Write This!

I’ve been writing my whole life, but until I started writing this series of books on the movies, I don’t think I had found my voice.

Part of that success (such as it is) was switching from fiction to non-fiction.  I wrote stories and novels for decades — even finished quite a few, and collected the usual pile of rejection notices.  But what I repeatedly found was A) I don’t know how to lie effectively and B) I didn’t seem to have the knack for recreating the necessary details for luring a reader in and keeping him with stories.

I blame my parents for both of those.  They kept telling me to get to the point, particularly my father, but they also didn’t tolerate liars kindly — it really was the one unforgivable sin in my house. To this day, I lie so badly I’ve never cheated on my taxes or my wife. I just know I’d get caught. But what is more, I simply can’t sleep at night when I’ve told even a white lie to save somebody’s feelings. It just bothers me to no end.

So, no wonder my fiction never had that magic. I’ve known quite a few writers, particularly in the last decade of having something of a reputation as an expert on Robert Heinlein, and I’ve noticed that a substantial number of them are not burdened by the need to be truthful. Quite the opposite.

No, I’m not naming names.

So, despite my hunger to be a writer, my lifelong addiction to reading,and my deep training in college and graduate school, basically it came down to this: I sucked.

I’ve already talked about how I happened to get started on this project, but one of the surprises has been how smoothly the writing has gone. I’ve just about finished writing my second book in the series, bringing the total word count to close to half a million words for the two.

So how do I go about slapping around the Academy and putting together what my editor calls a “deliciously snarky” take on the movies?

After the hunt for the movies themselves — see the previous blog post — I sit down and watch them. While I’m watching them, I take extensive notes, hitting pause so regularly I may need a new remote soon.  The more complex the movie, the longer it takes.  Bad movies go quickly — apparently, vitriol is easier than accurate praise — but great movies may take me an entire day or two, depending on how often I replay segments.

Once I’ve got the notes down, I write the first draft for each category, along with a separate introduction which will go into whichever category will eventually come first in that chapter.

I then start taking a look at other people’s opinions, having given myself time to figure out (as best I can) what I think first. TCM and the IMDB are often where I go for a good broad overview, and then I head into the books I’ve gathered on the directors and actors. I look for great quotes and anecdotes to include, or enlighten, or as a counterpoint to my own positions.

Once each chapter is done, I go back over it, making decisions about which nominees should have won, and rearranging the categories. I then begin to cut every thing I can, paring down the writing, deleting repetitious words and arguments, trying to insert more humor and commentary — anything to tighten and enliven the reading experience.

I then send it off to my first reader, the noble and nearly-all-knowing Bill Patterson, the author of the excellent Robert A. Heinlein biography from Tor, and editor of The Heinlein Journal. We have an odd relationship — we’ve written a great deal together, and we’re willing to act as bullshit detectors. Nothing we say to each other has the slightest effect on our friendship — that’s the odd part — and yet, we can be totally honest. His command of grammar is excellent — he’s helped me learn to kill off the commas and misplaced modifiers.  I won’t rat him out on what I’ve taught him, but it must be something worth having — he keeps asking me to return the editing favors.

I take his suggestions, incorporate the brighter ones, and let the chapter go back to rest. Every month or so, while I’m working on later chapters, I go back and proofread and cut all I can again and again. Eventually, I finish, and send the book off to my editor and publisher, Deb Houdek Rule.

That’s where the real work begins.

She’s as tough as Bill is — hates the word “that” in particular — and has an eye for typos even better than mine or Bill’s.

We go back and forth, killing all the typos we can — which never ceases to shock both of us that we missed them before.  Very few books reach the public without a few of those slipping through, but we’re doing all we can to not be publicly humiliated.

Too much like adolescence…and the Academy Awards…

We use other fresh eyes before she publishes the book, particularly the over-eager orbs of Geo Rule — who takes a fiendish delight in showing us up by finding more typos…

And then once the book is in print, we wait for the screaming to start…

But that’s another blog entry.

If you’d like to buy my books, WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars, V. 1: 1927-1943v. 2, 1944-1952, and V. 3: 1953-1963 please follow the links below — and thanks for having such good taste!

Link for V. 1: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0

Link for V. 2: http://www.amazon.com/WHO-Won-Irreverent-Look-Oscars-ebook/dp/B00PKK8MBY/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415905574&sr=1-2

Link for V. 3: http://www.amazon.com/WHO-Irreverent-Look-Oscars-Volume/dp/069232318X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

Let the voting begin — and thanks for dropping by.


  1. I wonder if this might be of help to you…going forward. There’s a website, atogt.com, which has contained within its bowels the nomination reminder list for ever single year of the Oscars. Probably would have helped you more in the early days, but them’s the breaks I suppose. Enjoying reading the books now, hope to see volume 4 soon.

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