2022 Clarion West Write-a-thon

Tom Marcinko

June 6, 2022 12:00am - July 30, 2022 12:00am

My Writing Goals

I have about 30,000 words on a science-fiction novel. I'm going to document my progress here.

This resolution good for at least the month of June.

Write-a-thon Blog

Sat., July 30: I Travel

Today I finished my outline, to the extent that an outline can ever be finished. Please see below for my rationale for how and why I came to decide to write an outline, rather than just dive in.

Some of it was written in London during the week Boris Johnson said he was going to resign (has he, yet, really?). "Europe has a language problem, talk talk talk, talk talk talk..." We were there just before the highest temperatues since the UK was part of Pangaea. It wasn't my most productive week.

Some of it was written in Edinburgh. We stayed in a wonderful three-bedroom flat I never quite learned to navigate. Robert Burns' statue was right outside our window, as if we were in a movie and the director wanted to establish right away that we were in Scotland.

Quite a bit of it was written at JFK Airport before, during, and after the unexplained cancellation of our flight from Edinburgh to Phoenix. I'd describe that process in excruciating detail, except I'm already sorry I mentioned it, because now I'm starting to relive it. It did remind me a bit of that story from an old Clarion anthology (back when there were such things) about the guy sentenced to serve his time in a downtown Greyhound bus station.

Quite a bit of it was written in the four-color Bic pen you can see Natalie Portman write with in Thor: Love & Thunder (product placement with class, that). I used the right-hand page for tight outline-y stuff, and the left hand page for notes-to-self like "These aliens need to be really scary, physically and psychologically."

I've declared the Internet to be a labor-generating device, the worst weapon of mass distraction since TV, so for the time being, writing longhand works for me. I chose a Moleskine because quite frankly I hate moles and the more that get skinned, the better.

Thanks again to the wonderful people who made a donation through this page. I will probably continue to document my progress in some venue--maybe right on this page, if it's possible after the Write-a-Thon. I find it helps to keep me focused.

Sun., July 3: First footprint on snow.
To sully with ink and words that first blank page of a Moleskine. What a daring, reckless sensation.

Fri., July 1: Scryance friction.
Confession: I really have to psych myself up to work up some enthusiasm today. The Supreme Court is executing a coup. Does the world need yet another novel?

I’ll try to answer that one later.

What I’m doing today (see previous day’s post):

OK, I’m excavating some potentially interesting stuff here. But I’m not going to linger too long. I suspect I’m over correcting from being such a Pantsy McPantser-Pants. I would not want no-surprises, no-improv draft, assuming such a thing could possibly exist.

I’m also going to stay the hell away from the internets and the socials as much as possible. (Mark. My. Words.) My shopping list includes a spanking new Moleskine, preferably blue or green, and one of those four-color Bic pens, for aeroplane use.

I use Scrivener and Dropbox but I’m not confident I’ll be able to access them for a bit. Anyway, I seem to oscillate between processing every word on screen and scratching them out on tortured tree-fiber by brute force.

Also, new crackpot theory: Technology has made it too easy to write. We splash words onto files, smug and secure in the knowledge that we can revise them later. This leads to loose and sloppy thinking. We’d get better results if we wore down our fingertips on manual typewriters, like God intended.

Half-baked, and no doubt wrong, which is why I’m tempted to expand on this idea for the New York Times Pitchbot.

Thurs., June 30: “We choose to do these things, not because they are easy…”
Ill-ish. When you feel slightly guilty for taking the day off from your day job even though you’re doing your co-workers a favor by not exposing them to what could be a nasty virus.

One of those days when writing begins at an unnaturally (for me) late hour and you hope to salvage what you can of the day.

Today’s assignment is to sketch the secondary characters. I have a pretty good idea who most of them are, but I want to see if I can design (or excavate) something more. Here are some of the questions I’m working with, adapted from Lisa Cron’s Story Genius:

Thumbnail sketch before the curtain rises.
Enter, wanting this:
Why the desire? What would it mean to achieve it?
Origin Scene: What does this person go into the scene believing?…
Capture the moment when this person’s worldview shifted, and the misbelief took root in the brain, where it’s been coloring how they’ve seen the world from that moment on. Write a full-fledged scene.
Pinpoint the moments that challenged this person and caused them to take action.

I’ve written a bit below about why this approach seems to be working for me, and why it seems to be a useful approach because I find it difficult.

Précis: I can use the focus; otherwise, I can write reams about why a given person prefers soft or crunchy peanut butter and what that says about their utterly depraved and nihilistic worldview. Sometimes it’s relevant, but sometimes for me it’s just work-avoidance.

Besides, everybody knows good guys go for crunchy.

Wed., June 29: Maybe I'm overthinking, but then again...

A thing I’ve been working on is the order of events in the story. I think I’ve got a story arc—now, should Scene A happen before Scene B, or the other way around? Which is worse for my protagonist?

I think I’m getting bogged down, finally, in process. I felt the need to send myself back to Plot School, which was a clear and present necessity. Now I’m really feeling these synchronously-appearing quotes, with synchronously accompanying Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon:

Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.
—Annie Dillard

Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.
—Ray Bradbury


To put it another way: Maybe I’ve done enough prep for now, and it’s time to dive in.

Another thing I'm really feeling is the New York Times article I suddenly can't find, on what to do when you don't feel like doing anything. Ah, here it is, for anybody else who might need it, during this long hot summer's descent into fascist dictatorship:

How to Get Things Done When You Don’t Want to Do Anything

My reminder: Hey, this is work. Treat it like a job. OK. Professional attitude coming right up.

Sat., June 25: Yesterday's Enterprise

Friday's collected wordage: more or less: "We see how badly she wants this. R. is arrested and blamed for what D. did. How much time has passed? About five years."

Turning off the computer. Working longhand.

I have, however, been inspired by Natalie Zina Walschots's novel Hench. Live-wire throughline sustained. This is what I'm aiming for.

Fri., June 24: "Abuse of power comes as no surprise." (Jenny Holzer)

I used my morning pages to vent about yesterday’s gun decision. And then I took a look at today’s headline.
    Funnily enough, abuse of power is one of my Grand Themes. As one of my characters says in a note somewhere, “I want to live in a world where there actually is a shortage of good causes.”
    It’s overwhelming: climate, guns, voting rights, reproductive rights, the right to be who you are or who you want to be, the right to read certain books or say certain words. It’s physically impossible to get involved in all of these things.
    Or is it?
    I believe that progress in one area advances progress in another. I am still hoping that is not a homily I tell myself to feel better.
    You know what? Who couldn’t say a lot more? But nine out of ten activists agree that one thing you can do during the rise of authoritarianism is to make art. So I’m setting this aside, opening my full this morning, and going over there to see what I can accomplish today.
    Also: Don’t obey in advance.

Thurs., June 23: "Phase One, In Which Doris..."

If the Marvel universe can have phases, then phases are good enough for me.  Resuming the daily progress report I was keeping for myself for Phase 1. Word counts, ideas, experiments, “hey I just thought of a great scene so I’ll sketch it out here” … that sort of thing.
    So. Yesterday. I was sketching out scenes. Really finding Story Genius (see previous posts) to be a useful yardstick. I could see myself looking for easy ways out of jams, but outlining with an eye towards character arc rather than plot seems to be serving as a good bullshit detector.

Just for fun, here is my "Something of a Mission Statement" entry for June 6, when I began diving into this project in earnest. I meant it for just myself, but somebody else might find it useful, so what the hell:

I have decided to apply Lisa Cron's Story Genius method to develop the novel I was in the middle of drafting, Supernova Funhouse. (Working title)
    I found Wired for Story and Story Genius at a time when I was thinking that being a good writer has not necessarily made me a good or natural teller of stories, and that if I was going to continue to make a go of this, I need to be somewhat more calculating about it.
    I like the way she thinks and the path she is offering, especially since it is not easy. It seems to dovetail with what I am trying to do.
    So, I'm going to give it a chance.
    In Story Genius Cron outlines steps the writer should take, questions they need to probe deeper into their idea, to excavate the why? and the and-so? that I may not have identified. (May!)
    I particularly like the idea that there should be nothing in the novel that does not advance the main character's story arc. Given my propensity for introducing a lot of stuff just because I think it's cool....
    And also given my propensity for avoiding the emotional work, for trying to let the idea carry the story, for avoiding putting my characters through hell.
    So, more on this later. I feel at some point I should make a more concise statement.
    But... on to the to-do list.

Wed., June 15

Decent progress yesterday and this morning.

Humblebrag: My whole problem is that I have too much imagination. No, seriously, I am way too inventive for my own good.

This is to say: I am easily distracted by whatever bright shiny idea pops into my head, and all too willing to let it divert the entire story. Which distracts me from digging deeper into character and emotion.

The last couple days have been devoted to pivotal back-story scenes which dig my protagonist deeper into the problem she's built for herself. I'm finding it hard going, which is usually a good sign that I'm getting somewhere. (To travel hopefully is a writer's best friend.)

Since I tend to write my first drafts in a Bradbury-esque flights of stream of consciousness ("Then why aren't your stories as good as Bradbury's, Tom?" "Shut up," he explained), I'm also unearthing some good subject-changing material that I might have a use for, possibly in some other project. "Mr. Black is some other guy on some other job."

Curious thing: The other day I was talking with my son about writing. He said he'd come across advice from "one of the South Park guys" (Trey Parker, I think): You never write "then"; it's always "but" or "therefore." Which is an anecdote my current guru Lisa Cron tells in Story Genius.

Mon., June 13

Almost 2,000 words tonight. A scene I probably won't use. I'm trying to dig deeper into character but I'm not sure this is getting the job done. I'll decide that later. Forward motion, though. That's the ticket, that's the stuff.

The soundtrack for today, unfortunately, was the mind-boggling House hearings, general office chit-chat, and the gentle hum of anxiety. I think I should listen to some music.

"Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible."—Doris Lessing

Sun., June 12

Ha. Didn't feel a bit like writing yesterday. But I did it anyway. To the interstellar vastness of WXPN's "Star's End" radio program. Here is a snippet of that:


Fri., 6/10

Today I did what you might call back-story writing. I have 30,000 words that are definitely pointing towards a given direction.

The prompts I am using come from Lisa Cron's Wired for Story and Story Genius, which I recently discovered and am taking to heart because she asks you to dig deeply and write some difficult-to-face material, which has been missing from my work. Some of the questions/assignments I've worked on the last couple of days:

"Write down why you care about the story that you want to tell."

”Write a short paragraph about what your character enters the novel wanting, even if she doesn’t think she has a chance in hell of getting it.”

"Capture the moment when your protagonist’s worldview shifted."

This might sound elementary to some, but I've never approached a project this way. Given the way my mind goes all over the place, I am, so far, happy to work in this more structured environment.

Today's writing music has been Graham Parker's Squeezing Out Sparks (1979), which feels like a live wire no matter how many times I play it.

Thurs., 6/9

So. Today I am working on the main character arc of this baby. One thing I've learned, or re-learned, is that being good with words does not necessarily make one a natural storyteller. I have decided that if I am ever going to write a readable novel in this lifetime, I'll have to be more deliberate. But I am still wearing pants (in-joke--writer talk).

Publications List

Reasonably recent:

"Water Striders," in @ParsecInk's TRIANGULATION: Habitats, ed. Thompson, @DianeTurnshek & @HKauderer. Starships, time dilation, 10K-yr clocks, keys under mats, rain on the roof, and gratuitous shoplifting:


"Temperance," in Black Cat Weekly #21. Cecilia Tan put out a call for erotic vampire stories. I took it as a dare. The 1950s Vegas setting and the atomic-testing thing do make sense in context, I believe.

Available from the publisher: https://bcmystery.com/black-cat-weekly-21-1/

Also available as a stand-alone for the Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/temperance-tom-marcinko/1140923910?ean=9781479465675

Earlier Work:

Astronauts and Heretics, a collection of six early stories, available on the Kindle. My plan is to make these available for free, which I came close to doing, but could not make heads nor tails of WordPress.

Hit me up for a copy if you're interested.

But if you want to use Amazon, here's The Little URL That Just Won't Quit:







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