About Mario

My photo
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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


A friend of my pointed me in the direction of a magazine called Penumbra, that's posted their deadlines and submission themes pretty much for the next year.  I might be interested in writing something for five of those issues, and in all honesty, I'm really looking forward to it simply because of the short word count.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I enjoy writing.  I really do.  I wouldn't be doing all of this if that weren't the case.  But working on Undead and Inhuman tonight, getting to about 45% of the first draft, I damn near shouted, "God damn it!  Finish already!"  Thankfully, I'm in the middle of a local coffee shop and that would be way too embarrassing, but the sentiment is still there.  Penumbra, on the other hand, is looking for submissions running about 3,500 words rather than Blank Fiction's 15,000 behemoth.

I wish I knew why I was this antsy over Undead and Inhuman.  I don't think I ever got like this when I worked on longer fiction, but then again, maybe it has something to do with the approaching January 15th deadline.

Then again, maybe I'm just hopped up on coffee.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The other day, I listened to Episode 2 of Yuvi Zalkow's The Creative Turn podcasts in which he had a discussion with author Scott Sparling, author of the novel Wire to Wire.  This was mostly going on in the background while I was doing the whole "make sense of your workspace" thing, but somewhere in the mix of Jimi Hendrix and masterbation (and poop jokes), I heard Scott say...
I remember talking to someone recently who was saying, "Don't give yourself a deadline.  Just don't do that.  That's the worst thing you can do."  And as soon as she said that to me, I thought...'Cause I had told people September 2.  But I believed it.  I said, "No, it's got to be September 1 because...", and then I would trot out this reason.  And as soon as I heard this person say "Don't do that", I realized it's kind of like that stone on the beach.  The world doesn't really care whether I get this thing done by September 1 or not, so why don't I take that deadline away and give myself the time I need, and just doing that made it so much more enjoyable to write.
It might seem weird hearing me vouch for this piece of advice given my hard-on for deadlines fueled by my fear of death and knowing that I've got a limited time (hopefully a long limit).  For me, it's been, "Hey, you're almost thirty, so you've got to get shit done, or else you're going to end up as that guy styling himself as a writer without getting anything done."  And, boy, does that suck.

I think there's a sort of trade-off when it comes to following deadlines and ignoring them, and I think a writer's decision to go either way depends on this question: "Is a publisher waiting for this?"

For example, I'm working on Undead and Inhuman for Blank Fiction, right?  I haven't touched it in days.  Do I feel a little embarrassed by that?  Yes, of course.  Are the editors at Blank Fiction emailing me daily asking if it's done?  No.  There is a submission deadline, yes, but that's a no strings attached kind of deal.  If I don't get it done, there are no contractual or professional repercussions from it.  As a staff writer for Carpe Nocturne, however, I do have deadlines that need to be met, or, voluntary as the position is, I could be let go from the magazine.

Yuvi pointed out this notion of working on a piece of writing for ten years, similar to the fear I have that the writing will go nowhere without a deadline.  This is the other side of that coin, and I think you should self-impose a deadline on first drafts, but it's more like a probationary period to see if something does have staying power.  My rule of thumb is based on the size of the story in question...

The first draft of a 100,000-word novel should take six months.

The first draft of a 40,000-word novella should take two and a half months.

The first draft of a 17,000-word novelette should take one month.

The first draft of a 7,500-word short story should take two weeks.

The first draft of a 1,000-word flash fiction piece should take two days.

This is assuming there are no external factors getting in the way (relative dying, dealing with a prolonged illness, putting in overtime at your day job, watching your dog roll around on the floor, etc.).  If everything is going fairly smoothly, I don't think a first draft should run longer than the above allotments.  A failed novel killed at six months is less shameful than a failed novel killed at ten years.

Also, these are ONLY for first drafts.  Don't worry about a novel getting published in six months, because it simply won't.  That's another thing that Sparling said.  "Publishing is out of your control.  The only thing you can really control is getting to the end of the manuscript."

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Muse

We've all heard about artists and the muse, each with their own.  Andy Warhol had Edie Sedgwick.  Robert Mapplethorpe had Patti Smith.  Jean-Luc Godard had Anna Karina.  Dante had Beatrice.  I love hearing about this.  I really do.  You could say I'm a romantic at heart.

However, at brain...

Californication is one of my favorite shows.  Love it, hands down.  But there was something I noticed the other day that got my head rolling about the idea of the muse.  There's a character in Season 6 named Faith who is many things: groupie, drug addict, muse to rock stars.  There's even a part where Krull (played by Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols) says, "This is Faith.  Without her, there'd be no rock 'n' roll."  Really?  Rock 'n' roll was born in the '80s?  The BeatlesZeppelin?  Even Jones' very own Sex Pistols?  I suppose they were just figments of our imagination.

But I digress.  Point is, this idea of the muse as a singular individual is horse-shit.  I wish I could say that coming up with an idea was as simple as me going out with my girlfriend, getting into an argument, having make-up sex, and - boom! - there's an idea, but then that would mean I'm in a relationship, and that's a whole other barrel full of monkeys.

I'm not alone.  Stephen King jokingly described the muse as an overweight fairy with a bag of magic dust and a cigar poking out the side of his mouth.  And even then, he just sits on his ass while you do the work.  In his book Writing the Novel, Lawrence Block says, "My job, when I want ideas to bubble up, is to make sure the conditions [for inspiration] are right."

How these conditions are set up varies from person to person, so yes, in theory, being around an individual can be conductive to inspiration.  But then again, so can watching movies about writing, getting drunk at the local bar, or smoking pot with Miley Cyrus.

The idea of the muse - this image people have of a person set up on a pedestal - implies that an artist's creativity is not his own.  On another level, it implies that writing isn't work.  If writing is a hobby for you, then by all means, tell me to shut the fuck up.  In fact, your muse can tell me that.  But if you want to work as a writer, even for those little scrapes of money you do get, you have to force yourself into it at times, and that includes those days when there is no muse.  Because I don't think there really is a muse for a working writer.  There's just the job and the habit.

I like thinking about television writers when my mind wants to confront the fantasy of the muse, because a series isn't a one-shot deal.  The writers have to keep it going.  Tom Kapinos wrote almost every episode of Californication.  He co-wrote a few with other writers, and only seventeen episodes were penned by others.  So that means that 55 episodes had his direct input.  J. Michael Straczynski wrote almost all of his groundbreaking series Babylon 5 on his own.  I think he co-wrote only one episode with Harlan Ellison.

And to think that any writer could produce that amount of work solely on some sex puppet in a skimpy Tinkerbell outfit is ludicrous.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What I've Been Up To

I've been feeling tired lately to the point where I'm not quite sure what day it is.  Maybe I'm just having a harder time than usual adjust to daylight savings time.  Anyways, here's a little rundown of what I've been up to lately...

I'm still working on my zombie novel, although there's been a pause in the writing this last month as I smooth out some more plot issues.  The title's also been changed again from Frantic to In the Dust of the Earth.  It comes from a Bible quote about the resurrection of the dead, and I felt it was really appropriate to the story.  I don't expect any other title changes.  I'm not going to mention anything else though, because frankly I'm getting kind of superstitious about my novel.  I've yammered about past attempts at a novel, and now I think that's a great way to jinx a book.  Say you're writing a book?  Yes.  Give a brief idea of what it is as far as genre?  Sure, why not?  But other than that, don't spoil it with too much talk.

Undead and Inhuman, one of my previous attempts at a novel, is back on the drawing board as a submission to Blank Fiction's sci-fi issue.  As such, it's radically different from how I initially thought it.  For one thing, it's a lot shorter.  The plot is completely different, but the basic conceit of vampires fighting aliens is still there.  I don't know what the submission deadline for it is, but I know Blank Fiction's sci-fi issue is after their upcoming noir issue.  The deadline for the noir issue is mid-January, so presumably the sci-fi deadline is some time after that.  Still, I want plenty of time for revisions, so Undead and Inhuman currently has priority over all my other fiction work.

Speaking of other fiction, my Andrew Ursler series is still alive.  I've submitted the fourth installment to Arts Collide, and got the fifth installment ready to go.  Also, I gave a reading of Part 2 - Grind - at Sunday's Roar Shack Series at 826LA in Echo Park.  The turnout was much smaller that the series usually gets.  There was another reading going on in LA that was kind of a big deal.  Regardless, it was one of my best readings so far.  I felt a lot more confident with Grind than I was with previous pieces, but I still got some of the microphone fear to get out of me.

Last but not least is my work for Carpe Nocturne.  I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say this, but I'm going to anyways: my reviews for the Chuck Wendig novel Double Dead and the 2010 apocalyptic film Stake Land are getting printed in the upcoming winter issue.  I mean, it was listed under the winter content in our recent staff newsletter, and I don't think there's any legal obligation for me to keep my mouth shut if they're on the list.  Soooooo...whatever.  The point is I'm really proud of them even though they're just a couple of small reviews.  This is only my first issue with the magazine, but I've enjoyed it so far.  The work is tough, but far from bad.  I get three months between deadlines and the only tricky part is fitting the word count; my reviews max out at 275.

Fun as it all is, though, it's time for me to get back to work.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TV and Long Narratives

Walking Dead fans, the Governor is back for a second term!  And before I get this post underway, I'm going to go ahead and air my theory: I think Bob Stookey is an agent sent by the Governor to weaken the Prison.  After weaponizing zombies, using the flu as a biological weapon sounds pretty much right up the Governor's ally.  Bob's also got medical training, so he'd know how to alleviate his symptoms; maybe he's even got a stash of medication hidden somewhere.  Also, he's been at the Prison only a week before the outbreak began.  Tidy little coincidence, huh?  But mostly, what's made him suspicious is how friendly he seems.  And as Merle pointed out in Season 3, "I think I'd piss my pants if some stranger come walking up with his mitts in his pockets."  So we'll see how it all pans out.  Maybe I'm right.  Maybe I'm wrong.

Now that my zombie nerdgasm has passed, let's talk about what TV has done for writing.

Justin Cronin said, "I think what's one of the things that's actually re-trained us to read long books is really good TV.  The Sopranos was sort of the breakthrough show, but everything from Mad Men to The Wire to shows like Lost have kept people's attention for really long periods of time, albeit with breaks of seven days and then months or even a year or two."  When he was growing up, Cronin said, the question of your favorite TV show was synonymous with the question of your preferred heroin.  Television, it seems, was just that low on people's list of pastimes.

Nowadays, TV is social glue.  We use it as an icebreaker at parties.  For example, last month, when I was at my alma mater Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks for the English Department reunion, one of my professors asked around the table, "When it comes to TV, what's your guilty pleasure?"  He's a fan of Sleepy Hollow.  I'm more partial towards The Walking Dead and Under the Dome.

But let's face it.  A long book isn't as easy to get through as a long TV show.  You can binge on a DVD of your favorite show and get through a season in a day.  Sometimes, it can take months to get through a long novel.

What can writer's learn from TV to keep their readers engaged?  First, I don't think TV and novels should be separated at all because novels used to be presented to the audience in a serialized fashion through pamphlets, novels like The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  These stories were presented in an episodic fashion and then later collected into a single volume, the DVD of their day.

Speaking for myself, I think it boils down to engaging characters and cliffhangers.  Sometimes, a novel can attract an audience by virtue of a controversial subject matter - which is why I think people followed Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray when it was serialized in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine - but that, I believe, is a very rare fluke.  Subject matter alone has to be a very bold shot to the heart if that's the driving force of a story.

Cliffhangers propel the story through bursts of suspense leading one sub-story into another.  If you look at the first few episodes of the current season of The Walking Dead, the first episode involved a small sickness within the Prison, culminating with someone dying and reviving as a zombie.  That cliffhanger leaves you wondering what will happen next.  The people there don't know that there's a zombie locked in with them.  How will that play out?  The next episode ends in another cliffhanger with more and more people falling ill.  The episode after that, another cliffhanger with Carol coldly admitting she's killed some of the sick residents to keep the disease from spreading.  What's the fallout from that admission?

These cliffhangers serve one of two purposes: set-up or aftermath.  We finish one installment with the beginning with the seed of a crisis, and then want to follow along at least until the next part of the story to see that problem erupt.  Then another cliffhanger draws us into the episode after that, and another after that, and pretty soon, you've got a chain reaction that's grabbed the audience's attention.

As you draw people in through cliffhangers, you keep them there through the characters.  And the only way you build engaging characters is through time.  You can't expect the audience to be hooked on the characters just through the first installment.  In the pilot of The Walking Dead, you stay because of the cliffhanger with Rick trapped in the tank in Atlanta, and you want to see how he gets out of there.  Over time, you follow the characters, get to know more about them, and start to feel emotionally invested in them, leading to character-driven cliffhangers.  When Rick throws Carol out of the Prison at the end of the Indifference episode, it comes as a shock because Carol's been with the group since the beginning, and you saw how she changed from a very timid housewife in the first season to a rational survivalist in the fourth.  And you're kept at the edge of your seat because of two questions: what's going to happen to the group now that one of their most enduring members has been banished, and are we going to see Carol again?  Will we cross paths with this woman we've seen transform so dramatically over the years?

I'm using The Walking Dead here merely as an example, but you can apply this to any serialized story.  It would be a fun little exercise for you to watch reruns of your favorite show - especially the very, very first episodes where everything was new - and trace the staying power.  It could be Breaking Bad.  It could be Sons of Anarchy or Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire.  Even older shows like Babylon 5.  Creator and showrunner J. Michael Straczynski said it was meant to be a novel for television to try and rectify the problem of  lack of long-term planning that other series encountered.