NaNoWriMo

I’ve been looking forward to November for a while now. Not for any real reason, but I like fall. I’ve come to the conclusion that 50 degrees F might be my sweet spot. Probably from living in Scotland. Cold enough to bundle up but not too cold. Hence November.

So with all this longing it just now occurred to me that not only is November tomorrow, but it’s also NaNoWriMo!

I like the festive atmosphere  and take the event seriously enough to participate to crank out 50k words, but I write with a purpose. I don’t just churn out text to make text and I don’t write 50k-length novels. I typically see where I’m at with a project and go from there. Turns out, I’m perfectly paced with last year so rather than starting something new, I’ll be using NaNoWriMo as an excuse to finish Altered Egos.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t need some palette cleansers along the way. So for the month of November, I’ll be taking a break from the personal stuff. The only blog posts you’ll see from me will be fiction.

Yes I’m cheating a little as they’ll count towards that 50k, but the  bulk of those words will go towards my novel. Scouts’ honor.

You can’t see me, but I just cracked my knuckles. I may have forgotten about it, but I’m ready for the arthritic showdown that is NaNoWriMo.

Bring it on!

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Pilot 38 – 1

Transmission Incoming.

38.

Um, hi, this is, uh Pilot 38. I guess you don’t want us using our real names which is weird cause you have all that info anyway. Well, whatever. Pilot 38. Yeah. First entry.

According to your machines here, I’ve been traveling for a couple of weeks now. I mean … [shuffling sound. buttons being pressed] … sixteen days, thirteen hours, twenty-eight minutes, and eight seconds. Nine seconds. Ten seconds. You get the idea. I haven’t even passed Mars yet, I don’t think. Total distance is … [tapping on screen] … sent now.

Information Received.

Space is … Space is a lot more boring than I thought it’d be. You guys said it would be okay if we added personal details to these, right? The human perspective and all that. Still weird we can’t use real names. Anyway, there’s nothing out here. Don’t get me wrong, I was in awe at first. I mean who wouldn’t be. But I’ve been awake for a few hours now and the novelty has sort of worn off. It’s pretty. Lot of black. Lot of little lights. Sometimes. But that’s about it.

I was hoping to see a comet.

I hope the rest of the pilots are doing well and off to a good start. Lord knows we need it. For the record, I’m honored to have been chosen for this. I hope some real good can come of it. Even if it’s not me who finds New Eden or whatever you’re calling it now – that’s what a marketing department’s for, right? – I still hope my data’s useful for something. Not like there’s a lot waiting for me back home. I guess this ship is pretty much my home now.

Speaking of, it’s not half bad. A little small, maybe, but cozy. Got enough room to stretch out and a nice workout station. You’ve loaded this thing with plenty of time killers too, which I appreciate. And I know, don’t stay awake too long. Don’t waste oxygen – I’m sorry, O2 – and limit my isolation risk. But I’m getting familiar with this thing. It’s not the simulator. You know what I mean.

To me, it wasn’t that long ago I was in the array with the other pilots back on Earth, shot into space, and now this. It’s been weeks for you, but only a couple hours altogether for me. I still feel like the new guy at work, you know?

So I guess that’s all from me for now. Not much to report. I’m gonna watch a movie or something then get back in stasis for a while. Hopefully when I get out again, there’ll be something new to look at.

Catch ya later.

End Transmission.

Pilot’s Projected Vital Levels:

Physical Health: 10

Emotional Health: 10

Course: Within Projection

Running Diagnostic Scan.

Complete.

Sending Transmission.

38.

Ship structure intact.

Outside anomaly detected.

Please investigate.

End Transmission.

Cycle Messages.

Transmission Incoming.

2.

To Do or Not to Do

Things have been a bit busy lately. So while I’ve (mostly) kicked this cold, it seems to be tormenting my wife on a recurring basis. On top of that, she and I have begun a rotating schedule of crazy days. Last week, I had a couple 12 hour days back to back and this week, its her turn. And as the only parent home with twins, your attention is pretty much just focused on them and nothing else.

And because of all of this, work has become sort of condensed. Or just dense. Lots to do all the time. I was out Monday with my kids and I’ll be out again Friday traveling for a friend’s wedding, making my remaining free time all the denser.

I’ve found that I need the occasional to-do list of tasks or things to accomplish, but I only ever seem to work from the bottom up. The newest stuff is checked off pretty quickly and the stuff near the top tends to sit there. Hence why my first line on today’s list is and has been “blog” for about a week and a half now.

But with all these things I have to do vying for my attention, let’s talk about things I want to do …

I’m still pitching The Red Door. It’s hard not to get discouraged at times, but I keep myself motivated by only querying maybe three people at a time. I don’t always wait a full 8 weeks or whatever to try again – maybe only 2 – but I do try and keep the numbers small. My reasoning being that with every pass, I go back and revisit the pitch. I’ve tweaked the letter and opening couple pages a bunch now to make them as strong as possible. Obviously, this is a subjective business, so I’d like my work to speak for itself and I’d hate to be the one getting in my own way with a bad pitch.

Blame my career services day job, but I see this kind of thing all the time. Great candidates sometimes have terrible resumes and cover letters. Employers will never know how great they are until these documents get cleaned up and the applicant gets out of his or her own way. It’s not them who aren’t working, it’s their approach. I try and do the same.

As far as distractions go, I’m still working my way through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild again. I could beat it at any time, but I’m getting all the shrines now. I’m up to 91 or something. I’m basically just twiddling my thumbs and turning my brain off until the next game. Having a console-quality experience in my work bag is the best brain brake ever. I used to think that my PS4 was my favorite guilty pleasure, but hands down, its the Switch.

First Draft Blues

Maybe the single greatest piece of writing advice I ever received was from an AI I had back in college in a short fiction writing course. Her words have stuck with me all these years even though, for the life of me, I can’t remember her name.

“Just finish it.”

Whatever the problem. Whatever the hold up. Keep writing and don’t look back. As she explained at the time, you need to get it out because once you do, the story’s told. That’s the hard part. After that, you can edit and polish to your heart’s content.

While she may have glossed over the editing part – as many of you know, editing is MUCH harder than writing – but she had a point. Those were the words I needed to hear. Push through for the sense of completion and getting out of your own way, and after that, you’re left with an actual artifact of your progress. You’ve made something. Past tense. Instead of present tense: making/working on …

I bring all of this up because I already know that Altered Egos is going to need some work. Everything from the macro to the micro levels. From the story beats and structure to the language and the voice of the main character. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wrote the whole first chapter in the present tense, but the rest of the book is in the past. I honestly don’t remember. I haven’t looked back yet.

What I do instead is to create a generic document alongside my manuscript that’s oh so cleverly titled something like “THINGS TO FIX” and put it all in there. I make a big list of anything and everything I can think of. Once I’m done with the manuscript and I’m familiar with how its laid out, I reorganize that list chronologically with the book so I can hit it on a later draft.

I typically save that stuff for draft 2.5. I guess you could call it 3. Even things that I know are broken, I can’t fix until I’ve read through the book in its entirety first. So after I finish the manuscript, I take some time off to clear my head and then read through and do some general cleanup with draft 2. That’s usually when it goes from “this is the worst thing I’ve ever written” to “it’s bad but it’s not that bad” in my head.

After the cleanup phase, that’s when I go back and and check everything off the THINGS TO FIX list. Then I comb through it again a third time for further polishing. So theoretically at this point, the book is structurally sound (or sounder) and I’m just cleaning up the prose. After this read through is when I’ve started handing the work off to beta readers. The way I see it, it’s not getting any overhaul without their help and this is usually when I’m comfortable enough with that I’ve written to let others read it.

Then its rinse and repeat. Get feedback, make lists, polish.

The other quote that keeps me sane is from somebody’s name I do remember. Some dude you may have heard of named Michael Crichton. “Books aren’t written — they’re rewritten.”

I figure the guy knows what he’s talking about.

The One Cold to Rule Them All

Everyone in my house is sick. My daughter never stopped being sick and my son beat his fever, but its either evolved into something else or this is just the next manifestation of it.

I thought I’d kicked this cold by getting a couple good nights’ sleep, but turns out the sucker was just lying dormant. It’s paying me back full force, having gone from an irritated throat, to some coughing and all around head fuzziness. I’m seriously considering unfurling the yoga mat I keep in my office and curling up. I probably shouldn’t even be typing this right now. I should be home in bed.

Oh wait. Nope. Can’t.

I love my kids dearly, but they couldn’t care less if Daddy feels sick. Well, that’s not true. They’ll want to sit with me and have me read to them, but they won’t understand Daddy’s need to sleep. So rest right now is off the table.

If I don’t kick this thing for good over the weekend, Monday might be a full on sick day which isn’t necessarily bad thing because that means I get to watch Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure like one day after I bought the special editions on DVD, I made the deal with myself that when I’m sick I watch Lord of the Rings. I can take all the medicine in the world, but I don’t actually get any better unless I watch LOTR. In fact, that’s probably what’s happening now.

Don’t talk to me about psychosomatic whatsits. Or placebos or any of your new-agey hooey. It’s the magic of the movie bathing me in its healing rays. Yep. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Last time I was sick I watched Two Towers, so logically my next move is Return of the King.

Come to think of it, this is sounding better and better. Monday might be a sick day no matter what happens.

Sleep rx

I had my first good night’s sleep in a long time last night. That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but it is. I was so tired and so worn out, that it devolved into an Ouroboros of insomnia where my mind was going too fast and my heart raced too much that the thing I wanted most eluded me in a vicious cycle.

It hadn’t been that bad since when the kids were newborns. I used to literally keep track of the hours I’d slept just so I can tell myself in the morning if the night was “good enough” or not. Of course, I was spending more time awake than actually asleep and came to actively dread going to bed, but that’s a different thing.

Lying there, wigging out, I used to think about what if people had literal switches where you could turn them off instantly like a machine. There wouldn’t be a gradual process, just click and you’re out; guaranteeing rest.

I could have definitely used such an augment over the weekend. Also, in a home where I’m typically fighting with my munchkins to go to sleep, I’ve definitely thought about the implications of installing such a switch in them would be too.

When they were baby-babies, I posed myself a philosophical question on a near nightly basis. What if babies had an off switch? But here’s the catch, it was literally an off switch. They weren’t going to sleep like my later sleep-starved thought, but were ceasing to be for however long they were off. Turn them back on again and they were technically alive once more. They wouldn’t grow while off and if you wanted to help your kid sleep, they’d need to be in the “on” position. Follow me so far? OK that wasn’t the question. That’s just the rhetoric.

My philosophical question was: In a world where we could turn newborns off with a switch, how “old” would they actually be? How much longer would that newborn state be preserved?

I guarantee you that after trying to be responsible with such a system, I’d cave in like a week and start trading off nights. One night of sleep for me. One night of sleep for them. My kids might just now be clearing their first “birthday” instead of the two plus years old they actually are.

Sleep and I have always had a weird relationship. My wife loves it. It feels good. It empowers her and she needs like 10 hours every night just to feel normal.

Me? I hate sleep. I think it’s such a waste of time. We spend a third of our lives (well, not me. No now, apparently) asleep and doing nothing. If I could give up sleep without consequences, I’d do so in a heartbeat.

Think of it this way. If someone lived to be 60 years old, then 20 years – 20 years – of that person’s life are spent just lying there. If you gave me the choice of a place to shut down or 20 years of stuff, I’ll take the stuff, please.

I’d always wanted to write a story about a character who’s only superpower was that he didn’t have to sleep. He wouldn’t necessarily be punching bad guys, but he’d be a well-read, artistic, and pretty productive dude.

One of these days I still may write that story.

The flip side to all of this is just because you have more time doesn’t mean you’re more productive. Hell, it could mean the opposite because there’s no rush. What if instead of the most cultured and interesting person, not having to sleep made the most boring and sluggish? Instead of practicing art or a new language with his spare time, he just binge-watched Netflix.

Maybe that’s the story I should be writing …

Feverish

It’s one of those mornings.

I got about half my words in, but I’m throwing in the towel. Normally, I’m all about the discipline, but we’ve had a sick household all weekend, so I’m giving myself an excuse. My daughter as croup (the croup? I don’t know …) and my son had a temperature of 102. So, as you can imagine, there weren’t a lot of happy campers. I spent most of the last three nights either being woken up every couple hours to help a kid fall back asleep or myself sleeping on the floor of their room because I was too tired to get back into my own bed after holding their hand, stroking their back, etc. And then to top it all off, this morning I woke up with a sore throat and fuzzy head. I’m exhausted.

So, what I’ll leave you with instead of a success story of getting work done, is something of a rant.

I finished Every Dead Thing, the first Charlie Parker novel, by John Connolly over the weekend and its one of those books I need to talk about a little. For good or ill, it’s stuck with me. And not just because of the horrible juxtaposition of reading a book about child-murders and torture while trying to put your own children to sleep every night …

So the good:

I like the story for the most part and I liked the character voice. The world is loaded with a bunch of colorful characters with interesting back stories. Even the premise is cool: catch serial killer guy who murdered your wife and kid. Sure, good ole revenge story. I’m in. Parallel that with another serial killer story. Let’s get on this ride. But after that …

The bad:

I feel like its two books in one. The first half is about catching a child killer and the second is about the Travellin’ Man, the real antagonist. But ultimately, the child killer has NOTHING to do with the story. That’s half of the book literally wasted. Connolly pulls you from place to place, person to person so quickly, it’s hard to care about anything anymore. It’s weird, there’s an interconnectedness to his characters and the world, but not the plot. Even though he tells you there is, but there isn’t.

And the ending? Look, I like the reveal. That was cool. But there was NO explanation. This is coming from a guy who reads comic books. I accept things like “it’s powered by a black hole.” I don’t need much. But this was NOTHING. No explanation of how the killer did anything. Hell, there wasn’t even a second for the protagonist, Charlie Parker, to even have an emotional response to the reveal and resulting confrontation. I’ve never appreciated denouement more because this book didn’t have any.

The book has obviously stuck with me because it had a great setup but I ultimately feel let down. And I’m not the world’s foremost authority on story structure, maybe if I was an international bestselling author too my two cents would mean more, but I can’t help feeling like this one was off.

Aside from the fact that it was too books crammed into one. Aside from the fact that the first half is literally meaningless. There were little things. Like talking about a cop character who may or may not have murdered a criminal, then when you bring up that criminal’s name chapters later, you don’t remind me what that criminal did. Hell, there are so many names and places in this book, it’s hard to keep it all straight. Or instead of a big climax, Connolly spends more time on a shoot out between two criminal mob bosses that, again, ultimately mean nothing, rather than work on a satisfying conclusion.

I’m also not saying that everything needs to be wrapped up in a neat little bow, but there’s not even a soggy, cardboard box.

Just weird choices through and through.

OK. I have some very specific questions and points to rant about. I’ve been trying to keep it pretty spoiler-free so far, but that’s gonna stop. You’ve been warned …

 

Still with me? Let’s do this …

So we had the false climax with the gun fight at Joe Bones’s place. What was the point? Bones knew something. But he never said what it was. If Bones knew who the killer was, he’d be dead. That was the one thing we could always count on. The TM wraps up loose ends.

We were told Remarr knew something too, but, again, he didn’t. It never mattered to the plot. What did Remarr even see?

For that matter, why kill David Fontenot at all? It seemed so out of character to anything the TM was doing.

What was the point of the whole first half of the book? So Modine (that was her name, right?) knew who the TM was?! Why? How? That was just there so Charlie Parker could keep obsessing, but it made no sense whatsoever. What, like Sandman, are there serial killer conventions?

How on earth was TM (W) setting up/controlling Byron? Again, makes no sense. And why? To lure Charlie there? But that’s not what brought Charlie to Louisiana. That was a really weird connection and only worked because the plot said so.

And if the TM (W) killed “hundreds” what’s the point of his ‘prentice killings in those barrels only a handful of months beforehand. So, if they’re practice killings, does that mean he kills like someone new every day? That makes no sense. Is he killing lots of people and only now deciding to make art out of them?

And ultimately my two biggest greivences:

We don’t have any explanation from TM (W) as to how he carried any of this out. Half the fun of a detective story is the puzzle. Not just who it is, but how he’s doing it. We’re missing out on that latter half. Fine. He’s killing “because he can,” but there needs to be more than that for a satisfying ending. Why toy with Bird all this time just for this?

And speaking of Bird, for a guy obsessed with the TM he certainly has zero feelings once he figures out who the guy is. Not anger, rage, betrayal, anything. It’s like oh here’s some world shattering news. Oh damn. And then, when Rachel’s taken, he never once even worries about her. No wonder she leaves at the end, Bird’s a selfish asshole.

This could have all been forgiven if there was even an attempt to wrap any of this up at the end, but nope … fade to black. Weird epilogue.

I had to get this out of my system because I wanted to like this book so much. Hell, I did for a while, but like Bird, I was betrayed by someone I trusted too …