On Writing Excuses

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On Writing Excuses

“This is Writing Excuses.  Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

                I’d like to throw in my two cents on the web series Writing Excuses, something I only recently found and had an opportunity to go through.  Punchy and professional, the series is led by Brandon Sanderson (Epic Fantasy specialist) with his friends and fellow authors Dan Wells (Supernatural Thriller specialist), Howard Tayler (Science Fiction, Cartooning, and Humor specialist), and later added Mary Robinette Kowal (Short Fiction specialist).  Each of these authors has enough wealth of writing skill and experience to stand alone and shine out, but for the intentions of this post, I will be focusing on their joint creation: a fun and clean web series that tackles writing advice big, small, common, and extraordinary.

                An immediate appeal of the series comes from its length.  With each episode sitting at 15-20 minutes in length, it is perfect for commutes to and from work, activating your mind in the morning, or accompanying you during chores.  But from the beginning, the podcasters make sure to establish the intentions of the series.  While the things they discuss are quite helpful to any aspiring writer, what they wanted to focus on was helping those interested in genre fiction.  That being Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and all of the variations and subsets in-between.

                Because of the diversity between the authors, they are able to cover a vast number of topics over the nine seasons that have been produced (currently developing season nine).

Creating anti-heroes.
Writing with the end of your story in mind.
How and where to get an agent
Things you should know about the young adult market
Why is the villain often the most interesting character?
The reasons you should go to conventions
Understanding and writing discriminations
Different ways of breaking into the market
How to pace your story
Debunking common errors in fantasy stories
Understanding artificial intelligence
Witty dialogue and how to practice
Refining your prose skills

And on, and on, and on.  Literally hundreds of similar topics.

                As a hopeful fantasy writer myself, this series has been nothing short of invaluable to me.  I do not doubt that it will remain an eternal reference that I will come back to time and again as I seek out publication and whatever lies beyond.

                The series has been nominated for awards several times and has won two Parsec’s and a Hugo.  On many episodes they’ll host a special guest star, they will always recommend a related audiobook that can be found on Audible (a sponsor of the cast), and they somehow manage to maintain a ‘Clean’ rating throughout the entire course of the series.  I am deeply thankful that I found this podcast and have gotten an opportunity to know these people, even if indirectly.  I am grateful for their transparencies and their willingness to sacrifice both time and comfort to talk about things that aren’t always easy for them.  My only regret is that I didn’t have the chance to brave these subjects with them earlier, and I hope to someday meet these authors and thank them in person.

                If you are an aspiring writer, or even if you just want to better understand the art of storytelling critique, I (naturally) recommend you start Writing Excuses.  You can download or stream every single episode for free from their website.  Of course, I also recommend any number of their professional works as well.  Since the start of this series I have been exploring their individual stories, and hope to wrap up Dan’s John Cleaver series within the next week.

http://www.writingexcuses.com/
(For past seasons, just go to the ‘Archives’ link on the left, or explore their large list of topics)

                As always, thank you for reading, God bless, and don’t eat crayons.  Peace.

 

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The Bamboo Cutter

I made it!  I really didn’t think I’d have a story done by the end of the day.  Between finishing Breaking Bad, working, conquering the world, all of my recreational activities, and raw procrastination, I had a very difficult time coming up with a story this week.  To the point that I asked my friend for an idea what to write about.  This is the result.  I am an amateur with humor and only make good satire when the stars align, so think of this as a ‘serious humor’ of sorts.  It’s a little rough because of how rushed it was, but oh well. 1,064 words.

 

The Bamboo Cutter

                Until recently, Lenny was only familiar with the troubles of men, and was not sure how far those troubles could extend to the panda.  But in a change of fate as prejudiced as it was spontaneous, it was suddenly clear where his worth rested in the cold, black heart of Earth.  It might not have seemed like much, but that yogurt had weight.  It meant something.  It was an ultimatum, a final straw in his long-since-thinned patience.

                Lenny was a panda, worn in the womb of the world, and he wanted yogurt.

                You might not think it, but life is largely the same for pandas as for men.  At least, as far as America is concerned.  And not only pandas, but since the turning of the age, all forms of bear-life had begun their acceptance campaign into the democratic culture.  Though Lenny was not particularly fond of his white, polar cousins.  But they were all treated equally and with due fairness, as is the supposed American way.  Except for now.  Now Lenny was a bump of broiled distaste, because one young, human cashier had determined that pandas and their kin weren’t allowed to have yogurt.  Not of the strawberry, peach, or vanilla varieties.  The only ones that mattered.

                Instead of shrugging it and moving on to another employee, Lenny decided to let the discrimination sit and roll in his huge, beer-born, panda belly.  With the taste of a strawberry memory teasing him and yogurt profoundly absent from his life.

                That morning had been bruise-colored, with only scattered clouds and a fatigued, blurry sun.  The bumpy road to work was hell with a hangover, like a tent peg lodged firmly between both eyes.  It throbbed and throbbed, and in the meantime Lenny’s anger swelled, releasing itself during the lunch hour when Carl called him into the office.  Lenny knew he didn’t work very hard.  He was never ambitious and despite fitting the mold as a perfect bamboo cutter, his productivity was on a years-long decline.  So it wasn’t a surprise when Carl dropped the bomb that he was being laid off.  But of course, it still hurt, even through his thick bear-skull and last night’s vodka.

                Now it was evening and Lenny’s fur was disheveled with a long day’s toil of hating himself.  He tried to vent some of that anger at Smokey’s Everybear Gymnasium, but succeeded only in pulling two different muscles.  Afterwards he wanted to shower, but there was only cold water, and after swearing his way through that treason, he learned that there were no towels offered for drying, either.  Certain that it wasn’t enough just to take the low road, Lenny figured he had to be colorful about his frustration, so he promptly crapped on the floor before leaving.

                The roads were mostly clear, and he was pushing eighty-five.  Lenny’s soul was lost in the orange inferno of passing streetlights.  Both his mind and what was left of his heart tracked back to his family.  They deserved better, and for the small part, he tried to give them better.  A year after their daughter was born, Lenny and Jean almost split off.  Nobody would blame his wife for abandoning the poor bamboo cutter.  He was emotionally absent and known to beat her on rare, but not too rare, occasions.  It wasn’t really his fault.  Lenny was just repeating the gestures of love from his old man.  But he never hit Heather, their daughter.  That would have been too much.  If it had ever gone that far…well, it didn’t.  So he was at least thankful for that much, even if his relationship with her was on the rocks right now.

                Growing faster than Lenny could blink and with the dark, spitfire attitude of her young mother, Heather had reached the glacial pit of adolescence.  In her furious, relational charges, she had hooked up with Castor, the Mellick’s son.  A polar bear.  Lenny threw back a swig of Captain Morgan every time he thought about it.  Why a polar bear?  Why those narcissistic, ill-educated oafs?  He could only hope that the relationship would be as short as his own high school bouts with love, and that his naïve daughter would learn to shoot for higher standards in the aftermath.

                Man, strawberry yogurt sounded divine.

                It was in the throes of his reverie that Lenny saw the dancing beams of blue and red in his rearview.  He swore and groaned the only way a panda could.  Why did his back suddenly itch in that one spot he couldn’t reach?  Blast it.

                Lenny pulled over and waited with impatience as the police officer moved to his door.  Lenny rolled down the window and sighed, not even bothering to hide Mister Morgan, his partner-in-crime.

                “Good evening,” the officer said, “Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?”

                “Because I have a bumper sticker that says ‘Kiss me, I’m Asian’?”

                Brows tenting, the officer pursed his lips, “No.  Reckless driving.  Thirty over the speed limit, plus a little bit of swerving,  His body slanted as he caught sight of the beer, “How much have you had to drink tonight?”

                Lenny pulled in a chest of air and tried not to hick as he released it, “How many are usually in Captain Morgan’s crew?”

                Unamused, the officer penned something on his clipboard.  “License and registration?”

                “How about this,” Lenny bargained, “I will take any ticket that you have to give me, I will even go to jail for the night, if you go over to that convenience store and buy me some yogurt.  You have no idea.  I would kill a man for some vanilla right now.”

                Blinking slowly, Lenny looked dumbly at his steering wheel.  Did he just say that out loud?  Curse you Morgan, curse you.

                The follow transpiration was a pitiful attempt to reclaim his credit as an honorable driver, but with constant backdrops and poor decisions that ultimately landed the panda in overnight jail.  On his way to the bunks, Lenny thought it could be worse.  He wasn’t terribly interested in seeing Jean and Heather right now anyways, jobless and wasted as he was.  At least, it seemed like it could be worse, until he found that the entire cell was to the rim with polar bears and their filth.

                And not a trace of bloody yogurt to be found.

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