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NaNoWriMo: Nine, Ten, a Big Fat Hen

9 Nov

Still haven’t broken the 7k word mark.

Flippin’ flappin’ laptop. I need some smelling salts for the dadburned thing.

I am itching to rewrite many of those 7k words, realizing that my MC isn’t driving the action so much as going along for the ride. I have a good idea how to do it. But it’s Day Nine. I don’t think I should be going back at this point.

Anyway, a more helpful bit for my writer-readers (I hope)…

I read a great writing “rule” this week. More of a storytelling tip, but an important one.

In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder talks about Act I being the Thesis (The Before picture), Act II being Anthithesis (Act I turned on its head), and Act III being Synthesis (getting chocolate in your peanut butter*). I’ve had a loose grip on the concept for a while, but it wasn’t until I read about Goldilocks on Wikipedia that I found a simple, concrete way of thinking about it.

Author Christopher Booker characterizes [the story] as the “dialectical three”, where “the first is wrong in one way, the second in another or opposite way, and only the third, in the middle, is just right.” Booker continues “This idea that the way forward lies in finding an exact middle path between opposites is of extraordinary importance in storytelling”.

I now have a simple test to apply to my manuscripts and a simple way of planning the basic flavor of each act in new stories. Act One is too hot/tall/hard. Act Two is too cold/low/soft. Act Three is where the characters mix elements of I and II to obtain the solution that makes everything just right. **

Also from Save the Cat is the notion that the hero and antagonist are often just opposite sides of the same coin. Two lawyers with different ethics in Pretty Woman. Batman and The Joker. Luke and Anakin. Etc. Helps me think about my characters and makes sure that one side of the coin isn’t out of proportion — they should be very nearly matched in scale and strength (whether they realize it or start out that way or not).

NPR is going to announce the winner of the Three-Minute-Fiction competition this weekend. I have no right to be nervous — implies I think I have a chance of winning — but I’m still a fidgety mess.

*My son is allergic to peanuts. I shuddered just typing the word. Used to love the stuff, but now it represents poison to me. So I guess, in my world,  my analogy only works if the MC’s solution is to poison the bad guys. 😉

** I was watching Fairly Oddparents with my son the other day and laughed to recognize the above structure in the 20 minute episode.

Timmy’s fairy godparents have a baby, and so they decide to “babyproof” all his wishes, making them all safe and soft. Timmy, as any normal kid would, feels frustrated, insulted. In the catalyst scene, he discovers there’s a clause in the fairy godparent contract where he can request a temporary fairy godparent if his are not satisfactory. His current godparents advise him not to do it, but he ignores them. We swing into Act II where he’s assigned an uber-macho, vain fairy godfather who is willing to grant all his most exciting and dangerous wishes. And escalate them. Fun and games ensue. Then Timmy starts to feel exhausted and threatened, but his new fairy godfather won’t relent, is only getting more and more violent. Timmy’s not sleeping, is constantly in peril, and can’t see any way out. The temporary contract is for one year or until Timmy explodes, whichever is first. The only way to get out of it is a clause where a kid can fire the temp if he balks at granting enough wishes. But what could possibly upset this new fairy godfather? Act Three begins with him realizing a plan — keep wishing for babyish things to humiliate the uber-macho fairy godfather — bringing Act One and Two together to come up with a solution. After wishing for macho fairy godfather to wear a baby bonnet and diaper on the field of a stadium full of his peers, he succeeds in making his new godfather release him from the contract so that he can return to his former set of fairy godparents.

NaNoWriMo: Gremlins

3 Nov

Listen, All Y’all, this is sabotage.

Day 3: Laptop (which overheats at the drop of a hat, thanks HP) passes out.

Day 4: Laptop still out for the count — and is now out for repair. For who knows how long.

I’m thankful for remembering to email myself my latest draft yesterday (small as it is) before my laptop crashed, and I’m thankful to have this tiny netbook. It’s like typing into my rear view mirror — only see a few lines at a time — but it works. (I’d go pen and paper, but my hand cramps after a sentence or two, and I can type fast enough not to lose track of my thoughts.)

So, day four, less than six hundred words, and cruising on the computer equivalent of a mini-spare. I’m not giving up, though.

Wish me luck!

NaNoWriMo: Opening Day Denial

1 Nov

If I refuse to acknowledge that it’s the first of a certain month, if I avoid opening the NaNo site, then I can pretend that NaNoWriMo has not yet begun. I’m not procrastinating or falling behind. NaNoWriMo just can’t start until I’m ready.

Right?

Shh.

Boo

12 May

We are not amused, American Idol. It’s the sad, sad truth that James’ performances were one of the few things we looked forward to each week*. It’s been that kind of a spring. (Plus James Durbin is awesome.)

Now we have to amuse ourselves by skulking Hunger Games movie blogs, trying to imagine how well the actors fit their roles.

Okay. I only go there once in a while, but I did spend an otherwise useless hour today making Josh Hutcherson into Peeta Mellark — or at least a blond. Yep, that works. Easier to imagine now. That guy could decorate a cake and throw big sacks of flour around. Real.

*(James’s? James’? My name ends in an S, and I liked apostrophe-s, not s-apostrophe, but now the former looks wrong.)

Life As Seen from the Left Shoulder

26 Apr

Hey there hi there ho there. Why, yes, I have fallen off the face of the earth. Luckily, I landed somewhere around the left shoulder of the earth and hope to begin my climb soon.

                                                                                                                                                                      

It’s an odd neighborhood in which I live. Built at the height of the housing boom, it was among the first to go KAboom when the economy tanked. Must be interesting from the air — verdant yards with pools and swaying  palms checkerboarded with other yards that, for kindness’s sake, we call “replete with native flora.”

We fall among the natives.

Other than two half-barrels with blueberry bushes and one with a chrysanthemum, we get what nature gives us. This April, it’s given us graceful sea of yellow wildflowers. Lots of them. It was pretty, but it was also kind of suspicious. Nothing gifted so freely could be benevolent. Looked ’em up. Yep. Ragweed.

I’ve decided to invent an obscure form of allergy to the plant in order to explain my malaise of late. Forget sneezing.  Under the influence of ragweed, my brain has decided to act like it’s 3AM all day long. You know the nightmarish feeling. Today’s the worst.  Everything’s “stupid.” But I am afraid that a weed trimmer won’t help because I can’t invent an obscure version of the device that would match the power of my “allergy.”

I’m using too many quotes. See? Everything’s stupid. 😉

Changing the subject…

HEY! I totally called James Durbin’s song choice last week on American Idol. Out of all the songs released in the last eleven years, I went straight to the one he chose, Muse’s “Uprising.” Am I genius? Am I psychic? I had posted my guess on various discussion threads but was roundly ignored. So neener on them! Neener! (In order to be on a message board, one must be twelve or prepared to act twelve.)

My friend Sam introduced me to a word: phontrum. It’s a feeling of sympathetic embarrassment so intense, it causes one to squirm or, in severe cases, have to leave the room. It’s a useful word, especially when watching a movie or television.

I had a moment of fist pumping YES when I heard what James was singing (again, I’m twelve), and then I felt the fear. He was performing second — the death slot. (No matter what the producers say, the performer in the second slot is far more prone to elimination than anyone else, so they must schedule it that way intentionally after watching rehearsals.) Was he going to murder it? James is my favorite, and I probably have unreasonable hopes for each performance.

And then he comes out of smoke leading marching band drummers! PHONTRUM! Oh, the phontrum! We groaned, and I threw my arm over my eyes, unable to look. It turned out okay, although I had to watch it a few times before I could allow myself to enjoy it.

Today, (thanks ragweed) I am suffering phontrum about my own life. Don’t even get me started about the phontrum I feel about my novel. Remember, everything is stupid.

Anyway, just a random post to get me back in the habit. Hope you all have been doing well and are suffering no phontrum or obscure ragweed allergies.

I. Am. Freaking. Out.

4 Apr

How twelve am I?

I began shaking and crying just a few pages into the third volume of The Hunger Games, and now I’m seventy pages from the end, still shaking and haunted, and I can’t get back to reading for a few hours. I’m heartbroken. And if they don’t fix what I want fixed very soon (and don’t even hint, if you know), I am going to be a wreck.

For me? The hype? Merited!

What a  story.

ETA: Whew. All better now.  Started Saturday afternoon with book one; finished entire trilogy by Monday night. Shall I loop back and start again? 😉

It Got Me

3 Apr

Dammit, Hunger Games.

I resented you, resisted you, got sick of the hype.

Then I opened you this afternoon and read  you in one sitting. Om-nom-nom-nom!

It’s two a.m.

And I’m fighting the urge to download the next volume right now.

(Samantha, I partially blame you for weakening my nonsensical resistance! Heh.)

Bogus

29 Mar

Spring pollen has entered my brain. It’s swirling in there, leaving me blank, scattered, and sleeeeepy. Hypnotic, that stuff. All I’ve had energy for lately is slow-poke reading on my Nook (Kerouac’s On the Road, at the moment) and hamster-like refreshing of American Idol blogs. More! More gossip and grousing, please! Why do I care? I shouldn’t. I don’t. But I do. When I’m this tired, it takes big manipulative shiny things to keep my attention. Plus, I just love that stupid show.

Last night, I dreamed about James Durbin. (No, not like that.) He was still in high school, and I was this Rufus-like character (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) who had to make sure he stayed on track to become an AI contestant in the future. Somehow, this involved helping him and his friends set off the school sprinkler system.

I’d say I need to turn off the television, but that’s my one and only TV vice, so I don’t want to. I’ll just say it’s because of my son’s asperger’s diagnosis and my hope to support him in his dreams. Okay? Okay. Good. ‘Nuff said.

On the writing front, I realized that if I ended my early chapters on a cliffhanger note, it gave me more momentum in starting the next chapters and kept each from having a happy ending (which is kind of a no-no).

Life in the Bermuda Triangle

9 Mar

What do you get when you combine the following?

  • strep throat
  • lingering influenza
  • migraines
  • an emergency root canal, extraction, crown, and fillings for one’s kindergartner
  • a husband working long painful hours
  • a broken axle followed by a complete engine fail on one of your two (aging) cars (leaving you stranded since said husband has the other car with him at work day and night)
  • ongoing deposits of mutilated rabbit parts in your side yard from some unknown predator*
  • etc.

My month! Woohoo!

It’s all made extra special by the fact that we owe $$$ in taxes this year, and that we have a bad, bad, bad case of The Economy, doing things previously unknown outside of games like Monopoly or Life. So, yeah, this one-car situation? It’s gonna last.

Yummy.

Nevertheless, things go on. I haven’t had a single speck of inspiration for blogging, and I’ve been kind of caving it from the outside world (working on a long hermit beard), but I’ve been reading like crazy, and, better, I’m writing. Nothing special. Nothing good. Nothing important. And that makes it all the better. I just sit down, dim-minded, and I go, just see what happens. I’ve written 22k words over the past two weeks. I’m grateful. It’s made a big difference.

I also have the distraction of American Idol — hours of frothy television I’m actually happy to watch this year. Let us never speak of last year again. (And, if anyone cares, I’m rooting for James Durbin and Casey Abrams.)

So, relevancy shall return, but, for now, I leave you with a few funnies. First, a short from Britanick Comedy. Second, an ad that makes me happy — cats with thumbs!

*[ETA: The predator revealed itself today — a redtail hawk who ate two pigeons in our yard to entertain my children.]

Breaking up Is Hard to Do / You Are What You Eat

18 Feb

What do novels do to you? I’d love to know how other people feel after turning that last page.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I am so wrecked after I finish reading a novel. It’s worse than The Day after Christmas Blues — far more distracting, disorienting.

One obvious answer is that a novel is a heck of a lotta information for your brain to process: tens of thousands of words, meanings layered on meanings, emotions, scenery, and a side of curly fries to boot.

It’s more than that, though.

Books grab you, drag you into a new world.

Novels are convoluted high-speed rollercoasters that, instead of returning you to a sparkling popcorn-scented amusement park, deposit you directly into your drab office cubicle in the middle of a work day, leaving you as blinking, disoriented, and exhausted as a bodysnatcher or medium who just finished convening with the dead. And the phone is ringing, and your boss is coming down the corridor, and you still have cotton candy on your fingertips, and you have to pee. Or maybe not that last part. But sometimes you do feel a little sick.

The transition can be as happy and gentle as a mother lowering a baby to its crib.

It can be as dismaying as seeing your entire family and everything you own receding into the distance on a departing train as you chase it through an empty station.

Sometimes, it’s just a rough kick on the seat of your pants and the sound of a slamming door.

For me, it’s never a clean break.

Books possess me, weave barbed vines into my psyche, use my emotions as marionettes, and shape the way I view the world and express myself, sometimes indelibly.

Maybe that’s why people don’t just set aside books they hate. They hurl those suckers across the room. The wrath isn’t about time forever wasted; it’s about exorcism. That book was trying to slide its nasty, slimy vines into your brain, use you like a puppet. So invasive, so unwanted. You can’t just turn your back. You have to smite! Destroy! (Lest it creep from beneath your bed at night to grab you by the ankles and mark you for life.)

When the cable channel Sprout premiered (2001-ish?), they played episodes of Sesame Street from the early 1970s that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. My friend was visiting that weekend, and we — both children of the seventies — sat transfixed for hours, looking at each other, first with discomfort, then fearful delight, then gleeful laughter, as our mouths moved on their own, reciting old rhymes, singing old songs — things we didn’t know we knew. We heard jokes and silly inflections that existed in those episodes and those episodes alone. They were elements so ingrained in our minds as Something Funny that we each thought we’d invented them or that they were a native part of our personas.

It was wonderfully disturbing fun, and when the marathon ended, I went about feeling haunted and melancholy. A small window had opened on my formative years and then closed again in a whoosh of dust. I was left not just missing the experience but wondering how much of me was me and how much came from snippets of Sesame Street with a sprinkle of Stephen King on top for added sparkle.

This is fiction for me. Each book leaves its own tattoo. Afterward, there’s a healing process. I often skim the entire novel a second time, if I liked it, and sometimes a third. If it’s going to be a part of me, I need to know what it all meant. You are what you eat, as they say.

So, how about you? Can you just close a book and move on without a second glance? Am I overly impressionable?

* The latest book to possess me is Donna Tartt’s Secret History. More than 500 pages of lovely, if disturbing rollercoaster that’s left an aftertaste of scotch and cigarettes and India ink, as well as a fascination with how she got me to love these often-horrible characters, seducing me along with the protagonist. I thank my husband for introducing it to me.

On Ravens & Writing Desks

12 Feb

How is a raven like a writing desk? Well, in my case, they’re both glossy black and perch high, staring out at rooftops. Also? They both steal and hide all my shiny treasures.

It’s a funny thing. I bought a writing desk two weeks ago, and now all my shiny muses have gone MIA. I sit at the pretty little thing in the corner of my bedroom, surrounded by glorious windows, snowcapped mountains, miles of blue sky, and sunshine, and my mind is blank.

Then I start eyeing my old desk.

My old desk was my bed, pillows piled high behind my back, every spring in my ancient mattress jabbing me in most painful fashion, and a rather inadequate plastic bedtray holding my wheezing overheated laptop above my trapped legs. In this exalted spot, I wrote hundreds of thousands of words — many of them perfectly cromulent — but it was ergonomically lacking, and it often led to mountains of papers and books stealing my husband’s spot beside me. Furthermore, I couldn’t rise without the back-straining fun of lowering laptop and tray to the ground, so I rarely did. I wrote late into the night, woke in the wee hours with thoughts of my stories, and the first thing I did in the morning was lift that burden back onto my legs.

Since getting this desk, a strange transformation has occurred.

My bed is now…a bed.

I sit at my desk, and…oh, look at that cozy bed…  I lose the urge to write. I just want a nap. And, when I’m not napping, I find myself reading. I’ve read like a fiend from this intriguing new land of Bed. It’s been glorious, but when I wake in the wee hours now, my thoughts are full of these other novels. It’s kind of disconcerting. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about those words or characters. Three a.m. is not the hour for literary analysis or technical comparisons.

Damn if my mind isn’t trying, however.

(Especially since The Rejectionist inspired me to read Elizabeth Hand’s novella Illyria this week. It’s beautiful, haunting, and there’s a note of magic/mystery that I can almost but not quite get a grasp on. My mind keeps going around and around on it, and I don’t know if there’s any final destination to be had, or if it’s even important. But the wee hours are good for that circular sort of anxiety and confusion. Aunt Kate… Emerald rings… Sob-inducing voices… Theaters…)

And my own words. I have none. I’ve sat on the rug and made index cards for my storyboard. I’ve made one or two blog posts. I wrote a one-paragraph message to an old friend. But I’m just not feeling it.

I am a creature of habit. Change really throws me off-kilter these days. And apparently my muses are terrible at reading maps. Hopefully they’ll pull over for directions soon, reach this new desk, and this old dog will learn the trick of a new workspace.

Do changes in your routine throw you off, too? Do you have some sort of constant that eases transition for you (music, lighting, a space, a picture, etc.)?  Do you prefer variety? Do you know of a good GPS system for slowpoke muses?

Back to the Drawing Board

1 Feb

Nathan Bransford announced the finalists in this year’s Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge this morning, and there are some great entries there. A few of my favorites made it, but we’re not supposed to mention names until the final vote is tallied — no fair campaigning, not even unintentionally.

Head over there to read the finalists’ paragraphs and cast your vote in the comments section.

I’m feeling a bit of the Day after Christmas Blues. I never expected to win or even place. I just enjoyed the wondering, the waiting, the having something out there where people could read it. Meanwhile, it marks a few firsts:

  • my first contest
  • my first exposure to an agent’s discerning eyeballs
  • my first toss into the slush pile.

But, as far as landings in a slush pile go, it was very soft, and now I feel more like an official writer. A rite of passage. Woohoo!

I guess it’s not an official rejection. The Great Hell-No Letter of Despair will come later, along with all its special feelings.

I linked to my first paragraph before, but now I’ll post it here in all of its shame glory entirety.

Elizabeth fit her feet into the rut of a forgotten rainstorm, one sneaker before the other down the old dirt road. Just a needle in a record’s scratchy groove, she sang dirges to the dying summer sun and surrendered to the pull of her secret haven. From her perch atop Mars Hill, she’d gaze over town, imagine herself as one of the soaring ravens, and forget real life, find her breath again. She couldn’t remember ever needing it more.

The entire first chapter (brief) is here.

I need to add more pent-up urgency. She now has more of a reason to be in a hurry. And, yes, there are probaby more issues to fix.

Off to The Marvelous Land of Revisions!