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.

A Return to Banned Book Week

Comedienne or God of Media?

Comedienne or God of Media?

So I saw through a friend on Facebook an article about a woman in New Mexico getting Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman banned from her daughter’s school. Neverwhere. I know there’s the idea that you haven’t made it until you’ve been banned, but come on. American Gods, maybe… but Neverwhere? At least American Gods has the god of media asking Shadow, “Did you ever want to see Lucy’s tits?”

But for my part, this isn’t the big issue here. The issue is the mother and her take on why having Neverwhere as part of the reading assignments at the school was so bad. This is a direct quote from the article (which was directly quoting the mother demanding the banning)…

“A parent can’t read a 400-page-book to find out if it’s appropriate,” Wilmott said. “You rely on your school to do that for you.”

Let that one sink in for a minute. She feels it is too much to expect a parent to read a 400 page book to find out if it is appropriate for her child. In her mind it is the responsibility of the school to do that. She can’t be bothered.

To give some perspective, when my oldest grandchild was reading the YA books out there, I knew I wanted something better than Twilight for her to read. If you’re a “Twihard” or whatever they’re called, that’s fine. For my part, I wanted my granddaughter to have a more positive female role model to read about. That was how I got into reading Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Also… zombies. And I’m not even the parent. Though, I am the one that buys the grandkids the books.

ZombiekinsCover.FINAL_LO2In our house we practice All Hallows Read (ironically started by Neil Gaiman), where they get a bag with a “scary” story (geared to their age group) and a chocolate monkey. The woman at the chocolate place one year even asked if I worked at the simian lab on campus. I told her in deadpan, “No, but I do have six grandchildren. They’re kind of like monkeys.” But this practice around Halloween has lead to gifts of The Graveyard Book (again by Gaiman), Zombikins, and My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish. The oldest gets more traditionally scary stories.

Now, while I agree that if the school is putting a book on the curriculum that they need to be responsible for it. Here’s the rub. They’re standards may not be yours. Mrs. Wilmott felt the book was “rated R” in content so not appropriate. After all, her daughter couldn’t get into a rated R movie. But that doesn’t hold up.

I read Christine when I was 11 years old. I read Brave New World, 1984 and Lord of the Flies before I could get in to a rated R movie. I gave my son World War Z to read for a history book report in high school before he was old enough to go to R movies. (I know the movie was PG-13, but this was six years ago and the book is not the movie.) His assignment was to read a fictional book with historical elements. At the signing in Texas, where I had it signed to my son as a gift, Max Brooks was tickled at the idea his book was read for a homework assignment. Or likely that his book would be allowed in the school at all.

If you are a parent, I understand. Work, taking care of the house, raising the kids… it’s all pretty daunting. There are people to ask. Librarians or the booksellers at the local bookstore is a good place to start. Keeping in mind you are asking their opinions. If you are truly that conservative you want your teenage child shielded from anything not viewable on an episode of Dora the Explorer, you might be disappointed in the recommendations.  But this is a place to start.

That said, I offer this to Mrs. Wilmott – or any other parent who expects the school, the state, or the television to raise their child – if you can’t be bothered to be involved in the raising of them (including their education), then don’t complain when they learn something you didn’t want them to. Also, consider what hiding things from them as they are supposed to be coming into their own at the cusp of adulthood. What lesson is that teaching them?

Rant over.

Sparked Image Thanks to @ChazztheJazz

For those of you not familiar with the YouTube guy known as “chazzthejazz” in most social networks (or Charles St. Micheal in his actual videos), he is a rather irreverent east coast actor. And while he leans more to the right as opposed to my left of center leanings, I get his sense of humor. Quite often it is obscenely off color, but then again… so am I. Follow along, it’s a windy road. Use the buddy system. Hold hands if you need to.

He has a schedule of events, one day being “Drinking and Smoking”, a video where he drinks, smokes (vapors) and talks about whatever strikes his fancy. This past week there was one where he was talking music and bands. Though he was part of a Queen cover band at one point, he told a story about a friend doing music in LA in the 80’s. If you want to get it straight from the tap, I’ll embed the video here. It is just under 30 minutes though.

For those looking to get straight to the point, in the mid 80’s, even though there were bands in every bar on the strip, you could step into any pawn shop on Sunset Blvd. and see the most amazing vintage guitars hanging on the wall. So, in theory, you could get a hell of a deal on a really sweet guitar. But that wasn’t it.

Each piece hanging on the wall represented the corpse of someone’s dead dreams. They came out to LA to break into music and were left with selling their piece to be able to eat, get home… so they could live. It hit me pretty strong considering the story of one of my favorite bands, Wayland. It had some parallels.

They had gone out to LA and were told they were a midwest band. They needed to tour. To play the midwest. They needed to live where their home was, the heart of their music. So they did. Phill’s white guitar didn’t wind up on the wall somewhere the memorial to the death of a dream.

manuscriptsWhy do I bring this up? Musicians aren’t the only one facing this. I was in a meeting with an editor here in town. His office is the attic of a three story house. And, as you would expect from an editor, the attic is filled with books, more books, a couple desks… some more books. You get the idea. I sat at one desk and he sat at the other. We talked over a length of bookshelves that held manuscripts. Two of them stood out to me. The name written on the page that bound them together catching my attention.

It really pressed upon me on the drive home. The well-known and prolific author whose name was on those manuscripts died recently. The man was gone from the world, but there his story sat, awaiting revisions. Awaiting print. They may decide to release it as is, it may get a polishing by someone else to ready for final release. The holder of his estate (his widow) may choose to leave it unreleased.

The thought of the last novel of this great writer potentially being unreleased reminded me of that Les Paul hanging on the wall of a pawn shop in LA. The final display of a lost dream. Though in this scenario, it isn’t the dream of the artist that is potentially lost and gone from the world, but the dreams of the readers that would be inspired by the last telling of a tale this man would ever do.

Of anything in the last couple years, this is the most motivating. I can think my writing is crap. If nothing else I need to have someone else tell me that. Because even if my stories fit a niche market and I need to self publish to get them out in the world, I’m fine with that. The idea that someone’s day could be lightened by the story of me doing horrible, horrible things to my main character, but it wasn’t… seems like a loss to me. A loss for both of us.

The music of Wayland, Halestorm, Bobaflex and others inspires a lot from my stories. They drive them. Their art fueling mine. What if somewhere, some kid would feel the same connection to something I write? That seems like the best reason ever to keep going. Doesn’t it?

Having problems staying focused? Unsure if the effort and time put into this art is worth it? Consider the potential loss to the other person and what potential to create they may lose by not having that inspiration. Sit your ass in the chair and write.

Stop planning. No more outlining. You don’t need Neil Gaiman’s fucking gazebo* (unless you are Kelly McCullough). Sit your ass down and write. I have heard the first million words you write are shit. Best to get them out of the way early.

*with compliments to Doyce Testerman on the quote

Make Good Art

Yesterday I posted an update to get more donations. I even included MATH! This marks one of the few times outside of gaming that I’ve used math since school. But I digress…

For those of you not on the cusp of geekdom, Neil Gaiman did a commencement speech for the University of the Arts a while back. It does pertain in part to what I’m going to say, so I’ll embed it. Really though it can be summed up in the title of the blog. Simply put, make good art.

Go ahead, watch it. It is an entertaining speech. We’ll wait…

Told you, right?

Here’s where the two differing elements I described above converge. I was looking to make up the difference of what the pledge drive needed to hit goal. Taking top spot in the list would be a bonus. I figured this might be possible based on percentages, but time was going to be crucial. In one night a small group of friends increased my pledge page by a bunch. Hell, I even got my sister to donate and she hasn’t even finished the book I suggested to her close to three years ago. And I even got the author to smack talk her for not finishing it! These people, as well as all of you who either donated or spread the word around (or did both)… all of you… you collectively make it so I can make good art.

Since this is me we’re talking about, keep in mind that “good art” means any art at all. A while ago an online friend started her campaign to publish and make it on Oprah’s book club. She wanted to sit on her couch. I knew that wasn’t me. I was the popcorn film of the literary world, the summer flick that people would enjoy but wouldn’t win any awards. You all let me do this. Hopefully I won’t turn out to be a Michael Bay movie. At least not Transformers. I’ll take a Bad Boys no matter what anyone says.

A handful of years ago I was left with a gap in my schedule. For the first time in decades there was no gaming company that wanted me as convention help, judge, content writer or any such thing. I didn’t have four to five cons to make spanning across the country. I was free. For a person like me, only having to work a 40 hour a week job is free – trust me. So after two decades of putting off what I had always intended to do once free of high school, I was writing. Without knowing it I had made a conscious decision to make good art.

There is a subtle beauty to that. If my art is a zombie novel starring a country western singer who moonlights as a monster hunter, then that is my art. Even if someone on the Internet doesn’t agree.

Quite a few of my friends may not like the playlist I have for the book. One protagonist (Dukes) has a playlist that is obviously country western in theme. Write what you know? Hell, I needed help even putting that one together. (Thanks again, Dukes.) But that is the good art. I can totally appreciate Hank Jr. even if he isn’t in my normal playlist. And yes, I did buy every song in my playlist.

My wife decorates cakes and cupcakes. She also does stained glass. My mother does jewelry, as do a number of my friends. (Hey Synde!) They all make good art. My father organizes a hell of a festival. He does it for Festa Italia as well as several other ethnic festivals around Madison. He also makes our Sister City Program with Mantova, Italy happen with some other guys from the club. That is his good art. Trust me, running a smooth festival is an art form.

Hopefully everyone who asked to be inserted into this story, either in name or in form, will appreciate the art. I hope I served your pledge well. But I think there are two real highlights here. Only the first being that the charity did break through its goal. And this does make me happy. More than this though, is that a friend of mine who lives a life much busier than mine has picked up his writing again.

Twice a week or so he is stepping out to a coffee shop for lunch. He’s calling it a Zombie Joe Lunch. These lunches are garnering him 400 words or so for the 30+ minutes he is writing. Will he make a 50,000 word novel in a month that way? Nope. Is he making good art? Totally. If my insanity spreads to even just one other person, thus making me the literary Patient Zero (no headshots, please), then I am a happy man.

That said, I have another batch of words to finish and a novel to verify through the Camp NaNoWriMo web site. Then I have to look at piecing my scenes together, fitting it into a cohesive story and editing it into something readable. Not to mention I have to make cover art and figure out the formatting. Who’s idea was this again? Oh, right. Damn.

I think for my sister’s “care package” I’ll get her copy of Mark of the Demon signed by Diana Rowland in New Orleans. Hell, maybe by every author there that wants to snark something at her. I may make good art, but that doesn’t prevent me from being a right bastard too. 😉

This is not Neil Gaiman’s Gazebo

Hi, my name is Zombie Joe and I am a NaNoWriMo.

At this point hopefully at least half of the three people reading this have recited “Hi, Joe,” at least in the internal monologue, picturing uncomfortable chairs in some dingy community center with the smell of stale donuts and burnt coffee coming from the back of the room. You know, over from that folding table with the particle board chipping at the sides with that construction paper pumpkin centerpiece – to make it seem more festive.

And by this point all three of you are like shouting aloud to your monitors, “What the hell does this have to do with Neil Gaiman’s gazebo?” Welcome to the blunderbuss that are my thought patterns every November. Now in case you have not seen it yet, you might want to check out Doyce Testerman’s blog on You Do not Need Neil Gaiman’s Gazebo – it’s really quite good. If you are too lazy (or like me have not finished your first cup of coffee for the day) then here is the general idea:

Anything that causes you to procrastinate and draws time away from writing is the same as building Neil Gaiman’s gazebo. And – while awesome – you fellow aspiring author – do NOT need Neil Gaiman’s gazebo.

I suppose there’s a reason that this comes on the day that it has. My first attempt at NaNoWriMo failed due to my uncle passing away. I was the driver from Wisconsin to Butler, Pennsylvania for my parents, an aunt and I believe my sister. eleven and a half hours there (thanks to getting lost in the middle of fucking nowhere Pennsylvania) and ten and a half hours back. I tried writing between the various family responsibilities, the only thing I managed to do was place one of my cousin’s kids in the story as a victim in effigy for giving me crap about how beat up my cell phone was. Once back, my mind was filled with thoughts of how I both hated and admired military funerals at the same time. All of this shortly after Veteran’s Day and smack in the middle of crunch time for NaNoWriMo. That was not my gazebo.

This year my obstacles are a bit more spread out. There are more of them, but they are more things that are under my control. More of the problems I am facing I can eliminate through force of will alone. That’s assuming that I can identify them.

A friend invited me out to sushi tonight. I love sushi and am not asked out very often for it. I don’t suggest it as my wife doesn’t like sushi. One of the people in my critique group was invited as well. This would be my gazebo. I am going to need to contact them today and let my friend know to definitely let me know next time, but I am to far behind in my word count to come out. It is to easy to say I can catch up on Sunday, even though I am going to Murder and Mayhem in Muskego this weekend.

Murder and Mayhem in Muskego is not my gazebo. It is a chance for me to sit in on panels and talk about writing, mysteries and have conversations like, “Well, the funniest autopsy I ever saw was…”* Also it gives me a chance to get my book signed by Kat Richardson, who I haven’t seen since Romantic Times this year. This event will make me feel more connected to the writing community and likely get me wound up enough that I’ll have to write before going to bed.

Running D&D Wednesday Night Encounters over at Misty Mountain (a game store owned by a friend of mine) is totally my gazebo. Steve, I’m sorry, but your store is totally a gazebo. That said, I am not going to ask someone else to take over running it for the month. It is two hours of my week and it allows me to keep in touch with some friends I normally wouldn’t. So while it is a gazebo, I am not going to be leaving it any time soon.

The Sunday Night gaming group is my gazebo. Even though we switched to Gamma World this month instead of D&D (as Gamma World is easier for me to prep), I still make a batch of cupcakes before the game which takes up a chunk of my Sunday. Of course this is the only time I see most of those friends and while the game is my gazebo, my friends are not. But that leads into another one…

Walking Dead is my gazebo. I mean come on, my online name is Zombie Joe. Way to many of my friends actually call me Zombie Joe in real life. At Wizard World Texas I was introduced to everyone as Zombie Joe. There’s really no way I am not watching this show. I’ve already picked out the piece of Adler art I would like to buy if I sell a story for a big enough payday. This show is entrancing and is totally my gazebo. And my wife thinks my gazebo is gross but still watches it with me.

NaNoWriMo Write Ins. This one might ruffle a few feathers in the local “Nano Community,” but the write-ins are my gazebo. Thought they don’t have to be. If I am doing word wars with people or bouncing ideas off of someone to get it clear in my head where these characters think they’re going, it is not my gazebo. If I am just casually doing “public authoring” around others doing the same, I can have problems staying focused and my word count suffers. So – while it is a small gazebo – the write-in can turn into my gazebo.

The Resolution

Here I sit in Cool Beans, the coffee shop near my condo – my literal gazebo as this is where I come to write. In front of the gas fireplace I sit in my Polynesian-looking shirt I bought before Romantic Times this year, my Marvel heroes shirt under it peeking out from the open overshirt, and I am clearing my mind of these non-story thoughts that are clogging up my brain. Easier than working through the death of someone close, but still something that needs to happen for the story to continue.

Family and Friends are not my gazebo as they are my support system that keeps me writing. If I have to pay for this with a game of Gamma World or two, then so be it. Of course that doesn’t mean I can justify sushi tonight – no matter how much I want to.

Of course I still haven’t determined what I’m going to do about deer hunting this year. I am writing about it, but I’m not feeling it in my bones like I usually do. Of course I have nearly the full week off and could really use getting out into the woods. Hunting doesn’t have to be my gazebo,but if I do it the whole week that will take up all of the vacation time I am using for catching up. I might have to limit myself to opening weekend again – or decide to write any time I’m not sitting with a loaded weapon in my hand.

And finally, before leaving the condo this morning, I grabbed a piece of poster board from my gaming supplies and brought it with me to make a NaNoWriMo sign for going to the write-ins. I am seriously considering adding “this is not a gazebo” to the sign as a signal for sitting near me will mean word wars. Don’t worry, I’m not doing slapbets this year. And yes, I do realize that this is the act of scavenging the materials from one gazebo to build another one.

Humor me, everyone has their own process.

Wrapping up I am noticing that I have put down almost 1400 words and none of them have been in my story. All of them have been about one gazebo or another – either physical or mental construct. 1400 words and I am still behind in my word count, but my path is more clear than it has been all month. 1400 words and 26 of them were gazebo. Shit, 27.



[*denotes an actual lunchtime conversation at a writers conference]