NaNo was a Triumph!

Let me make a note here, hold on: huge success.

Seriously, folks – not only did I make the 50,000 word mark, but I blew right through it – the official final total was 73,176 words. Which makes me, as they say, a winner!

Before we get into a review of the whole experience, let’s just take a look at the last section, which was broadly based on the aether – a fifth element that, for reasons unknown to me, does not usually appear as a quirky redhead. It was, instead, the substance through which light waves were thought to propagate. A rather clever and simple experiment managed to prove that the aether didn’t exist, however, which makes it perfect for telling stories about other things that don’t exist – ghosts, ESP, spirits of every shape and size.

  • Houseguests is a tale of a haunted house, where fourteen boys were tortured and killed. The house is bought by a pair of dedicated skeptics. Because after all – there’s no such thing as ghosts, right? Except for the ones that really do live there…
  • The Bad News tells more of Carly Siminsky’s story. Carly is a telekinetic girl, held by the Department of National Security for – allegedly – her own safety. She’s doing well in her training, until she hears something that she cannot endure.
  • Spirit Guide, in which a young man is having problems with his date. Mainly because his spirit guide, a floating blue panda bear, is trying to help him get lucky.
  • Finders Keepers, a story that may or may not reflect some writers’ bias, is about a woman, a telepath who uses her powers to steal the seeds of ideas from famous authors to build a writing career of her own. The latest author, however, might be harder to get into than she thought.
  • Hotline is about a psychic, but not a real one. A young woman acting as a telephone psychic to make money for college. Her last call of the night, however, turns out to be one she couldn’t have forseen.
  • Dream Intervention is the monthly revisitation of a story I wrote last month. A man with the power to enter the dreams of others is trying to help a young man with a problem that even he doesn’t understand.

It was a good section, with some fun ideas that popped into my head, and others that actively resisted being drawn out into reality. But I suppose the aether is like that – indefinable, and unreliable. At 12,453 words, it was the second shortest section – probably due to the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure anymore.

Most important, though, was that I finished NaNoWriMo with plenty of time to spare, and managed to get a very respectable number of words in before the month ended. How did I do it, you might ask? Very simple:

  • I planned. I made sure that I knew what I was going to do for the month, and had keywords set up to give me something to think about while I put the stories together. Aside from providing a seed for the story to grow from (which is pretty much where Finders Keepers is all about), it allowed me to think about the stories during time when I normally wouldn’t write.
  • I was regular in my writing. My regular writing time is at night – usually after eight or so, given my schedule, and I need to finish by eleven. That’s not a whole lot of time, but I made damn sure I used it. If I couldn’t – for example, on Wednesdays, when the podcast is due – I would do as much as I could during the day.
  • I used all the time I had on my hands. The effect of this, of course, what that I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything else. I didn’t read a book all month, or write a review or anything, which seems really out of character and weird for me.

What this means for the future, of course, is that now I have an excellent month to point to and say, “I did that.” Over 70,000 words, and if I print out the whole month, single-spaced, it’s just over 160 pages.

A triumph indeed.

For December, though, I’m going to ramp things down a little. Do some world-building and exploring, look at some of the people and places I’ve created over the last six months and 279,000 words. It should be an interesting little vacation.

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Take a Deep Breath…

I’m going to make this one a little short, since my body has decided that what it needs right now is to be allergic to something. So while I still have not yet gone mad from sneezing and tissue abrasions, let’s do a roundup of NaNoWriMo Part Five: Air.

  • In Self-Guided Tour, a young Ezra Resnick (whom we have seen before as an adult) is still learning what he can do with his ability to pass through solid matter. And what better way to test that ability than to walk right into one of the most heavily-guarded buildings on the planet: the White House.
  • Spotlight is a look at a former celebutante – a person famous just for being famous – who has tried to leave her old, shallow life behind her and vanish from the public eye. Angie Gallagher learns that disappearing in this day and age is harder than she thinks.
  • Prince of the Air, part one and part two, tells of young Prince Rissandir of the magic-powerful kingdom of Ardenspire. Rissandir wants to fly without magic, using a machine of his own design. His experiment could change the world. Or kill him. One or the other.
  • Before the Storm, a flash fiction of panic, anticipation and fear of a most formidable force of nature.
  • Up, Up, and Away, a story of the annoyances of flying and the lengths a friend will go to to get a lift.

Quite a few of these stories were related to air in a metaphorical way, sometimes a couple of steps removed. The most obvious example is Spotlight, which seems to have nothing to do with the theme whatsoever. Here’s how the thought chain went: Air > invisibility > trying to stay hidden > from people who really want to find you. Before the Storm was also more symbolic than it seemed at first glance. Mostly because I hate small children. But the rest were pretty straightforward, I think.

My favorite of this section was Prince of the Air, which got a nice comment from someone who said that he was pretty much beyond fantasy fiction right now, but really liked the characters. And honestly, so did I. Rissandir and Calaris appeared in my head pretty much fully-formed and already bickering, which is great. For a lot of those scenes, all I had to do was sit back and write down what they were saying. It made it a lot easier to examine the motivations of the brothers, too, since they were much more willing to talk to me.

Important plot point: aether doesn't exist.

All in all, this section netted me a paltry 11,742 words, mainly because I busted through the NaNoWriMo goal and can now afford to throttle back a bit. The grand total thus far is 60,593, which is impressive enough that the NaNo stats page had to bump the graph up to 80,000 just in case I have a final, manic burst of creativity in the next five days.

Which, by the way, is Aether – time to explore things like ghosts, telepathy, maybe astral travel, possession and angels and demons and stuff. I’m looking forward to this one…

Haters Gonna Hate. But They Shouldn’t….

I got this link from my friend Sarah, who felt it was vital that everyone read it. She was, of course, right, and you should.

“I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay” by Dan Pierce. About beliefs, about acceptance and about how it can be really, really hard to love The Other, no matter what your religion tells you. It’s a good read, if a little rambly in bits, and tries to explore why it is we hate so easily without taking a moment to think about how that hate – based on such petty things as race or tattoos or religion or sexuality – can really screw up the lives of a lot of people.

Avoid the comments, as they rapidly devolve into a shit-slinging contest between Christian apologists and militant atheists. Which is pretty much a textbook definition of irony right there…

tattoo design

Dig Far, Dig Deep…

Once again it’s time to check in on the progress of my NaNoWriMo project, and I have to say that things are looking pretty good! The theme of this section was “Earth,” and it had a few entertaining surprises in it. So let’s look at the breakdown:

  • The Hole – A giant sinkhole opens up in the middle of the city of Freestone, and the mayor calls on the great geologist Jenna Spenser and her team to find out what happened. What she discovers is the last thing anyone expects.
  • The Golemime, parts one, two, and three – Mimes are being murdered in Estervale! Someone with a vendetta is killing right under the noses of the police department, and the chief is determined to find the killer. Precinct thaumaturge Thaddeus Zoltaire is tasked with creating an indestructible mime golem to catch the killer!
  • Away From the Green – Evelyn Pierce is cursed with the ability to communicate with and control plant life. She’s moved to the middle of the desert to escape it, but a visit from Department of National Security special agent Tanner Quan may force her to face her true nature.
  • Mother Earth – Starlight Moonwhispers loves all living things, and she believes that humanity is a direct threat to the survival of the planet. Her meditations have guided her to occupy an oil company building, but this time they bring her somewhere else. She meets someone who opens her eyes to the true nature of her mission.

Most of these stories were really fun to write. Let’s get the big one out of the way first: I wrote The Golememe for a Worth1000 contest – “Mimes” – the rule for which was that you just had to write a story and put a mime in there somewhere. I found a nice way to do it while keeping to my NaNo project, and figured I could write maybe 2,000 words, edit down to the required 1,500 and call it a day.

But the story had other ideas.

Now imagine him about seven feet tall and terrifying.

Before I knew it, the story was blossoming out into a full-scale police thriller that eventually stretched to about 8,000 words. And that’s without some of the twists and character issues that I came up with while I was writing it. And for those of you who are Discworld fans, yes, I had the spirit of Constable Dorfl hovering over me the whole time. I’m certainly not the first person to put a golem into a police department, but I may be the first to put one into a stripey shirt and heavy face makeup. In any case, I really enjoyed this story and will probably come back to it someday.

As for the others – The Hole was interesting and has some potential, but I didn’t really connect too well with it. Re-reading it, the narrative has a kind of detached quality that needs fixing. As of yet, I don’t seem to have a character to tap into for a good point of view. Something to fix in re-writes.

And it was nice to see poor Evelyn Pierce again. This is a character I never expected to write about again. She showed up as a throwaway character in the story Interviews (about a case worker for de-powered metahumans), and then got randomly chosen for a character mash-up that paired her with my Constant Victim, Rachael Decker, in A Friend in Need. When I thought about what I would do for the “Earth” section, I knew she’d be a good choice. A woman who talks to plants? And isn’t really happy about it? Score. She’s really miserable, and I haven’t figured out exactly where her story ends up, but she seems to be one of those characters that lingers. And you should take good care of those.

Finally, the last Earth story came to me in a flash while I was walking home. I thank both my Muse and my Inner Cynic [1] for this one…

One of the things that annoys me about environmental politics and activism is this constant idea that humans are “destroying the earth.” We’re “ruining” the environment or “ravaging” the planet, and that image is used to get us to send money to their cause or carry our own shopping bags, or stop using baby seal fur to make toilet paper. [2]

Whether the earth can survive the Invasion of the Paper Dolls, however, is unknown.

The fact of the matter is that the Earth has already been hit with far worse than anything we can throw at it. Ice ages, meteor impacts, mass extinctions, supervolcanoes, all these have happened in the planet’s long history, often more than once, and it’s survived. More than that, it’s flourished.

So maybe it’s time to admit that we don’t actually have the power to either save or destroy the earth. Maybe what we’re really interested in is saving our species. We’ve grown up in a very nice period of the earth’s history, and we want to not screw that up any more than we have to. Sooner or later, something will happen to wipe us out, of course. Let’s just try not to make it happen at our own hand.

So the story is a wee bit soapboxy, but the idea of taking a starry-eyed hippie girl and crushing her naive yet earnest dreams and ambitions just made me laugh and laugh and laugh….

It was an interesting six days of writing, and there are only twelve more to go! The next section is Air, and I have a few ideas bubbling around in my head for that. But first, some stats:

It turns out that I’m damn near at the goal of 50,000 words. The Earth section by itself was 15,997 words – not as good as Water, but better than Fire. Last night I hit 48,851 total, for an average of 2,714 words per story. I figure today’s story should put me over the top, so long as it’s over 1,200 words – which, if the rest of this month is any indication, it should very well be. And if I keep writing at this rate, the whole month should net me a bit over 80,000 words. Definitely a new record.

Thanks to everyone who’s commented and said kind things and all that. I appreciate the feedback.

Today's the big day!

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[1] I’m not sure if I have an Inner Cynic or if he has an Inner Me….
[2] It’s soft and absorbent, dammit! You’ll never get me to stop!

HehHehHeh… Fire. FIRE!

(Stock image by Tortured Raven Stock on DeviantArt)

Well, I’m now two-fifths of the way through my National Novel Writing Month project, with the elemental theme of “Fire” under my belt. Let’s see how we did:

  • StoryBreakers, a very thinly-veiled theft of homage to MythBusters. In this episode, Alan and Johnny find out what happens when you set off a blast that tears through the fabric of reality to release a very angry Elder God.
  • A New Star, part one and part two, a tale of the far, far future where intelligent life huddles around red dwarf stars, the last remaining sources of energy in a dying cosmos.
  • A Reason to Burn, a story about a man with the power to control fire, but who uses it to create and protect. What happens when he meets a man who uses the same power to destroy?
  • Carl’s Dragon, a story based on Carl Sagan’s famous “Dragon in My Garage” essay. Young Carl Stockman wants to convince his new friend Annie that he has a dragon. She’s skeptical, and for good reason. But perhaps too skeptical…
  • The Good Guy Bomber, a story about a man who loves more than anything else to blow things up. People included. Fortunately, he only blows up the bad guys, but it’ll be a little difficult to convince the world that’s what he’s up to this time.

This felt like a harder section to do than Water was. Perhaps it’s because some of that initial momentum wore off, or my own inherent laziness started to creep back in again. Either way, coming up with ideas seemed to take more effort this time around. The seed for The Good Guy Bomber didn’t hit me until very late in the day, and all I had was a picture of an angry older man stripping wires in his basement. It shows in the word count, too – I wrote about 4,000 words less in this section than in Water, and tonight’s story was the first time I came in under that magical 1,667 word count.

Shout-out to my old Performance Art classmates. You know why.

Why should this be? I honestly have no idea. I was a little surprised, too, because as the classical elements go, I have the greatest fondness for fire. Not that I’m going to start burning things, but it’s the most interesting to me, and when I was a kid, imagining I had super powers [1], fire was tops on my list. In fact, one of the first long stories I ever wrote was about a kid who gained the power to control fire. I have no idea where that story is right now, either. I imagine reading it would be a combination of nostalgia, stabbing pain, and gratitude that I have become a better writer since then.

Anyway, there were some parts that I liked about this section. I loved doing Carl’s Dragon, mainly because Carl Sagan is one of my favorite people ever. I like to think he’d read that and get a kick out of it. And while I was really enthralled with the concept behind A New Star, the execution was torturous. Maybe because it was on such a large scale or because it had so many possibilities for exploration in it that I couldn’t really pull the trigger and go all the way. Of all the stories I’ve done for NaNo so far, this is the first that I can really imagine being stretched out to novel-length someday. With a few little changes, of course.

He has Cthulhu on speed dial.

And StoryBreakers was just downright silly. I love MythBusters to death, even if I do think they’ve become a bit too explodey-centric in the last few seasons. Taking the characters of Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman and just stretching them out was a lot of fun. Plus, it generate one of my favorite lines of dialogue so far: “Banishing an elder god in ThreeTwoOneGO!”

I can so totally imagine Adam Savage doing that.

In any case, my self-monitoring continues. I’m still trying to get an early start on writing whenever possible, and coming up with as many story ideas as I can so as to keep the creativity flowing. I think one of the things that blocked me a little with Fire was that I kept trying to find Meaning in it. I asked myself what fire Represents, what it Symbolizes, and perhaps that’s what hung me up on some of these stories. Instead of just writing the damn thing, I was trying to process what it Meant.

'Avatar' anyone?

We’ll see how the next section goes: Earth. I doubt I’ll stop trying to overthink things, really. There are some low-hanging fruits there, but I’ll see if I can’t spin out something more symbolic and important-sounding while I’m at it. In any case, right now my NaNo count is 32,854 words, at an average of 2,737 per story. At this rate, I’ll hit 50,000 by the 18th, which is awesome. I’ll keep going though, don’t worry about that…

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[1] Which, of course, I never do nowadays. Of course. Never.

Slade, I’m Afraid We’re Going to Have to Let You Go

RAAAWRR! I HAS A GUN!!!

The above line would probably be immediately followed by the distinctive and musical sound of a large sword through my throat.

I’m trying to put together tonight’s story, but my brain isn’t cooperating with me, so let’s prime the pump somewhat by talking about comics. Specifically, the current state of the New 52 in DC Comics, which is now entering its third month. More specifically, the ones that suck.

The first one to get cut was Deathstroke, after only two issues. Now why did I drop Deathstroke like it was a flaming turd in my hands? Hmmm….

Guys [1], remember when you were a kid, and you’d play super-heroes with your friends? One of you would be Superman and one of you would be, I dunno, Wolverine, and after you finished arguing about how Superman and Wolverine can’t fight each other because they’re from totally different comics and that wouldn’t make sense, you would start basically listing off your attacks:

Li’l Superman: I’m gonna hit you with my heat vision! BZZZAT!
Li’l Wolverine: I use my claws to reflect your heat vision back at you! FRINNNG!!
Li’l Superman: Well I can just let it bounce off my chest. Ha ha ha!!
Li’l Wolverine: I’m gonna throw Kryptonite at you! WHAM!
Li’l Superman: Yeah, well I’m gonna take these special metal-eating Kryptonian cockroaches and they’re going to EAT YOUR BONES! HA!

And so on. Point is, each kid would find reasons why his hero was utterly undefeatable and how there was no way the other one could possibly stand against him.

You'd think his codpiece would be bigger.

That’s what it’s like reading Deathstroke.

And that’s a shame, because they have a really interesting opportunity here. Most of DC’s metahuman characters are like football players in their prime years – their twenties and thirties. They’re still fit and clear-minded, they’re still hip and with it. Their careers are fresh and new and their best years are still ahead of them in terms of kicking ass and taking names. But Slade is older. We don’t know exactly how old, of course, because time in comic books is a plastic and unreliable thing, but he probably has a couple of decades on the Justice League at the very least.

Super-soldier or no, time takes its toll. You have to keep learning new skills, keep up with the newest technology and weaponry. You have to continue to improve and adapt yourself to the world, and that gets harder as you get older. So the first issue sets this up very nicely: Slade’s handler Christoph basically comes out and says: “They don’t think you can cut it, Slade. Not anymore.” There. The issue is out in the open, ready to be dealt with. It suggests that Slade isn’t what he once was, that he can’t hold his own against the newer, younger crowd. Like an aging prizefighter, the time has come where perhaps he should think about bowing out gracefully and leaving the ring.

We could then have a really interesting storyline that explores the perils of age and obsolescence, where perhaps Slade tries to accept this new reality but is not allowed to do so. Perhaps he gets his ass kicked in the first issue and has to figure out new ways to defeat his enemy. Or he goes the “old gunslinger” route, where he has to deal with the young up-and-comers who want to make a name for themselves by killing the greatest assassin the world has ever known. Hell, maybe he looks back on his life of murder and bloodshed and sees that there’s more time behind him than before him. Maybe he stops and asks, “What’s it all about, really? What have I contributed to the world?” And despite an earnest desire to make good, to maybe give up his lifetime of violence, he gets pulled back into it, Unforgiven-style. There is so much that can be done to expand this character and make him vivid and believable and interesting.

RAWR!

Instead, they go for a gore-festy fight sequence that is basically the writer with his fingers in his ears screaming, “LA LA LA DEATHSTROKE IS A BADASS I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” He cuts through a whole slew of assassins and soldiers as if he were a young man of twenty, never once having to deal with the fact that he isn’t. And everything that tries to stop him is cut down with absolutely no significant effort. It is proven in bloody detail that Slade Wilson cannot be stopped – not by ninjas on motorcycles, not by guys in ridiculous armored suits with wheels on them, not by the ravages of time itself. He has no doubts, no fears, and no competition.

And that, friends and neighbors, is utterly and fantastically dull.

I swear to you, this was real.

This was actually one of the problems with Superman back before the character was first rebooted in the 80s – he was far too godlike. There was literally nothing that Superman couldn’t do, no battle he couldn’t win and no enemy that could give him more than a moment’s pause. With nothing that can challenge him, there’s really no point in writing stories for him.

So when John Byrne gave him a new start, he brought down his power levels a bit and created new conflicts that would force the Man of Steel to adapt and improve. And, again, he succumbed to power-creep over the years, to the point where J. Michael Straczynski actually decided that it would be more interesting to see him walk across America than punch out giant robots. He had grown so powerful that physical conflict was beyond him, and he needed to start dealing with social and political problems. [2]

He could also use a haircut.

In the New 52, Superman was de-powered again. In Action Comics – which takes place several years before “now” – he’s probably at his “weakest” since he was introduced back in 1939. He can’t fly, he can still be injured and get worn out during a fight. Even in Justice League of America, which is a little closer to “now” in comic book time, he suggests that he has limits to his powers and he knows what most of them are. By putting limits on what Superman can do, the various writers are forced to make the character work harder and be more creative in dealing with problems. The reader knows that it’s possible for the character to fail, and so we are more interested to know how he deals with the problem at hand.

No so with Deathstroke. The writer, Kyle Higgins, is doing his best to eliminate any chance that Slade Wilson could be defeated by anyone – even himself. He slices through his enemies in a single panel, makes bored quips about how pathetic they are, and the artist, Joe Bennett, makes sure that the closest thing we see to an emotion on his face is bemused detachment.

Yawn.

By the time I got to the end of issue 2, I was pretty much convinced that there was nothing holding me to this title. There were no characters that I cared about, no plot elements that interested me. All they had given me was Slade Wilson, Badass With a Sword, and I have no reason to read that.

Well.

That was certainly more than I thought I’d write on the subject. Next up, let’s tear apart Green Arrow. But not right now – I have a story to write.

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[1] My analogy here is more geared towards my male readers than my female ones, but I’m sure there was an equivalent for little girls and I’d love to hear about it.
[2] Which, from what I could gather, was such a dumb idea that Straczynski himself got bored with it and went on to do other things.

One-Fifth of the Way Through

Well, I suppose a NaNoWriMo update is as good a thing as any to write about, so here it is. I know, I know, you’ve all been waiting on tenterhooks for it. Calm down, people, and form an orderly line.

Today marks the end of the “Water” section of the anthology, and here’s how it breaks down:

  • Out of the Rain, a story about a woman who devotes her life to others, but realizes that sooner or later she has to live for herself, too.
  • The Quarry, something of a horror story (I hope) about a boy and his friend who go swimming at a local quarry only to discover something truly monstrous awaits them there.
  • Rainsinger, a story of a young man from a nomadic tribe who has to come to grips with the fact that he can never be the man he wants to be.
  • Shift, about a young man who can change his shape to look like anyone he’s “scanned.” But he meets someone who not only defies his powers, but who completely upends his world.
  • The Proper Flow of Things, a humorous piece (I hope) about a man whose problems in both plumbing and life are addressed by a Zen plumber.
  • Water Whispers, about a young woman whose strange experiences around water lead her to a revelation that she never expected.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • The overall elemental topic is very, well, fluid. Water, for example, could play a key role in the story, like in Water Whispers. Or it could be entirely metaphorical, like in Shift. Or somewhere in between. So there may not always be a strict means by which any particular story adheres to the element that inspired it. All that really matters is that thinking about water is what got me to these six stories. I expect the same will hold true for the remaining sections.
  • I'm not saying I look like this in the morning, but it's a surprisingly accurate picture of how I feel.

    Holy cow, but I can use mornings for writing. This was a bit of a surprise, as I am not really a morning person, but I discovered that if I give up listening to podcasts and reading Cracked.com articles on the morning train ride, I can start working on my story for the day! This may mean actually getting a few hundred words down on the iPad or it might just be sketching out some characters and a general idea. Whatever I do, though, it means I’m actually working on the story all day, in one form or another. If I have downtime between classes or during lunch, I might be able to get a few more words in, and at the very least, it means I have my brain working on the story throughout the day, whether I know it or not. Up until now, I’ve been starting to work on stories rather late – usually around 8 PM – which means that there’s been some variation in length and quality from time to time. [1]

  • In the same vein as above, it really helps that I made a quick rundown of topics for each section. It’s just a simple Excel document, but it has some ideas for stories for each element, which I can start thinking about as early as the night before. Preparation makes it a whole lot easier than sitting down after dinner and hitting random TVTropes pages until something strikes me as interesting.

You knew this was coming.

So, six days in, I’ve racked up a total of 18,397 words out of the target 50,000. If I keep up this rate, I stand to hit over 90,000 words by the end of the month.

Which is kind of scary, when I think about it.

So, Fire is up next and I have a few good ideas for that. If you have any thoughts or feedback, I’d love to hear them. Leave comments here or with the stories and let’s see what we can come up with!

So pretty...

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[1] That’s what he said!