About Mario

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mario Piumetti is a freelance writer of science fiction, horror, screenplays, and nonfiction. He has a bachelor's degree in English from California Lutheran University and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. An avid music lover, his work is heavily influenced by rock, punk, and metal. You can contact him at mario.piumetti.writer@gmail.com.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Time management is a skill that every writer should have a good grip on, especially writers like me who have trouble finding the off switch.  The off switch is the ability to inhibit your brain's ability to come up with new ideas.  I have this problem all the time: I'm working on a story and a new one pops into my head.  I want to do something with the new idea but I don't want to give up on the current one.  As a result, I now have seven items on my writing plate: four novels (an alien invasion story, a supernatural detective story, an apocalyptic road trip and a survival story set on another planet), two short stories (one about vampires, the other about aliens) and a bunch of poetry from my final semester at grad school that await revision.

Some people would look at this scenario and question writing altogether.  Others want to keep moving forward but are afraid that the task is too daunting, like crossing a desert with only a cup of water.  This is a fact.  I know that when I was in college and just beginning to write, I was so overwhelmed by all that I wanted to get onto paper that I would often question whether or not I wanted to do it at all.  Don't worry.  It only looks daunting.  I'll show you how to fix it.  For this exercise, you'll need a pen, paper and three colors of marker.  Or you can read on without doing the exercise.  I'll let you decide.

First, write down a list of everything you've got in the works.  Everything from stories you've worked on for years to those you thought of when you began reading this post.  Now take one color marker (I'll pick red for this) and put a dot next to those that need your attention now.  Use another color (let's say green) for those that can wait for weeks or even months; I'd say years, but the novice among you might freak out at that.  Finally, with your third marker (this one can be orange), mark the items that you want to work on but the world won't end if they're unfinished by next weekend.  With that first marker (red), you've marked you high-priority stories.  With the second (green), you've marked the low-priority ones.  And the third marker (orange) has marked the medium-priority narratives.  I'll use my list to help illustrate if you're having trouble:

 High-Priority Stories:
  • Alien invasion novel
  • Detective story
  • Vampire short story
Medium-Priority Stories:
  • Apocalyptic road trip
Low-Priority Stories:
  • Survival story
  • Alien short story
  • Poetry 

Now it's a matter of using the time in your day to get the most out of this list.  My day job is tutoring for a few hours three or four days a week, which means that I have a good amount of time to be a productive writer.  "Patient Zero," my alien short story, is low-priority because it's finished and out for consideration with a few magazines, so I can ignore it until submission responses come it.  The survival story set on another planet can also wait, as I know I won't get a shot at it until way, way down the road.  In the meantime, I can do a little bit of research now.  Say, an hour a week during my days off (I have a rule that you should take one day a week off from strenuous writing).  Nothing too taxing.  A documentary one week, a news article about the latest planet discovery or browsing a website on how scientists think humans could colonize space.  The point of this slow-paced research is that you're still making progress in the long run kind of like the tortoise versus the hare.  I'll admit now, sadly, that my poetry work will probably fall in the "do it when you can" category.  It sucks, but there's always going to be some piece of writing that will fall onto the back burner.

Now let's take a look at the high-priority stories, those pieces of writing that can't be pushed off until later.  The alien invasion novel is one that I started a couple of years ago.  Because I've invested so much of my energy into it, I want to keep it going, so I'll schedule time for it every day.  The other two stories - the detective story and the vampire short story - need to share time.  I began the detective story about a year ago but have neglected it for some time.  By putting it in the high-priority category, I'm forcing myself to pay attention to it once again.  You have to do that sometimes.  You have to make a commitment to work on a piece.  The vampire short story is also on the list because I like to have at least one piece of short fiction going at any time (I'll discuss my feelings on the short story another time).  The option that I'll take with these two is to simply alternate them.  Tomorrow I'll work on the short story, the next day on the detective story, and switch back and forth between them day to day.

The medium-priority story - the apocalyptic road trip - is something reserved for the evening, it's a mix between a high-priority piece and the slow, relaxed progression of, say, the survival story.  The road trip will be done about an hour a night as opposed to an hour a week, and I plan to write it organically (again, I'll talk about organic writing in a future post).

Before long, I'll establish a rhythm to my schedule that allows me to continue with my day job without burning out from exhaustion, and that's a good thing.  That sort of stability takes away one headache.  I won't have to worry about cramming my stories into one day.  It doesn't matter that I don't work on my detective story tomorrow.  That's what Tuesdays are for.  I won't have to stress over my road trip story when I can work on it for half an hour or so before bed.

Take this to heart, especially the "burning out from exhaustion" part.  Not only is fatigue detrimental to your health, it produces poor writing.  There were times in grad school when I slept for a few hours a night and it showed; I've marked up previous drafts until they were redder than the Soviet Union.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cherry Pie

I started a weekly blog a couple of years ago for my friends to keep track of on Facebook.  It seemed to work pretty well.  Some weeks, I had a lot to write about.  Others, not so much.  It at least kept me motivated enough to keep writing.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to start a new blog available to others who didn't keep in touch with me through Facebook, and here I am typing it now.

Here's what this blog is not: it's not me tooting my horn about the stories I'm currently writing (though I will use myself as an example).  It's not me hollering about how cool and special I am.  What it is is a look at the life of one writer.  Each week, I'll make a post on something related to the art of writing (building strong characters, dialogue, research tips, etc.) or something about the writer's lifestyle (dealing with rejection slips, tips on submitting stories, etc.).  Hopefully, you'll learn something.  If not, I at least hope you'll find this an entertaining read.

The first thing that every writer has to deal with is the question of what to write, and there are a lot of options.  With fiction alone, you have your choice of mystery, romance, science fiction, westerns, and so on.  Then you have sub-genres within each of them.  Hardboiled mystery?  Time-travel romance?  Apocalyptic science fiction?  Spaghetti western?  It's a matryoshka doll of questions.  Two writers whose advice may be helpful are Stephen King and Leonard Chang.  King, of course, needs no introduction, or, if he does, it's one with thunder and lightning.  Leonard is a faculty member at Antioch University where I got my M.F.A.  I never had him for an adviser or in workshop.  In fact, the only conversation I ever had with him was when I was picking a semester adviser.  Still, he keeps a blog of his own that's very insightful.

King's On Writing is a terrific look at writing with a nice conversational tone that really puts the reader at ease.  The question of what to write about is something he discusses, and his answer is simple: "anything you damn well want."  That includes the outlandish stories about aliens, monsters and anything out of the ordinary.  We've never met aliens but that doesn't stop people from writing about them.  Military science fiction has been my default genre for years, ever since grade school when I put down the T.V. remote and picked up a book for fun.  You never lose dramatic tension during a war.  To paraphrase H. Rap Brown, violence is as American as cherry pie.  Of course, that doesn't make it the only thing that I write.  I'm always willing to try a Tolkienesque fantasy or a Stokerian monster tale.  There isn't anything wrong with switching genres, just as long as you write something that you find interesting.

This brings me to my next point: avoid clone writing.  Clone writing is when you write something you enjoy in a fit of inspiration but it's not quite something you're cut out for.  One of my favorite books is Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I had been toying with the idea of doing a Faustian story of my own for about a year.  Part of it was a dare I made to myself to write about a character that was truly horrific, but what I got was just a series of drug abuse, murder, cannibalism and just about every sin I could think of.  And it was meaningless.  There was no ending to the story and nothing to glue it all together.

Here's where Leonard Chang comes in.  Leonard recently posted a story about a friend of his that I'll sum up for you here.  This friend was also a painter and, while taking an art course, an instructor splattered black paint over a classmate's work, saying that he should never get too attached what he was working on.  If something doesn't click, and if it drags on for a year like this, it's a clear sign that you should forget about it and move on to something else.  I may be a fan of Wilde's novel, but it's just something I'm not meant to write myself.

Likewise, pick something to write that you enjoy as a reader, but be willing to accept your own limitations.  It will save you a lot of sleepless nights.