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.