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Literary Christmas Gifts, Year Five

25 Dec

IMG_3675This year’s literary themed gift from my sister.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Narnia

Brown “fur” for the coats in the wardrobe
Pastel drawing of a street lamp in the woods
Turkish Delight
“Jeweled” goblet
hot chocolate
tea
Aslan

NaNoWriMo: If NaNo-ing Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right (Reprise)

4 Oct

A lot of irrational things annoy me.

  • The term “animal style” at In-N-Out
  • Humidity
  • Crisp, overdone foley sounds in movies or television, like “sexy” whispered voice-overs on ads, crumpling paper/plastic, or the sound of footsteps. (Wanted to Hulk out every time they amplified the tap shoes in So You Think You Can Dance last season. Ugh! I’m making fists just thinking about it!)

I’m sure I annoy people with the things I do, too — like turning everything into a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference (just annoyed myself by typing the asterisks between the letters) and, now, apparently, by being a part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

I really don’t understand the hostility. I get the stress from agents whose inboxes strain beneath the weight of the naïve each December, but most participants know better than to query their raw product, and most of the criticisms I read are not from agents but from writers. Perhaps they’re tired of hearing about it. Perhaps they’re evil. Perhaps it’s just the sound of the word NaNoWriMo that makes their skin crawl the way the word dander freaks out my mom. Maybe you all want to slaughter me for my poor grammar and sentence fragments. We’ll deal with that later. Right now, I just want to explain why I participate in NaNoWriMo.

Let us begin with a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference.

In The One Where Phoebe Runs (video here), Rachel is embarrassed by Phoebe’s headlong running style and shuns her, not wanting to seem ridiculous by association. She doesn’t get the value or appeal of such a thing. Phoebe explains that it brings back the fun of running, the joy from when you were a kid and ran so fast you thought your legs would fall off.

NaNoWriMo, to me, is like running until you think your legs are going to fall off — and loving it.

When I first began writing in grade school, I did it because it was fun and made my friends laugh. When I took up fiction writing again as an adult, I did it because I’d had a really tough couple of years with unemployment, the loss of my dad, and my toddler’s bout with melanoma. Writing was therapy. Writing my heart out made me feel happy again. Alive again. Put color back in the world. I still love it. I still enjoy it. But now I spend most of the year fussing over it, getting serious, running it through workshops and critique groups, agonizing over every word, stressing at deadlines. Worrying about what people will think.

Then November and NaNoWriMo arrive with arm-flailing abandon, reminding me to let go every once in a while,  feel alive again. Join the galloping, galumphing, windmilling parade.

Writing is usually a solitary pursuit. Lonely. Even when you belong to a class or a critique group, you’re all pursuing different goals, are at different points in your stories, and you’re there to get down to business and be serious. These are not bad things. Most of us belong to writing groups and are grateful for the resulting improvement. NaNoWriMo, however, is different. In November, writing becomes a social activity. You no longer feel alone. You’re in it together. Writers from all over the world congregate on one site to crash its servers celebrate the joy of writing until our legs fall off. We’re allowed to cheer each other on, we bring back the joy, and we walk away with a stitch in our sides from laughing. And sometimes a couple of new friends.

Do I think this is the way to go full time?

No.

Do I think I’m there to write a masterpiece?

Heck no. It might happen, but I’m not concerned about that.

I’m just there to run my legs off and rediscover the magic. I want to put aside my inhibitions, limber up my twisted imagination, and fall in love with what I do again. When I’m doing NaNoWriMo right, I know it because I once again feel that heady rush of new love. I can’t wait to get back to the story, I think about it day and night, and I (obviously) can’t stop talking about it.

I wasted too many years of my life not knowing or enjoying who I was because I was too busy toeing the line, forcing myself into herd mentality because the moment I stepped out of the mold, the Eternal Junior High Mean Girls of the world were ready to taunt me, torment me. Shun me. The world would see I was “crazy.” As much as I hated to be noticed and labeled as a brain (You’re such a brain. I hate you!), I feared the least deviation from perfection and hard work because that would expose that I was a sham, an idiot, and thus subject to more ridicule.

So I need NaNoWriMo’s help to let go of that. I like being allowed — encouraged — to be BAD, to be WRONG, and to see that no harm will come from it. In fact, a lot of good comes from it. Being able to laugh at yourself is a major skill in life.

People complain that those of us who are celebrating writing “crap” are wasting an opportunity to do something serious and valuable and “good”. I disagree. First of all, one man’s good is another man’s crap, and vice versa. Second, I think they’re missing the point of what this month means to people like me. This isn’t my only opportunity to write. I write all year long. I revise, rewrite, and edit all year long. I treat my primary novel with the care and seriousness of a parent. I don’t go into NaNoWriMo with the aim of producing the next great classic. I don’t pose for a woodcut portrait on Barnes & Noble’s walls.  I use NaNoWriMo to revive my creative energy so that I can go on to strive for a masterpiece,  whether through extensive rewrites and editing of my NaNo novel or through starting something new with the momentum I gain. It’s a workout.

I should have a better concluding paragraph, but I don’t. I’m sleepy and have thousands of words to write before I rest. That makes me happy. So I leave you with the following — a dramatic recreation of how I feel about the sound of crackling paper and amplified tap shoes, brought to you by Ms. Phoebe Buffay and Ms. Pacman.

NaNoWriMo: Over the Hill

22 Nov

I just passed forty thousand words, and I’m over one of the last hills, hoping to roll my way down the slope to 50k on sheer momentum. My protagonist is barefoot, being hunted by several parties, and has been spotted by a mysterious Scottish man who looks like a gunslinger. It’s snowing, and I think Protagonist is about to steal a cat.

The story is getting pretty bloated. There will be a lot of editing later on. Chris Baty had a good suggestion this week in a pep talk, and I hope to follow it. He said to do what you could to get to the incredibly motivating and validating words The End by November 30th. That you didn’t have to have a fully fleshed-out story to get to The End. You just had to map out the most essential scenes between where you are and where you need to end, and then write them, even if just in scaffolding form. (That may not have been his exact message, but it’s how I understood it, and, hey, it’s late.)

I hope I can get my scaffolding built without getting bogged down in too many details. Then I can hit 50k with a resounding The End and tears of joy. THEN I can go back and start coloring inside the lines in the comfortable knowledge that my book is not an open-ended fragment.

(And, somewhere in there, I’m hoping for lots and lots of sleep. Lots.)

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: On the Brink of Madness

31 Oct

The madness begins tomorrow. Thirty days of grudge match. My imagination versus fifty thousand words. I think I’m up to it. Last year, I went into this with banners flying, confidence high. It wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped, though. The year before that was a breeze, by comparison.

This year, I’m feeling quieter about it all. (Part of a larger trend, as you might have noticed by the dust on this blog.) I didn’t think I’d have enough of an idea, actually. Luckily, one blossomed a few weeks ago. So I enter this year’s fray with less pomp and more preparation. This will be the first time I concentrate on plot instead of story or characters.  I’m armed with my copy of Save the Cat and the various “beats” of my plot. It’s not an outline. It’s more of a list of landmarks I need to hit as I meander toward the finish line in whatever kind of squiggly path I discover. Wish me good luck. Plotting is my weak point.

Another of my weak points is brevity, and I hope to make this novel 60-70k words, completed. Very short compared to my usual 100k-ish words.

Anyway, here’s my project. I hope to have fun bringing it to life.

A twelve-year-old runaway decides to pay “rent” on his woodland hideout by becoming its owners’ fairy god…um…kid – eavesdropping in order to grant wishes, serve as a human Ouija board, and perform anonymous good deeds from the tree tops. However, his “magic” keeps leading to disaster, winter’s on the way, and rumors are spreading that could lead to discovery by the stepfather he’d hoped to escape.

Background texture by Smoko-Stock

30 Covers, 30 Days – Redux

30 Oct

On Tuesday, NaNoWriMo will begin posting covers for the 2011 30 Covers, 30 Days challenge. I was the gleeful recipient of a cover last year (go day twelve!), and I made a collage of the entire collection. For old time’s sake, here it is again. Can’t wait to see the latest batch!

May the Beats Be Ever in Your Favor

10 Apr

Jennifer Lawrence will play Katniss Everdeen in the upcoming film

Okay.

A little embarrassed by my fangirl squeeing over Hunger Games last weekend.

But…

Yes…

I read the whole damn series again this week.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta

In my defense, this time I was reading it with a critical eye, looking for technical elements — how she set up the plot, her sentence structure, et cetera. I’m still amazed at how well she grabs the reader and never lets go, not for an instant. There’s always a sense of peril. Safe times are found only in retrospect, in that, “Okay, I guess it really was okay after all,” kind of way. But you don’t believe it at the time because everything and everyone is suspect. Blake Snyder talks about how a character’s goals and stakes must be primal at their root — love, survival, hunger, protection, sex… It doesn’t get much more primal than this!

It took me until the second book to realize the story was written in present tense. Unbelievable. That’s usually something I notice in the first paragraph and have to grit my teeth to get past.  She executed it perfectly, I think, and it could not have suited the anxious, fast-paced immediacy of the story better.

On second reading, I was equally engrossed. Only in the third book did I start skimming. Exposition galore. Necessary, though, I suppose. We’re in a new place with new rules.

I do wish the last bits of the series were a little more fleshed out instead of summarized, but I guess it couldn’t go on forever.

M. Howalt — you asked in the comments last week what made the series compelling. My friend Samantha wrote an excellent post on the series here. Check it out. I agree with everything she says (and am clearly still fangirling because I got happy chills reading the title of her article, heh).

***

In my personal realm, I remain a foggy-headed, migraine-laden hermit. Gotta snap out of that somehow, someday.

But, hey, it hasn’t been a total waste. Besides falling in love with a series (which is such a great feeling), I also managed this:

My novel! All in one place! All the pieces! (Although some are vague [solves problem] or drawn in broad strokes.) Redoing  the major beats on red cards was a treat. I’m an office supply junkie and a visually-oriented person. The red cards make it feel concrete and prove to me that it’s not all an amorphous smear of a cloud. It has the bones! Look! Right there! 😉

Look at Act One — so many cards. Look at the second half of Act Two, so few cards. Not that big a deal, I think. The second half of Act Two is where I’ve drawn in broad strokes, labeling major elements. I think I pretty much  wrote the entire first act on the cards up there! Lots of details that don’t need to be there. I’m still figuring all of this out, though.

The pirate ship was already there, an unintentional metaphor for how my sons like to shoot cannons of distraction at me at all hours of the day.

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).

Oh No U Don’t

24 Mar

Confession:

Every time I call a business that uses voice recognition to navigate menus, I just know they’re secretly listening, smothering laughter, and whispering, “She sounds so stupid!” Shouting and over-enunciating are not famous for making one feel dignified.

My desk is covered with rumpled bits of paper bearing what I hope to be genius, the missing Lego pieces in this hamfisted sculpture of a novel. It’s been a good week for that — little bits of inspiration hitting me from all sides, sending me scurrying for napkins, old receipts, crayons, what have you. It’s lovely, and my desk is a satisfying mess.

So I’ll be diving into that for a bit.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this random bit of 1980s Sesame Street fun (featuring Smokey Robinson) that I discovered today while reading reviews of last night’s Motown-themed American Idol. (Go James Durbin!)

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.]

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut

15 Feb

From my fortune cookie:

Today’s oak tree is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.

I knew it was good to be a stubborn eccentric.

Plugging away at my story today so I can be tomorrow’s oak tree.

Or an author.

Or something.

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?