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. 😉

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.

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

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. 😉

Things Gets Messy at Casa de Zombie

Well not literally. Okay, so yeah… literally. But that’s not the point. My life is collecting up a rather harsh amount of virtual clutter right now. I am getting more done each week than I ever did last year, but there is more piling up. I am working on a better form of organization to keep everything together. Or, as the cats on the interwebs machines say, “Time management. I haz it.”

Or at least I will.

An expanded explanation of the news in my corner of the world will help explain the virtual clutter I have been categorizing. It begins with Beyond Her Book with Barbara Vey. While in New Orleans for Authors After Dark, I ran into Barbara. Which is to say, while walking back to the hotel from a trip to Cafe du Monde I told my wife, “I think that was Barbara Vey walking the other way with some of the authors from the con.” I noted this one Twitter, and she answered me back that she made a last minute trip down there and we should meet up for coffee or such. Since then I have taken on the task of being one of her readers. I read books and audiobooks and give her a blurb for her Publishers Weekly blog. This gives her someone to read the stuff that is outside of the genres her normal readers take on, and really aren’t you all interested in what a guy thinks about paranormal romance novels?

As a side note, while this particular gig is awesome, it had brought me to a new realization. (Listen up here Audible and other audiobook publishers.) Sending reviewers CDs is nice, don’t get me wrong. But honestly it is difficult to load those onto my iPod in such a way to make it easy for me to go from my condo, to my truck to my office while seamlessly listening to the piece. You’d think there would be a way to provide us with a download code that we could plug into audible and add the book to our library that way. Plus, you know, less shipping costs. Realistically I do know that programming that into their system will cost money, but it will save money each and every year after that. Just a suggestion.

Also I have taken on submitting full reviews to Wicked Lil Pixie. I’m not listed on the web site, but aside from the fact that I was just offered a chance to do reviews, their list of reviewers is literally “The Ladies.” No way I fit into that listing. Not even if I shaved my beard off. That said, there will be one or two a month going up live there soon. Which is to say that I have a couple of books heading my way, otherwise known as even more books than are already sitting on my blurb pile. Though I have to say, I do like getting a bit more into the review of the book. And maybe opening up a little snark here and there.

On the upside of things, I am well on my way to hitting 100 books this year. Over January I was at 7 or 8 by the end of the month. The downside of it is to meet that I spent less time writing. Which is where I am falling into line with honing my time management skills down to a razors edge.

I have Under the Hood, my charity novel, that I need to finish with the editing so that I can work on formatting it for ePub and print. I also have to sit down with my wife and her friend that pledged to do the cover art. This is where I have dropped off the map the most.

Additionally I have taken on a critique partner. (Don’t worry, I am going through the piece you sent me.) So I am putting aside time to read that. Which includes making comments and suggestions as well.

And finally there are the festivals/conventions. This doesn’t even cover the ones I am simply attending. Though I am bringing cupcakes to Romantic Times since we’re driving to that one. And catering cupcakes to a cookout in the area while I’m there. But that is an entirely different story. This one involves Festa Italia in Madison. As part of the Italian Workman’s Club, I am working on the committee planning the event. Specifically the food tables/vendors. Oh, and marketing (though that is with a number of other guys).

But wait! There’s more!

Odyssey Con 2013. April 12-14 this year. Our guests of honor (literary) are now set and confirmed. Alex Bledsoe (a local author) and Kevin Hearne are confirmed for this con. Both are in my short list of favorites. In addition to attending, I am helping the programming guy with panels as he moved “up north” this past year. To that end, I am organizing some local focused events and media for the convention. Hopefully it will work out as awesome as it is sounding in my head, but we’ll see.

wingedmonkeyNow between cooking, cleaning (though honestly my wife does more of the cleaning than I do), baking and making sure my dog gets his medication twice a day… that is a whole lot of work. And that is before you consider the full time job. I guess what I’m saying is I need to organize my clutter in my condo so I can virtually reduce my clutter to maximize my time management. And hope the whole deal doesn’t turn me into a social media version of the flying monkeys from Oz. Though, to be honest, that last part was simply to attract the people looking for bits on monkeys. And so I can justify the graphic because… y’know… monkeys. 🙂

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 Novel™. 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

The New Playlist

I’m finalizing the new playlist tonight for the NaNoWriMo project. Most of it is In This Moment, but I’m mixing it up a bit. Really it’s just a list so I don’t forget to purchase them tonight and load them on the iPod.

  • Stone Sour – Gone Sovereign/Absolute Zero*
  • Halestorm – I Miss the Misery*
  • In This Moment – Blood
  • In This Moment – The Gun Show
  • In This Moment – Comanche
  • Disturbed – Behind the Fire (tentative)*
  • Bobaflex – Bury Me with My Guns On*
  • Wayland – Welcome to my Head
  • Royal Bliss – Crazy (tentative)*
*denotes the need to purchase

This time around I am pulling back on the country western music. Before I needed it to get into the mind of the new main character, but this time around if I need that I can go back to the same playlist from last time. Or simply play the Ben Dukes album I picked up off iTunes.

What are you listening to this November? Or are you just relying on whatever is playing in the coffee shop?