Can’t Sleep, The Clowns Will Eat Me

zombieland-clownOkay, so this isn’t as bad as it sounds. I actually have no issues with clowns. Any of them. I mean, I’ve a fan of zombie movies and if you’ve even been paying partial attention, those have clowns in them. A lot. Cannibal clowns. You’d think those would be the ones you’re supposed to be afraid of, right?

At the same time I have sleep disorders on my best days. And the last few weeks haven’t been my best days. Tuesdays and Thursdays are becoming the nights where anxiety takes hold because I know I will have trouble sleeping. And I am fully aware that the anxiety makes it almost assured I won’t sleep. Thanks. But last night wasn’t a day starting in the letter T.

Dreams have been waking me up lately. Like up to five times a night. Last night started innocently enough with a scene of being part of a police force strike on a criminal organization’s house. Only they knew we were coming. Lots of folks died. Horribly. And I watched it all.

dark_sci_fi_warrior_soldier_military_weapons_guns_mech_monsters_creatures_art_cities_buildings_battle_war_1920x1080Each time I woke and went back to sleep it got worse. Instead of the mob it was monsters. Zombies would turn to mutants, who would in turn morph to vampires. Eventually it was a mass attack from aliens or elder gods. Possibly both.

Cut to this morning, trying to get ready and out the door to write. Nothing is flowing. I am getting words down, but I had to fight for the 1200 or so I managed. And I know there’s no inspiration for my next story. My plan is to top out at 20 short stories (10 short of my 30 story goal) but around 55k in word count. Which means about 15k in the next 3 days. I was dragging my heels this weekend.

More so, with so many of my stories being ghost story adaptations or urban fantasy in nature, I am noticing a trend. There are a lot of stories dealing with death. So much so, that I am considering a story with the Grim Reaper as the central figure. Sort of a “one story to rule them all” thing. And now my dreams are following suit. Lots of death, and waking up wondering where my dog is.

The best description of this morning comes in the form of a television quote. Specifically one from Pam a couple episodes back in True Blood… “Yeah, kind of like getting kicked in the cooch by a Wallaby, ain’t it?”

Why post about this here? Maybe so I keep writing. Possibly it had something to do with no blog in the past week. Or maybe to serve as a reminder for those facing similar problems in their NaNoWriMo project (or similar deadline driven task). Take some time to process life. Hershel said, “We all have a job to do.” At the same time, the difference between 40,000 words in a month and 55,000 words isn’t that much. Had I been in the middle of a novel and not a collection of short stories, I might have thrown in the towel already.

And that’s not only allowed, but perfectly acceptable.

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Day 7 and 8… hitting the wall

Day 7 and 8 stories are my real challenge. One of them really isn’t a fully formed story and the other will likely never see the light of day. Though I am keeping the opening line from Day 7 no matter what. It was a terribly good line from a song. One that will likely prompt several stories, or possibly a novel.

Hindsight being the better of my two visual-like senses, next time around I will start collecting improv comedy style prompts earlier in the process. Much earlier than the start of the challenge. It should eliminate running low on inspiration two weeks in.

That said, here is what I have to add to the tally…

Day 7 – Restless Spirits

A story about the lone living heir to a brewing empire. Haunted by his past and ancestors unwilling to keep quiet he turns to the alcohol that gave him his financial independence. As I said above, even if I never work this story into something finished and refined, I will be keeping the opening line: “I can’t drown my demons, they know how to swim.”

Day 8 – Wind In Your Hair

I had nothing to write about. This is a rough week for it all, so I wrote a story that was happening to me. An explanation of why I am a dog person and what that means as we are at the end of my black lab’s sixteen year life. More likely than not, nobody will ever read this piece. At least not while I’m still here.

Going Forward

The next couple days worth of ideas are there. Starting them shouldn’t be a problem now that I snaked out that clog in my creative pipes. Though if my instincts are right, I will be saying goodbye to someone before the month is over. No way of telling what that will do to my voice at the end of the challenge.

But, as Hershel said in the last season of Walking Dead…

“We all have a job to do.”

Week One @NaNoWriMo Insight

Okay, so it is past week one by a couple days. I’m still only through Day 6 on the stories though. Almost half way through my word count, but only 6 completed stories. Which means I’m maintaining my word count (ding) but falling short on a story every day (wah-wah). But there was something that came to me as I was trying to figure out what to write for Day 7.

Before I get into that, for those not following the page tabbed above for the 30 Days & 30 Nights project, here is the next two in the series and their stats.

Day 5 – Bury Me With My Guns On (2658)

Inspired from an insert I read on burial practices in the “wild west.” And a touch from the Bobaflex song. What do you want? It’s in my urban fantasy playlist I use when writing. Besides, who doesn’t like a good cowboy ghost story?

Day 6 – Deep Fried Deep Ones (5864)

This was based off of a real world article. In looking at it, I saw an application into horror. A place I felt I could play with some Lovecraftian stuff. Maybe not strict Lovecraft, but based on the concepts. Give me a break, we’re making this all up as we go along.

The Epiphany

The news piece Day 6 is based on is about a family of American tourists in Greece. They find a rare, 6 tentacle octopus (a hextapus), beat it to death on the rocks, and then cook it. The only reason they cooked it themselves is because the chef at the restaurant refused to. So yeah, a pretty horrible story. One that reinforces all the worst stereotypes of Americans. But its a contemporary story. And I can’t do contemporary.

Back in college we had an assignment to go down to the Kohl’s Grocery Store on campus and write a short story taking place in that location. No problem. Until the professor asked us to present them.

Another guy went before me. He wrote this heart-wrenching piece about a kid who moved to Wisconsin after being born in a third world country. The kid was given instructions to go to the market for food. He was even given a list. And the tale was about the differences in his world as opposed to ours. He picked up corn by the picture on the can (forget that the country he came from didn’t grow corn – or that fresh corn is offered in the produce section). He found the fish tank with the bass in it (I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that he was near a coastal region of his country). After grabbing a fish out of the tank, he beat it to death with the can of corn.

For me, this was still a piece of science fiction, because even in the 80’s parents didn’t send their grade school aged kid to the market alone to do the grocery shopping for the family. Much less if they were just moved into a different country. One that didn’t share a common language with them. The author had an explanation built into the story as for how the boy spoke such wonderful English, but still.

Then its my turn. Right after the GAN (Great American Novelist). I proceed to recite my story about Cthulhu stepping down into Kohl’s. One foot in aisle 4 and one in aisle 7. But, knowing the I.P. issues TSR was having with the Call of Cthulhu folks, I only hit to the fact it is him. You never see he tentacle-laden face. (Old Ones are tall, yo.)

Cthulhu (of course) brings insanity with him. The leprechaun from the box of Lucky Charms rolls off the box, calls out his intent to kill those bastard elves on the Rice Krispies box, and using his magic to summon a machine gun. Snap, Crackle and Pop spring from the box and take off running. And yes, the Lobster Tank (which was what actually resided in that tank) was a casualty as they came spinning around the end of the aisle and into the next.

Things return to normal as the gigantic feet lift up and take off into the sky again, but the store manager is left trying to figure out how those rolls of toilet paper were tossed all around, water from the busted fish tank soaking into them. Or who had cut the Lucky Charms guy as well as the Rice Krispie guys from a box and left them two aisles over. All three of the elves covered in a splattered bottle of ketchup.

What Does This Show?

I will never write the Great American Novel. Some people have that story in them to tell. I have horror in me. Fantasy, science fiction. I look at a bird house and wonder how many pixies live in there. And just what would they think of Pixie Stix? Would they be as horrified by them as I am?

So in future challenges like this, feel free to send me non-speculative fiction ideas. I cannot assure their safety however.

Now that flash fiction contest I am considering entering though. That one would be tough. One of the required elements you are given each round is genre. 😉

Day 3 and 4 of Camp NaNoWrimo

Okay, technically it is day 4 and 5, but the stories are Day 3 and Day 4. So far only two of my stories have hovered around 1700 words, so I am over on my word count, but only through 4 short stories. That leaves me two more to write to catch up. Game night is cancelled tonight though, so I have a chance to catch up.

Additionally I am getting into some of the strange suggestions. That means a bit more work to get into the stories and characters. Thanks to the first couple ideas I had, they keep skewing towards the ghost stories. Contemporary is just not in my wheelhouse. That considered, here is what I do have…

Day 3 – Unspoken Words: A story about two strangers who find themselves sharing a cabin for a week. IN addition to not knowing each other, they are dealing with a communication barrier.

Day 4 – Churro Don’t Tweet: This is more of an inside joke, so therefore a working title. It is the story set in the Los Angles of my Pretty Little Monsters series. One of their club girl friends has a miniature chihuahua named Churro as a “pet.” It’s actually her protector to her assigned by Wendy. We’ll see if I keep him as a skinshifter or make him the alpha of a pack of were-chihuahuas. All I know is I had the image of him looking like a younger version of Danny Trejo – like from Desperado. Thus the “Churro Don’t Tweet” title.

Not sure what days these will wind up being, but based off of the suggestions, I am going to do a Ghost in the Machine story (tiny necromantic constructs as electronic devices) and Deep Fried Deep Ones (spawn of the Old Ones caught and eaten by clueless American tourists).

Word Count: 12220

Completed Stories: 4

Camp NaNoWriMo: Day 1 and Day 2

So the concept that I had thought to use last November is the goal for this July. Camp NaNoWriMo is going to see the attempt at “30 Days and 30 Nights.” The idea is a compliation of 30 short stories over the course of the month.

In my last blog I started taking suggestions for writing challenges/prompts from people. WHich I will get to. But, as is my way, I couldn’t stick to that. A day prior to the start of the challenge my wife had me walking through the bargain books at the west side Barnes and Noble. This led me to the first story in my set – my Day 1.

The book was the Armchair Arnchair Reader: Haunted America. A collection of small blurbs on various ghost stories from around the US. For me, it was a checklist of various story prompts. Ideas just waiting to form. Such as…

Day One – The Contract

I had this idea formed from the little blurbs of the myriad mob realted ghosts in Las Vegas to give me the image of a guy. He was a hitman for the mob who took his job very seriously. In his mind, a professional always follows through on a contract.

You can likely guess where I went with this. I wrote his story on him and his quest to fill a contract. The lengths to which one man will go to honor his word.

The Problem

I went over Day One. A lot over. Like almost 5000 words by the end of it (without an edit). Almost three days worth of word count on a single story. Whichdoesn’t get me off the hook for the 1700 minimum for Day 2 or Day 3.

The Two-Pronged Assault

So I took the book again, and flipped randomly to a page. The one I came on was the two pages of this nearly 500 page book dedicated to Ed and Lorraine Warren. This is the couple that the movie The Conjuring was about. The movie my wife and I just watched finally the last night of camping (for me) this week.

The Problem

I just watched the movie. This wasn’t a writing spark or prompt. This was a fully formed story I had just consumed. Serendipity be damned, I couldn’t write about this without it influening me. So I used one concept from the story and brought it into my world. Let my mind play with it as I drank my coffee this morning. which gave me…

Day Two – The Fire Inside

This is the story of a guy with anger management issues. The entire thing takes place in his therapists office. Though I am not sure if this is a fully formed story or a character outline to help me definie a character. Time will tell. It could be a prequel. Tough to say.

Day Three

I am still considering Day 3. And Day 4 for that matter. With the 4th tomorrow I have a cookout to go to. A parade to attend. But I still have a story to write. Even if I am well into Day 5 according to my word count.

We will have to see where this takes me. So what have you been up to with your July? 😉

Order From Chaos: A NaNo Tradition

So I took a touch of time off this week. I was caught up on words (ahead by the NaNoWriMo standards) and I needed a break. This is one of the best tidbits of advice I can give to people new to the marathon. If you are stumbling after a 4k or 5k day, take a break. Let the batteries recharge. Not everyone has to, but you might. I sure as hell know when I have to.

Alas, poor Horseman. He was a dick, Horatio.

Alas, poor Horseman. He was a dick, Horatio.

If you are up to date on the show Sleepy Hollow (and if you aren’t you should be), you will recognize the title of the blog from there. The Freemasons from the show use the phrase with Ichabod. If you aren’t up to date, that’s not really a spoiler, now is it? But that would be the first instance of Order From Chaos this week. The direct relation of it to the show.

Pulling the title from the show refers back to the opening of this blog. No matter how hectic the month gets, make sure to take care of your physical and mental health. Take a night off, cook a good meal instead of eating from a fast food place or coffee shop. Decompress over some television. Play a game. Do something not related to NaNo. Trust me, it will help keep you sane. Well, sane for us, anyhow.

The next is the practice of NaNoWriMo. I bring this up due to the discussion from a podcast I was recently listening to. (That helps keep sanity during the dayjob.) Discussion was revolved around if NaNo was a good thing. Key focus (from what I was hearing) was brought to sit around the idea of “doing the work” for writing a book. It isn’t done in a month. And 50,000 words isn’t even a full novel.

Yes, this is their actual sign...

Yes, this is their actual sign…

I write all year long. There are breaks here and there, but I am always working on something. Even if it is research exercises or writing reviews. During the rest of the year I am not spending most of my time in coffee shops though. Other than November, if I am having problems getting going in the morning, I may skip the coffee shop that morning. Breathe deep people… I still go through the drive through. I am an addict after all. But the reality is I am always writing, editing and reading. I’m working towards the goal of becoming a published writer. After that the goal is full time writer.

During the month of November though, I throw it back to the Chaos. I release the Order and go full bore. This means write ins. It means going to the west side, Verona, even Oregon (the city, not the state) for events. I plan the launch party, most of the time more. This year it was the marathon day as well as the Night of Writing Dangerously. And I keep an eye out for those that don’t just want to spill 50,000 words onto a page. I keep an eye out for those who want to take it further.

Throw it back to the Chaos that spawned this ride, but still work Order into that Chaos. And hopefully motivate some folks that they can take it to the next step. In a way it seems that my goal isn’t to make it over that wall. My goal is to haul ass of everyone on my team over that wall. Or at least as far as we can get over it.

Bub would totally rock the pit!

Bub would totally rock the pit!

And my final call for Order From Chaos, as these things go in threes. At least they do for me. The final one falls to the story I am writing. It was one of three options. I chose between them due to a random post from Carina Press. Their “what our editors want” post for the year. One of the editors from their house that I have met posted she was looking for books on psychics. One of my plot ideas involved young people (18-25 year olds) developing mental abilities and the problems it would cause them. Drawbacks from those wonderful powers. Sort of like in Hollow Man how Kevin Bacon started going nuts from being invisible for prolonged periods of time.

Picking your plot based off a random tweet. You can get more Chaos than that, right?

More so than that, was the specifics of the plot. My protagonist is a clairvoyant. As far as he can tell though, seeing the future is very limited. Just a short distance out (a few seconds) and only directly around him. Still pretty hard core, but with limited potential. Without an Xavier’s School for the Gifted or such, he figures out how to train these abilities on his own. Namely, training in mixed martial arts.

There’s only so long you can hide that kind of an ability in the ring though, so to cut loose he goes to concerts and plays in the mosh pits. A sick drive in him pushed him to test himself by diving in and trying to touch side to side in the pit. Once he is satisfied with his exercise, he cuts loose and lets himself go into the pit fully. Handing himself over to the Chaos to make up for his life being all Order. Namely him being in complete control of everything.

Too bad for him his author is a bastard and will throw him totally in the deep end. Seriously. I’m actually having to work in finding an ending that isn’t totally horrible for the poor guy.

Full Disclosure: I don’t count blog post words into my NaNoWriMo total. Too bad, that’d be an extra thousand words. More if you count my reviews. 😉

A Letter to My First Time NaNo Self

Y’all have seen the letters to my 16 year old self, right? Looking back over the craziness of the last several years of NaNoWriMo, there are things I had wish I’d known back then. Things I now know, and could have used earlier. Some of those items might be useful to the NaNos just starting this year. The “fresh fish” to the program. The new participant just starting out with the insanity. More to the point, many of these facts are ones that I have been trying to impart upon my son who is joining in full for the first time this year.

To My Past Self on the eve of your entry into NaNoWriMo…

You likely know this already, but the novel you are about to work on will become the first Trunk Novelâ„¢. It won’t be your last. But you’re a smart guy, the signs are there. It is something much more deep than your first novel. It’s the first step on the journey you’ve been waiting for most of your life. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Stick to the basics. Keep it simple.

NaNoWriMo at its core will be an exercise in time management. It will teach you how to juggle your job and writing at the same time. The reality sits in line with what you are suspecting – many published authors can’t afford to do it full time. You’ll remember that strength and that odd genetic makeup that leaves you with multiple sleep disorders but the benefit of not needing eight hours of sleep a night. The farmer roots you’ve come from will expose themselves and you will become a morning person even when it isn’t deer hunting season. Use this time.

One of the best things this challenge will teach you, one of those facts we really need to learn is, it’s okay to stumble. It’s okay to even fall. By the end of this month you’ll be doing an eleven hour marathon drive. It will not be a fun one. It will teach you that sometimes we need to set aside our work until we are back into the right mindset. Allow yourself to say goodbye – you’ll understand in a few weeks.

There is no winning and losing in NaNoWriMo, just like there’s no crying in baseball. At the end of the month, even if you have 50,000 words sitting in a Word document what have you won? You’ll have a nice certificate to print out and hang on the wall and bragging rights. You’ll also have a story that may or may not be salvageable. In this instance, you won’t. Trust me. Everyone has a trunk novel. Everyone. Even Shakespeare wrote a “buddy guardsman” play that never saw the light of day. I hear he wrote the lead for Larry King.

Writers Block is a myth. Trust me on this one. If you are sitting with “writers block” then you are not in the frame of mind you need to be in. Step away. A forced story will read as forced. The last thing you want is your main character to sound like Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken 3 – Terrorist Novelists. If you have to, give up a day or writing to come back the next day with your resolve redoubled.

You’ll know when you hit the groove. Believe it or not, you will get to the point where you’ll crank out that daily goal of 1700 words in an hour. You’ll top out at hitting it around the 45 minute mark. They won’t all be like that, but even Michael Jordan missed a free throw once in a while.

“If you stop moving, you die.” You heard this recently. It made you finally give up your cane. It relates to writing too. When November ends, it isn’t over. You’ll likely not start a daily writing routine for a couple years, but the sooner the better. You need to keep writing. Improve your craft. Your weakness is passive voice and tense. Learn to work around that. Learn to identify when you are screwing something up. Also learn to highlight your strengths. Other than knowledge of fighting styles and weapons, I don’t know what that is, but we’ll figure it out together.

Learn to be flexible. Figuratively. Sorry to say the spinal thing has killed literal flexibility for you. Some of those ideas you may think you love, you’re really just in love with the idea of them. It will be hard for you to believe, but your main character these days bounces from a socialite celebrity possessed by a wendigo (and you will learn way too much about current fashion) and a country western singer who hunts monsters in his off time (think one part Winchesters and one part Desperado – don’t worry, you’ll figure out who the Winchesters are). Trust me in that these are the characters that are speaking to you the loudest. Learn to listen to them.

Pay attention at the writing conferences. GenCon and the Writers Symposium, the trip you’ll take to Romantic Times (trust me on this one), even some of the local cons. Your fellow writers and – more specifically – the published ones, will be a wealth of information and advice. Some of them will become friends and mentors. Not all of them have walked the path that will work for you. You can figure out which of them is your way. Keep in mind that our way is the slow and steady race, not the sprint.

We have always been of the mind to roll with the punches. As long as it has less than a V8 engine in it, we can roll with the punch. Putting your piece out there for someone to critique is less painful than getting hit by a dump truck. And there is much less surgery involved. At the same time, it takes some getting used to. When critique groups pick apart your story and show you ways to improve it, this is because it will improve it. Don’t take it personal. You’ll learn this very quickly, and Anton Strout wasn’t really trying to make you cry at that symposium. Either that or he wasn’t trying very hard.

I’ll end this with some of the quotes on writing we’ll pick up between the time you are reading this and when I write it. All of them are helpful and one will give you a huge spike in hits on your blog. (By the way, start a blog again.)

Writing a novel is like making love to a gorilla. You’re not done until the gorilla’s done. – Craig Ferguson

You can’t edit a blank page. – multiple sources

It’s okay to suck, we all suck. – Anton Strout

That’s why they call it a first draft. It alludes to a second draft… and a third draft… – multiple sources

If the story is going slow, someone has to die or have sex. Possibly both. – source lost in my pre-NaNo haze

Good luck!

Future Zombie Joe