Christopher Nolan does this with a dazzling combination of special effects and snappy dialogue in Inception.

– Nolan does a pretty good job balancing his audience’s need for enough information to keep up with the breakneck pace of the story versus their desire to see pretty stuff like imploding buildings in slow motion and other strong imagery. This was undoubtably a difficult task, given the complexity of the movie’s narrative.

– I’m a big fan of Leonardo di Caprio, mostly because I think he picks awesome films that don’t get the credit they deserve, like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and The Beach, just to name a few. (The novel of the same name by Alex Garland is inevitably better of course.) I’m a big fan of Ellen Page for the same reason – both of them did a fantastic job in this movie.

Verdict: High octane action, a great original premise, and special effects that are out of this world make Inception a sure bet. My only complaint would be that the story was so complex, it’s not really a movie you’d want to watch while doing something else. It would be easy to get lost. 4 out of 5 salt shakes.


– Every hero needs a weakness in order to avoid coming off as unbelievably perfect. Sheriff Oleson (Josh Harnett) is asthmatic. This increases tension in later fight scenes because he is at a physical disadvantage.

– The main character also has an emotional weakness – his estranged girlfriend is along for the ride. This girl is not some vague distant “damsel in distress” but a constant influence on the driving action of the film. The relationship adds ambiance, but does not detract from the immediacy of the dangers the ensemble of good guys is up against (that is, a pack of ravenous bloodthirsty vampire scum).

– Speaking of vampires, these are not your average Stoker vamps either – they have enough fresh elements to make them intriguing (their own language, for example) but they don’t wander into the realm of the ridiculous (does a vampire really have nothing better to do than hang out in a high school?). The vampires worked, and that’s because they hit a pleasing note between originality and implausibility.

– Use your setting as inspiration to set up conflict. People (especially people in crisis) tend to be hindered by their environment. 30 Days of Night takes this to an extreme by stranding a town full of Alaskans in the middle of nowhere and having vampires descend down on them. Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.

Verdict: Due to the artfully gruesome fight scenes and the unique setting, not the mention the fresh take on vampires, I give 30 Days of Night 4 out of 5 salt shakes. Be sure to check out the graphic novel that the movie is based on as well:

Silver screen.

Posted: July 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’ve decided one of the things I’m going to add to Salt Over Shoulder is movie reviews. Why movie reviews on what has effectively up to this point been some kind of aspiring-author-desiring-Horatio-Alger-ending-for-payment-of-general-car-repairs sort of blog? Here are a few reasons:

1. I love movies, and I watch a ton of them. I love discussing them with people. I’m just a big movie dork. My favorite movies are the ones that don’t suck. Some of this is due to the fact that I have an irrational bias about one of the actors or actresses. For example, I will watch anything with Johnny Depp in it without reservation. More likely, the movie didn’t suck because the screenwriting was good.

2. Analyzing movies is good practice for writers – movies are usually pretty good about following the classical fiction structure: opening action/setup, rising action, climax, and resolution. Any deviation of that structure shown in film can be imitated and reproduced in the form of a novel. Also, the success or failure of a film says a lot about their stories in general – what sells and what doesn’t? What sizzles and what falls flat?

3. Writing movie reviews/taking notes forces me to watch films with the mechanics of the writing in mind. Hopefully, this will improve my own analytical story-telling skills as well.

“There were some people who avoided the Jaunt because they were leery of the long-term consequences. There were also those who had been over-exposed to the media coverage of the rare four cases where a person had gone missing mid-way. The title of the first New York Times headline narrating this incident was simply