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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keeping Your Spirits Up

My family had relatives over for dinner during the holidays and the conversation got around to our latest plans.  I mentioned that I got the week off from my day job but that I was still under pressure to get work done, writing work.  My aunt said something like, "Oh, no, Mario.  What work?  You're on vacation."  Ah, my relatives.  God bless 'em, but they can be a bit clueless sometimes.  If it don't earn a red cent, it ain't work.

This isn't something I've experienced alone.  How many times have you heard people refer to your writing as a hobby, as a way to unwind at the end of the day?  "It's not like you're a real writer like J.K. Rowling."  I've heard it all before from relatives and friends and roommates, and it's a true insult.  If you're writing, you're a writer.  The only time that earning money becomes a factor is when you have to report yourself as a writer to the IRS (that's a topic for another time).

Maybe writing really is a simple pastime for you.  There are writers who never intended for their storytelling to become so fruitful.  However, if writing is a serious endeavor for you, try to maintain your optimism and belief that you will eventually get into print.  Remember that there are crappy writers on the market today.  If their publisher buys their garbage, it's only a matter of time before work of your quality gets noticed.

Or, if you need something more substantial than quality to keep your spirits up, then think quantity.  As a matter of simplicity, I keep my writing material in binders.  Dozens of binder.  Ask yourself, "Does that look like a hobby?"

Monday, December 19, 2011


Never judge a book by its cover?  Don't dis the plot just because of the title?  That may be so, but the title of a story is very important.  And if you don't want to believe that, well, you can go ahead and live in Fantasyland.  Just think about it.  Would Stoker's novel be as attractive if it were called Bloodsucking European Guy?  How about Stephanie Meyer?  You think she'd be a pop culture icon for penning Sparkly, Overly-Emotional Vampires Who DON'T Drink Blood?

Yeah, I didn't think so either.

The title is responsible for establishing mood in a reader even before the first paragraph is read, and there comes a feeling when you've found the right title for your project that fills you with a kind of warmth.  You just know that it works.  Now, we can't imagine Dracula being called anything but.

Nevertheless, finding the right title can be a journey on its own.  I'm not saying that it needs to take up all of your time - something's wrong if you're spending five hours a day figuring the title but only five minutes writing the story - but you need to put some thought into it.  A working title will suffice only until it's time to present the final product.

Don't be afraid to ditch a title you thought was great at the start.  It happens.  The title of my alien invasion novel was, for me, set in stone for nearly two years.  Recently, however, I've felt it's kind of drab and now I'm looking for a replacement.  Also, don't ever - EVER! - make your title so lengthy that no one will easily remember it.  Ellen Bass has a poem called When the Young Geneticist Was Asked, "Aren't you worried about the implications of your work?" with a Toss of Her Sun-Streaked Hair, She Declared, "No, not at all.  I can't wait to fuck a clone."

I'm not kidding.  That's the full title.  The poem itself isn't long; I read it a few times in grad school.  But ever time I'd discuss it with my adviser or fellow students, I always called it "that geneticist poem."  How else was I to remember it?  So my cardinal rule is to keep the title short, no more than ten words.
That said, here are some ideas that might help you on your way:
  1. Quotations: For my alien invasion novel, I used a quote from Ronald Reagan that I thought would fit the overall theme.  You can use a historical reference or you can quote something said by a character of yours.  They do this in movies a lot with Saving Private Ryan, As Good As It Gets and (dare I say it?) Hot Tub Time Machine.
  2. A character:  You make a character's name the title like Stoker did with Dracula.  Other examples are Virginia Woolf's Orlando and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.  The title or nickname of a character works very well too: Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel or Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
  3. Place names: Off the top of my head, Dante's The Divine Comedy is a good example with each part relating to a certain place in the afterlife - Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Paradise).  The Road by Cormac McCarthy is another good one.
  4. A hidden meaning: This is a great way to add layers beneath the obvious.  Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead is a good one, relating the zombies (obviously) but also the notion that the survivors are in a state of death as well.  Justin Cronin said that The Passage refers not only to the journey of the characters but also to the world's transition from a living one to a place of death.
  5. An event: The title can relate the main situation of the story such as H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds or Joe Haldeman's The Forever War.
There are some other ways to name a story, but these, I find, are the most common guides.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Back to Basics

I think it's easy to lose sight of which methods work for you as a writer and which don't.  Everyone has a particular way of writing, a certain way of doing things when approaching a project, and sometimes you can forget that.

Ben Franklin, I've heard, did his best writing in the bathtub.  I don't, and I don't use a quill and ink either.  I've always been a computer writer - I just feel more at ease typing, and it's faster for me as well - and I find that my words come out best with loud music playing.  There are only ten bands that I listen to when I write: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Alice in Chains, Eagles of Death Metal, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Motley Crue, Nirvana, The Offspring, and The White Stripes.  Music has such a profound impact on a writer's productivity that most of us pay almost no attention to, but it's there.  When I want to crank out a few thousand words, these guys help like no other.  I don't know why.  They're just my bathtub.

Now, if the myth is true, imagine Franklin writing out of the tub.  I realized this week that I tried to balance writing with family time, taking my laptop with me when I hang out with my parents or my siblings.  And because I want to be polite, I usually go without the music.  Big mistake.  It's a mistake because now I'm more focused on carrying conversation in quiet.  I'm not that kind of writer.  I'm a writer who needs to be locked up and screaming "Girls!  Girls!  Girls!" along with Vince Neil.

If you feel like you've lost some of your steam, then maybe it would do you good to take a moment or two and reflect on what gets you writing like a madman.  And if you are a writer who works best alone, don't be afraid to let your friends and family know that you need that alone time.  They'll understand.  If they don't, turn the table on them and demand that they try writing your book.  That tends to shut people up.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Character Summaries

If you're working on a writing project with more than a handful of main characters, it's really easy to loose track of who's doing what.  With my alien invasion novel, I've tried keeping an eye on things by marking down what pages each character appears in, but all that really tells me is how frequently they appear.

This week, I stumbled upon a new idea: character summaries.  It's a simply concept.  You mark down the pages that a particular character appears in, and write a few sentences on what goes on with that character from point to point in the story.  Doing this is especially helpful for long projects, saving time that you'd otherwise spend sifting through dozens or even hundreds of pages of material.

Don't worry about going into heavy detail or motivations.  You know what drives your characters.  If there is a change in motivation, a brief sentence on that change will do.  If a side character appears that you think might become important later on, make a note of that in the relevant annotation.

Just keep in mind that it's not a synopsis that you're writing, so you don't need to go crazy on the amount of information you record.  If a few months go by between vignettes for a character, chances are that he or she will have forgotten some of the finer details of that last scene.  Unless, of course, that character has a photographic memory.

Even then, photographic memory or not, you as a writer will want only the bare essentials of each scene.  The summaries have less to do with character development and more to do with how the plot flows.  For example, you don't want to have the first vignette take the character down one road to a particular goal, forget about that goal a hundred pages later and then have him or her go down another path that doesn't logically connect with the first one.