Prepping for November

Between reviews, writing, a new puppy and the day job website relaunching on a new service (which NEVER goes as well as they say it will), I have been out of the loop for a while. I’ve also been having problems bouncing back from the slump I hit over a year ago. I hadn’t factored how much the loss of my old man puppy would hit me. Now, I am looking to swing hard at this NaNoWriMo. Which means breaking the routine I have inadvertently set up at home.

This past week I brought home flowers from shopping for my wife. She asked me why and I told here there were a couple of reasons. First and foremost was that one simply does not get a Sweetests Day present for one lady in the house and not the other. It’s simply not done. (More on that later.) Additionally (and more to her liking) was that with about 10 days until her office Halloween party I figured the flowers would be good and wilted and just right for their party. Her department at work does Halloween in a huge way. I don’t get our Walking Dead string lights back until November.

naptime-gingerTo speak towards the questions that are out there… yes, we are strange people. Our Halloween decorations are our Christmas decorations. Which makes this time of year awesome for the woman in my Sunday gaming group with the fear of zombies. Also, yes… I did buy a Sweetests Day present for Ginger, our fox terrier rescue. To be fair, it was a set of scalloped foam stairs to make it less stressful for her to get up on the couch. (She has a knee joint problem she was born with.)

While they work great, I did find out I bought them a bit too big. Which means we put them up by the bed (we have a rather tall European pillow top mattress), and decided to get a smaller set of the same ones for the couch.

What does this have to do with NaNoWriMo? Everything. Because hopefully a present to make her days easier will keep her from getting cross with me for being out so much. Halloween weekend I am going to a Milwaukee area game con for a day, NaNoWriMo midnight that night, and then write-ins that Sunday. The next weekend I am running 12 hours or more of D&D each day at Gamehole Con. In addition to my 2k in words. Tesla Con is two weeks later. Between that will be our donation weekend push for NaNoWriMo. Then Thanksgiving. We’ll end with the wrap party in early December.

Keep in mind the Day Jobâ„¢ is still there. As are my reviews. And the Sunday game group. (I have already told the Adventurers League guys I will not be running a table that month.)

franz-kafka-quotes-sayings-non-writing-writer-insanityWhat is the lesson to learn here? Especially for those new to NaNoWriMo? (Besides insanity being a benefit sometimes…) Time management is everything. This is a one month challenge. Out of college (for more years than I care to remember) I worked 80-90 hour work weeks between two full time jobs. My day off was Sunday going in to the bagel shop I managed in the morning until around 11am before driving off to my D&D game with a friend who was renting the other half of our duplex. It kept me sane. Well, sane-adjacent.

Can everyone do this schedule for the month? Probably not. But pushing the limits is what showed me that I was capable of doing it. Were I a corporate goon, I would likely be spouting off some leadership training nonsense like “work smarter, not harder.” But thankfully I am not. I will tell you thought to challenge yourself this coming month. Its the only way you can truly surprise yourself with what you are capable of.

See you all at the word wars, Halloween Night… midnight… central time zone.

NaNo Notes: Hitting the Wall

whydowefallAs Alfred famously said to a non-gravel voice Bruce. “Why do we fall, Master Bruce?”

Maybe you’ve hit a wall in your writing. This could be your first shot at NaNoWriMo, or you could be an old hand at it that simply was standing in the wrong spot when the guano life is capable of hit the proverbial fan. This can happen to anyone, and usually does. I’ve hit it now. Twice.

The original time that I hit the wall it was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. During those years, I had become certified in driving a 15 person passenger van. You don’t need a special licence to drive one, but you do in our state if you’re planning to drive the state employee van pool. Which is why I was going to be driving members of my mother’s rather large family to Pennsylvania for the funeral of her twin sister’s husband. The man that introduced my parents.

Even once I was back from the funeral I couldn’t write. Something in me had broken and I had lost the voices. Also, I couldn’t bring myself to write about death. This could also be the reason why I have resisted ever trying to write zombies again. That first story was a zombie story. I’ve never returned to it. I’m not sure I even kept a copy of the attempt.

This time around it was Camp NaNoWriMo this past July. I’d decided to write a collection of short stories. My goal was to do 30 short stories in 30 days. So, roughly, 1700 words per story. After Day 1 (and a story stretching to just under 5000 words), I knew there would be problems with this goal. I still intended to get 30 stories out of the attempt. My word count would just be high.

The 17th of the month, I had to put my dog down. I won’t reflect too much on it, but you can visit my 13th story for the month written the morning of the 18th on this blog. My 8th story will never see print as well, because it was for my family.

Brick WallI hit the wall. Or, more to the point, the wall hit me. It then backed up, rolling over me again, switched back to drive and hit me one more time before driving off. Once the 13th story was done that morning I didn’t write a single word the next four days. Around 7000 lost words by the “goal.” And when the words came back, they were missing something. An energy and life to them, now dormant.

I possess a truly staggering amount of sleep disorders. Stress is the usual spark for my insomnia. Now add in me being alone in the house for the first time in twenty years. Son moved out, dog is gone, and wife is staying out of town. There were a few nights I didn’t really sleep. And I still don’t sleep well those nights of the week I am alone. I’m not saying this to say, “Look at how awesome I am… I fought through this!” Because I didn’t. I was dragged through it kicking and screaming the whole way.

Writing is a solitary life. None of y’all are getting up with me to get out to the coffee shop at 6 am to start writing every morning. And I know there is nobody in the house at 11 pm on those nights when I am going over my notes. But it was the extended NaNoWriMo community as a whole that lit a fire under my ass and got me writing again. It was that drive that put me into a pair of days topping over 5000 words each to drive my word count over the top.

A while back there was a blog on the NaNoWriMo site about a participant that had been writing in an active war zone while in the marines. She knew it would be impossible to verify the word count by the end of the month, but she was determined to hit the 50,000 words. Her C.O. and unit made it possible for her story to get verified just before midnight on the last day.

While I couldn’t join in with my cabin on word wars due to writing schedules and writing styles (I go for longer jaunts than most of them do), I wasn’t doing direct interaction with them. But I knew they were there. I knew my goal would count against their group word count if I didn’t hit 50,000. They were part of my unit. As were the local NaNoWriMos that I knew I’d be connecting with in a couple of months.

Would it make a difference if I didn’t hit my 50k for the month? Not really. Everyone has to suffer a loss, and those rarely correspond to our schedules. It would have been perfectly fine for me to drop the project and just process it. Nobody would have judged me for not crossing the finish line.

Is all of those last thirteen days of writing good fiction? Probably not. There is likely a lot of crap in there that will be edited out. And that’s assuming that it’s a story worth keeping. At least one of those stories had a dog appear in it, even though I had told myself at the beginning there wouldn’t be – that I needed to write about something else besides animals.

weve-all-got-jobs-to-doAs I stated in previous blogs (and am totally adopting as a mantra), “We all have a job to do.” Scott Wilson (the actor who played Hershel on The Walking Dead) is coming to Comicon here in Wisconsin in February. I think I need that signed on a photo.

For the rest of you, assuming you came here due to hitting your own wall, I give you this. You are not alone. Ours is a solitary job, but that never means you’re alone. If nothing else, going out to a write-in and talking with other writers might stoke the fires. Or could be the validation you need to let this one go. And if you’re in Wisconsin, let me know. I will put my write-in on hold if you want to talk through the crap that tumbled down on you.

If you feel like you need to make it over that finish line, I will sling you over my back like it’s Private Friggin’ Ryan and drag you there kicking and screaming. (Figuratively, that is. I have spinal injuries after all.) If not, I will listen and let you work through not making it. It’s your call but…

You are not alone.

New Project: 30 Days & 30 Nights

Before I was a ghost, I was a badass vampire.

Before I was a ghost, I was a badass vampire.

It has been a while, but between Odyssey Con, book reviews, my own writing, and the day job… I haven’t had much time to think. Much less anything much to say. But things have changed.

Several items on my Bucket List are being driven into the realm of the impossible. Namely, Craig Ferguson is stepping down from his talk show. No matter how quickly I get my stories out, there is no feasible way for me to sell enough to warrant an invite on the show. And the harmonica challenge has been dead for a while. So, there’s that. In all honesty, there really isn’t even the time to go to LA and attend a taping of the show.

I once said to myself in those quiet moments of reflection, “the measure of a warrior isn’t in his victories, it’s in his defeats.” There’s no shame in missing out on those line items. It is not so much the destination, but the journey. Which means I may back up the site branding to The Journey I had been using previously. Because the journey that is my writing isn’t over. Not by far.

With that, I am asking for help from any who are willing to give it. I am starting a new challenge for the month of July. The idea is one that I had considered last November, but followed a market trend that didn’t pan out. So now I am following my heart.

The Challenge

Write a short story each and every day for 30 days. Each short story will have at least 1667 words to it, totally the 50,000 word goal for a NaNoWriMo challenge. If a story goes over 3334 words, it will still count as a single day. My goal is to have 30 short stories of 1700 words or more each. Enough for several anthologies, should I wish.

The Reason

I want to refine my short story writing. It is someplace where I have issues. My research in this has included picking up and reading more anthologies and watching videos on YouTube of slam poets. And then refining my watching of the videos to just the good slam poets. My search is for an efficiency of words, something poets are strong at.

Your Help

Short story ideas. Writing sparks. It could be as simple as a headline. Did you see a weird news headline that made you laugh? Share it with me. A picture that invokes your imagination? Link it. A single line of text that hooks you in (provided I’m not plagiarizing or breaking copyright laws). Or a song. Lord knows, I’ve had a number of songs that have sparked story ideas in me.

Link or post any story sparks, ideas or inspiring works of art below. I will pick one a day (or one of my own as I have been collecting them for a while in preparation) and use it. My intention is to post the spark I use each day. Maybe use a journal entry to outline the direction I want to take it.

The Offer

The month is over. Stories are edited. I have my collection.

I have no idea when I will get around to publishing them. Especially if there is no unifying structure between them. But in the event I use your idea or spark for a short story, you will become a beta reader for it. Once edited, I will send it to you for you to read. If you have feedback, send it along. It may change the final product. Tough for me to see that far ahead.

So… what you got? Hit me with your best shot. 😉

NaNoWriMo is Done, Now What?

December is here. People are baking cookies, going shopping for gifts, and recovering from the month that was NaNoWriMo. Or are you recovering? Every person reacts differently at this point. For my part, this is where we see a lot of stigma that hits near people who compete in NaNoWriMo. As such, this is where I am going to jot down notes, resources and ideas to share at our wrap party at the end of the week.

You finished your novel, now what do you do?

Do not hit “submit.” I mean it. When you finished your first finger paint in school did you submit it to an art gallery? Nope, your mom put it on the fridge. Too bad most fridges won’t support the heft of a 50,000 word manuscript. But there is hope…

Revision. True, this step will require a thick skin. A common theme I have heard at the craft panels at writing conferences is, “Your story is your child, your beautiful little baby… find someone to tell you your baby is ugly and how to make it better.” Killing your darlings (another mantra from the conferences) will come later, likely in that part of editing, revising and seeking critiques of your work. If you submit, or self publish something without editing it, you’re shooting your story in the foot. With a 50 cal sniper rifle.

Find a critique group, or even just a partner. If you plan on self publishing, find an editor you can trust and afford. I hate to be the one to break it to you if you had other plans, but you will have to pay for an editor. A cover artist too. That’s part of the reason many people won’t consider self publishing. They like the publisher taking care of all that.

In the effort of revising, I have snagged a set of “writing rules” from a post written by Delilah S Dawson. I have reposted it here as I’m not 100% on board will all of them, or at least I have comments on them. You can see the whole nine yards over at Delilah’s original blog post on them.

Delilah’s 11 Rules of Writing

The caveat I’ve heard included here is “this is what worked for me,” which implies “results may vary.” Just because this worked for her, or that I agree with it, means this will work for you. But she is a published author and one whose writing I enjoy. So I’m siding on the side of caution.

#1 Kill dialog tags whenever possible.

She states that “said” is the only acceptable one. I still haven’t completely eliminated “asked” from my writing. Though I have made a conscious effort to eliminate “replied” as a tag. That said (see what I did there), try to remove as many of these as possible. In addition to tightening up your dialog it will help you to see if you are describing the scene effectively or not. If a beta reader or critique partner gets confused about who is talking, the scene needs work.

NO = “I’m going to do it,” he said.
YES = Ferdinand crossed his huge arms and nodded. “I’ll do it.”

#2 Kill adverbs and replace them with beautiful writing.

I support this one. Mostly. I don’t think adverbs need to be eliminated from your text with extreme prejudice. At the same time, I don’t think you should sprinkled them out over your text from the Adverb Shaker on your desk. Like with most things in life. Good in moderation.

NO = The old man stood painfully and carefully walked to the kitchen.
YES = Helga groaned, her bones cracking like popcorn as she navigated the cramped hallway.

#3 Kill all instances of these words: feel, see, smell, hear.

Did you always wonder what people meant by “Show, Don’t Tell?” Now you know. Make sure you’re giving it to us from their point of view. First person can muddy this up a bit, but that’s what a good editor is for. (See above about hiring an editor.)

NO = Leo could see the tiger mauling his pet parrot, and he could hear the rending flesh splatter against the wall.
YES = The tiger’s teeth ripped into Mr. Cheeky, the scent of copper pennies and raw chicken sending Leo into a gagging fit.

#4 Don’t end a chapter on a note of complete comfort.

The idea is that any sense of mini-closure is going to give the reader a place to stop reading. You want to keep them reading. While I agree the first few chapters shouldn’t do this (at least 3-5), I’m not sure I buy into it as much further in. As a reader I have gone past these endings and continued reading. But I am odd…

NO = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington’s arms, sated and happy.
YES = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington’s arms, sated and happy except for the strangest feeling that she’d forgotten something terribly important. In the morning, her maid had disappeared.

#5 Become a master at communicating important details with just a few words.

100% yes… While never a real fan of poetry (or having any real skill at it), I have taken to listening to some of the better slam poets that are uploading their performances to YouTube. Neil Hilborn especially. A good spoken word poem, displays an efficiency of words. Definitely something to strive towards. It will also help in writing good, tight, short fiction. (Something I am currently working on.)

NO = The burgundy and black damask wallpaper was ripped and torn, showing scarred wood beneath it that matched the destroyed furniture and pockmarked floors, all of which had once given the appearance of wealth and abundance.
YES = She hated waiting, especially in a sitting room that so obviously displayed Lord Wolfington’s inner darkness, thanks to claw-torn wallpaper and a well-gnawed chaise.

#6 Try not to use the same word twice in a two page spread.

Within reason. Some words are just used a lot. As she stated in the original posting “the” and “a” don’t count. Also, if you’re working at coming up with a word to describe it too hard, then either rewrite the sentence or just leave it. Do you really think your readers will all know what a troika is?

NO = The carnival called to her, from the sound of carnies shilling their wares to the merry song of the calliope to the alluring scent of carnival goodies.
YES = The carnival called to her, from the barker’s harsh cawing to the merry song of the carousel to the alluring scent of funnel cake and popcorn.

#7 Your ego will try to insert itself into the manuscript, especially in the form of exceptionally clever similes and metaphors. Kill them.

As Delilah originally stated this is the source of “Killing Your Darlings.” You read them and you’re proud of these quips. Each time you read through it though, you try and decide if it fits. I agree a lot of this can be distracting. Also, if it doesn’t fit the character, don’t include it. At the same time, some of the truly good snark that I really enjoy as a reader likely falls into the author’s “Darlings” category.

In short, this falls to your (and your editor’s) best judgement. After all, you’re creating the voice of the character. Know when you’re detracting from it and when you’re enhancing it.

NO = The mermaid looked a lot like Goldie Hawn, and not just because of the fish lips and her tendency to be thrown overboard by men wearing eye patches.

#8 To up the tension, add a ticking clock.

Yes, it’s a formula. But it is there for a reason. Not all formulas are bad. Even the cliche ones, like the marriage deadline for Lord Wolfington to inherit his fortune that Delilah suggested in her original blog.

NO = “Your happiness is important to me, Linnea. I shall support you even should you become a spinster and haunt my attic forever.”
YES = “By God, I am finished with your mucking about in the laboratory, Linnea. You will find a husband by Michaelmas, or I shall put you up for auction!”

#9 Torture your character in ways big and small.

I’ll admit it. I’m an asshole to my characters. This year I had thought the story had turned into a paranormal romance. I had forgotten the end scene… the climax… the part that kicked the can of happily ever after down the road and past the book for my main character. For now.

NO = Lulu was doing fine in school, she loved her job at the GAP, and her grandmother had the body of a forty-year old.
YES = Lulu’s chemistry grade had taken a plunge, thanks to a misunderstanding with moles, which meant she spent most of her shift at the GAP studying in a dressing room and praying Chase didn’t catch her and fire her. She needed that money to help pay for Grammy’s meds, which only seemed to cost more as time went by.

#10 Make a spreadsheet to plot out the story and make sure its interesting.

Replace the first three words with whatever works for you. I hear that Scrivener has awesome tools built in for this. I use Storyist, which doesn’t have the corkboard, but does have excellent tools for denoting your character descriptions to help keep them straight. Spreadsheet, Scrivener corkboard or actual corkboard. Whatever works for you.

As can be seen in the original post, she refers to a blog post by Chuck Wendig for further discussion on the subject.

#11 Think about sentence length.

I agree. Definitely when it comes to the first sentence of the book. That should hit you right about in the jumblies and keep you reading for fear of the follow-up punch.

I would take it a step further to include paragraph and chapter length. Though it did make me stop to consider it when I first read it, I recently finished a book with a single sentence chapter. Once I reread the end of the previous and the beginning of the following chapter, it totally made sense. Though in reality, that is rather extreme.

Personal Examples

As many of the people in my NaNoWriMo region know, I chose my plot from a selection of three potential projects based on the fact that an editor I know posted she was specifically looking for the type of story that was a near elevator pitch for one of them. So that means there is an editor out there looking for the type of story I wrote. She knows me. I’ve given her a cupcake before. She won’t see this manuscript until late January at the earliest. It is rough, rough, rough…

I’m also jumping back in during January with another challenge. One started through a Roundtable podcast group of writers motivating other writers. Call it a sickness, but how many of you saw the Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito movie Throw Mama From The Train? Quoting Billy Crystal’s character from his class on writing, “Writers write. Always.” Did you end November with an empty spot where your word count was? Did you find yourself wanting to go out to the bar or cafe to write and ask people if they were doing NaNo too?

If you know now how you can work in enough time to put even 500-1000 words a day to paper and have the drive to put down more stories, then you have a taste of what it means to be a writer. Most of them have day jobs. So, they are in the same boat you are in during November.

A couple years ago I started in on writing every day. Sure, I skip from time to time. But when I do, I notice it. If I’m slacking at home in the morning instead of showing up when the owner unlocks the door to the coffee shop, I know I am willingly wasting time. Even if I am showing up to work on edits instead of writing.

If you want to join in too, I will be posting information to the Madison Area NaNoWriMo Facebook page. You can also consider joining the RoTaNoWriMo group. They are pretty open, and work well for keeping me motivated.

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. 😉

NaNoWriMo Prep – Non-Gazebo Edition

This is the first in my “get your ass ready” series of posts for my own benefit. Listing out what I personally need as a writer. You can attempt to follow my example, but results may vary. Or as I hear often enough in writing conferences to make it mantra… damn near dogma…

This is what works for ME. Find what works for you and run with it.

Bug-Out-Bag-homeThe first step in preparing a NaNoWriMo Survival Kit is pretty similar to setting up a Bug Out Bag for the zombie apocalypse. Identify what you need and start gathering them together. At one point all the stuff for my BOB rested in a single place. That only lasts for so long. Stuff migrates in Casa de Zombie. Usually not by my doing. Sometimes, but not usually.

There are two quotes that I have yet to get stitched onto my shoulder bag that I use for NaNo. Both form the Double Rainbow that is the theme of my writing experience in either NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo. They are…

You don’t need Neil Gaiman’s Fucking Gazebo.


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

One was made PG in final edits (though the URL is still R), and the other is a quote from Craig Ferguson on novel writing. I am not PG, and I don’t choose who inspires me. So you get what you get.

neils-gazeboAs such, the two quotes present a dichotomy of sorts. Primarily, the act of preparing a Public Authorin’ Kit in itself is the definition of the gazebo. But at the same time is essential (for me) to succeed in the program. At least it isn’t building an actual gazebo. In additional, no matter what the challenge states, 50,000 words isn’t a full novel in my genre. Meaning that even once I hit that goal, “the gorilla isn’t finished.”

My plan is to get a nice bag set up with at least the gorilla quote after my first real sale. As I have a short story out there on submission, this could happen soon. But I won’t be holding my breath. For this year, I have my bag set out and ready to be stocked. I’ll be doing that this weekend since Halloween is pretty full this year.

After the pre-NaNo meet ups this week (also known as the Plotting Party), I’ll have an idea what I am writing. That means I will be able to load a playlist of music that will outline my story. Likely including the anthems for both the hero and the villain. Hell, in at least one of the ideas I am dancing with, those anthems may be the same songs.

I’m going out on a limb and will predict that the playlist for this project will contain at least one song from Wayland, one from Bobaflex, and probably one from Halestorm. In This Moment is a coin toss. Most of their music really needs a specific story or character to fit in. I’ve also been collecting up a lot of Nonpoint and Otep thanks to the influence of Biatch from the morning show. I may thank her by showing up at the station with donuts Halloween morning in my zombie clown getup.

So Step 1 is setting up the playlist, purchasing the music (if needed) and loading my iPod.  This is the kicking off point for all of my writing projects. At least the novel length ones. Poems and short stories are another issue entirely.

What music are you setting your story to? Or are you the kind of writer that needs quiet? Maybe experiment with it this NaNo.

Gearing Up To NaNoWriMo

FootlooseOkay November, let’s dance. And that was my Kevin Bacon pop culture reference for the post. You can’t see it, but trust me… I’m doing a little dance in my chair. Which makes this a two-fer as I am also giving a nod to one of Craig Ferguson’s new things. You know, something old, something new… both are borrowed.

Right, stay on target.

November is coming up fast. In my world that means a number of things. First and foremost is the NaNoWriMo is looming. No offense to TeslaCon and Deer Season (one of which I am gearing up for as well), or to the newly started GameHole Con. Really, I won’t be ignoring you this month. But honestly, NaNoWriMo is my focus. It has been for a several years. And as such, I am starting my first prep post for the big day.

Of course once I am on the front line and taking fire, these will start to drop in frequency. But for now, I am working on preparing. Partially because I am at TeslaCon from Halloween Night until that Sunday. With at least one or two visits to GameHole Con for the OddCon Suite Party. And I will still be getting in my 2k a day.

Coming up next week, we are looking at doing a pair of NaNoWriMo Prep Parties. Kind of a meet and greet for people and a way for writers to get their minds in the right place. Maybe do some plotting. At least come up with a character or two. I’ll post once we confirm place and time here, but you can find them in the Madison regional forum on the NaNoWriMo site. Which you should be on if you are participating.

For now, I give you this rough outline of what you should consider for your prep. With less time on hand, my plan is to plot the novel roughly. Flying by the seat of my pants works best when I have time to screw things up and stumble. There will be no stumble time in 2013. Last summer I started concentrating on key scenes. The ones I knew I had to have. Got stuck? Go on to the next scene… you can stitch them together later in edits. Especially if you only have 50k of first draft done.

Last month I found this off a blog or post that I forgot where it came from. This is far more general than my list of scenes method, but more linear. I intend to set up this framework and tape the SOB up on my bookcase until the month is over. Maybe a copy on my iPad. And in my folder. You get the idea. Steal it from me if this will help you, as I have stolen it as well.

Identify Your Scenes

  1. The Inciting Incident. This scene dramatizes the call to action, the event that propels your protagonist into the story.
  2. End of Act I. A second high-conflict scene usually occurs at the end of Act 1, or about a quarter of the way through the story. This is the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment where your protagonist realizes the totality of the challenge she faces and discovers that there is no going back.
  3. Midpoint. A third high-conflict scene falls somewhere near the middle of the story. This is the point where things look bleakest for your protagonist. It may appear that there is no way out, that the antagonist is just too powerful, that it is probably wisest to run rather than stand and fight.
  4. End of Act II. A fourth high-conflict point usually occurs at the end of Act II, about three quarters of the way through the story. Your protagonist has decided to fight (really, how could she do anything else), and this is a major test. The stakes are high (but not yet the highest), and propel the story on to its inevitable conclusion.
  5. Climax. The last high-conflict scene is comes near the end of the book. This is the battle of all battles, the decisive moment that determines whether your protagonist gets what she wants badly, or not.

If you are in the Madison area, I’ll see you out and about doing public authorin’ throughout the month. I’ll be the scruffy looking old guy with the Neil Gaiman’s Gazebo sign.

My First Story: Flexible History

No, my first story wasn’t called flexible history. It wasn’t even about flexible history. If you have heard this before, skip ahead. I need to deliver some knowledge to those unfamiliar with the birth of Zombie Joe. Just before I fully realized the trivia skills with the undead that caused a friend to dub me Zombie Joe, I had another large change in my life. I got in a fight I had no chance of winning. A fight with a dump truck.

I’d like to tell you I was kidding or taking creative license here, but I’m not. One foggy morning as I drove home from work (a night shift job, naturally), a dump truck pulled out in front of me and our ’95 Geo Tracker took on the business end of said dump truck. At least that’s what they tell me. I don’t remember most of that week. I have a few flashes here and there, and once in a while I have a dream of faceplanting into a wall. A genuinely unique experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Well, most people anyway.

That wasn’t the first fight I lost, but it was damn sure the worst fight I lost. I indented my sternum, broke a couple of ribs, hit my shins so hard on the engine block to permanently mar them, and gave myself such a massive concussion I lost several years of memory. That isn’t to say I don’t remember the 80’s, but more that it is similar to giving a book report as I would have done back during those years. I know many of the stories, but I don’t remember being there.

Some people forget their teens years due to an excess of drugs and alcohol. Some build the walls themselves as a defense mechanism against a traumatic young adult transition. Me, I took the road in the middle. None of the fun, none of the trauma… all of the migraines. This is of course during the time when I took up creative writing and wrote my first story. A full three or four years after I took up role playing games.

I can tell you what my most memorable of my first stories are. Bare minimum, I can talk about the stories I still have located in a folder in my box of “trunked projects” that will likely grow over the next couple years. I even have memory of a ten page story I wrote for an English class about a young man who had to prove to a government agency that he existed. In person. Talking to a live human being. He couldn’t come up with enough evidence to prove it and he ceased to exist. It gained me an A+ grade and the enmity of the rest of the class.

I wrote another that was actually a screenplay about a young man who was finding problems telling his nightmares from his reality. Though in reality I think it was about his father who had no idea the extent of the mental damage his son was going through. His inevitable fall into hopelessness as he came to know the truth and was powerless to help or stop it. The whole thing was a message to listen to the very subtle cries for help teens give off. It gained an A grade for my friends who performed it in our drama class. I wasn’t in class that semester for some reaction I had to an altercation in the practice area with another group. (A whole other issue and blog entirely.) But it did save me from explaining that I wrote the piece. That was a big rule in class. No pieces we created ourselves.

Though I honestly feel my first official story that I wrote was a serial I created through several months of creative writing. This was a couple years after Labyrinth had come out. I was pretty entranced with the whole movie. But I was contemplating it further. What changes would exist in that situation where the protagonist was a teenage boy? What would the difference be if the protagonist was the young man in the fantasy world and the young woman from the real world was the antagonist?

What came out were two versions of a similar story. The first was a teen boy that would travel into another world every night while he was dreaming. In the dream world he was the heart of the land. He had power and people loved him. It gave him all the things he wanted, but couldn’t find in life. The more he immersed himself in this world, the stronger and more vibrant it became. Back in the real world, no matter how much he slept, he never seemed to be rested. His body began to break down and his health suffered. The young man fell prone to all the ailments that the body would go through when not sleeping – including the hallucinations. To the point where he would fall prone to visions of the dream world overlapping with the real.

The first of the versions ended with a young woman from school trying to help him. She tried to save him, because she saw something in him that she recognized. She sensed a dreamer. In the end, he couldn’t leave the lush land that he had rule over as he was fending off attacks on their borders. His lands were protected, but he never did wake from the coma while he lived out his days in the fantasy land.

The second version of my “First Story” was about a similar young man who had taken his place within a fantasy world. Not a cerebral one that left his body behind, but a physical one that could be reached through magic. In claiming the magic that had stolen away from the real world, he took the mantle of the Goblin King. His eye caught sight of a young woman at a crossroads. She could travel down the path of the dark or the light. Something about her caused him to take notice. Likely the similarities he had in his choices upon becoming the Goblin King.

To lure the young woman away from the darkness he kidnapped her half brother while he was left in her care. While concerned at the disappearance, the woman’s main fear was the reaction of her father and step-mother. The impact it would have on her. In seeing the goblins spying on her, she followed them in a fit of rage. She was through the portal and in the other world beating one of the trailing scouts mercilessly.

I had made it through several submissions on her travels through the world. Each one included a lesson he had devised to teach her the options. Every one of them was an attempt to lure her away from the darkness that threatened her soul. I also wrote the final entry for the last class of my high school career. I seem to remember it being a showdown in a ballroom at his castle. He gave her the option of choosing a life that was a journey of knowledge, adventure and love (with or without him as he had grown to love the similar natures they shared), or the power granted as the ruler of the Goblin Lands. A life of wealth and power, but one without love.

I never picked out a final outcome. Something about it never lent to the direction she would go. I was a teenager, I barely understood real girls much less ones I created. It was a miracle I could write from that point of view at all. Also, while I was leaning towards the choice of power… the previous version had a decidedly unhappy ending. I wasn’t sure I wanted to repeat it.

In short, most of those first stories dealt with a battle raging being the real world and the magical one. Reality vs. Fantasy. Not to mention the choices we made altering the physical natures of our world and ourselves. Not sure what all of it meant, but there you have it.

From time to time I dig out these ideas and give them some air. Those stories have been written since by others far more intelligent and talented than me. But at the same time those weren’t my stories. Still, I have a honkytonk monster hunter and a few celebutante monsters to play around with before I can even consider something new. Because, as Craig Ferguson once said on an episode of The View…

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

In Which Zombie Joe Contemplates Summer Camp

Really the point is in which I wonder to myself when summer camp became such a chore. I knew taking on the new roles would tax my time. At the same time, I am loving what I am doing and really getting in some solid reading time. The real slap in the face came in two spots, both of which hurt in their own way. And so I quote The 40 Year Old Virgin;

“That sign had two sides, and the both hurt… equally.”

The first came in the form of an email letting me know that Camp NaNoWriMo was gearing up. Granted it started earlier this year than last, but I have final edits and a cover to produce before I can get ecopies to people. The fates seem to be conspiring against me, but this afforded me the opportunity to kick my ass into gear. So I am going rogue and doing a final edit of Under the Hood this time around. It also didn’t hurt that the cover of Ben Dukes latest album has him looking damn near exactly as I had pictured the main character in Under the Hood.

Past that, I was talking to my son about plans for the future. In leading the conversation the direction of balance of responsibilities, it dawned on me. While I was getting some solid reading and reviewing in, I was causing an imbalance in my writing. A major one. It was like the tarp was lifted off the huge hole that was left in my day – I needed to get back to writing every day. Even if it was just a little bit.

So here we are. The cover has been lifted and placed back over my plans to build a gazebo like Neil Gaiman. Mornings are starting earlier again, giving more time for work in the morning before going to… well… work. I have also been getting into the mood for old fashioned NaNo-style write-ins for the afternoons. Even if it’s just me sitting in a coffee shop pouring over edits, critiques for my writing group, or reviews/blurbs for the various sites I am posting to. Provided I get them in early enough.

My next step is to clean up my library. Not because it is my gazebo, but because I need a place in the condo I can be comfortable enough to write in so that I have some time at home with my family. Even on the nights my wife isn’t home, I’m sure the dog would love the company. And the excuse to beg for food while I eat dinner.

Anyone else doing Camp NaNoWriMo? What are y’all working on?

What I’m Reading, or The Reason I Have Been Silent Lately

According to the stats section of WordPress, not many of you have been checking out the 52 Weeks page. Towards the bottom of the page will explain somewhat why I have been vacant lately. Though it is a bit more involved than that. I have several new projects that add onto that particular one.

52 Weeks started out as a way for me to justify a book a week for a year. I aimed for 50 novels, giving myself a two week vacation. Realistically though, vacation would be a time when I would catch up on reading – unless we planned something that keep me moving too much to sit and read. You get the idea though.

In checking out the 52 Weeks page you’ll see that I am averaging just under two novels a week. Partially that is due to an overflowing TBR Mountain (seriously, I had to add shelves into Casa de Zombie), but also due to a couple of reading and reviewing projects. If you pop over to Beyond Her Book with Barbara Vey you’ll see my name pop up in the blurbs from her readers from time to time. The irony there is that my helping her with the reading she doesn’t have time for is having a similar affect on me, which lead to the project that affords me the motivation to read the books I from my usual pool of authors (for the most part).

wlpI have started all stealth-like as a blogger on Wicked Lil Pixie reviewing books. These are a different pool of books and are full reviews as opposed to blurbs. I think part of my stealth entry into it is that the page listing on the site for the reviewers is entitled “The Ladies.” I am holding firm to not taking a photo in drag to post to the page with my bio. No matter what my wife says. And even if she tricks me into it, I am not shaving off my beard!

Additionally I am working programming for Odyssey Con this year with Paul. I’ll even be on some panels this time. Not to mention we have a couple of my pool of go-to authors as guests this year. Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, and Alex Bledsoe, author of the Eddie Lacrosse series, Memphis Vampires, the Tufa books and more.

And finally there is the work for Festa Italia this year. I am organizing the Food Vendors this time around. That sounds a lot more time consuming than it is. With my father being the chair, I know this one will run smoothly. Not to mention my timeline and duties are solidly laid out.

Any Madison area folks (even Milwaukee area ones) should take a look at the pair of events listed above. Both should be pretty exciting events. And who can resist Italian food, music and games?

Looking at all of that, you might wonder when I have time for writing. So do I. Seriously last week was filled with 15 hour days. Without writing. This week is a little easier, but I am still looking at 1-2 days like that every week through June. I am shuffling things around as much as I can so that I can have Under the Hood up and available before Romantic Times as well as have a pair of polished manuscripts ready to go as soon as I hit Kansas City.

Eat. Sleep. Day Job. Review. Write.

That is pretty much what my life looks like until the end of the summer. Just about in time for NaNoWriMo. Though I may do a rewrite for Camp NaNoWriMo next month. Not sure.

Insanity, thy name be Zombie Joe. 😉