Chili Peppers

By The Numbers

So, the other day I was blog-surfing and came upon this post by literary agent Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Lit. If you're a writer, read her blog. There is awesome information there. Anyway, the other day I found this post about chapter titles in books and I wanted to bring that discussion here.As a rule, I hate chapter titles. As a reader, it's because they often give away too much of what will happen (no spoilers, dammit!). Over the years I've learned to just skip them. There is no such thing as a table of contents in a novel, I breeze past it. Chapter titles are blurred out in my mind. Very very rarely have they worked in a book I've read. As a writer, I have different reasons to loathe titles.

Way back in the days of yore when I started writing, I experimented with chapter titles. Usually, this meant that I'd finish one chapter, come up with a title for the next one and keep going. I hate that. Why? Because it can skew not just a reader's thinking of a chapter, but also the writer's of how it's supposed to be. And, as a story evolves, a chapter title can become entirely inaccurate. It can lose any and all meaning it once had, making it just a string of words to make you stumble from one plot point to the next. So, in general I avoid chapter titles and stick with good old numbers.


Like the trickster gods angling for my heroine's soul, this book threw a few monkey wrenches at me in terms of process, preference and style. I wrote the rough draft with nothing more than a number as the chapter heading. Did a few editing passes and realized there was a crucial event in Catherine Sharp's past that I'd only told about...and I needed to show it. This pivotal event needed screentime. So I opened a new word document. Since it could've fit in between any number of existing scenes, I gave it a title as if it were a piece of short fiction. "Scar Tissue". Ironically enough, when I started working on that  piece, the Chili Peppers song by the same name came up on ye olde shuffle.

No problem. Finished that. Went through and plugged it into the rest of the story. Did another proofing pass so I could send something clean-ish (but still raw) to my beta readers. (I prefer to send them something less polished at first for various reasons, but that's another post entirely.)  While I'm doing this pass, my shuffle keeps throwing songs at me that provide the perfect soundtrack to this book. Titles or lyrics jump out and stick to the page, mating with the appropriate scene.

Next thing I know, every chapter in my novel has a title. Each one is indicative of the mood of that chapter, or has a deeper meaning for the arc of the series. Each one is a Red Hot Chili Peppers reference.

Now, other stuff I write? Eff chapter titles. Still can't stand them. But for this project, the titles work and fit. They don't tip my hand, but if you listen to all of the songs, you'd get a damn fine playlist and a soundtrack to the story.

Song titles as chapter titles may sound a bit cheesy, but remember earlier when I said that there have been very few books where chapter titles work? The one that stands out is HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER by Lish McBride. The song titles give the slightest hint of mood for a given scene, but reveal nothing. That, I can get behind.

As I've been plotting/outlining/drafting companion pieces and sequels to TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES, certain scenes pop into my head with a title attached. I'm sorry, but when I'm doing a scene sketch (think of it like a storyboard only instead of drawings, I have vague dialogue and minor blocking) and my Vox Crania calls out, "This is called 'Screams and Whispers from In Between'," and I get mad chills? Yeah, the title stays. Otherwise, it gets a number and we move on to take care of all that in post.

So yeah, that's my personal feeling on chapter titles.

How about you? Any bias one way or the other as a reader or writer?

Cotton Candy With A Door

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a friend of mine once referred to my brain as "Cotton Candy With A Door". Never have been quite sure if this is a compliment or not. I prefer to think of it more as a place of whimsy, color and filled with childlike wonder and a door to Anywhere. Then again, he may have been saying that inside my mind is all sugary fluff devoid of any nutritional value.

Anyway, the other day said mind was filled with too many ideas and not enough time to siphon it off. I made a comment on my Facebook about this and the old conversation began... "if only I could just plug in a USB drive to my brain and download it all there and it would all show up fully formed in the Word document." That idea makes me wonder... if that was possible, would a computer program be able to take the amorphous chaos, thoughts, colors, sensations, emotions and words in my head, smack them all together with ones and zeroes and produce something that did justice to the raw germ inside my head? What would it look like? How would a machine realize the way my brain thinks?

I tried to think this out a bit... if I could actually plug a thumb drive into my head and download one of my stories, how would the computer translate it? Would there be words or pictures? I've heard that some people think in words when they write...that in their mind they see the letters building words to tell their story on a blank piece of paper.

That's not me. I think in a full on cinematic experience with Dolby Surround Sound. Settings might be lush with detail while others might be generic. My characters range from specific, already cast with a particular actor or actress in mind while others are more vague. They have voices that I hear as if they're over my shoulder.

Marius, for example. He's got the same voice as an actor from Babylon 5. Physically he resembles him, but really Marius looks like Marius. So, if we were trying to download Marius out of a rough draft, I can't help but think we'd see a movie of sorts. A set of scenes that haven't gone through post-production yet. Some things still have green screen behind them and piss poor audio. Maybe we've got animated story boards with audio files at the bottom.

Maybe it wouldn't be much different than the way I've tried to organize my chaos on the computer. I've got a file folder for the series. In that I've got a folder for each book, another for companion pieces, a folder for "casting" where I keep pictures that just capture a character. The casting folder also has maps and locations that I'm using for various scenes (because I'm a stickler for detail and if I say we're going to a specific hotel, I want to describe the rooms there as they are in reality). On my iTunes I've made a playlist of songs that would be on the soundtrack, audio interviews with people who have voices similar to the characters and songs that are just evocative. (If you really want to know, my C# playlist includes a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse and Daft Punk.) Then there's the stuff that's written. Outlines, scene sketches, novels, short stories. Words and words and words. All of these things are reins to try to keep the chaos of my thoughts under control.

And that's what we do as artists, isn't it? Musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, dancers...we're all trying to do something insane and difficult. We're trying to take the immaterial in our minds and express it in a way that does those thoughts justice. We're trying to sculpt ether into reality for others to see what we see, how we see. I try to tell you a story not just in words, but with every sensation so you can experience it the way I do. And I know you won't. Because your mind works differently. Your Marius and my Marius may look nothing alike. Hell, I know there are some books that I've read where the character's voice makes me think something entirely different than the author has described.

But we try, we fools. We try to spin our dreams and songs and stories into thread and embroider this life with some physical representation. We want you to see.

As often as I joke that it would be nice to download this book and just skip to the editing, I don't think a computer program could do that. Besides, organic creation...writing from start to finish and digging into the fertile brain-soil...that's magical. So, I put the thumb drive aside and close Word for a while. I take a pen, a notebook and stride into the fluff of cotton candy. Then I open the door.

What do you see?

The Force is Strong With This One

I had a really creepy moment this morning. Cool creepy, not stalker or oozing zombies creepy. So, I'm working on Book 2 of my trilogy following Charles Kaufman through his afterlife in the Dreamworld. And for some reason, Book 2 really responds to Red Hot Chili Peppers. That lag I was talking about? Yeah, disappeared when I put on the Peppers. At first I thought it was just Puck (yes, that Puck) opening up for some reason, but it's the Book itself. The story speaks when I'm listening to RHCP. \m/  So yeah, I'm working on Book 2 with RHCP playing this morning... on shuffle...and the song Charlie comes on.

Check some of these lyrics...

"So much more than Charlie's waking me To my core and Charlie's shaking me Tell my story Charlie's making me And Charlie's making me smile"

I guess you just had to be there.

Today is awesome. It started with Boomdeyada. And I get a date with my mister tonight.

Boomdeyada indeed.