Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A New Chapter

My novel is currently 81,625 words long. Which means that for the month of August I produced a total of 31,625 words. So…

The Bad News
I did not complete the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge. I came up 18,375 words short, to be exact. So while others in my cabin did cross that elusive 50,000 word finish line within the allotted 31 days I did not. *sad face*

The Good News
While I may not have completed the Camp challenge, I have gotten a significant jump on MY challenge: to finish this damned novel. My goal, after all, was to finish the novel in 2011 as part of my Big, Fun and Scary challenge for the year. I didn’t start out my challenge with specifics on how long it had to take or how long the finished product had to be. So I can still meet my personal challenge, and that’s far more important anyway.

This month was great for me in this regard because it got me doing what I need to do to finish the damned thing. First and foremost, it got me writing. Simply sitting down with the document and typing was a big deal for me after going so many months without even looking at the thing. And it wasn’t easy at first- I had forgotten a lot of what occurred during those first 50k words and I had to get back into the swing of things.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it got me thinking about the story. My characters, their motives, the overall plot and what I wanted to accomplish. There are still a lot of things about this particular story that I don’t like and I’m pretty sure that should I ever permit myself to sit down and just read the whole thing I’d be pretty appalled at how far it is from any semblance of a finished product. But that doesn’t matter. What matters for me, since I’m not a professional writer, is that I get something out of this whole crazy adventure. And spending my time thinking about my story has been the only source of enjoyment in this whole thing. I like having my own little world in which I’m building things. It’s a nice break from worrying about work, household chores, and other activities of daily living.

Third, it’s gotten me to start to think of myself as a writer. That may sound strange to you, reading this blog in which I- you know- write. But what you need to keep in mind is that I am the most self-critical person on the planet. As such, I judge myself very, very harshly and usually against other people whom I have no business comparing myself to. For example, some of the other truly amazing writers I am regularly exposed to in Flash Fridays. I look at what you guys do and am amazed and when I look at my stuff it always pales in comparison. So I can’t put myself in the same category- can’t call myself a writer.

But I’m realizing more and more that if being a writer is defined by the act of writing than having this inexplicable compulsion to write, by definition, makes me a writer. It doesn’t matter if I ever get what I would consider good (and keep in mind with my critical nature that’s probably impossible). And it doesn’t matter if I ever get recognized by anyone else. All that matters is that I’m writing.

I went to college originally in order to be a writer. That was my dream, to write the great American novel. Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way for me. And now, so many years after college, I have a full time job and a family and many, many tasks and other interests which take up my time on a daily basis and keep me from writing. And you know what I’m realizing for the first time? That’s ok. This doesn’t have to be anything other than what it is. And more over, pushing myself to make it that is just going to suck any fun out of it anyway.

So I’m releasing my expectations. And I know, like anything else, I’ll have to release them every time I sit down to write. But if I can do that I might just be able to enjoy this practice. I might be able to finish this novel, in my own time, without feeling guilty for having not pumped it out in a month. I might be able to post a Flash Friday story without thinking of how much worse it is in comparison to someone else’s. I might be able to write without any unrealistic expectation of what it means for me to be a writer.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gravity

I am thick with you this morning
and can’t see past the crushing weight of your expectation.
I am pinned down, overcome. It doesn’t take much of your effort to keep me there.

You could put on your horror show if you wanted.
Parade a million decrepit forms past me, my million failures and faults in your vision. Your judgment tints my whole world.

I’d give anything to be free of you.

I dream sometimes
Of rising up like a phoenix
And burning all this away, leaving nothing but ashes of the world you’ve trapped me in.
But I can never stay airborne for long.

Your hold on me is stronger than anything I know.
And even after all these years, I still can’t see
Why.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Buddy Goes to the Drive-through

My boyfriend relayed another Buddy adventure to me when I spoke to him on the phone tonight. I hate that I’m missing all this cute stuff, but John Con waits for no one.

My boyfriend decided to go get himself some dinner and, because he’d been at work all day and didn’t want to leave Buddy alone even longer, determined to bring him with him. He had him sitting next to him in the car and went to the drive through to get his food.

At the window was your typical drive through attendant: a teenaged girl making some after school cash. Well, she took one look at Buddy and, like everyone does, melted. And what did she exclaim in a high pitched squeal? “He’s so cute he doesn’t even look real!”

Yeah, that’s my dog: the living teddy bear.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pa-pow!!!

My biggest single-day word count ever:
7,364 words in one day.
Regardless of how this turns out, I am super proud of myself right now.
Yay!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Buddy Gets a Delivery

So, when I spoke to my boyfriend today he relayed a story about Buddy that, like most Buddy stories, shows how ridiculously adorable he is. Because I wasn’t the one who directly observed the event I’m going to embellish a little bit, so bear with me.

Our fridge died a few days back and we ordered a new one. Thankfully, free delivery was included in the price. When the delivery guys got there, Buddy was safely in his pen out of the way of the doorway so they could get through with the fridge. But, because he is a dog, he had to bark to let everyone know that he knew that there were new people coming into the house. And, because he’s Buddy, he had to excitedly jump as high as his little legs could kick him (which is impressively high given his size) while he barked.

Well, when these delivery guys came in, they took a look at the source of the excited barking. One of them asked the question that everyone asks: what kind of dog is that? And my boyfriend told him: he’s a toy poodle.

Now this guy was a bad-looking mofo. He was big. He was crazy muscular. He was tall and broad and looked like he could break you in half with one hand. (At least that’s how he looks in my head.) And, because I’m telling the story, he had a voice as deep as Barry White’s. Got the image?

Now imagine this guy looking at this tiny, cute ball of fluff who could easily be described as a ‘floofy dog’ that big, bad guys typically don’t go for and saying “A man could fall in love with that dog.” Yeah, that’s what he said. Does that kill you, or is it just me?

The power of Buddy: turning even the toughest mofos to mush.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Crossed

Crossed, at first glance, looks a lot like The Walking Dead (another excellent Graphic novel series I will review at a later date). But turn the page and there it is: the most disturbing images you've ever seen in bright, vibrant color. Crossed is, simply put, the most disturbing graphic novel in existence.

Imagine if the world- every inch of it- was suddenly crawling with a virus. The virus turns people into the same things we saw in 28 Days Later- ravenous, crazed, blood-thirsty berserkers. Scary concept, no? But it’s been done.

Now imagine this: those blood thirsty berserkers aren’t going to stay berserk. They will organize. They will plan. They will learn. And they’ll come equipped with all the skills and talents they had before they got infected. If you were a biochemical engineer before, you are now- but now all you want to do is traumatize people in the most horrific ways that the deepest, darkest part of your mind can possibly come up with. Oh, and unlike the guys from 28 Days Later, they're also horny as hell. That’s scary.

The only edge the survivors have is that the crossed are alive. Therefore, they can be killed. Zombies keep walking despite the freezing temperature, lack of food, and anything else that might help kill a human. Crossed don’t. You can shoot ‘em any ol’ place and they’ll die. But then again, they can shoot back. And they do some pretty nasty things to the bullets.

On page one, the survivors aren’t really anything horrifically special. In the beginning you’ll be reminded of Rick and Co from Walking Dead. But their journey- and what they do to survive- is different. Because what they’re dealing with is so much worse.

For them, there is no such thing as safe. Ever. There’s no abandoned prison where they can hold up and regroup. Because the things they’re running from aren’t just going to stand at the gate and groan. They’re going to plan and attack. The only way to survive is to keep running. And to do the things that you never dreamed you’d do. What they go through, the choices they make, and the people they become are that much worse.

The real kicker of Crossed is this: these monsters are us. The unimaginably sick and twisted things they do are things that we are more than capable of. We like to think we’re not. But the fact is that if civilization, morals, logic and all the other executive functions we have that keep our most primal urges in check weren’t there anymore we’d be monsters, too. And that mind f**k stays with you long after you’ve read the last page.

If you have the stomach for it, check it out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

World War Z

So, I'm not a big fan of irrational anger. And I try not to allow myself to get irrationally angry. But when I heard the initial reports on the now filming World War Z (hereforth referred to as 'WWZ') I, like so many others, had a gut reaction to it.

The book, somewhat needless to say, was amazing. And the reason it was amazing was because it took a genre that has been, in various ways, done to death and breathed new life into it.

WWZ was scary, sure. But that is not at all the point of the book. Any fear you may feel is secondary to a far deeper story. Which isn't to say that the writing isn't gripping when it describes the wail of the undead coming from decaying throats. But that's just gravy on top of a far more beefy and filling meal.

No, WWZ is not a horror novel. It is an intricate tapestry weaving together stories that examine the cultural, political, religious, environmental, scientific, familial, psychological, geological, historical, biological and philosophical impact of undead walking the earth. Wonder how zombies change the landscape of warfare? He answers that question. Wonder how technology is impacted? He answers that question. Wonder what a horde of zombies looks like from space? Yup, that too. There wasn't a single thing I could think of that he didn't cover. And he covered each and every one in the most intimate way possible: first hand accounts.

So that's the book. Now what about the movie?

When I was reading it there were several stories that, in my mind, begged to be put on a big screen. The writing is such that you can visualize a lot of things in brilliant detail and you sort-of make your own movie in your mind's eye. So that's obviously not the problem.

The format of the book is similar to that of the movie: one person getting several different first hand accounts from people all over the world. That, in and of itself, could be a problem. But with a decent budget you could do it. And with Brad Pitt on board I have to imagine they have a decent budget. So that's obviously not the problem.

The problem, it seems, is the premise. The idea behind World War Z is that it happened. The dead walked the earth and everything changed. The idea behind the movie is that it is happening. The synopsis (according to the press release) involves "a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself." See the issue?

When you listen to people who lived through WW2 or Vietnam or whatever there is an overwhelming sense of being caught up in something beyond your control. The events that changed everything you knew about your world and your very existence were beyond your control and you were simply caught up in the fury, doing your best to survive. That's the sense you get from WWZ. You're looking at the world from the other side of a wall and you can never see it the way you did before it happened.

Simply using the words "race against time to stop" puts the storyteller back in control. Yes, there is this threat- but we're going to beat it. We'll save the world, prevent the apocalypse and be heroes.

It's like the giant asteroid idea that spawned two giant movies a few years back. I loved "Deep Impact" and hated "Armageddon" for many of these same reasons. Deep Impact had a lot of what WWZ has- different people in different circumstances with different points of view. It's poignant because you see things through their eyes and the fact that it does happen- the giant asteroid does hit- is what makes it good. Armageddon, while it had many, many other flaws- lacked that main ingredient. There was no sense of hopelessness or having to accept the uncontrollable. There were just another bunch of hot-shot douches saving the world.

WWZ, while examining so many different worlds, has one uniting factor: these people survived. It happened, no one could stop it, it effected every human being on the planet, decimated the human race and these people survived. That's it- the essence of WWZ. Changing the timing and putting people back in control changes everything.

Some of the scenes can be done- as I said earlier. They'll look great on screen if you get anyone worthwhile at the helm. But these stories were told by people who had survived uncontrollable circumstances. Who they are now telling these stories now, a decade of unimaginably hard living later, is huge in making the stories what they are. You can't take that away and leave the essence of the stories intact.

I don't know why the movie execs decided to do what they're doing. My cynical side wants to say that they just didn't care enough to make a good movie- they knew there was money to be made in the zombie genre, original premise and fans of it be damned. But another part of me wonders if they just don't get it.

So, in closing, read the book. It’s just too damned good to miss. Whether or not you see the movie, know that it is NOT the book. It may be a fun zombie movie- but that's all it can be. Another fan said it best, I think. "Of course we're all still seeing it, but what we're seeing isn't 'World War Z,' plain and simple."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Falling in Love

He might’ve been someone she loved… if not for the fact that he was now just a stain on the rocks below. It was an odd thought to have and it confused her. She didn’t usually get sentimental at times like this. She watched the seaweed spread around the rocks in the frothy tide and wash the stain away. She felt comforted to know that his body would be taken into the sea’s capable hands. The sound of the waves crashing in seemed to say ‘I’ve got it from here’.

But the thought still troubled her. She didn’t do that, she wasn’t stupid enough to fall for a mark. And by all rights, she hadn’t been particularly attached when she pushed him off the edge- it hadn’t bothered her then. So why then, after he touched down, would she think such a thing?

Perhaps it was the way he accepted his fate. He had such a calm, almost serene look as she slid the needle into his neck. He didn’t struggle at all as he lost control of his muscles and crumbled to the ground. And as she gave him that final push she watched his face as he turned- it had the look of acceptance. As if this was ok by him. How strange. It made her smile.

She felt his arms around her before she had a chance to react and melted into him. She’d been missing him so much over these past months and she set up the con. So little contact so as not to risk being found out. She knew he was watching her from afar, counting down the time until they would be together again.

“I missed you,” she whispered.

He backed away and turned her to face him. She went in for a kiss, an instinctual move. He held her back with a hand on her neck. Her pulse quickened. Not from fear, but another reaction.

“It’s done then?” he asked, starting directly into her eyes.

“Executed perfectly,” she smiled at him. “The money is in the account ready for us to pick it up.”

“Excellent,” he said. And then his stern look softened into a smile. He picked her up with arms tucked under her butt and lifted her up. She bent down for a kiss and they embraced with the passion she’d felt building since last she saw him. He spun her around then and she closed her eyes. She thought that this is what falling in love is supposed to feel like.

“So what’s next?” she asked, her hands playing lightly on his chest. She felt so secure in his arms.

“Well, I’ll be picking up that money and hitting the road,” he answered, with a grin.

“Don’t you mean we?” she asked, her heart dropped a beat.

“Nope,” he said.

His arms gave a small push outward as they let go and she plummeted off the cliff edge. She looked up at him as she fell, still too in shock to comprehend the end of her life.

He stood there for a moment, watching the red stain spread across the rocks. She might’ve been someone he loved…

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Forward Movement

10,555 words. And a significant benchmark, finally.
I'm still- oh... 7,000 words behind where I should be right now.
But 10k is something. And after struggling for so many days to crack 1k I can't help but feel just the tiniest bit of relief.
This might be possible after all.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Same Old Tune

I know how this is gonna go, but you could surprise me, if you wanted.

You’re going to try to convince them that I’m wrong, that I’m the bad guy, that my design is inept, inexperienced, useless. You will tell them that I cannot help you. You will sing your plight, put on a show. All blame will be directed at me. I don’t blame you though, this is your job.

I, in turn, will do my job. I will let you put on your show, I will be a good audience member. I will not defend myself, because that is not part of my job description. I will simply sit and listen and let you act out your story, even though I’ve already seen how it ends.

You could change the ending, though, as I said. You could say something novel and genuine. You could speak a different language and surprise us all. It’d be great for me, cause this song is way overplayed. But you probably won’t- cause you only know one tune.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rough Writer

So, the bulk of my experience in NaNoWriMo has been, in all honesty, just about how fast my fingers can tap along the keyboard to string words together into sentences. That’s what it’s all about, after all- the word count. And I get, or at least I think I get, why some of my friends whom I consider to be real writers don’t support the idea: word count doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a story being in any way good.

But at the same time, I remember something my college playwriting professor told me which I didn’t get at the time. He said that in order to write well, you have to write badly. He was of the belief, and his class objectives followed accordingly, that you’re a hell of a lot more likely to find the diamond in the rough that makes the brilliant moments in stories if you have a whole lot of rough. In that class we were supposed to be creating at least ten new pages of material each and every week. And he not only accepted but encouraged us to make that material pretty crappy. The idea being that if I can pull one good line or one good observation or one good idea from those ten pages than you're golden. At the time, my self criticism was so extreme that I could get out- at most- two pages which I’d revised five times over. Sort of defeated the purpose of the exercise.

This- in and of itself- is why it is so valuable for me to do NaNoWriMo. It forces me to write because of the pressure to hit the word count markers regardless of the quality of the material. It forces me to ignore that voice in my head screaming about how bad what I’m writing is, and how I should just erase it. It creates an environment in which you can do anything- contrived story lines, cheap ploys, whatever- to get the word count up. And every letter of encouragement we get reminds me that regardless of how bad it may be there will be some diamonds in that rough. And I can say, that from the bit I’ve been reading through, that there are some diamonds in there. Which is a huge surprise to me, to say the least.

But I’ve been noticing that there is more to it than that. I have, without even researching the tools and tricks that real writers use, started using some of them (I think). I was reading through some of what I wrote last night and I remembered- ‘oh yeah, I researched that’. Whether it’s fleshing out a location by drawing from a real place, trying to make a character more believable by looking into the little details in other books I loved that made them stick with me, researching how to pull in the little plot points to support that larger arch, whatever. I believe- and again I don’t know because I am not what I would consider to be a real writer- that this is what real writers do. From what I’ve read on the amazing blogs of people in this community these are the kinds of steps that are involved when writing a first draft. I never received any formal training on how to do this stuff, but I’ve been doing it.

And I think that this is one of the biggest advantages of this practice. By having this artificial environment in which I am asked to accomplish this task I start to do at least some of the things I will need to do for real without over thinking it. Because one of the big issues that I’ve always noticed in my class work is that I get too stuck in the how and miss the what. The how, usually, is just supposed to be a jumping off point. Especially in creativity where you’re supposed to be- you know- creative. Trying to follow someone else’s steps verbatim is not going to help you be creative. You have to change it, make it yours, make it work for you. This challenge is forcing me to do that because I’m not following some step by step guide that someone else made up; I’m finding my own path.

I assume that these lessons I’m learning are within the realm of “Novel Writing 101” as compared to advanced methods evolved by advanced writers. I’m fine with that. I make no pretense of knowing what the hell I’m doing. But I’m finding a way that works for me. And regardless of what comes of this novel- which I assume will be nothing- I am learning. And that’s pretty big for me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Day One

So, right off the bat I am realizing why they have the whole rule of starting off from scratch. In trying to pick up where I left off on my story from November, I had to read over at least some of what I’ve written. It’s been a long time since I even looked at the thing and I’d forgotten some of the main character’s names, quirks, motivations, etc. I wasn’t stupid enough to allow myself to read through the whole thing (because I knew if I did I’d just want to scrap it and this whole camp thing altogether). But just in the few paragraphs I did read I found so many typos, missed words, even sentences so messed up that I struggled to understand what I’d been trying to say (missed words was by far the biggest issue). I couldn’t help but start to make little corrections as I went through.

Inevitably, I started thinking ‘Well what if I just got rid of this paragraph and re-wrote this section’ or ‘how about I just scrap this scene’. My finger was itching for the delete button like you wouldn’t believe! However, the point of this exercise is to finish the damned story- not to edit it! This is NaNoWriMo- NOT NaNoEdMo, I cannot delete everything and hope to make it out with 100k words- it’s just not gonna happen.

Now, I have signed up for this with the thought that it’ll probably take another 50k words to finish it but I will say that should the story roll along to it’s natural conclusion before that I will more than happily consider myself done. I just don’t think that’s gonna happen. Especially since I don’t even think I’m at the halfway point and I crossed the 50k finish line back in November.

At any rate, due to the minor edits I made as I scrolled through in attempts to reorient myself I only came out with an additional 866 words. Not, needless to say, my goal for the first day. But I am hopeful that I can pump out the words more easily now that I remember what was going through my main characters head when I left off and what needs to happen next in my story arch. Stay tuned.