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.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Stepping into Romance

A few years ago, a friend of mine from college thought I'd be good at writing romance fiction.  I forgot exactly why she brought this up; I think I had mentioned a somewhat romantic gesture that she thought was sweet.  If I could tap into that touching creativity, she thought I might have something to work with.

And then I said something along the lines of, "What kind of medication are you on?  I want some."  For the record, I am a card-carrying dude.  The idea of writing romance fiction never stuck with me.

However, now that I'm on a bit of a break from Ain't No Grave, and even when I get back to work on that book, I've noticed that I can't sit around thinking about zombies all the live-long day.

So in a fit of inspiration, I decided to write a serialized romance centered on Andrew Ursler, the main character in my last story Are You Proud of Me?.  Andrew, when we last saw him, was a struggling artist caught by his mother indulging in a drinking habit.  You can read the story here if you'd like.  This isn't so much a self-promotion as it is a chance to let you guys follow along with this good and early.  My friend Ashley of Arts Collide seemed receptive of the idea, so here's to me giving it a shot and maybe giving AC a stable long-term feature to help draw in readers.  Because Lord knows I think that site deserves the readers.

I'm not expecting romance to be an easy genre for me given that I've never, ever read a love story.  And trying to write a romance in a series in thousand-word increments makes things even more tricky.  On the other hand, love stories are fairly natural because we've all been exposed to it.  We've seen either our parents go through a relationship or our friends.  We've each had our fair share of crushes and heartache.  So I'm hoping that intuition might help balance things out what I'm lacking in literary experience and an ample word count.

I just hope I don't wind up like goddamn Jane Austen!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ain't No Grave: Day 81

I bitched to a friend today that I was having trouble keeping my mojo up with Ain't No Grave, and she suggested that I reread a part of Stephen King's On Writing, specifically the part where he talks about taking time away from a piece of writing.

King recommends about a month or two, which sounds ludicrous to me since my October deadline isn't going away.  The problem that I've got is one that I've had before in the past: I feel like I'm merely revisiting what everyone else has done in all the science fiction, horror, and fantasy that I've read.

Then again, the need for a break - a real break; not just a week or a few days - makes sense to me; it makes sense to open the windows, so to speak, and give myself some fresh air.  So, in spite of the feeling that I'm tossing away a big block of time, I'm going to follow King's advice and leave Ain't No Grave alone until the end of February.  Yeah, February sounds long enough.

Those nagging problems will still be there to bother me.  I don't think they ever really leave a writer when he takes a break.  I'll keep my mind open to what I can do to fix the problems when I come back to the novel, but I'm not going to lose sleep over them just yet.

I've got my fingers crossed that King and my friend will be right about this.

Truby's Plot: This is the End

I've decided to put the Truby's Plot series to death, mostly because I've lost interest in perpetuating it.  In spite of what Truby says in The Anatomy of Story, I've been finding his method highly formulaic and static.

I still agree that the seven basic steps are necessary in just about every good story, and I'm glad to have discussed them here for you, but the rest feel as optional as condiments.  I hope it's been helpful for writers and Full Metal Jacket fans alike.

However, if you still feel that you might have something to gain from Truby, you can find it through Amazon.  It's kind of pricy; I don't remember it being in the $60 range when I got it in college, but that was quite a while ago.  Still a worthy tome, I've held on to mine even after the spine's broken.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ain't No Grave: Day 80

This week has been a very slow and unproductive one for Ain't No GraveI've written maybe four or five thousand words.  My daily quota is supposed to be over two thousand.  And while I'm happy to have reached a quarter of a way into the second draft, the slow progress has me very worried about the novel's future.

I've got about nine months left until my deadline.  That's a lot of time left, but it can go by in a flash if you're not careful.  I don't know what to do, how to jumpstart my mojo on this.  It reminds me of when I worked on the alien invasion novel.  It was another genre that I enjoyed, and for a while, it was going well, but eventually the whole thing just stopped.

The fact that things feel slow with Ain't No Grave isn't what worries me.  What worries me is what happens if this project falls through just like the others.  Does this mean that I'm doomed to move on to another story that could very well meet the same fate?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ain't No Grave: Day 78

This last weekend was a nice little milestone, if only for the fact that I hit the quarter-mark of Ain't No Grave's second draft.  That means I wrote about 40,000 words in two weeks.  Not bad.

There are good things and bitter things about this.  The good thing is the sheer amount of progress that I've made, but the bitter part is that I've mainly gone over material from the first draft, revised it, and typed it back out.  Better, yes, but it's not like this is stuff I've come up with out of thin air like I did with Draft 1.  However, if my suffering is of any consolation, I'm getting to the point where I've got to put together fresh material, so I'm slowly getting back to that first draft angst.

As I stand on the verge of the unknown yet again - the unknown being the fine details of the story I'm writing, though I know the broadest of strokes that go with it - as I stand on that precipice, I'm haunted by that question: am I doing anything worthwhile with my time by writing at all?

Let me clarify.  Twenty-five percent of a 150,000-word novel in a couple of weeks is a pretty damn good pace, but it's still a long way off from having it in print.  It's work, yes, but you're still not getting our fifteen minutes of fame.  That's a frustration that every writer has to deal with.  I'm constantly reminding myself of this fact.  Stephen King pre-Carrie stories were found nowhere else but in shag mags for a long time.  He hit it big.

His is the bottoms-up story that I always think of when I feel down.  Every writer has a starting point be it King or Rowling or Twain.  I guess tonight I'm trying to reassure myself of this more than I am you guys.  Just remember: the writer's who make a name for themselves are the ones with mountains of rejection letters.  They've got the thick skin to put up with the trench work.  The ones without all those rejection letters are the pussies who couldn't hack it.

Don't be a pussy.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What to Look for in the First Draft

When I was in college, the first writing course I took was in poetry.  My professor - who taught fiction as well as verse - had a specific way of running the workshops.  First, you had to read your work in front of everyone.  If you were too much of a pussy to read your material, you were too much of a pussy to write a grocery list.

Second, regardless of all the marks we gave each other's drafts, we had to write at least six things - three positive, three negative.  The idea was that every draft had its strengths and weaknesses.  This has stuck with me ever since.

Once the first draft of anything is done, I forgo the fine tuning.  There will be plenty of time later to deal with comma usage or passive versus active voice.  Sculptors break of large chucks of rock before going in with finer tools to carve out intricate details.  Writers should do the same.

So although I had hundreds of pages written for the first draft of Ain't No Grave with a few comments here and there about what I thought of this or that scene, everything boiled down to a set of notes scribbled down on the last page of the manuscript.

Good Points:
  • Good sense of pacing.
  • Natural dialog.
  • Excellent details and descriptions.

Bad Points:
  • Plot meanders around way too much without a strong drive.
  • We don't get to know the characters too well, not even out three major characters - Donny, Megan, and Allen.
  • Not nearly as perilous and hard-edged as it ought to be for apocalyptic fiction.  The shit seems to rarely hit the fan!

It might look like there are more problems with the first draft than there are strengths, but don't let the relative wordiness of the negative points fool you.  It's still three for three, and while I like hearing what went well in the first draft, I always find the criticism more useful.

The positive points allow you to pat yourself on the back and reassure yourself that you're not a fuck-up, and they've got the added bonus of telling you what you're doing right; keep that up.  But the negative points show how you can do better the next time around.

Now go do better.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The E-Reader Thing

I've got a lot of books, and that's fine.  That's great.  That gets the ladies wet.  But it can also be a real hassle because now I've got books all over the place at my house.

A couple of years ago, I thought about getting a Nook from Barnes and Noble.  I remember when a friend of mine in grad school showed off his e-reader; it was a Kindle, I think, rather than a Nook.  The guy kept bragging about how awesome it was when I asked him about it.

But when I look around at all the books in my house, the question comes back like a line from a Shakespearean knock-off: to buy an e-reader or not to buy an e-reader.  Forget Nook.  Forget Kindle.  Right now, the debate for me is more generalized as electronic versus hard copy.  Now I'm not stupid.  I know the e-reader is here to stay, but I keep wondering if it's worth it for me right now.  So what are the pros and cons?

  • Reasonable price: Nooks and Kindles have steadily gone down in price, especially the older models that catch the eyes of few.  I think the highest price for an e-reader so far has been Amazon's Kindle Fire running at about $500, but most are in the $200-300 range.
  • Space Saving: This is probably my biggest reason for wanting an e-reader, as I'm sure it is for everyone else.  You can condense your entire library into the palm of your hand and save all that space on your shelves for more important things like liquor.
  • Accessibility: Because an e-reader is such a space-saving asset, you don't have to worry about leaving your house for, say, a study group and realizing you've left this book or that source at home. 

  • Hidden Costs: If you buy a Nook for $200, that device is a blank slate.  The books that you have now in hard copy have to be repurchased (for me, personally, I'm talking about a couple hundred books, by the way), and there's no guarantee that you'd be able to resale all those extra books online.
  • Fragility: All it takes is for one bad accident, and suddenly your e-reader, library and all, are destroyed.  The worst you could expect from a book is maybe dropping one book in the tub as opposed to all of your books.
  • Physical Contact: At the end of the day, part of me still enjoys holding a book in my hands and flipping the pages as I read.

Still no answer for me as to whether or not I'll switch to an e-reader, but those are the points as I see them.  If anyone feels they got something to contribute, I'm all ears.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Truby's Plot: Ghost and Story World

It's been a while since I've written an installment of Truby's Plot, but last I checked, we had gotten through the seven basic steps of story from weakness and need all the way to the new equilibrium, using the film Full Metal Jacket as a way to illustrate each point.  Now we're going to look at other plot aspects that John Truby writes about in The Anatomy of Story.  Again, from here on out, none of these steps are required, but they can help add flavor to a plot.

Ghost and story world are probably the most easily distinguished of the nonessential steps, and they both revolve around establishing narrative framework.  The ghost is a figurative one, even though some stories have a literal ghost in them.  When you hear ghost, think backstory.  More specifically, think of that part of the backstory that haunts the protagonist.  Haunting.  Ghost.  See how that works out?  The ghost is something in the hero's past that continues to bother him, a psychological scar.

In Full Metal Jacket, we don't realize the ghost until halfway through the film when we get to Vietnam, and, in fact, the first half of the film at Parris Island is all about the formation of that ghost as Joker and the other recruits are subjected to Hartman's tutelage, culminating in Pyle's murder of Hartman.  That murder at the end of the first half is the actual ghost for Joker in the second.  It's an even that, in spite of all his wisecracks, Joker can't shake off.

Story world is synonymous with setting.  It's the arena where the main action unfolds.  This is Parris Island, South Carolina in the first half; at no point in the first half do we leave the training depot.  In the second half, it's Hue City, Vietnam.  There are other locations in the Vietnam section such as the Marine base and Phu Bai just outside of the city, but Hue is where the main action unfolds.

One think about this main location distinction I'd like to make is this: I wouldn't say that the minor locations are unimportant.  Instead, I'd say that they're an extended part of the stage and definitely fall within the boundaries of the story world.  You can't just start the second half with Joker going into Hue with Cowboy's unit.  You need those peripheral settings to touch base on who the hero is now as opposed to earlier in the story, and to show what leads him to Hue City.

Regardless of the story you're writing, you need at least an inch to lay down those foundations.  There's a 2011 post-apocalyptic film called The Day that throws the main characters almost immediately.  It's a relatively short film, maybe an hour and a half long, but even that one takes a few minutes to step back and say, "Here are our heroes, and here's how they're related to each other."