Tim Powers Q&A #6

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Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby Liz » Tue May 10, 2011 9:19 am

ONBC: Are there any books that you read while doing research for On Stranger Tides that you'd particularly recommend? (Other than Sabatini's Captain Blood, which, of course, is already a favorite of mine)

Tim: One major one was "The Great Days of Piracy in the West Indies," by George Woodbury -- and I seem to recall that there's really only a couple of sources for the stories of Blackbeard and Bonnett. Defoe? John Esquemeling? And I read a heap of books about ship and boat handling -- especially "Sailing Technique" by H. A. Calahan. If I was ever to actually try to function in a sailboat, I'd read all of Calahan's books!
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby Buster » Tue May 10, 2011 10:17 am

Yup. Most of the books that discuss Blackbeard just rehash the few bits of information in Esquemelin, though there is a lot of peripheral information available, particularly on the the political side of things (and we all know how accurately that is reported...)
I'm intrigued that you could write the boats scenes so compellingly without much actual time on the water (I'm making an assumption here from some of your previous remarks -) Have you ever sailed on a tall ship? Or a smaller boat in coastal waters?
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, by the way. It is such a sweet bonus gift, added on to the pleasure you already provided us by giving us such a rich and entertaining story. Thanks to you, we've gotten into some grand discussions!

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby Theresa » Sun May 15, 2011 11:50 pm

So I guess the 1960's Disney movie "Blackbeard's Ghost" wasn't part of your research?

:biggrin:

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon May 16, 2011 9:20 am

:harhar:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby TimPowers » Mon May 16, 2011 10:00 pm

Theresa, right, I somehow missed that movie!

And Buster, no, as far as I can recall I've never been on a ship powered by sails! Not one that was moving, anyway.

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby Pearlsgirl » Mon May 16, 2011 10:07 pm

Hello Tim - I meant to post my question before, so I apologize for that. What do you do to get inspiration when you get "writer's block"? Thanks for any insight you kindly offer!
Gather yourself by the sea, I will love you there. Assemble yourself with wild things, songs of the sparrow and seafoam. Let mad beauty collect in your eyes - for I long for a man with nests of wild things in his hair. A man who will Kiss the Flame.

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby TimPowers » Tue May 17, 2011 7:50 pm

Hello, Pearlsgirl! I think I have writer's block every day -- I'd always rather do anything at all than actually sit down at the computer and open the current book's Word file. Guilt usually gets me moving, though -- I tell myself, "You bum! Some people actually have jobs! If you want to do something to justify your use of oxygen, give me a thousand words (which is only four typed pages!)! I don't care if they're brilliant, or even good, but give me a thousand words!"

And there's some validity to that. When people say they have writer's block, they usually don't mean they're incapapble of writing an English sentence -- "Joe opened his door and shuffled down the sidewalk." -- they mean they can't write an English sentence that's any good, or they have no ideas to write about. There are several cures for the "no ideas" problem -- you can put two characters in a car and just let them talk and drive, and let yourself discover where they've been, and who they are to each other, and where they're going; or you can decide ahead of time: it's a mother and daughter, and they're returning from a funeral, and they're going to try to break the news to the surviving spouse, who's pretty far gone in an assisted-living home, for instance. As for the "my sentences are dumb" problem -- sentences in first draft are supposed to be dumb! My first drafts look as if a not-bright high school kid wrote them. But then I re-read what I've written, and fix it up, and give some details the reader needs, and make the dialogue look less contrived, and so forth.

The key thing to remember is: If your first drafts look stupid and pedestrian and boring -- you're doing exactly right!

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby Pearlsgirl » Tue May 17, 2011 8:05 pm

Thanks, Tim! Terrific idea about having the two characters talk to each other. I do that...but I'll try it more often. The next thing you know a destination has been established, the tone is set, and you get a personal touch to the writing. Nothing like a little interaction, tete-a-tete, to bare the heart and express emotions, huh?

I'm with you - sometimes I just stare at that blank Word screen, wondering what in the devil to write. If I can get a paragraph out at times like those, I'm content.

If I may ask, how many times do you rewrite a chapter, for example? I find there is always, and I stress always, room for improvement in my humble efforts. Eventually you just sort of have to stop...or you'd never move forward....forever on one chapter will never complete a book! How do you "feel" when the writing is as far as it can go? I know it's a feeling, isn't it?

I'm so thrilled to be able to ask a few questions! You've made my evening!
Gather yourself by the sea, I will love you there. Assemble yourself with wild things, songs of the sparrow and seafoam. Let mad beauty collect in your eyes - for I long for a man with nests of wild things in his hair. A man who will Kiss the Flame.

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby TimPowers » Tue May 17, 2011 11:39 pm

Hi, Pearlsgirl!

Well, every day I start by re-reading the last couple of days' work (about six or ten pages) and fixing it as I go. This lets me "land running" when I get to where I left off yesterday -- I just continue on. And since I want to land running, I try never to end a day's work at the end of a decisive scene -- it's too hard to get it moving again from a dead stop the next day, like starting a car by pushing it. In fact I like to end the day's work with an incomplete sentence -- "Tom looked up and saw the" -- so that all I've got to do to start the next day's work is finish a sentence.

I go this way for a quarter or a third of the book -- say a hundred pages -- and then instead of just going back to the last couple of days' work, I go all the way back to the beginning and read up from there, fixing as I go. Often I'll see places where (now that I know what happens later) I need to drop a hint, like maybe mention that some guy has a particular tattoo or an alcoholic neice or something; or I'll see a place where I laid hints for something I didn't actually use, and I cut those hints. I do that about four times during the course of the book. Then when I'm done, I go back to the beginning again for one last read-through -- cutting developments that turned out not to go anywhere, beefing up the early appearances of characters who turn out to be more important than I initially thought, cutting repetitions, making dialogue sound more real. At that point I send it to the editor. Often after a couple of weeks I re-read it one more time, and find a few more things to fix, and I tell the editor "Wait, here's the absolutely final draft!"

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby Pearlsgirl » Tue May 17, 2011 11:59 pm

Oh Tim, I like that idea of not finishing a sentence at the end of a day's work! I can see how that gives you a little "springboard" to get going again. Not ending at a dramatic place is really a brilliant idea - and I always feel I have to end a chapter then and there. But it does make it hard to start a new chapter...like you said, akin to pushing a car. I'm remembering that visual when I write.

It's fascinating to hear of your process of rewriting, reviewing...and telling the editor to hold his horses, there's a change. I know it's probably personal to express, but do you get a really deep feeling of accomplishment when it's done? Even in my meager efforts at writing and poetry, I get a good dose of "warm fuzzies" inside, when I'm satisfied with what I've written. Even with all you've accomplished, the awards you've received, do you still get that thrill inside from your "labor of love", writing? It may be too private to answer, but I love knowing what makes creative people such as yourself tick...what motivates you, day after day.

I admire your work greatly...thank you for taking the time to answer our questions...and this very amateur writer's inquires about the writing process.
Gather yourself by the sea, I will love you there. Assemble yourself with wild things, songs of the sparrow and seafoam. Let mad beauty collect in your eyes - for I long for a man with nests of wild things in his hair. A man who will Kiss the Flame.

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby TimPowers » Wed May 18, 2011 3:04 am

Hi, Pearlsgirl! Yes, I do get a real feeling of accomplishment when I've done my last run-through of a novel or short story and can't any longer see anything wrong with it! I think, This will last, this is a finished thing! I want to open the window and yell "Hah!" at the world!

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby Pearlsgirl » Wed May 18, 2011 12:51 pm

I'm glad you get that good feeling....yeah, it's done!! Do you celebrate or do a little happy dance? :biggrin:

Another question, if I may. This is such a great opportunity to learn about writing. Do you have an index as you are writing along - a place to record places, characters, events? In my brief experiences, I find I lose track of important things like that over the space of time....like what injuries did Jack incur - was it his foot or hand? I also sometimes forget the nickname characters have for other characters....for example, Joshamee Gibbs' nickname for the woman character in my story is M'Lady. Others call her "Missy". I found I need to have all that written down somewhere.

Do you keep an organized record of things like that? How do you sort out important facts...by character, place? Does it get to be a bit overwhelming just doing that recording by itself? I find it's almost like writing another story.

Thanks, Tim, for any input you may have on this "task", and anyway to make it flow smoother. I find I fall behind on it, and then struggle to catch up.
Gather yourself by the sea, I will love you there. Assemble yourself with wild things, songs of the sparrow and seafoam. Let mad beauty collect in your eyes - for I long for a man with nests of wild things in his hair. A man who will Kiss the Flame.

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby TimPowers » Thu May 19, 2011 2:23 am

Hi, Pearlsgirl! -- You're right, keeping track of everything becomes a second undertaking! I keep Word files on every major character, with all the details I know -- and a lot of them are details that never make it into the story. Sometimes I've even tacked up drawings of my characters, and ink in wounds as they occur so that I'll be able to keep track of how they're doing!

And I have big files of details on cities, ships, costume, weather -- and I try to bracket each section with words I might use the Search function on. Like, if I've got a section in a file on Arab costume, I'll have a line before it that goes like, "Arab dress, Arab costume, Bedoin clothing, Bedouin dress ..." etc., so that no matter what phrase I later use to search for that section, I'll probably find it. I try to put in all sorts of variations so that I'll probably find what I'm looking for. (It's frustrating to get "No matches were found" when you search for "tool box" and later see that you used the word "toolbox.")

And I make a giant calendar, with six-inch day squares, and write in all the stuff that happens on each day, so I can look at it and figure, "Okay, it was ten days ago that he met his mother," or "remember his car got stolen last week."

I fill out this calendar in advance, so mostly always I know what comes next -- but even if you prefer to discover your story rather than follow a prefabricated outline, I think it's a good idea to make this calendar _behind_ you, as you go, so that you can look at it hanging on the wall and instantly see the shape of the story so far.

And of course I still find that I can't find some notes, or let inconsistencies sneak into the story! In my last read-through I keep notes on the side, and try to fix all such things.

Good luck with your own writing! I can see you're serious abou t it!

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Re: Tim Powers Q&A #6

Unread postby Pearlsgirl » Thu May 19, 2011 9:10 am

A calendar! Now that's a good idea - and something always visible to keep the inspiration going! I could even make it attractive - with pictures of Jack on the top (always trying to incorporate my scrapbooking skills in there somewhere! :lol: ) This is a great writer's tip - it will make the story be more "alive and breathing"...you can actually reach out and touch it!

Yes, the index is a must as you get further and further along into a story. You're very dedicated to keeping it current and accurate - and for good reason. Your production of great results works! I just have to knuckle down and make it a part of each chapter's writing...get in there and update that index! Your words of wisdom will echo in my ears if I fall behind.

Yes, I adore writing, Tim. It's provided me so much pleasure. It's really a very personal thing to me...like a therapy. I noticed I'm improving over time. I guess if we stick with something long enough, we all improve. I'll continue - it means too much to me to even imagine stopping.

Tonight I go to see On Stranger Tides..and the experience will be all the more rewarding since I've gathered some of your knowledge...truly, no lie! I'll stay and watch the credits, of course, as we all should do to see the "Easter Egg" at the end, but I'll eagerly look for your name...it gives me tingles to think of that.

Thanks, again, Tim. You're most generous to share with us all! I know I'll have more questions...probably never-ending! I'll pick a few choice ones.....not all! :ok:
Gather yourself by the sea, I will love you there. Assemble yourself with wild things, songs of the sparrow and seafoam. Let mad beauty collect in your eyes - for I long for a man with nests of wild things in his hair. A man who will Kiss the Flame.


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