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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

New Publication: Chocolate

Hey, folks.  Sorry for being so silent lately, but work on Undead and Inhuman has taken up a lot of my time.  I've got to get back on the horse with blogging, and I promise I'll try to make some time for an update this weekend.

In the meantime, my Andrew Ursler new storChocolate is up at Arts Collide.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Story Structure

I've talked about creating plot boards and scene weaves, but there's one last thing about plot that I have to touch on, something a little more foundational, and that it the story structure.  Truby elaborates on this in The Anatomy of Story, but I'm going to give you a condensed version of it here.

Truby calls all of these story movements rather than structures.  I think that's just a matter of semantics because, to me, the way a story flows from one even to another is the same as its basic structure.  He identifies five structures.

The first is the linear story, which everyone is most familiar.  The hero focuses on achieving a goal and pursues it relentlessly.  There's a beginning followed by a middle, followed by an end; A to B to C to D and finally to E.  Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, particularly the second half of it, can best be described as linear.

The second kind of story structure is the meandering one, which is similar to a linear story but it flows greatly from one direction to another on its way towards the end.  Forrest Gump is a good example of a meandering story.  Although he thinks about his love Jenny throughout the film, he doesn't go after her every single step of the way.  She's a presence in his mind, but external events lead him from one adventure to the next from meeting presidents to fighting in the Vietnam War.  This, I think, is the plot structure that closest mirrors real life because we rarely know where we're heading, and we're pretty much bouncing from one thing to the next.

The third kind of plot is the spiral story in which the story is constantly revisiting a particular event or memory.  The first story that comes to mind is the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, the story of a soldier in an alien war dying and constantly repeating the previous day leading up to his death.  As a result of this visitation, he finds greater purpose in the war, increasing his combat skills and looking for a way to end it for good.

The fourth kind of plot is the branching plot.  In these plots, the story begins from a central point and continuously breaks off into separate threads.  Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is, again, an example of this.  The Two Towers and The Return of the King look at different groups of the Fellowship after they split up at the Falls of Rauros.  The downside to this is that you need to divide the reader's attention among a few main characters.

And finally, there's the explosive story in which everything going on in the story occurs simultaneously.  This is more of a magic trick than a set-in-stone structure.  Even Truby concedes this: "In a story, you can't show the audience a number of elements all at once, even for a single scene, because you have to tell one thing after another; so, strictly speaking, there are no explosive stories."  Dennis Quaid and Sigourney Weaver did a movie a few years ago called Vantage Point that, I think, tried to follow this kind of structure.  I could be wrong - I never actually saw it - but from what I've heard, the movie showed a president's assassination from the viewpoint of five different people.  Unless you split the screen five ways, you can't show all five stories simultaneously.  This is impossible to do with the written word because you can't split a page up five ways.

All these structure types have their pros and cons.  Some are simpler than others, like the linear plot versus the explosive plot.  Others, like the meandering plot, offer more realism.  It's ultimately up to you to decide which one will be the most useful for your purposes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Gillian

Warning: this post might border on insanity.

I am not in charge of my book.  Gillian is.

Let me rewind a bit.  Yesterday, I went back to Antioch University to visit some of my professors, catch the student reading of the evening, and hang out with some friends of mine.  While there, I caught up with my friend and former teacher Alistair McCartney.  He asked how I was doing, and I said that I was okay considering that I've pretty much been laid off for the summer from my tutoring job.  Then he asked how my writing was going.  I told him about Undead and Inhuman, and said that I was pushing forward on it but that I was still a solid several thousand words behind.

"But I DO have a deadline for myself," I said.

Alistair said that it was important to set deadlines for yourself.  But writers also need bosses looking over their shoulders.  It's not a free-for-all.  Writers need bosses, even if they're known only to the writer.  Leonard Chang, another writer who once taught at Antioch, went a step further and created a boss for himself named Ted.  The logic was simple: writers, especially freelancers, need the discipline to finish a project.  You can't say, "Oh, if I don't finish this story, it's okay because I'm my own boss.  I answer to myself."  That won't do.  That simply will NOT do!

That's where Gillian comes in.  Gillian is the literary agent who doesn't exist.  She's a loud, foul-mouthed, leather-clad harpy currently working on her fourth divorce.  She has a fondness for cigarettes, and when she's particularly pissed off, she'll blow smoke in my face to make sure I know it.  I put up with her because at this point in time I don't have the literary clout for a real agent.  I think she's a member of the Association of Authors' Representatives, though I have a hard time believing she's ever heard of their ethics code.

Gillian is nothing new.  She just sort of popped into my heard around the time I began doing research work for Undead and Inhuman.  She was impressed that I got the research and the plotting done in one month rather than two, but now I'm lagging behind with the first draft.  She knows this.  She knows the work is hard, that life can be a bigger bitch than she is and that sometimes there are days when you really can't get any work done.  And maybe - MAYBE - she might be willing to cut me some slack and give me an extra week to finish the first draft is there's no other way around it and I can't meet the deadline to the hour.  But now that the cat's out of the bag, she'll be there to nag me every day until I get up to speed.  Even if I do get caught up, she'll probably keep showing up just to make sure I don't slack off again, because the longer it takes for me to finish the book, the longer it'll be before there's any possibility of me getting paid for it.  And like any agent, she takes a percentage out of my soul.  Uh, I mean, my royalties.
It's nearly 2:30 AM now, and I should get some sleep.  If I don't rest and get a good amount of words out today, Gillian threatened to turn my ass into an ashtray, light up a cigar, and grind the burning embers into my sphincter.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fear of Failure

I went out to the library today and got a few hundred words done for Undead and Inhuman.  I got home and told myself that I had to keep going forward, but I didn't really want to.  The truth is that I don't like my book.  I've got sixty or seventy pages, and I pretty much hate every bit of it.  It's a war story when I don't know how the military really runs.  The details seen very flimsy a lot of the times.

I told a friend of mine tonight that maybe writing a novel just isn't in the cards for me.  I just felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into despair.  I felt like giving up on the story.  But then I sat back and thought, "If I do stop this book, what's to keep me from flaking out on the next one?  Or the one after that?"

I probably have moments like these daily.  Actually, that's not a probably.  I do have them daily, in spite of all the tips I can offer about increasing word count and plotting a story.  There are a lot of times when the idea of writing a book seems so pathetic and ludicrous that it's hardly worth getting up in the morning.

Finally, I told my friend, "Fuck it.  I'm going to keep going with it.  I'll keep going with the first draft.  And if it ends up being a complete failure in the end, at least no one can say that I didn't try my best with it."

One of my favorite sayings is, "You know you're going to fail if you don't try."  If failing is the goal, then not trying is the best way to do it.  Hell, I'd kick ass at being a failure.  But I'm not trying to be a failure.  I'm trying to write my damn novel.  The only way to do that is to keep going, keep writing, even when I'm saying out loud, "This is a crock of shit."

The Cure for the Common First Draft

I've said it before, I'll say it again, and I'll keep on saying it until my dying day: first drafts suck more jagged Klingon cock than a Carpathian prostitute.  I'm not kidding.  Mention first drafts to me and I'll sigh deeply, shake my head, and crave scotch.

I've been working on Undead and Inhuman's first draft for two weeks, and I've been behind on it for most of the last week.  I hung out with some writer friends last weekend.  I didn't get any writing done on that particular Sunday, but I figured I could just haul ass and catch up.  That's how it worked in theory.  In practice, I began feeling more and more lazy, and now I'm six thousand words behind.

I wish I could blame my friends, but I can't because when I told them I was leaving, I ended up staying for another hour or so.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up missing my deadline for the first draft by a day or so, a week at most.  That's not me feeling sorry for myself, that's just me being realistic.  I've been thinking tonight about what I can do to help get back on the horse.  I came up with some ideas that might help, and I'm hoping they might help any of you caught missing your word quota.

Wake up earlier (and on time)!  I hate saying this.  I'm not a morning person.  I'm a night owl.  Sadly, nighttime isn't really the best period for writers.  They say nothing would get done if it weren't for the last minute, but if you leave everything until the end of the day, you're setting yourself up for an ambush.  What happens if you've got stuff piling on from earlier in the evening or if a sudden emergency comes up?  That precious magic hour suddenly vanishes.  Switch things around.  Try waking up a little bit earlier so you won't feel rushed at night.

Write in 100-word bursts.  I once said that Seth Grahame-Smith advised me to write a thousand words before getting up to pee.  He told me this about three years ago.  I haven't been able to do it, and I don't think I ever will.  Think of writing like sprinting.  You can't sprint for a mile, but if you sprint for a hundred meters, take a breather, and repeat, you can get it done after about a dozen bursts or so.  Similarly, if you take your daily goal - 1,600 words.  2,000 words.  Whatever - and break it up into smaller pieces, it'll feel less stressful.  By the way, don't take hour-long breaks in between bursts!  Otherwise, you'll be sitting at your computer for, like, sixteen hours!

Unplug the Internet.  I like having the Internet handy in case I need to look something up really quick, if I have to confirm a street name or double-check on a quick fact.  While the Internet is a great tool for a writer, it's also a massive distraction.  Facebook.  Wikipedia.  Youtube.  They get hard-ons distracting you.  So disconnect from the Internet for a little while, or at the very least, give yourself a strict no-online policy until you've finished your latest 100-word burst.

Drink coffee.  Seriously?  If you need someone to explain the necessity of a steaming hot mug of coffee, you might as well dunk your face in it.

Ignore self-doubt.  A good and simple piece of advice is always worthy of repeating.  No day will go by when you're not feeling like a failure.  That feeling sticks in your mind and you can't get it out.  It's there 24/7.  But even though it's there, you can ignore it.  If you want to be hard on yourself, be hard on yourself...after you finish the first draft.  Remember, don't worry about how good it is, just worry about finishing it.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Corner of the Catacombs Anniversary

My Corner of the Catacombs will turn two years old next month, and you (yes, you) have a chance to participate.

To celebrate the blog's
dos aƱos, I'm calling for any and all questions from the readers; questions about the craft of writing, the work itself and balancing it with real life, movies that might annoy me, my favorite sandwich, etc.  The door is open for you the reader to ask me anything.

Then on July 17th on the blog's second anniversary, I will read and answer your questions.  Me, in a video.  That way you'll know you're not talking to Skynet.  At least, that's the plan.  I've never posted video on this site before, and I've got my fingers crossed that I won't screw up.


Questions can be sent either through the blog itself in the comments below, or via Twitter or my Facebook page.  The links for both are to the right.


The deadline for questions is July 15th, and the video will be up a couple of days later.  So pick your brains and ask away.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Scene Weave

Yesterday, I talked to April, a poet friend of mine in Missouri; or Misery, as I like to call it.  I'm just kidding, Show Me State.  You know I love you.

April asked me about how I do a plot board, which I've previously written about, but one thing I forgot to touch on is the scene weave.  Scene weaves are exactly what you think they are.  Once you've got a list of scenes you want to write about, you organize them in a way that maximizes dramatic affect.  Most of the time, these are arranged in chronological order.

The key thing I want to point out in this post is that you should not do your weave one character at a time.  Take a look at those Lord of the Rings books.  Each volume has two parts, six parts for the entire trilogy.  Some of these parts deal only with Frodo and Sam, and that means you don't know what's going on with Viggo Mortensen, Sallah, or that guy who's married to a Victoria's Secret model.  This is probably the most extreme example of an unwoven narrative.  There is a weave, but it's in the broadest sense with just the six subsections.

Undead and Inhuman is more modest with only three viewpoint characters for us to follow.  Let's work through the numbers.  Each of the three has maybe four scenes per chapter.  Let's say that each scene is five pages long.  So that means, clumped together, each chapter runs at about sixty pages, and you have to wait every forty pages or so to see what a particular character is doing.

That's better than Tolkien's 200-page gap, but there's a main dramatic difference.  Because tolkien's characters split off in different directions over the course of the story, he can afford to follow them one thread at a time.  They impact on each other subtly.  Undead and Inhuman, however, has the three main characters in the same general battle space as they fight the aliens, so the actions of one can have a larger influence on the other two.  Again, it boils down to dramatic affect.

How do I weave my scenes?  Personally, I arrange them chronologically since that's the flow of time that we live in.  One thing I try to do is avoid having any two adjacent scenes focus on one character, because I don't want the reader to feel like momentum is lost on the other two.

Sometimes, this is unavoidable.  There's one chapter I have coming up that focuses almost entirely on the Matt Durham character.  Another character, Austin Joyce, is absent for two chapters.  I don't like doing this, but it's better than having a character appear with nothing to do.  Then you're just wasting pages.

If you at least keep that chronological flow going, you'll be in the green.  It's a basic tried-and-true way of structuring your narrative, and most audience pretty much expect it, though they don't require it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Poets and Porn Stars

Meeting a world famous porn star is every young man's dream.  Going head to head with a world famous porn star in a writing competition is something else entirely.

On Sunday, I went to the Roar Shack Reading at 826LA in Echo Park.  It's a monthly reading of writers as well as live music, and there's usually a special guest.  Part of the event is the Live Write.  This is where the audience submits a writing prompt for the guest at the reading as well as two volunteers.  It's not really a competition, but rather a friendly challenge.  Participants of the Live Write are the guest and two volunteers.

Sunday's guest was porn star Nina Hartley, and when others were hesitant to volunteer, I raised my hand and said I was willing to have a go at it.  So there I am shaking hands with Hartley who is older than me, wiser than me, and just as nervous, because, after all, neither of us has ever done this.  We were both losing our Live Write virginity.  In front of a live audience.  Kinky.

"What are we supposed to do?" she asked me.

"I have no idea," I said.  It was only a partial lie.  I had been to one other Roar Shack Reading before, but it was months earlier and the details were kind of foggy.

David Rocklin, the director of the reading series, brought us up to speed.  He'd read us the prompt he had chosen from the audience, a prompt that neither of us knew about unless one of us had by chance written it.  We each had ten minutes to write a story based on the prompt and then had to read it in front of everyone.  There was no medal, no cash prize.  The winner simply got to come back the following month to read other, more completed work.

The prompt was: write about the contour of your hand in ten years.

"What if we don't plan to live that long?" I asked.

So ten minutes of writing.  Me with my anemic resume versus someone with at least two books to her credit and more AVN Awards than I've ever been nominated for.  But there was no time to think.  The clock ticked, and when the ten minutes were up, Hartley and I would both have to read whether we were finished or not.  And I wasn't about to go up to the microphone empty-handed, not when I willingly put myself in this situation to begin with.

I half-assed my way through it, doing my best and cobbling a story together by imagining a grim late-thirties me looking back on a couple of really bad nights of drinking.  Rocklin called me up first.  I managed my way through it, holding on to the microphone stand more to keep my balance than for effect.  The last sentence was half-written; I finished the rest of it on the spot.  I got a good applaud from the audience, and then went back to my seat.

Hartley went up cool, calm, and collected.  She's done public speaking before, so for her this ain't no thing but a chicken wing.  She begins by talking about the physical and spiritual construction of a hand, and by mentioning DNA in the second sentence, I predicted that she'd win.  She did, more for her skill, I think, than because the audience gave in to her reputation and celebrity status.  It really was a good first draft.

There are a few reasons why I'm telling you this story.

First, there's fear.  I was scared, and not because Nina Hartley was my competition.  That was just me being cute and funny.  I was scared of myself.  I hate my first drafts.  I hate letting people read my first drafts.  And I really hate it when I have to read my first drafts in front of people.  And when David said that the audience was just going to listen and watch and judge, I thought, Fuck!  Where did my balls go?!  Can somebody find them?  I need them like Lindsay Lohan needs to be reminded that you can't use drugs while in rehab!  There was a moment in those ten minutes when I looked up at my friend Ashley and she urged me to stop wasting time and keep on writing.  Don't worry about it being good, just worry about it being done.

Second, there's serenity.  I've written before about how the audience takes your work, makes its own judgement on it, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.  This was an excellent example of that.  You can't give the audience nothing.  Let me repeat that: You...cannot...give...the audience...nothing!  They'll kill you for that.  They might not kill you physically (unless they manage to make it look like an unfortunate gardening accident), but they'll kill you in their minds, at least a tiny bit.  Go up with nothing and they'll lose respect for you, because you were too much of a pussy to accept a challenge given in the spirit of having fun.  You were too scared to have fun!

Once you've accepted that - when you remind yourself that they're not expecting you to be the best - you feel as calm as a child losing a tooth.  It'll hurt, but it has to be done and it'll hurt a lot less if you don't fight it.

And finally, there's the unexpected.  I didn't win the Live Write, but I did win an invitation from David to submit work for a future reading.  He didn't have to.  He could have said, "Good job!  Nice Try!", and send my on my way.  David didn't know me.  I didn't know him.  There was no reason for him to extend that invitation.

Except, maybe there was something about that first draft - that nervous, half-assed piece of shit scribbled down so fiercely that even I had trouble understanding my own handwriting - maybe there was something in that first draft that stood out like a neon sign in darkness.  Maybe it was the fact that I was brave enough to raise my hand in the first place.  Maybe it was both.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Writers as Rock Stars

A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up with April, a friend of mine from grad school.  I told her that I was hard at work getting things ready for my novel, and that I was even about a month ahead of schedule.  She said that she thought of novelists as rock stars.

I wrote back saying:
Hunter S. Thompson once asked why writers can't be rock stars, so I just tap into my inner rocker as it is.  But even Neil Gaiman (who probably is the closest thing writers have to a rock star since Oscar Wilde) said that writing just comes down to doing the work.  That goes for every one from the old tweed and pipe Tolkien wannabes to the wild-haired Alan Moore types.  Take away the bells and whistles, and it's always about slugging onward and putting words on a page.

I got to hang out with some fantastic writer friends tonight (or should I say last night since it happened before midnight?), friends I hadn't seen for a week, and others I hadn't seen in a couple of years.  Two things link them together: they're excellent writers, and they've got rock star attitude.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Beware the Quiet Writer

I love my family and I'm kind of fond of a couple of my relatives, but even with some of the ones that I do like, there are times when I want nothing more than to give them a verbal bitch-slapping.

Case in point: tonight, my aunt and uncle (who are also my godparents) came over for coffee.  And my godmother - with that wonderfully stereotypical Italian accent that, sadly, is authentic - remarked that I looked tired.  Well, Sherlock, I am tired.  I've had a long and frustrating day, and it ain't over.  I told her that I was working, and she said that I could take at least one day off.

I looked right at her and said, "I.  Work.  Every.  Day."

I do work every day, and especially now that I'm in drafting mode where even one day off puts me behind schedule.  Even though I intend to self-publish my novel, I do have a timetable that I have to stick to.  If I take a day off, I'm about four pages behind.  Worse than that, by putting my foot on the breaks and letting the momentum cool, those four pages could multiply into eight or twelve pages.  And it's very hard for me to rebuild that momentum.  Sometimes, if I'm feeling particularly sluggish, it could take me half a day before I'm ready to get to even that first word!

I had to leave the room at that point and take just a minute or two to calm down and take some deep breaths before I say something that I'll really regret.  I knew that the sternness in my voice was a clear enough message.  It's possible to take vindication a little too far.

I do feel stress and pressure if only for the fact that I don't know what the fuck I'm doing.  I've never had a novel published.  Undead and Inhuman could wind up selling only a dozen copies, or it could be my Harry Potter and launch me into stardom.  The most realistic outcome that I can see is that it lands somewhere in the middle of those two extremes and do moderately well.

All I know is that I cannot get paid for the book right now, not until it's done and available for purchase.  I hate sounding like the money-hungry asshole, but you have to see it from my point of view.  I'm trying to turn writing into something that I can make a living doing, and when that's the goal, you have to be conscious of the bottom line.

Maybe I ought to translate that.  Most writers will tell you not to think about the money.  They say that it'll spoil your creative thinking.  I understand that, and agree with it.  You won't get anything done if you spend all your time thinking about that big, fat royalty check or that interview with Letterman or O'Brien.  You can daydream, sure.  I do that all the time when I'm taking a break after a bout of writing.  The work still has to get done.  So consequently, when I say that I think about my bottom line, what I really mean is that I'm trying to keep my expenses down as low as possible.

But I digress.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  I was bitching about my relatives.

I think every writer has some specific goal with each of their projects.  With Undead and Inhuman, I just want to see it done.  As I've said, the sales on it might ultimately be anemic.  Even so, just getting it onto the market makes it a success to me.

I want a copy of this book so that I may slam it down onto my kitchen table and say, "I did this!  It didn't launch me to meteoric fame, but I did something that you can't do!"

Thursday, June 6, 2013

1 out of 10

Yippee ki-motherfucking-yay!  Today, I hit the ten-percent mark for Undead and Inhuman.  I still got another ninety percent left and several weeks ahead to get it done, but for now I'm just going to bask in the glow of it all.  Come on, glow.  Bask me in warm glow-ness.

But for reals, getting this far into the first draft is great because I've gotten through the openings for each of the three main characters.  For me, this first week and those initial ten thousand words were make-or-break for me.  How many times have I told you guys that I hate first drafts?  There are writers who flourish in the first draft and loathe the revisions.  I'm the opposite.  The first draft is like pulling teeth, and the first thirty pages are so are even worse because I've got nothing to play off of.  But now I've got at least five or ten pages for each character that I can use to get the ball rolling.  The first draft is still going to be tough, but it's at least that much easier.

Also, to my fellow writers, when you look back on the work you've done that first week, it's a major confidence boost.  On your first day, you start off with a blank page, and that can be intimidating to set out turning that blank nothing into a few hundred pages of something.
  But then you turn around just six or seven days later and you find that you've actually gotten quite a bit done.

So congrats to you.  Pat yourself on the back.  Give yourself a high five.  Pour yourself a line of shots.  And get back to work!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Getting Started

I began the first draft of Undead and Inhuman on Saturday, and it got off to a slow start.  The first day was really sluggish.  Yesterday, I got a lot more work done catching up but I still fell a little bit short on my quota, but today I think I should be able to get fully up to speed.

The last couple of days were spent setting things up for one of the main characters.  Now I'm going back and starting over again with the second one, and then the third one after that.  Writing the first few pages of a character is always the trickiest because you're trying to find even a tiny patch of ground upon which you can build things up, so I'm expecting this first week to be the roughest.