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, December 24, 2012

Ain't No Grave: Day 54

I finished the first draft of Ain't No Grave.  Well, in truth, I wrote about 87,000 words, which falls short of my 100,000-word goal, and I didn't get to the end, but nevertheless, I'm calling the first draft done.

In regards to that part about not reaching the end, let me clear the air now and tell you that I haven't abandoned the story.  There are problems with the story of such magnitude that the ending doesn't matter at this point.  That's not to say that endings are meaningless, but by the time I correct the problems in the draft, I'd have to rethink and rewrite the ending anyways.

I haven't begun revising the first draft, haven't even started to print it yet.  That reminds me: I need to stop by Office Depot and pick up a ream of processed tree carcass.  Nothing says "zombie story" like printing it on a tree's corpse, but I digress.

I'm sure I'll find more as I go through the material, but there are a few major problems that come to mind right off the bat that need immediate attention.  First, there's no strong sense of the main characters: Donny, Megan, and Allen.  Donny is the one I think we spend the most time with, but he's still an enigma.  We don't know much about his past or what's really driving him, and he doesn't seem to have any plan whatsoever other than living to the end of the day.  With Megan, we know a little bit about her family, but she doesn't seem to be very grounded with the rest of the trio.  Allen feels like dead weight.  He doesn't seem to do much at all.

Speaking of dead weight, the second problem is that there are a bunch of sections in the story that can be omitted entirely.  There's a section in Fontana, California that doesn't really add anything to the book.  That can be removed.  I had this idea of giving Donny a recurrent dream that later involves a secondary character named Shelley who comes in so late that she has no gravitas at all.  I think including Donny's dreams might have seemed cool in the beginning, but it really contributes nothing.

Third, I need to pin down a sense of voice.  Earlier in the story, there were a couple of things I did that I liked quite a bit, tactics such as letting the internal dialog come through or giving certain zombies of momentary importance nicknames (I picked this up reading Chuck Wendig's Double Dead).  The internal dialog lets us know the characters more intimately and pick up on their sense of paranoia.  The nicknames give us a shorthand; it's quicker to call a zombie "Swiss Cheese" rather than "the zombie with lots of bullet holes in his chest".

And speaking of voice and tone, Ain't No Grave needs to find its balls because I'm not feeling the peril.  There were a couple of scenes in the first half that got me concerned for the characters, but so much time went by in between that I was numb to their plight.

Finally, the plot needs to congeal.  Yes, Donny, Megan, and Allen are all looking for safety, but there's no plan on how to get that security, or they have an excuse not to stay safe.  There's a large section where the three of them take refuge at a brothel in Pahrump, Nevada, and it seems like a stable place.  There's food, water, and medicine.  There are cops armed to the teeth keeping a lookout.  Aside from the stigma of it being a whorehouse - which is pretty minor given, you know, the zombie apocalypse and all - it feels like a pretty decent place to survive in.  In fact, the book goes out of its way to show how stable Pahrump is and how a lot of the families passing through end up staying to help build a community.

Donny, however, picks up his stakes and leaves because he says it doesn't feel safe.  Now, sometimes your gut instincts can be a good thing, but not when they fly in the face of logical reasons to stay put, especially when Pahrump really isn't one of those too-good-to-be-true locales.

A reminder: I haven't gone back and read a single page of the manuscript, and I'm coming up with all these flaws.  It's better to cut my losses on the first draft and begin revisions now rather than piddling away for another week just so I can try and get to 100,000 words.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ain't No Grave: Day 38

With twenty-two days to go until the end of Ain't No Grave's first draft, I've rediscovered how vital deadlines are.  I forgot about that almost as soon as I finished grad school, and it's probably why most of my past writing got nowhere.  Case in point: when I worked on an alien invasion novel (before killing it on the other side of this year), I kept dicking with it and fine-tuning it and whining about how it's just not quite there yet.  Now, it's a pile of trash in a landfill somewhere.

Chuck Wendig said that the secret of writing is to "write as much as you can, write as fast as you can, finish your shit, hit your deadlines, and try very hard not to suck."  Let's go back a second.  HIT YOUR DEADLINES.  One of the secrets that I overlooked.

Part of why I'm feeling so energized about Ain't No Grave is that I see an end in sight.  It's not the ultimate end, but it is the completion of one phase.  Come hell or high water, I know I'll have the first draft in my hands on New Year's Day.  From then on, it's a matter of revising and trying very hard not to suck.  The ultimate deadline is one year.  If the novel is not finished by October 2013, it will never be done.  Period.

Without deadlines, you can go on working on a project without end, going nuts along the way as I did with the invasion story.  I must have worked on that thing for two and a half or three years, all the while just going in circles.

Going crazy is a bad thing.  Even the voices you hear in your head when you're a nut don't like you because you're such a basket case.  Save your sanity, give yourself a realistic deadline, and stick with it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ain't No Grave: Day 36

I think I've figured out my ideal time to write Ain't No Grave, which is between midnight and two or three in the morning.  It's probably because that's the time when people are the least likely to bug me.  Everyone else is asleep and I can focus on nothing else but the writing.

Something on my mind a lot the last few hours has been how tired I'm feeling.  It's probably the weather.  It's in the fifties right now, and I'm always sluggish when it's cold.  I've been asking myself, "Should I take the night off, or should I keep going?"  Chances are that I'll elect to continue a little later.  Again, late at night is my most productive time.  I can catch up on sleep once this first draft is done.

Then again, the fatigue could also be from pushing myself hard.  Right now, Ain't No Grave is just under 61,000 words, and I'm almost 800 words over today's goal.  While writing last month during NaNoWriMo, I thought it was desirable to push myself onward and finish the draft days or even a week ahead of schedule to show what a bad-ass I am.

It turns out that bravado might be costing me.

My daily quota is about 1,700 words, or between six and seven pages.  That's quite a leap from the three pages I tried to get in each day before NaNoWriMo.  I was so far behind at one point last month that I really wanted to catch up and surpass my goal, but that's not what writing is about.  It's not some feat of strength like a Festivus celebration.

As long as you're meeting your daily quota, you're doing fine.  There's really no point in pushing yourself over the edge if you end up so tired that you have trouble putting together a coherent sentence.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Dead Zone

As I sit here at my desk taking a break from Ain't No Grave, I find myself entering the Dead Zone.  No, not the Stephen King novel.  The Dead Zone, for me, is when you get to a portion of story that feels utterly boring.  For example, my characters are walking along an empty freeway, their truck too damaged to go any farther.  I know there's a truck stop nearby with a dozen fast food joints and some cars abandoned by their rightful owners.

Question: do I go into detail about the survivors commandeering a new car, or do I skip over this episode, sum it up in a paragraph or two, and go along my merry way?

The latter is the right answer, and here's how you find out.

If you find yourself entering the Dead Zone, sit back and survey it for five or ten minutes.  If you can't think of something interesting to say or have no peril to shove your characters into, move on.  If later you think of something to write about, well, that's what revisions are for.

Don't endanger your characters for the hell of it.  Please do not turn your writing into torture porn because we've already got plenty of Saw and Final Destination movies.  Even Disney has it's own vein of torture porn thanks to the work of Thomas Czarnecki.

Now, my knee-jerk reaction to this is, "Hang on!  Don't I want my readers to follow my characters' journey every step of the way?"  Yes, but there's a catch.  Some steps are bigger than others just like a leap is bigger than a shuffle.

Yesterday, I finished reading Double Dead by Chuck Wendig.  There are three major geographic chunks to the story: New York, Kansas, and Los Angeles.  Each of these are separated by gaps of time and distance.

New York.  Coburn the vampire wakes up from a kind of coma, gets his bearings, and meets the band of human survivors he ends up protecting.  Kansas.  Coburn and his group encounter a religious militia called the Sons of Man with which Coburn has some bad history.  Los Angeles.  Coburn's group and the Sons of Man seek out a lab supposedly working on a cure for the zombie plague and clash in a final confrontation.

Time has passed in between these three segment.  Wendig is clear when he points this out.  He summarizes that the survivors are being chased by zombies that have undergone a horrific mutation courtesy of Coburn's blood.  That's not to say that the journey has been easy, but we don't need to know the minute details.  It's probably a lot of the same thing: the survivors head west, they have maybe an encounter or two with the mutant zombies, and then they get back to the road.

And while these encounters might be great action scenes, the reader ultimately senses the repetition, and this, in turn, slows down the momentum of the story, killing the audience's interest.  And that is why it's called the Dead Zone.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Update Complete

With all the late nights spent at the computer working on Ain't No Grave, I feel that I owe you readers an update on what's been going on.

First of all, NaNoWriMo is over, and surprisingly, I made it to the end with 50,860 words on my novel.  That came as a bit of a shock to me because I was constantly behind after the setback of the first week.  NaNoWriMo may be over, but Ain't No Grave isn't.  I'm about halfway through the first draft, so there's still another month to go before I really can breathe a sigh of relief.

Another thing I want to mention is the Truby's Plot series that I haven't written since mid-October.  It is still going.  I have not given up on it.  November's just been a really busy month.  I will have another installment of it next week, and then I'm going to try and commit to at least a new post for it each week until I get to the end of it.  Because I really do want to finish it.

That's all I got at the moment.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ain't No Grave: Day 23

It's been a while since I've posted on the blog, and I apologize.  After restarting Ain't No Grave when it fell through the first week of NaNoWriMo, I've been putting in a lot of hours to try and catch up with the word count, and it's only in this last week that I did start hitting the mark.  I don't often hit the mark exactly, maybe I'll be off a few hundred words or so, but that's better than being off by a few thousand words.  Those words that I'm off by, I make up the next day.

As of this writing, Ain't No Grave is just shy of 39,000 words.  Momentum's built up with it, and I'm finding it a lot easier to get the words out.  There are still a few sluggish points here and there each day, but they don't overwhelm me like when I was trying to get six thousand words written each day.

One thing that's kept me going has been visual stimulus.  The NaNoWriMo website allows you to update your word count and see how close or distant you are from your daily goal, and seeing the bar rise little by little drives me onward little by little.  I keep telling myself, "You're almost there, Mario."

But that only goes so far.  My target goal 100,000 words, not 50,000.  No, I'm not trying to get that much done in one month.  I'm not that crazy.  So as far as I'm concerned, NaNoWriMo is a two-month affair.  I'm doubling up and hoping to get another 50,000 words written by the end of the year.

What's been helping me is a word-tracker program that I found on another blog for artist Svenja Liv; the link for this particular post is here.  I stumbled upon it by accident after Googling "NaNoWriMo word trackers".  This is an enormously helpful Excel spreadsheet.  I tweaked with it to fit my two-month time frame, and it only took me an hour, tops, to do.  That's the beauty of it, it's extremely user-friendly.  I sent a copy of it to a writer friend of mine in Idaho named Lee and he responded with, "Dude, this is exceptional!  And it can be adjusted for anything!  Sweet find!"

And speaking of writer friends, that another thing I've noticed from NaNoWriMo: your writer friends seem more vocally supportive around this time, kind of like how people try to be a little more generous during the December holidays.  Lee and I shot emails back and forth recently and he suggested that we swap drafts when we finish to give each other feedback.  On top of that, he said that my premise of a zombie survival story is always a classic.  Now, I consider Lee to be way more talented than I am, so to hear that was a big morale booster.

Whether or not you're participating in NaNoWriMo, what I've learned through this experience is how important it is to keep in touch with your peers.  Writing is a very solitary experience.  It has to be because only you can write the words for your story, and that usually involves finding quiet seclusion to get the work done without distractions.  But that same seclusion can cut you off from people, so it's always important to get up, grab some air, and call up a few folks to see how their doing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ain't No Grave: Day 10

This week has exhausted me.  After last week's work collapse, I felt like I had to play catch-up in order to keep up with my writing goal for NaNoWriMo.  Not only did I have to put in my six daily pages, I had to write an additional six pages Monday through Thursday in order to make up for the lost pages.

That doesn't sound too bad when you work out the numbers on paper, but actually getting it done in real life is another story.  I hate write first drafts.  Lord, I don't know how many times I've told you guys that.  Sometimes, I can get ten pages out in a flash.  The words flow so naturally.  Other times, I can barely write a paragraph.  It's frustrating.

So imagine my frustration when I had to write thirty pages yesterday and couldn't bring myself to write until late in the evening!  I was so dead tired that I had AC/DC's It's A Long Way To The Top playing on repeat.  Bon Scott's bagpipes solo was like a defibrillator jump-starting me for at least ten minutes.

Finally, this morning, I said to hell with it.  My NaNoWriMo schedule has been dented, and I'm not going to be able to catch up.  That's not to say that I've given up on NaNoWriMo or Ain't No Grave or anything like that.  Rather, I've given up on stressing out over the pages that pile up.  I'm just going to accept the fact that I tripped and won't be able to sprint my way out of this.

The alternative is to constantly deprive myself of sleep, and the result is sloppy, incoherent writing that I'll have to redo anyways.  It's not worth the agony.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ain't No Grave: Day 5


Since the start of NaNoWriMo on Thursday, I got fourteen pages down for Ain't No Grave.  And now, those fourteen pages don't mean shit.  I looked over what ideas I had for the plot and didn't like what I saw.

Ain't No Grave was originally supposed to be the opposite of the zombie road trip we've seen lately.  It was supposed to go back to the idea of survivors barricaded in a single place.  Two things worked against this.  First, the plot had the refuge overrun by marauders from a nearby town, and I felt like it would be kind of a let down.  It didn't seem to have enough oomph even when it popped in my head.

The second reason was that the road trip appeals to me.  It's uncertain, episodic, and more importantly allows the reader to see different parts of the society being portrayed.  By having the story set in a single location, I have to try and force various facets of the apocalyptic world to come to the survivors.  The world doesn't conveniently move for one man.  The answer is to have the survivors move for the world.  Do I feel like a poser?  Yes, a little bit, but at least I'm a logical poser.

Another thing I didn't like was the fact that the survivors were a rather large group - about fifty people - and not all of them were going to be introduced as even minor characters.  They were going to be like those people you see in the background on TV, people with no importance whatsoever, people with less value than red shirts on a Star Trek episode.

If certain characters serve no real purpose, then the writer ought to get rid of them.  And so I've rethought Ain't No Grave to focus on three core characters: Donny Moran, Megan Greer, and Allen Freeman.  Donny begins the story alone a month after the apocalypse until he finds Allen, an abandoned boy.  After their hideout is overrun by zombies, they escape to a local farm where they find a lone survivor, Megan, and convince her that she's not safe and would be better off joining them.

That's really all I've got at the moment.  If it seems rough and hastily put together, well, that's because I jotted notes for it an hour ago.  Without coffee.

Yes, it sucks that I've lost a few days of NaNoWriMo and fourteen pages, but setbacks happen in writing.  They've happened to me.  They'll happen to you.  Deal with it.  Honestly, I never had any delusions that I'd reach the 50,000-word goal for NaNoWriMo, but if I can get to at least 40,000 words, that's still quite a feat to me.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Shit's Fucked Up

For a while now, I've been reading Chuck Wendig's novel Double Dead, which is about a vampire trying to survive the zombie apocalypse.  If you haven't read it, get a copy.  Wendig doesn't hold back in his writing.  The vampire, Coburn, is an asshole, comparing his human charges to cattle and calling them his herd.

But the reason I'm talking about Double Dead is because the novel is, I think, the best example of one of Kurt Vonnegut's rules.  "Be a sadist.  No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them in order to see what they are made of."

Last night, as I put in my six pages for Ain't No Grave, I feared that I was losing interest in the story.  If you've been keeping up with my blog, you know that boredom means the death of any story I work on.  So I need to follow Wendig's example and constantly ask myself how I can make the situation worse for my characters.  After all, they, too, are in the zombie apocalypse (minus the vampire).

I just wanted to make that little observation.  Maybe I'm just thinking out loud.  I leave you now with an excerpt from Double Dead in which Coburn sums up his dilemma quite nicely.

"I've been through some shit over the last several nights," he said, lips twisted sneer, fangs out.  "Woke up.  Ate a deer.  Found myself in the zombie apocalypse.  Fell off a building.  Got chewed up by some zombie bitch in an ugly bathrobe.  Got shot by an old man and then taken in by his sickly daughter.  Got chewed up again by the same bitch-in-a-bathrobe except now said bitch is some kind of undead demon, then got shot by a totally different old man - those old men sure love their rifles - before I got burned up by the sun and had to eat my way out of a morbidly obese cannibal queen.  But you know what, Ginger?  This [being abandoned] hurts worst of all."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ain't No Grave: Day 2

Ah, NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month.  That magical time of year when a writer either gets a novel off the ground or breaks something in the process.  Regardless of what genre or theme you write, the central rule of NaNoWriMo is to write at least 50,000 words between midnight starting November 1st and midnight ending November 30th.

With Eat the Rich abandoned, I decided to return to zombie fiction with Ain't No Grave, a story that I tried writing earlier this year.  Unlike the earlier version, which was about kids raising themselves in a zombie apocalypse, this one is about survivors trying to fortify and settle in an abandoned town in Southern California.

I picked Ain't No Grave for a few reasons.  Halloween just ended (I hope you all had fun gorging on candy, liquor, and candy-flavored liquor).  Secondly, I've always kept alive the ambition to do a zombie story, even after it didn't work out the first time.  And finally, come on, listen to Johnny Cash sing Ain't No Grave and you can almost imagine zombies shuffling around.  I just had to write a story with that title.

Just as I did with Eat the Rich, I'm chronicling my progress with Ain't No Grave, and I hope I can reach the 50,000-word limit for NaNoWriMo, or at least get pretty damn close to it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eat the Rich: Day 38

It's happened before.  It'll probably happen again.  It happened today.  I've lost my mojo.

When I started Eat the Rich, I thought it was great getting in three pages a day (I'm very proud of that pace), and having a hundred pages in about a month, and this and that.  It was a wonderful high.  And taking time off this weekend, I thought I'd come back to the story typing and picking like a motherfucker.

That didn't happen.

I thought, "Twenty pages is good.  Fifty pages is great.  A hundred pages, this thing could really take off."  Hell, I thought that reaching the hundredth page would put me in the clear for sure.  It didn't.  I found myself struggling to get the story across.  Those three pages came out sounding forced.  And then, this morning, I thought how the story was boring me.

I feel bad about this.  I really do.  I've got friends who were really hoping to read this.  But if Eat the Rich bores me, it'll bore the reader too.  Always trust that rule: if you're bored, the readers will notice it and feel the same way.

Now, granted, it's a month of my time gone, but it could have been worse.  It could have been a few years.  When a story doesn't work, I step back and think of the pros and cons, and hopefully learn something.

Pros.  I know that I can work very diligently.  Just about every day, I'd tell myself that I'd meet my three-page quota come Hell or high water.  For the most part, this was done.  Early on, I committed to two pages a day, but then I upped the dosage.  So as far as getting the work done, I feel very good about that.

Cons.  I strayed too far from the premise of cannibalistic celebrities.  That was a cool idea to me, but after the first big murder scene around eighty or ninety pages in, the story shifted from cannibalism to murder and covering up that murder.  I don't like murder stories.  I don't think they're bad.  I just don't find them interesting.  Again, boredom is infectious.

Once again, I'm proud that I got through a hundred pages of Eat the Rich considering that I was making it up as I went along, but I think I need to try something else.

We'll see what happens.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Eat the Rich: Day 35

I'm out of town this weekend visiting friends in Thousand Oaks.  Naturally, I brought my computer with me because I thought I'd be able to get in a few pages.  Wrong.  This is not a weekend for writing.  Instead, it's a weekend to refill my well of anger.

I checked in at the hotel yesterday afternoon.  It was a comfy $50 a night.  Unfortunately, the reason it was so crappy was because it was such a dump.  My non-smoking room had clearly been smoked in; there were cigarette burns on the bed.  Some of the lights didn't work, and one of the plumbing fixtures was loose and ready to fall off the wall.  It looked like a place rented out to film amateur porn for the internet.

Luckily, I've got a friend in Camarillo who's kind enough to let me crash at his place for the weekend.

Now, I'm hanging out at a Starbucks (yes, a Starbucks) trying to get in some writing while my friend is out running errands.  Some of my friends are proud hipsters, so I figured I'd join the club.  Sipping coffee in a Starbucks, in one of those antique-looking chairs, while typing away at my novel.  That's hipster, right?  That's in no way corporate.  Right?  Right?!

The writing isn't getting done today.  Starbucks is a magnet attracting annoying people, and by that, I mean high school students, two of which sat across from me chatting and rating which of their classmates are hot.

One of them said, "My baby said hi to me."  Her friend said, "Awww, I want a baby!"  I'm hoping their talking about boyfriends rather than skanking it up and getting preggo.

There are other annoying people, but those two have taken the cake so far.  So, no, the writing is not getting done today, not when I'm in the middle of the Annoying Zoo surrounded by so many exhibits of stupidity.  It makes me feel normal.

Besides, after working hard on Eat the Rich for the last month, getting to a hundred pages, I think I need a few days to unwind and let myself reset.

But come Monday when I'm back at work, my well of anger will be refilled thanks to the patrons of Starbucks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Truby's Plot: The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

In this analysis of Truby's plot in relation to Full Metal Jacket, we've covered how to story connects to each of the seven basic elements of story.  Now we move on to the extra steps.  This can be a bit murky because a writer is free to use or discard any or all of these steps.  I certainly don't expect Full Metal Jacket to use all of them.

If you look at Truby's plot points in a list, the first item is self-revelation, desire, and need all packed together.  This might seem repetitive since we've gone over them already in previous posts.  You're right.  It is.

The point of putting these three things together at the very beginning isn't to learn something new about how the story will evolve.  It's to give the writer a target to aim for.  Without that goal, you'll wander around blindly.  For me, putting these elements down on a single note card gives me a convenient touchstone that I can quickly glance at when I need to remind myself what every other plot point is trying to get to.