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, February 26, 2013

Not Mars

Just a little update on the online novel...

So after much internal debate, I've decided not to write about Mars after all.  There were too many headaches involved and considering that I live close to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the last thing I need is an army of PhD's laying siege to my house.

So I'm falling back to the idea of replacing Mars with a planet of my own, and this has given me the freedom to write about a kind of world that I've wanted to for a long time: a tidally-locked planet, one where it's always day on one side and night on the other.

There's still character work to do, the other half of Stephen King's story equation (Remember?  Situation + characters = story?).  For now, I'm just getting out the broad strokes on this alternate universe...and keeping my fingers crossed that it won't piss off the folks at JPL.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fool Me Twice...

This hasn't been that great of a week for me for a variety of reasons, but one of the things bothering me is the fact that my online novel collapsed on me...again.  Writing about Mars.  Not writing about Mars.  It seems like I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't.  Screwed either way.  The result has been a glorious exercise in freaking out.

For now, the online novel is on hiatus indefinitely, at least until I can get my head out of my ass.  To me, there's no sense in reworking the website for it when I've got nothing to go on.  So when it's ready to go, you guys will be the first to know.

The Mars-vs-Another-Planet issue aside, there was something that I completely overlooked, something no writer ever should: I had a situation but no characters.  I didn't know who I'd be writing about, or what major beats they'd have to hit.  I guess, in the back of my mind, I thought I could bullshit my way through the novel.

Chuck Wendig, that glorious liaison between humanity and the No-Bullshit Gods, once wrote: "I don't care if you're outlining, drawing mind-maps, collecting research, or spattering notes on the wall in your own ropy jizz - you'd better be doing some kind of planning lest your tale flail around in the dark."

Plain and simple, writers are no more special than anyone else.  There's a rumor going around that writers can tap into an ethereal pool of creative knowledge, God's only special keg of beer.  I wish we could, but it just ain't so.  There's a lot of hard work going on from the neck up.  It's a simple fact, and maybe because it's so simple, it's sometimes easy to forget.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mars: The Dead Planet?

The last day or so has been one funky roller coaster for me.  I deleted and undeleted the Mars website a few times, certain it wouldn't work and then desperately trying to find some loophole back into it.  It's definitely on hiatus for now as I try to rework the idea.

Obviously, the first question is what went wrong?  What doomed it before I got through even the first page of the first chapter?

First, there's the historical aspect of it.  The story was supposed to be set in 1898, a time period that I know almost nothing about.  The only thing I know about the 1890s is that it saw the publication of Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The War of the Worlds.  That's it.

The second problem was Mars itself.  This is where science kind of ruined the fun for the rest of us.  Before the Mariner spacecraft, a writer could bullshit his way through a story about Mars.  After Mariner, however, the idea of an intelligent species on Mars fell through the floor.  Believe me, I tried to come up with a reasonable Martian to fit the planet known to science today, but life as we know it needs liquid water, which can't exist on Mars (it'll try to freeze and evaporate at the same time).  The water issue set aside, my concept of the Martian was such that it would view Earth as a toxic planet unsuitable for it to live on.  In that case, they'd have no reason to come and invade.

Now that I've recognized the problems, how can I remedy them?  Regarding the historical problem, I think I need to switch to one that I'm a little more familiar with, or at least one that I can research fairly easily.  I think switching to 1914 might be better, just before World War 1.  The alternatives are World War 2 or the American Civil War.  Harry Turtledove already did an alien invasion in World War 2, and I honestly doubt that the United States could fend off aliens while the North and South beat each other.

And speaking of Turtledove, I think I'm going to follow his lead and replace Mars with a planet of my own much like he did in the novel A World of Difference, substituting Mars with an Earth-like planet called Minerva.  Normally, I'd be against that, but I really do want to have the aliens coming from our own solar system.

I've got my fingers crossed that I can solve the problem and make the pieces fall together because I still feel a hint of excitement doing this project.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Title Change

Not long ago, I toyed with the idea of changing the title of Ain't No Grave to Frantic after the song by Metallica, and then quickly retracted my decision on that.  Today, I decided to go ahead and rename the book.  I wish I hadn't deleted the post on that, but whatever.

The title is a small element of a story, be it a short story or a novel or an entire series, but for me it's more than just a label.  Titles help translate the author's tone into the reader's mood.  For that reason, I like getting the title down fairly early when I begin a story.  It helps remind me of the atmosphere I'm trying to build.

Okay, so why a title like Frantic?  First, like I said, the Metallica song of the same name pops up in my head every time I think of the zombie novel, becoming an unofficial anthem to the story in a much more suitable way than Johnny Cash's Ain't No Grave.

Of course, there's more to it than that.  The zombies themselves are frantic, twitchy and rabid.  They're the fast 28 Days Later-I Am Legend zombies that, frankly, I find more threatening than the slow, shambling zombies born of George Romero's work.  Second, the survivors become more frantic and desperate as their search for a safe refuge takes longer and longer.

And that's pretty much it.  Sorry.  I guess you guys were probably expecting a massive title equation or the confession that I drank unicorn blood.  I didn't.  I simply sat back, visualized the work in my mind, looked at it from different angles, and kept asking myself, "What am I really trying to get at with this?"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Following up on "Mars"

I got the website started for my new project Mars - An Online Novel of Interplanetary Conflict.  You can find the link for it to the right beneath the "About Me" section.  I haven't posted any story material.  The website is just a day old, so my infant needs time to grow.

At the very least, I want to post to it once a month, twice if I'm lucky, but I'm not so sure.  Each new section is the equivalent of a short story in length, running at 7,500 words tops, and to get one from start to finish in two weeks might be me overfilling my balloon.  Still, a monthly installment, I think, is doable.  I kind of feel like Peter Jackson when he made The Lord of the Rings.  He said that it was like he was laying down train tracks with the locomotive speeding towards him without stop.  In the same way, I have a fixed deadline on Mars, but the truth is that I have no set story in mind yet.  So I'm just as excited to find out what happens next as you guys.

But I want to step back for a second.  By doing this novel online, I'm going into self-publishing.  I used to never like the thought of that, probably because the analogous term for it is "vanity press".  Put "vanity" in there and it makes me feel like it's something for smug, self-indulgent assholes, the Christopher Paolini's out there peddling their bullshit hoping to cast themselves as the next Tolkien.

But then I recently I watched an interview that Max Brooks did about writing and World War Z.  Brooks said that self-publishing has changed over the last ten years, that everyone's doing it to the point where it's regarded as respectable.  In fact, he went ahead and said that writers no longer have an excuse to say that they've got a novel but no one's giving them a shot at publishing it.  In that case, take matters into your own hands.  Jump over HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster.  So that's what I'm doing here.  I've got an idea in mind, vague and cloudy though it may be in its current form, and I want to see what I can do with it on my own.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I plan to self-publish everything.  I do want to send my zombie novel Ain't No Grave off to agents and publishers.  What I am saying is that Mars is my art house project, my indie book.  If that makes me a hipster...

...okay, maybe we won't go that far.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Infamous Blog Post

I've just finished off a bunch of renovations on the site that I've been hard at work on since yesterday afternoon, and wanted to let you all know what changes have been made from the obvious to the subtle.

First, the flip-card look has been replaced in favor of the SIMPLER FORMAT I had when I began My Corner of the Catacombs a couple of years ago.  While I liked the flip-card look very much (and I wasn't alone in that opinion), I think this will make the content of the site clearer and more direct for you, so you won't have to jump through any hoops or aimlessly wander around looking for something specific.

The main reason why I switched formats, however, was so that I could include a TWITTER FEED located on the right.  I had tried to do that with the flip-card look, but no matter how hard I tried, it wasn't allowed.  If you go to my Twitter page, you'll see a link for My Corner of the Catacombs, and I felt it was only fair to let the connection work both ways, especially since the site and the Twitter page are my two main ways of connecting with my audience.  I also have a Facebook page, but I can't seem to link it to either Blogger or Twitter.  Maybe I will in the future.

I've also REMOVED THE LABELS that were once attached to each post.  This was done as a matter of convenience.  The labels were meant to help readers zero in on particular topics (articles about plot, character, other writers, etc.), and that worked when I was just starting off with a handful of posts.  But now, with well over a hundred articles on this site, it's too much of a jumbled mess for me to keep track of.  However, there is a SEARCH OPTION on the right above the archives list that will allow you to look up anything you want in any post.

Also to the right, just beneath the "About Me" section, you'll notice a feature called WHAT MARIO IS READING.  I got this idea after seeing it on another site I enjoy visiting called Future War Stories, which focuses on military science fiction; the guy who runs that site keeps his readers up-to-date on what books he's reading, what video games he's playing, and what movies he's watching.  Being a writer, I figured I'd stick to just the books.  It's a nice little way of recommending something for your own reading list without shoving it down your throat.

Finally, just above the search box, you'll see a TRANSLATION FEATURE that will allow you to read this site in just about any language you wish.  I don't know how accurate the translation will be - I'm trusting Google to get it right - but I do know that there are a lot of readers coming in from countries like Russia and India, Germany and Singapore, and I hope that this will make My Corner of the Catacombs more accessible to non-English speakers.

I hope you'll find the changes to the site agreeable, and I hope you've enjoyed the articles so far.

Monday, February 11, 2013


I've been thinking, abandoning, returning to, and abandoning again this hinted at alien story for the last week or so.  And since I've concluded that I won't be writing it (not any time soon, at least), I might as well lay my cards on the table.

The idea was to do an unofficial sequel to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, showing the world today after a failed Martian invasion in the late-1800s.  They weren't going to be the Martians Wells wrote about - they'd be my own - but there'd be hints of Wells throughout the story.  It wasn't even going to involve the invasion itself, but rather the aftermath of it, asking what happens between the descendants of the victims of genocide (humans) and the descendants of the perpetrators (the Martians).

It sounded great at first, and I really wanted to do an homage to those stories when people thought worlds like Mars really could be inhabited.  But then I got to thinking about it an it gave me a headache.

I didn't overdose on Mars research.  No, no.  I went out, bought a notebook, and started jotting down ideas an notes to ready myself for when I could begin writing after finishing Ain't No Grave.  Mostly, I had a problem fitting in characters.  All I had was a basic situation: Mars fails to invade Earth; humans and Martians try to coexist.  But who would tell us this story?  Would it be an anthology of completely different characters showing us this alternate universe?  Would it focus on a single family in the present day as the invaders try to conquer again?  Or would it be like the science fiction equivalent of Roots, tracking a family from the survivors of the first invasion to today (not a bad idea, actually, but it feels a bit ambitious to me)?

I honestly have no idea how this will all play out.  Perhaps the best thing to do is to not focus on this concept as a novel, but rather a series of short stories written on my own; write it out a piece at a time, and then let it coalesce.  When a story seems too big, perhaps the best way to go is to carve it up into smaller bites.  In the Victorian Period, it was common for a novel to be serialized in newspapers as a sequence of short stories before being printed as a complete novel.

No solid title for this project yet.  I'm just calling it Mars for now.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ain't No Grave: Day 101

Sometimes, during an extended writing break, I feel like Sherlock Holmes.  I'm smart, handsome, a legend in bed.  But I'm also keenly aware of the dark side of Holmes's existence.  "My mind rebels at stagnation," he said to Watson in The Sign of Four.  With nothing to do but sit and wait, I'm restless, edgy, walking the precipice of sanity.  Hell, I have gone off the deep end, and was lucky enough to have a safety line to pull me back.

I've still got three weeks to go until the end of my break and a return to Ain't No Grave.  Until then, I'm trying to keep busy as much as I can reading, thinking about this other alien story that I had in my head earlier this week.  It's a mental struggle that I have to tackle a day at  time.

If I'm feeling desperate enough, I might cut down my break time.  I started the second draft of Ain't No Grave well over a month ago, and haven't touched it in about three weeks.  I already know that I'll have to discard it and start over.  For all intents and purposes, I really have taken a month off from the book.  Maybe it is time to get back to work.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fools Rush In

I had a magnificent burst of inspiration last night, a real eureka moment where I came up with an idea for an alien story that gave my inner geek the raging nerdgasm it deserved.  I was about ready to drop everything and dive right in.

Then I stopped...

I woke up this morning and said to myself, "Hang on a second.  You've already committed yourself to a zombie novel."  See, this is the problem I've had in the past.  I get distracted by a new and fresh idea, and I want to go knock up my imagination before it brings anther story to term.  A friend of mine in college even told me that I was all about the instant gratification, and that ends up working against me, stalling me from pushing on towards a finished product.

So Ain't No Grave is still on, and the alien story will have to wait until I reach my October deadline.  That's not necessarily a bad thing either.  It gives the alien story time to congeal in my mind so that when I get to writing it later this year, I won't be fumbling around with it.

Nice try, E.T., but your glowing middle finger didn't work this time.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The King and I

About a week ago, I told you guys how a friend of mine suggested that I flip through Stephen King's On Writing to refresh my memory that it's wise to take time off in between drafts of a project.  Last night, I decided to reread the craft section of his memoir - really reread it - to see if there was some little bit of advice I might have overlooked or forgotten.

Or maybe I just wanted to compare notes to see if his methods might have rubbed off on me.  It's certainly been a while since I've read On Writing cover to cover, long enough to let it sink in.  For those of you who haven't read it, this will be the super-condensed version (that doesn't excuse you from not reading it).

Here's what I've got...

Read Heavily: King's been emphasizing this in nearly every interview I've read or seen him do.  Reading exposes you to different styles as well as see what works and what doesn't in any given genre.  Now, I'm a child of television, so reading is something that I didn't do for fun growing up.  As such, I want to commit myself to at least thirty to sixty minutes of reading a day.  King says he goes for four to six hours, but like a fitness routine, it's best to start slow and ease into it.

Write Heavily: As much as he recommends heavy reading, King also demands a lot of writing, which is a no-brainer; you can't expect to be a writer if you don't do the physical act of it.  But more to the point, the question he's been asked is what's considered writing a lot, and this goes on a person-by-person basis.  You have to trust your gut on what's the right pace.  For King, that's a couple of thousand words a day.  After participating in NaNoWriMo last November, I'm happy with around 1,500 words.  It's not as much as King, but it's enough to assure myself that I'm making progress.

Workspace: Again, this varies according to the writer.  Some of them have pretty odd preferences.  Ben Franklin wrote in the bathtub.  King noted that Truman Capote wrote in motel rooms, and King himself prefers to shut the door and block out as many distractions as he can to ensure that that work is the only thing capable to grabbing his attention.  For me, the workspace is my bedroom.  This is a habit from my pre-laptop days.  With a desktop computer at home or in my dorm at college, I basically had an office and couldn't take my work with me.  Even now that I've got the option to go to a library or at least another room of the house, the bedroom is still where I'm most comfortable.  Plus, it's got a CD player, and while I've got music on iTunes, the sound comes out much richer on the CD player.  And yes, it's still the same ten bands: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Alice in Chains, Eagles of Death Metal, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Motley Crue, Nirvana, The Offspring, and The White Stripes.  I can listen to perhaps a few others, but these ten bring out the best in me.  It's just how my mind works, and I think the habit of choosing loud music might have come from King to begin with.

What to Write About: When it comes to deciding what you should write about, I think King would prefer to replace "write what you know" with "write what you love".  Personally, I love my science fiction, especially alien stories.  Call me a geek, but that's never left me since boyhood any more than old horror comics grew stale for King.  And by and large, I love my aliens served up Giger-style.  To me, the universe is filled with one intergalactic bastard after another from the Martians of The War of the Worlds to the Bugs of Starship Troopers.  And while I enjoy other kinds of fiction from horror to mainstream, my heart inevitable comes back to the old invasion story much like salmon returning to their spawning ground.

Story vs. Plot: This is where I think I've had some problems before.  I think a lot of writers do, thinking that story and plot are the same thing.  King's rule of thumb is that story is intuitive and unplanned (much like life itself), while plot is a writer trying to force his will on the project.  He said that the only novel he plotted that he liked was The Dead Zone, and furthermore, plotting should be the weapon of last resort.  Instead, King's equation is "situation plus characters equal story".  I find this very encouraging because as I wrote the first draft of Ain't No Grave, I trusted my gut more than I did with any project before.

Description: How King deals with description is pretty straightforward.  The more important a character, place, or object, the more words you invest in describing it.  You've got to use all of your senses, too, not just what you see.  You've got five senses, sight being just one of them.  There's still sound, smell, taste, and touch where they apply.  Don't go overboard either.  Two or three descriptors is a good average, and perhaps four or five for the more important ones.

Dialog: With dialog, King's a follower of the belief that you have to be a good listener, and that belief is a good one.  I listen to people all the time, more to pick up their verbal rhythm and pace than for the substance of their conversations.  While in grad school, I wrote a short story that started with Craig Ferguson interviewing a guy who saved the world.  I've never met Ferguson, but I watched quite a bit of The Late Late Show and that paid off; one of my fellow students in workshop said she could imagine him saying what I wrote.

Characters: The main thing to bear in mind when writing characters is that everyone is the star of their own story, doing what they believe is right.  It's a constant, protagonist or not.  You have a story about a genius college student dealing with family over Thanksgiving break.  The guy brings his girlfriend home to meet the family.  The bachelorette sister acts like a bitch, but from her viewpoint, she's protecting herself by being cynical towards something she doesn't have.

Revisions: Here, King and I agree on some parts and disagree on others.  King does two drafts and a final polish.  I work a little differently.  I feel comfortable aiming at a hundred thousand words per draft, which is about two months of work, with a month-long break in between.  Going with a yearlong schedule, that's four drafts and a fifth if I need to do any polishing at the end.  This is for novels, and I'm not even sure how successful it'll be; I just started doing it with this novel I'm working on now.  Shorter fiction, obviously, goes by at a fraction of the time.  My new short story Grind took just a couple of weeks to write.  I got through a draft in a day and took a day off in between; a week was the longest amount of time I took off.

Research: The bane of my existence.  Research is always necessary, but the trick is to know when to stop.  When I took my first real crack at an alien invasion story, I built up my own library of materials, tons of books and documentaries on biology and space technology all for the purpose of trying to imagine a realistic alien race.  It's understandable.  If I were rewriting the John Carter stories, I'd first want to learn everything I could about Mars.  Nothing wrong with that, but what King would suggest keeping a voice in the back of your head reminding you that you're writing an entertaining story and not doing a massive research project.