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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Comment Policy

I had to switch to moderating comments to cut down on spam and bullshit. Internet Assholery is the T-Rex of the internet and I am apparently "moving" enough that it has noticed me like a tender juicy lawyer on the Port-a-Potty. I had to pull the plug, turn off the music, and tell everyone to get out of the pool.

Now there's a bouncer at the door checking to make sure that you mind your P's and Q's. But once you prove you can drop a reasonable comment, you should be good to keep commenting.
  • It would probably take a lot to get ME to blink, much less be offended or actually hurt. Ever since the death threats and the call for my execution, I've been pretty zen about regular criticism of my prose. However, I won't put up with comments that are hateful or hurtful to other commenters or nothing more than spilled vitriol, so play nice or I delete comments without even an explanation. 
  • Though this link is for Facebook, it will tell you exactly what kind of comments will be okay and which ones will get you marked as a spammer.
  • Any comment left on a tab page or a menu entry will eventually be erased.  (It's not that I don't love you; I just want to keep them clean.) I'll leave all the comments on articles up until the day they finally turn power off to The Internet, but the menus and tabs would get very cluttered if I let comments accumulate.
  • ANY comment on Writing About Writing may show up in a later entry where I respond to it.  Consider that before you comment.  99% of my commenters are rational, calm, and awesome or just giving some quick feedback that wouldn't work to spark its own post. You can comment that you think something is great (or even not my best) without worrying that I'll repost your comments, and you can call me on my grammar mistakes forever without worry. (In fact, I'm generally grateful if someone points out a mistake I can fix.)
The comments I might repost, are the ones that are clearly intended to pick a fight or get attention usually by some jackhole who thinks their opinion is gilded awesome. Anonymous feedback from trollish twenty something who haven't yet learned how tough it is to put something out there is common....or those who have done so little to be proud of themselves that they are really only capable of feeling better about themselves by belittling others.

So please, unless you 1- Identify yourself SOMEHOW in the comment,  2- ask me not to use the comment as entry fodder you may find it showing up in The Mailbox.

Above is a policy about comments!  I will not post e-mails or other private correspondence unless I have express permission.  I may talk about the content of an email in vague terms, but I won't simply post them unless their author says it's okay.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Have A Tremendous Thanksgiving

Unlike Macy’s, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy, I won't quite do anything for the sake of money. I am an utter, unrepentant whore, but forcing my staff to work on Thanksgiving crosses the line.

We're going to lock the doors and close up shop Thursday and Friday, so everyone can spend time with their families, enjoy turkey, tryptophan comas, a disgusting amount of leftovers, and maybe catch a football game.  Even Grendel and his mom can close down the cafeteria and enjoy some food themselves instead of serving it to everyone else.

If I'm not catching a baby on Saturday (or late Friday night), I should be back with a little something by then. Once baby can be distracted by The Hall of Rectitude's training room, I should have a little more time to write, but until then I might need to drop off radar in a pinch.  Which means this short break for Thanksgiving could turn into a longer break for Thanksgiving + baby-catch.  I will try to keep you updated.

Please have a wonderful vacation. Enjoy family--even the crazy Teapublican uncle who drinks too much, complains about the influence of secret societies of The Welsh, and thinks Snopes is a "libtard conspiracy."  Hug peeps. Eat food of your preferred ideological designation--tofurkeys, real turkeys, sushiurkys, whatevurkey. Have a wonderful day off. And I wouldn't hate you even a little if you didn't contribute to Black Friday insanity by boycotting the whole ordeal and spending more time with your family.

Or if you're one of the 30% of my readers not from the U.S., please have a randomly awesome week of no particular significance, and know that the cuddliest of your favorite snarky Yanks will be back in a couple if days.

See you soon!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

December Poll Write In Phase: Best Classic Science Fiction Author

Who is the best classic science fiction author?

For December's poll, we're going to do something a little bit different.

But first please go vote in this months poll on the best (non-scifi/non-fantasy/non-horror) book of speculative fiction.

Instead of books, this poll will be about authors. And instead of doing a whole genre with over a hundred years (at least) of history, and forcing your decision between foundational classics and contemporary brilliance, this entire poll will only be classical authors.  So if you've ever thought an author wrote more than one great book or series, and should be recognized for a stunning career, now's your chance to recognize them.

The rules: 

1- You may nominate only one (1) author as your choice.  (My nomination will be in the comments.) Please nominate them HERE rather than on another social media.  I will accept a FB or G+ nomination, but if there's a tie to break, I'll go with the ones written here.

2- You may second as many authors as you feel deserve it.  You also SHOULD second authors because very often there are too many nominations for a single poll and the way I resolve such issues is to take nominations with the most seconds.  On our last two polls, no books without at least one second made it to the polls.  So check back periodically to see what other authors people have nominated and give those you think are worthy a second.  

3- Our cut off for contemporary/classic is 1970.  That lets us do New Wave Science Fiction and has the added advantage of not forcing me to be older than something called classic.  

3a- (This one gets tricky.) Several authors have written on both sides of the 1970 divide (Clarke, Asimov, LeGuin and more).  In this case, please consider the works you feel were the best of their career.  

For example, if you really liked Rendezvous with Rama (which kicked off in 1972) and that series, you should wait to put Clarke on the contemporary poll (most likely next month), but if you thought Left Hand of Darkness (1969) was the best thing LeGuin ever wrote you could put her on the classics poll.

3b- You can go BACK as far as you want as long as it still looks like science fiction.  (Mary Shelly would totally fit on our poll.)

As usual, I will tend to trust your judgement rather than make a lot of picky rules. 

I will put this poll up early in December, so give me all the nominations. If you do two picks, I'll take the first one only.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Soon. Oh so soon.

This picture is SO five months ago.
So we're really really close on the baby thing.  I can't tell you how close...but let's just say there's a diaper bag stocked and ready to go in the T.V. room.  (Here's a hint.  It rhymes with slerty pinnutes lapart.)

The Brain has made it perfectly clear that she wants to control the press releases about exactly what's going on, so I have to be really careful about what I say (until it's all over) unless I want all the preferences on the sonic shower changed to icy when I get in and boiling when I'm scrubbing my junk as well making sure that every computer I ever use has its homepage set to 4Chan's MRA group page and that I can't use any search engine but Bing. Ever.

Anyway, the paparazzi can be brutal when it comes to the next generation of superheroes. When Floatsam had little Bruticus, they were so relentless about following him that the dude almost ended up on the villain side of the Great Oakland Rooftop Wars of 2008. As it is, there have been some "antihero incidents" where some particularly bad eggs weren't exactly brought to justice...if you know what I mean. We never did find Jackulator's body...

Plus, The Brain comes from a long line of super hero women on her mom's side. Except the whole lot of them have only one power: worrying. Her grandmother once worried so hard that the entire Platypus gang simply couldn't do crime. But sometimes worry has unintended side effects.  The fallout can be devastating. If it is combined with the little bugger's psychic powers, it could cause a worry amplification feedback wave that engulfs Oakland and leaves everyone genuinely worried about everyone else instead of totally self-absorbed and they would start being nice and showing compassion to each other and....um.....

Well, regardless of how awesome peace and goodwill through all of Oakland might be, I really don't want to have to use Bing.

So all I can tell you right now is that we have definitely gotten some psychic reverberations that the little one is ready to start learning kung fu, and as you know, it's tough to even learn a horse stance in utero, so this is going to happen really soon.

And you will have to get further press releases from The Brain and wait for the post game wrap up to get the deets here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Poll: The BEST Speculative Fiction Novel

Is The Handmaid's Tale the best speculative fiction novel?  It is if you don't vote!  The first several spots on our poll are still anybody's guess.  

As we move into the last week of November, we're running out of time to vote and is still anyone's guess how this poll might go. Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is ahead, but only by a tiny margin. And even if she does win, second place is basically a four way tie. Come vote and play kingmaker to your favorites!

The poll itself is on the left hand side of your screen.  It's the lowest"widget" down that side. Everyone gets 3 (three) votes. 

The poll will close at midnight on Dec 1st (unless I fall asleep, which is highly likely given recent circumstances and the chances a baby will be in the house by then, in which case I will close it the next morning and post results soon after.


Also--for those of you who have read this far--nominations for the next poll will be this Tuesday, BEFORE this poll is done, so start to think now about authors. We've done a lot of work-specific polls, but I'd like to give a shout out to authors.  And on the recommendation of wonderful peeps, I will probably be separating future polls of the very popular sub-genres (fantasy and science fiction) into "classic" and "contemporary" categories.  So for our next poll please think about which science fiction authors who wrote the main body of their works PRIOR to 1970 you would consider the best.  1970 lets us incorporate New Wave science fiction, and has the added benefit that nothing younger than me be considered "classic."

I also have a question for you, but you'd have to write in to answer. I get the feeling there's a lot of overlap here with geeks and geek culture and that polls in other genres will probably not get much response until/unless I have a LOT more readers, but how many of you would be interested in polls like "Best Western" or "Best Romance" or "Best Literary Fiction"?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Master Will Appear

IMBD insists he was in the movie, but whenever
you ask about it, he brings up his performance
in Titus Andronicus instead.
What's up with that?
Anthony Hopkins informs us in The Mask of Zorro: “There is a saying—a very old saying—that when the student is ready, the master will appear.” Of course, for writers no mentor comes out of the shadows to teach us (no matter what Finding Forester says). We may have a great instructor (and I’ve had a couple) or we may have worked with a writer of much higher skill who has a soft spot for helping us out.

But writing is a solitary affair. We don’t do training montages until we snatch the marble. We don't do the high kick or catch the chicken. Writers don't have these kinds of mentors.

A writer’s masters are Shakespeare and Faulkner; they are Asimov, LeGuin and Orwell; they are Chaucer, Joyce, Woolf, Carver, and Oats. These masters don’t go around finding students to carry on their legacy. Their legacy is their words. They pour their soul into their craft and create a work that is a tiny piece of it, and that work becomes a training manual for those who can decode it. Writers study them carefully—paying close attention to their word choices and sentence structures—to divine their lessons.  Any student who is ready can find library walls chock full of masters all too eager to give up their secrets.

The point of that expression, outside of Hollywood tropes, is not about some serendipity of the universe dispensing masters in seeming coincidence at the perfect moment to land on the heads of students. There isn't some fate magnet that works only on true loves and masters.

The master doesn't really "appear" at all.

The point of that expression is that masters are everywhere, all around us, always, and that the moment a student is ready to learn--really ready to learn--they will actually SEE the master for the first time. When they cast aside the sense that they are too good to learn, that there is nothing more they can be taught, that they are as good as they will ever be, they will realize that people with greater skill have been there all along. Nowhere is this more true than in writing.

But a good writer--a careful writer who is practicing the art of being a writer--can take this even a step further. They can learn to “read” situations that aren’t so transparently “useful.” Knowing that a study of Shakespeare will help a writer is a no brainer, but the tougher lessons are everywhere in our pedestrian world. A conversation on the bus might give you your next main character. A terrible television show might offer you ten fantastic suggestions for what NOT to do. A LARP can be a non-stop learning bonanza if you experience it as a writer. And of course, shelves are stacked with hundreds--thousands of examples of brilliant craft. For a good student of writing, masters are literally everywhere.

Be ready.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Mailbox: SuperQuickies

More Demon's Rubicon? Will we get baby pictures? What do I think of Neil Gaiman? Will I pimp your shit?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I promise I don't bite--unless you either ask nicely (and tell me your safe word) or you take the first shot.]    

[Folks, I've chewed through my rather extensive backlog of questions, so I may have to start doing jazz hands on Fridays if y'all don't send me new questions?  It's been so long since you've blessed me with some hate mail. What's going on, anonymous?

All of today's questions are super duper quickies. As we approach B-day, our newest little crime fighter is trying to fight crime in vitro (Scanners style), and I'm pretty exhausted from trying to keep up. Please don't forget that if posts suddenly stop for a few days, it may be because the little one is tired of the "hands off" approach to crime fighting, and has psychically commanded me to baby catch instead of write.]


Amy asks:

When will we see more of A Demon's Rubicon?  I love that shit.

My reply:

Psychic baby madness permitting, probably next month. I discuss fiction in my Frequently Asked Questions. Fiction (or creative non-fiction) takes a long time.  It is much more time and energy intensive than any of the other "shit" I write here. I'm not trying to "hold hostage" the posts that get such wonderful feedback ("If you vant to know how zis story ends, Daddy needs a new smoking jacket!"), it's just that as a relatively new blogger in a world where content is king, I have to space out the entries that take me a long time to write, or you'd only see one or two updates a week--and then my numbers would tank.  I hope in 2014 that one of the main shifts you will see in the blog is toward more fiction, but until I'm able to light my cigars with hundred dollar bills, I may have to make sure that I strike the balance as much as possible.

RenĂ©e asks: 

Will we get baby pictures?

My reply: 

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn't exploit baby pictures in order to drum up a few more page views. Of course, you'll get baby pictures!

Eric asks:

What do you think of Neil Gaiman personally. Have you read American Gods and Anansi Boys?

My reply:

I've never met Neil Gaiman personally. If you mean what do I personally think of Neil Gaiman, I think that he is an amazingly imaginative and talented writer. If I had to come up with some salient criticism, I would say that some of his novels suffer from slightly mushy middles--I tend to find myself skimming from about half way to maybe two thirds, but it's actually a lot less than many contemporary fantasy and speculative fiction authors. And he really stepped in it trying to be all edgy by naming his short story anthology Trigger Warning. That was not cool.

Yes, I have read both of those.  I thought they were both wonderful.

Several people have asked:

I am an author/editor/artist/promotor/writing teacher and I have a book/reading/writing class/ anthology/thing. Please promote it on your blog/Facebook Page.

My reply:

~Mark as spam~

I'm happy to do some kind of exchange of pimpification. It's a tough, dog-eat-dog world out there, and half the links I have are those who have given me a shout out in return. The wider either of us can cast our net, the better, but one hand washes the other. I've spent two years building up the very small audience that I have, and I didn't do it to help those who won't give me a shout out in return or can't be bothered to even know what I'm up to in my writing life.

I'm honestly surprised at how common this is. When I started blogging/self-promotion, I figured scratching backs was just a no-brainer, but the number of people who seem willing to directly solicit free promotion is breathtaking.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Monetary Support

Writing About Writing will never be behind a paywall site (or have the "best" content only available to Patreon donors or anything like that), and we also will never again host random ads. We may one day post ads for products we truly believe in, but the random ones for butt hair eliminators and robot crawl editing are a thing of the past. I have also opted out of traditional publishing completely, so unless some day there is an unbelievable million-dollar book deal that contractually requires me to remove my online version, everything I ever write will be free online. There might be a small charge for a e-reader version or a cost-covering charge for a print on demand physical copy, but mostly everything will be free.

Which means I am 100% dependent on the generosity of donors.

And while we love all the other ways in which fans show their support–by liking and sharing articles, with engaging and robust comments, by becoming members of or following the blog, recommending us to friends, and a host of other ways–monetary support works a lot better than "likes" when it comes to paying rent or getting a professional web designer to look under W.A.W.'s hood (for example at the shitshow I call top level menus).
No seriously.

I can't ever fully thank the few who donate so that the rest might get more and better content or express just how much that few dollars means. Right now, my efforts average out to somewhere between one and two dollars an hour on a really good day, so even the smallest donations are like mana from heaven. However, as insufficient as any such gesture is, and however "gauche" a rewards tier might seem without keychains, tote bags, and weekends in Napa, I still want to try to let everyone know in some feeble way how much you mean to me.

What your donation supports:

Though your donation may be to Writing About Writing, what you're really supporting is an entire range of my creative efforts. Of course there's Writing About Writing, but there's also Social Justice Bard (which had a rocky launch because of surprise cancer but is getting back on its feet as of this writing). There are other blogs I write for less frequently like Ace of Geeks. I also maintain a Facebook Page for Writing About Writing filled with goofy memes and puns in addition to the daily posts and cross posts. And a lot of my proto-thoughts, social justice bard test balloons and daily shenanigans happen on my public Facebook Wall–strictly speaking I don't expect anyone to donate to me Facebooking but there is a measure of my creative energy that goes in that direction. I will also make sure that W.A.W. is a "home base" with links that go to any other public writing I do.

Also please don't forget that 10% of every donation goes to a local children's literacy charity. (We're doing Oakland Reads right now.) 

Another ten percent also goes into blog improvements, which will mean editing and website construction when there's enough income to do so, but for now gives W.A.W. a very modest promotional budget to advertise some of our "greatest hits" on Facebook, gain followers, and expand our modest audience.

Unfortunately I've really had to ratchet up the thresholds for various rewards this year. This is no reflection on any sort of shifting awesomeness threshold, but simply one of my time and energy away from blogging and fiction. Especially being on the front line with supporting someone through cancer. We have a very large number of smaller donations, and while each of you is absolutely wonderful and awesome, if I stopped and wrote a thank you note to everyone, it wouldn't be long before that was all I really had time to do.

The Agape Love of Ongoing donations- Of course we love any donation we ever get from anyone...ever. It's always a treat that I don't feel like I deserve and a pleasure and an honor. That can't be underscored enough. One-time donations make up over a half of our entire revenue here.

However, ongoing donations help us in a very particular way. They help us budget for things since it is an income we know we can (at least tentatively) count on month after month. For example, ongoing donations were what helped us drop a teaching class each week (down to one), hire a housekeeper, and get a sitter to tag in for a few hours each morning, all of which have made more writing possible. The only reason I was able to keep anything going while we dealt with the cancer diagnosis is because of the help we paid for from ongoing donations. I'm going to need to crunch some numbers to see if I can afford to take off summer school this year (which if you've followed the blog, you know has been my nemesis for three years running), but if it is possible, it will be because of ongoing donations.  It's less like a surprise or a gift and a tiny bit more like reliable income. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a smaller recurring amount will help us out more than a large periodic donation that we never knew was coming and don't know if will ever come again.

It's very easy to make an ongoing donation. Just click on the Paypal link the same as you would to make a one-time donation, but instead, click the ticky box to make it recurring.

Right there in the middle....
Yessssssssssss.

Rewards....kinda:  I honestly wish I had some Writing About Writing coffee mugs and gym bags to make this part a little less ridiculous.

$1.99 or less - While I will never turn down any donation here (because I'm a starving, debased artist with no integrity or something), I will just let you know that Paypal will be taking 30 cents per transaction, so denominations this low lose 15%+ of their value. I will make significantly less if you donated a dollar a month than if you just saved up and donated ten dollars a year.

Up to $100.00- All donors at this level will be included in a post at the end of each year thanking each donor for their patronage and support*. I will use only your first name as it shows up on your Paypal receipt. If you would like your full name to appear, would prefer to be completely anonymous, or be referred to by a pseudonym please either mention so on your Paypal "note" or send me an email at chris.brecheen@gmail.com and let me know that you'd prefer anonymity/psudonymity/fullonymity.

Also, I will shoot you a quick note right away thanking you and letting you know I got your donation.

$100.01-$200.00-  All of the above.  In addition, I will send you a small personal message of thanks, including a few details about what's going on in my world and the projects I'm hoping to get started on next.

$200.01-$300.00-  All of the above. In addition, I will pick your brain about any updates you might like to see coming up in the future, and I will try to expedite that article in my mental queue.(Obviously this is more of a preference favoring than actual creative control, and I can't make any guarantees about time tables.)

$300.01-$499.99- All of the above. In addition I will ask you about anything you generally would like to see more of and try to work that in more frequently.  (Again, I can't make creative or time-table guarantees, but I am likely to at least give it a try for a while.)

$500.00+ All of the above. In addition if you approve (and only if you approve), I will give you a shout out on the blog right away. (This can be as large as your own praise-singing post or as small as a line of thanks slipped in before another article depending on what you are most comfortable with--the point is to thank you vocally, not embarrass the shit out of you.) As with the end of the year post, I will only use your first name unless you inform me you would prefer to be anonymous or have your whole name used. This is in no way intended to put you on the spot or cover you in embarrassing glory if you don't want it; it is simply the only way I have to really thank those who have been so incredibly supportive.

The Great Patron Muses-  There are a few great patron muses (but always room for one more). They have given more to Writing About Writing than I can possibly thank. While blistering hot oral sex or being part of a groupie threesome would certainly qualify one for P.M. status, most of the Great Patron Muses have either donated over and over month after month and/or have donated huge amounts and/or have done something totally amazeballs like show up to a convention wearing homemade Writing About Writing t-shirts. In addition to everything above, I have promised the Patron Muses that should I write a zombie apocalypse story (and there's definitely one rolling around in my melon) characters with their names will be making it to the helipad.


*While I would honestly and sincerely love to get back to every single donor with a personal message, there are just so many small donors, that trying to keep up with them has taken entire days of my writing time and left me with much less time to write.  Please know that I sincerely appreciate every one of you; however, I hope that you'll understand if my thanks in this case is continuing to devote almost all my spare time to bringing you more content.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fortune Cookie Wisdom For Writers V

I felt a lot better about my grammar choices (not my mistakes, but my choices) that were disagreeable to others after I witnessed a 5700 page argument online, complete with references to Hitler and death threats, about which way the toilet paper is supposed to go.


You know, the longer I do this, the more I think the best advice I could possibly give an artist is not to be too good for the baby step--the tiny bit of progress. Expecting that one big pay day is, I believe, holding way too many people with way too much talent back from stuttering forward and actually making progress.

Let's be absolutely clear. I don't "hate" NaNoWriMo. I just think it would be a lot better for most writers if it was only about 500-1000 words a day, and went on for another 11 months.

If people got half as excited for National Novel Revision Month, we'd be onto something.

The trick to sounding really smart as a writer is not in knowing a bunch of things. It's just in knowing where to look and how to search. Because when you're writing, you always have time to look.

The London Philharmonic practiced that song they just played like fifty times before they performed it. You can do one fucking revision of your novel.

The worst offense lit snobs make when making the claim that genre work is crap is that they re-label good examples of genre writing so that it can be acceptable. Science fiction becomes "futurism." Fantasy becomes "literary fantasy" or "magical realism" (depending on its setting in time). While some of their other behavior is merely unconscious elitism, this maneuver actually requires deliberate thought. Though not morally equivalent, this is behaviorally almost identical to how racists say Will Smith isn't "really" black. It's disgusting for such well-read people to be so oblivious of the trappings of rank discrimination and prejudice, and they should stop.


NaNo don'ts: Don't even think you won't need to rewrite. Don't call yourself a novelist. Don't ask anyone to read that first version.


The sooner you learn to accept feedback that points out your writing's errors, the sooner your writing will go from "eh" to "okay." The sooner you go from accepting feedback to wanting it and seeking it out, you will go from "okay," to competent or possibly even good.  You will not get to good without an editorial voice. Every writer needs one.

If you don't believe that you will be a better writer from practice, ask most any writer what they think of the writing they did five years ago and watch their reaction. It is only a writer's unconscionably massive, planetoid-sized ego that allows them to think that now they have truly reached the pinnacle of their ability and no further practice can be of use.

The problem with successful authors who tell hopeful writers that they have to spend a lot of time not making money before they can make money is that the usual response is "Great.  I'm already not making money!"  What they should be saying is that you have to spend a lot of time working really hard and not making money. There's the rub.

The dream of creating the final product is what drives many to writing (or indeed any art), but if there's one thing that separates the true artist from the desultory dreamer it is a love of the process for its own sake--the mistakes, the cutting feedback, the long hours, the not-quite-right hair pulling of it all.

I need more fortune cookie wisdom!!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Demon's Rubicon By Chris Brecheen(Part 3)

One seriously fucking kick-ass game.
A Demon's Rubicon (Part 3)
By Chris Brecheen

Return to Part 1
Return to Part 2

Mother would not forever stay my immaculate protector. Life is like that. The inevitable moment where every child realizes their parents are all too human was still out there and I was not to escape our rendezvous.

Our culture has a phrase that I particularly can't abide by: "Lost innocence."

Innocence is not lost. You don't play soldiers with your friends on the last day of school (summer stretched out ahead of you like a boundless promise) set up intricate camouflaged forts, finally make a daring raid (after boredom sets in from building defenses), do a spectacular and dramatic death roll when you are gunned down by Matt Defronzo's unseen machine gun nest, and later discover that, like your keys, your innocence must have slipped out of your pocket somewhere along the banks of the creek.

Innocence is taken.

Perhaps by slender, feminine hands unaware of the effect they're having. Perhaps by gentle, liver-spotted hands that think that they are doing you a favor. Perhaps by the bone fingers of figure in a dark robe holding a scythe. And perhaps even by thick, calloused hands better suited to ripping potatoes from the ground. But regardless, innocence is yanked from tiny hands that try futilely to hold on. 

"Mom," I asked at eight. "Is it really you? Do you drop the presents after I go to bed, and then eat the cookies yourself?"

Mom nodded soberly, her lips pressed together so tightly they were white.

Wait. What?  I was right? I was just throwing spaghetti at the wall. Two hours before I had been talking about how much better trains would be if they could fly and Tyrannosaurus Rexes with wings. How could she do that to me? I was only eight. She was supposed to say, "Why that's the silliest thing I've ever heard!" until I was......at least ten. Worst of all, this revelation led to a total cascade failure of pleasant fictions. Within minutes the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy joined Santa behind the chemical shed of my imagination, soberly facing down the steely-eyed firing squad of harsh truth as they passed one of The Easter Bunny's cigarettes between them for one last long drag each.

"Well boys," The Tooth Fairy said, "It's been an honor."

They declined the blindfolds. They had more dignity than that.

There was a lot that wasn't awesome about my life when I was eight. My parents were in graduate school and couldn't afford much more than Iowa City's version of a ghetto. Our slumlord's unwillingness to fix the air conditioner was giving me heat rash. My second grade teacher Mrs. Blanchard thought I was a ringleader of troublemakers and that the solution was to keep me in a cardboard box called "The Timeout Box" permanently. Everyone who was not my mother wanted to get me on this new drug called Ritalin. And my step-dad kept taking my mom into her room and locking the door--it was like they didn't want me to know what was going on in there or something. Sometimes she would even cry out, but I couldn't get in there to stop him from hurting her.

These things pale in comparison to the day that Santa died. Innocence wasn't lost that day. It was torn from my hands as I screamed "Noooooooo!"like a character in a bad movie.


Sometimes innocence isn't taken by one set of hands but by uncountable invisible multitudes.  Each takes only the tiniest bit--barely enough to notice--but the end result is the same. I never saw whose hands went to work between the Halloween of my tenth and eleventh birthday. It was just as if that innocence had evaporated. But in the span of one year, it was gone.

When I was ten I marched my cat costume through the Halloween parade.  I held my head high, and may have even tilted my chin upward the tiniest bit, so I could gaze ever-so-slightly down my nose at all the non-cats out there. I stood triumphantly in the contest ring, not understanding that I would never win.  I didn’t know that it was old and un-fancy costume--twenty dollars of material to make some ears and a tail. I didn't know it wasn't much more than last year's black clothes.  I didn't know it didn’t fit quite right.

That night I ran with my friend Josh through the streets of his neighborhood, gathering a dragon's hoard of candy, which would be systematically consumed in fewer than half a dozen sittings (to the horror of my parents).  We laughed, and sometimes even literally whooped, as we dashed from one house to the next, each interlude of street a gleeful new race to the next oasis of spoils. I had no idea I was wearing the ratty costume of "a poor kid."

The next year I knew.

We moved to Calabasas, an opulent neighborhood east of the San Fernando Valley.  Of course Calabasasans (that's totally what they're called) always say that it’s the people in Thousand Oaks that are really stuck up, and Thousand Oakers like to point at Agoura Hills. I believe in Agoura Hills they feel they are down to earth and it is the people in Oak Park who are really snobs.

There's probably some metaphor about humanity to be found there....or something.

Pretty much once you moved east of Woodland Hills, it started to smell like money.  My parents had come for the school system—having moved as fast as they could out of our Canoga Park apartment after my friend Jonathan gleefully recounted the tale of how we watched a man get beat up in the park. My mother could ignore the tiny little baggies I ran past in the alley behind our apartments, the syringes crunching under my sneakers while I played Commando Warriors, or the men who stood very close together and exchanged small brown bags for finger-thick rolls of cash in the park across the street where I played every day, but this was just too much.

"And there was this one hit where the blood went flying through the air and the guy totally screamed!" Jonathan recounted, eyes wide and gleaming.

"Mom," I asked, not at all sharing Jonathan's enthusiasm. "Do you think he died?" I couldn't eat that night, and I kept asking about the fate of the stranger who I'd watched get pummeled.

I wouldn't understand until much later how intimately connected this recount was with the fact that I spent the next weekend bored out of my mind while my parents looked at apartments in a new neighborhood. And so the Canoga Park chapter of my life closed, and we moved to Calabasas, but we were not made of Calabasas money. We lived in a run of condominiums, that (literally) looked up the hill upon multi-million dollar homes.  We were…poor.

We weren't really poor, you understand. Actually, we were doing quite well. We had a personal computer back in the eighties, I had private trumpet lessons, and I never had to skip out on a field trip--no matter how spendy they became. I had grandparents that took me shopping for school clothes every year, and each Christmas I made out like a bandit. 

What was actually happening is that I was learning one of the most fundamental lessons of socioeconomics right there in middle school. That it doesn't matter how much you make absolutely, but only relatively.  If we were making that our Calabasas money in a trailer park in Kansas, we would have been the trailer with the swanky bling light strings, the three cars parked in the carport, the herb garden on the porch, and the vertical blinds.

However, one’s sense of poverty or wealth is entirely relative.  In Calabasas, I was the one living on the other side of the tracks--or in our case a man-made, landscape-engineered brook that wound through the community.  Though it was the nicest place we'd ever lived in, we had an entire bedroom we didn't need, and in almost any other place on Earth these condos would be outrageously swank, in Calabasas, we were the have-nots.

The other kids had far more money to spend on costumes or stay at home mothers eager to flex their crafting muscles and sew up intricate outfits for their kids.  Their unique and detailed costumes could never be matched for 29.95 plus tax. I could tell my costume was a rag.  I could see the difference. I decided I didn’t want to march in the parade. I watched the contest from a distance and witnessed a perfectly detailed home-made bottle of aspirin--her legs jutting from the bottom, arms from the side, and her head poking out of the neck complete with a perfectly rendered child proof cap affixed to her head with a puffy thing that looked exactly like the little ball of cotton.

That night, as I slogged through the neighborhood with my friend Brandon—a friend so tall and lanky that we looked like a comedy team when he stood next to me; 4'10 and already stocky—I wondered what the affluent people handing us full-sized candy bars off of tastefully arranged platters were thinking about my cheap costume. I begged Brandon to trick or treat in my condominium complex. I told him that it was because the doors were closer together and we could get ten times as much candy that way, but really I just wanted to get out from under the gaze of the people in their dazzling costumes who came to the carved oaken doors that we pounded on, and looked at me like I was some strange bug that was not indigenous to the region.

To this day I hate Halloween. I hate looking for a costume. I hate that sense that I don't belong. I hate the feeling that my costume is being judged.

My family moved away from Calabasas during my last year of middle school. I worked hard to hate them for uprooting me from an established clique at a time of social awkwardness, mostly because I didn't have a lot of other really good reasons to hate them, but I was at the age where I had to come up with something.

When it comes to unforgivable childhood trauma, you have to work with what you've got.

Honestly though, I think they saved me a lot of grief. The real stratification was about to start. Calabasas is the kind of community that to this day could be the setting of The Outsiders (and I wasn't a particularly good greaser). Many hard lessons were coming down that pipe, and my awareness of my crummy costume was only the first of them.  I was only just starting to notice how many mom smiles froze solid or went saccharine when I mentioned that I lived "in the condos down on Park Grenada"--usually right before that friend and I stopped hanging out. I remember girls, so excited I had asked them out that their voices trembled, telling me they would call me right back with an answer. Hours later the phone would finally ring and a completely austere voice would inform me of a newfound sense that things would never work. On the hills of Calabasas was the kind of wealth most only see in movies.  The “stay-away-from-my-daughter” kind of wealth, or the“they-aren’t-like-us” kind of wealth.

My parents whisked me away before the worst of it, but I had a bad taste before I left. A taste I would never forget.


I remember the exact moment my mother became a human being. Before that she was simply Mom--a celestial being free of humanity who existed only for me. When she slapped me at the top of the stairs, a little too close to the edge, and my young body went tumbling down with staccato thuds, it was not because of any mistake she had made. Moms couldn’t make mistakes. 

But my awareness of my mother’s fallibility crashed upon me suddenly.  I’ve read about so many who look back and realize they weren’t sure when they stopped seeing their parents this way--they weren’t sure when or how it had happened.  But I can remember the exact moment.

The game was called Dark Castle, and it was the cutting edge of 1986 Macintosh technology.  

In a world of Nintendo’s barely-better-than-Atari amorphous blobs that shot other amorphous blobs with little squares or triangles, Dark Castle was as good as it got.  Duncan looked like a person. You could tell the difference between the rats and the bats. And the Dark Knight really did look bored as he flicked empty chalices at you (until you got to his level, he pulled out his sword, and the shit got real). There were no blips and blops as sound effects.  When Duncan threw rocks at the rats, they squeaked, and he distinctly said “Yeah!” when he picked up an elixir, or a bag of rocks. Far from the electronic pings of midi files, the squish noise when the got hit with a rock sounded like a stick of butter falling onto linoleum.

I wanted Dark Castle.  I wanted it bad.  

I struck a deal with my mom. Well, technically, my mom struck a deal with me.  “Get your math grade to a B," she said, "and I’ll buy you that game."

“Promise?” I asked.

"I promise," she said.

Math and I have always had a rocky relationship (even long before, and long after Mrs. Franklin became giddy at my failure).  When we finally parted ways at thirty-five, after an oral report on fractals for my Math For Liberal Arts class, we agreed that we were better as friends.  Distant friends. No need to call...really.

Math sent me a friend request on Facebook, but I ignored it.

My mom was not above using rank bribery on a thirteen year old to motivate him. While I enjoyed the stacks of books we were given to read in my English class and could be pressed to do my Humanities homework with only typical teen-age resistance (and I even found science interesting enough to stay pretty engaged), math homework was a particular kind of torture. Each night was an excruciating battle royale between the will of a teen-ager with crippling A.D.D. and a passionately anti-Ritalin mother.

Despite her best efforts, thirteen year olds are increasingly difficult for working parents to truly dominate. I couldn't really be grounded if they weren't home to know that I was watching TV or at Eugene and Eric's house. So nothing really managed to get through to me about the importance of math. I failed out of the high math class within one semester, and I was well on my way to failing out of the regular math too.  If I didn’t pull out of my tailspin I would be, in my mother’s words “sitting in high school remedial math with the guys who take shop.”

Shop sounded kind of cool, actually—power tools made fun noises, and they could probably teach me how to wear leather and lurk behind the D building in a way that girls would be unable to resist. But no power tool could make a realistic sounding “yeah” when it picked up an elixir the way Duncan could. I came home each night thinking of Dark Castle as I did my math homework. I even showed my work, despite the fact that I could just see what the answer was, and this was obviously oppression of the highest order. For ten weeks, I honestly tried.

It was, perhaps, my worst report card ever.  Well at least until my freshman year of high school when I actually started failing classes. But until that moment, I had never gotten a D.

Social studies, science, and history had all fallen due to my allergy to homework. I had been able to cruise through elementary school without really doing homework, and in middle school my bad habit chickens were coming home to do their cliche roosting. Social studies=C. Science=D.  I was even getting a C in English--a subject I never got less than an A in before or since. But shining like a beacon in the middle of the report card was my B- in math. 

I had done it. I had earned my game.  

“I’m not buying you that game,” my mother said when I showed her my report card, handing it to her at the dining room table, unsure whether I should be ashamed or triumphant.  “Look at this--it's terrible!”

“You said you’d buy it if I got my math grade up.” I said. “I got it up.”

“The rest went down.”

"P.E. didn't!" I argued.  Thirteen year olds have a poor grasp of when it's a good idea to be semantic.

“You have to keep things at a B level, Chris.  One C is okay, but D’s are unacceptable and this is barely a C average.”

“A C average was never part of the deal!” I said.

“I shouldn't have had to say it was,” she said. "It was assumed."

“You can’t do that,” I said, lip quivering.  “You promised!”

And then she said it.  The words that shattered my world: “I don’t care what I promised.”

Betrayed!

We see our parents as perfect, flawless, incapable of error.  They stroll about--when they’re not on Earth attending to us--with the gods. Mother was not one of the roles this woman fulfilled as part of a diverse adult life--it was all she was. Even as testosterone hits my bloodstreams and I begin to rebel, I had the strangest sense that I was committing sacrilege--that I was some sort of fallen angels at war with perfection; not because she was flawed, but because I was.  That a mother could be mercurial, fallible, maybe even capricious (like humans tend to be) is something that hadn’t really dawned on me.  But with those words, light broke over the eastern sky.  

My mother had broken her word.  

I pouted.  Glory but I pouted.  I pouted the week away and went into the weekend. It was a thing of legend.  A.D.D. has always made it hard for me to hold grudges.  I get distracted about them just like I do about everything else.  But not that week.  That weekend I was Hercules of attitude.  That weekend I remembered to brood like I never had before. I could not be broken by my favorite meals or my favorite shows or an offer to go to see a movie.  I scowled.  I glared.  I tromped.  And by Sunday night, my mother had had enough of me.

“Fine, I’ll get you your damned game,” she said.  “Is that what you want?”

“Yes,” I said, ignoring the protocols of a guilt trip.

It was her turn to smolder and brood as we drove down the hill to the computer store in the village, but I didn’t care.  She went in after checking the name of the game with me, and I waited in the car, humming.  She threw the game at me when she came back to the car.  “I hope you’re happy.”

I was.

I looked at the game in its shiny box.  A laminated cover with an outside shot of the Dark Castle on it. My lips lifted at the edge.  Duncan could learn to throw fireballs instead of rocks if he could get to Merlin.  My finger traced the edges of the cardboard and I read the back of the box over and over again.

“You really just care about that game, don’t you?” She spat. "Not anything else. Not your grades. Not school. Not your future. Just that stupid game."

“I earned it.” I said.

“No you really didn’t.” she said.  

"Yes I really did," I said, frustration building. 

“Your grades were terrible," she said. "You don't deserve it."

I said something after that that was uncharacteristic for a 13 year old.  It was wise in its own way, and years later mother and I both agreed that it communicated more than I’d ever intended at the time.  “I do deserve it.  Ground me off of the computer for my grades,” I yelled across the car at her. “But you keep your promise! You promised, Mom!”

A tear had slipped out from my the corner of my left eye. I had never been so righteously angry in my life. I'm not even sure I knew what that meant.  "You promised," I repeated.

My mom looked like she’d been struck.  Twenty years later I wonder if she didn’t realize that the illusion had been shattered.  Or maybe for the first time she saw me as a person as well.  Not as a child, a responsibility, a burden--no matter how welcome--but as a small human being with feelings that could be hurt and trust that could be betrayed.

“Okay,” she said. “You’re grounded.”

I nodded, sniffing up the snot from my nose.  Fair was fair.  “Can I play it on Saturdays?” I asked.  (This was often a grounding exception in our household.)

“Saturdays,” she said.   “But that’s it until you have a C average.”

I turned back to the sleek, laminated box and smiled.  Saturday was six days away, but I could wait.  I was sure I’d sneak some time in before then, anyway. Kent didn't get home until six on Tuesday, and mom never got home before seven or eight.  I ran my fingers over the glossy cover.  It was about as close a thing to a victory as a 13 year-old has. 

And yet I paid a heavy price. I would never see my mom in that celestial light again. After that she was a wonderful woman: a fighter, an activist, a wife, a mother, a full time bank vice-president who worked a second shift, a better parent than I gave her credit for at the time. But after that day...always human.

[© 2013  All Rights Reserved]

Continue to Part 4 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Remote Milestone

Before this blog, it never even occurred to me that a milestone
was once literally a stone to mark the miles.
I made myself a promise when I started this blog.

Well, I made myself two promises, but you probably aren't interested in the one about the brie cheese and the day old carp jerky.

It's been almost two years now, and way back in February of 2012, I made myself a promise that I wouldn't get "stuck" blogging.  I was going to give blogging a serious try and I wouldn't hold anything back in the attempt, but it wasn't going to be a thing I did endlessly with no progress. I wouldn't be one of those losers forever gnawing at the same bone and claiming that some day my ship would be coming in. (The writer versions of these types are particularly self-delusional and pathetic.)

No, I would have something to show for my efforts by February 2014--two years from my start date--or I would focus much much more writing attention on something else.  I'd probably still blog, but something more along the line of once every week or two.

I just didn't want to be one of those writers that kept spinning my wheels trying the same thing for decades. I see them submitting stories over and over to no avail or forever retooling their novels to submit yet again, and it breaks my heart. More than that, it makes me really wary of the fine line between not giving up and not knowing that it's time to give up. Writing is very much a world where tenacity merits out, but tenacity alone isn't enough. It must accompany some measure of skill and creativity.  It's really hard for a writer to know what the difference is between not trying hard enough and just totally sucking.

There is a point at which writers need to face that they must either do something drastic to get much better at their craft or decide that writing is just for their own personal enjoyment, but that they are never going to carve out a living.  I needed a point at which I evaluated whether to "stay the course" like all the follow-your-dreams cliches, or if I should "know when to say when" like all the know-your-limits cliches. The choosing of cliches upon which to live one's life is a serious matter.

I even set a goal, so that evaluation would be objective: $100 per month.  

Technically, I also threw in an "and/or one blistering groupie threesome per quarter" clause, which I figured was imminently reasonable since supportive girlfriend has already committed to being one third of such an event. You'd think being two thirds there would make the rest a cake walk, but it turns out that last third is the real doozy.

A hundred dollars a month is not enough to pay the bills. It's not enough to live on. It's not enough to justify the 30+ hour weeks of writing I do to get the blog content out to the world.  (For the hours I put in, it would be, in fact, less than a dollar an hour.)  But compared to the $.05 per week I was making back then, it would represent real, genuine progress. I thought it was a good amount. It seemed to me that it was a number that crossed the Rubicon between "hobby at which I happen to earn some money" and "(extremely) labor intensive side line job that no self respecting Malaysian sweat shop worker would accept."

Because that's totally where I want to be!

I watched that two-year mark getting closer and closer.  February 2014.  I even had an app counting down the days.  Slowly, inexorably, the it approached.  18 months. 1 year.  200 days. 16 weeks. A penny every few days became one a day.  A penny a day became a few cents a day. A few cents a day became ten or fifteen but with the occasional day of a dollar or two. A high school friend (whose inspiration is matched only by her generosity) began to earmark ten dollars a month for Writing About Writing. A few dollars here. A couple more there. I always felt tremendously grateful, but it simply wasn't getting anywhere close to $100.

Now here we are three months from the date, and I can already tell you that it's not going to matter...

The world of snarky writing advice sheds a single tear....
Because I've hit that number three months running!! And I've hit it five months out of the last seven. And unless something goes very wrong, I'm going to keep on hitting it.

It's always from different combinations of revenue streams.  Sometimes it's a birthday present donation. Sometimes it's a bunch of little donations that manage to add up. Once it was a reader and friend--who hates paypal--pressing a twenty dollar bill into my hand at a social function over my objections.  Most of the time it is more miracle than anything--a reaction to one particular article, a fluke day of four small donations, or an 11th hour ad click that tips me over the edge.  Often it has a lot to do with The Patron/Muses and their awesome awesomeness. (And I will be adding a new one soon to that list.) But somehow it just keeps happening. Some synthesis of events ends up stumbling over the milestone. And while $100/month is not even starving Bohemian money, it's progress enough to stay the course.

So despite some of the best attempts of "Anonymous" to make me cry, I'll be sticking around. Oh there will be new goals--new points in the future where I will have to admit that I'm never going to save up for retirement on a few hundred dollars a month or that hookers and blow require more than a four figure salary.  And perhaps my pen is destined to be hung up one day. But for the time being, it seems you're stuck with me.

Thank you all so much for reading, and for many of you who have taken a chance on me by donating your hard earned money. I can't tell you enough how much you inspire me.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Internal Correspondence


[So I want to apologize for the insane article yesterday.  We needed to let ourselves get hacked in order to track who has been piggy backing the signal to deliver bad advice to all of you.  I got this e-mail today, and it seems kind of relevant to several things that have been going on here at Writing About Writing for about the last eight months or so.]

Boss:  

So I have good news and bad news about our Mystery Guest Blogger.  Actually I have bad news and epically bad news and some kind of wonky weird news that's mostly bad but also just sort of alarming, and not so much good news, but I guess some of it is okay.

[Writer's note: That seems about right for status quo around here.]

First of all, I was able to track the location of the poster. And...um...well, that's about where the pool of good news dries up. The post was submitted from within the Writing About Writing compound, and before you ask, it was not from the basement.  Your evil clone couldn't have done this. (And for the record, I'm still not sure I'm entirely clear on why he's "evil" since the only real difference between you two....at ALL seems to be whether or not you love or hate NaNoWriMo--a decidedly non-moral event.  Seriously, he even makes the same bad puns as you during conversation.)  That means it was someone on the upper levels. One of the guest bloggers, someone from R&D--which as you know means pretty much just ME since the budget cuts--or one of the staff.  Or I guess that weird cheese guy on the third floor.

[Writer's note- That guy was here when we moved in.  And I still don't know where he gets the cheese from. I really don't trust him.]

So that's how he was able to get past our firewall encryption--he was posting from inside W.A.W. Also, there appears to be a trojan that has sequestered and "misfiled" a significant amount of internal communication.  I'm pretty sure I can eventually dig out the information it has dead zoned, but it is going to take some time.  I was able to recover some of the recent cached e-mails, and much of what I've seen is from your guest bloggers begging you to stop sending Cedric to beat the shit out of them for articles they sent you months ago.  Leela Bruce seems to be able to fight him off, but Sir Guy Goodman St.White insists that the minute he's sober enough to find the exit, he's out of here.

[Writer's note- When did this happen?  Why the hell won't people tell me about the shit that's going on in my own blog?]

I'm working to get it all cleaned up, but it will be at least a few days.

[Writer's note- Oh, I do hope it doesn't interfere with your experiments into space time to bring your dead girlfriend back to life.  Because that would be a shame.]

-William "The SciGuy" Nie

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Publish Your NaNoWriMo Novel Right Away

The absolute worst most epic, amazeballs advice to jet-propel your NaNoWriMo submission straight to publication faster than Adam Sandler green-lights an unfunny shitshow.
 
So you're writing during NaNo because NaNo is awesome and you're awesome for doing it. However, unlike this other bang bus full of epicphail losers, your novel is not only going to get picked up, but it's going to rocket to the top of the charts. Not because you worked any harder, but because you know the secrets to unlocking your the full talent of your creative genius.

They say genius and talent can't be taught. But they only say that because they don't want you learning the secrets--which I know and will share with you. Your NaNo book is going to get published because you have the inside track to absolute unadulterated awesome.

First of all, I assume that you have everything you need to get started and that you're not working with sub-standard materials. If you do that, it really won't matter how hard you work or how many words you write per day; it's just going to turn out crap. Shitty equipment produces shitty writing. Next, I hope you've taken some of my ongoing advice on how to be famous.  If you're not doing these things, you could have a time machine and a copy of the complete Harry Potter series, but you're not going to be publishing a novel this November. However if you have knocked these "pre-flight" requirements out, you're ready to write a bestseller.

And what better time to write a bestseller than NaNoWriMo?

So here's the best advice for how to actualize and maximize your potential and turn your NaNoWriMo into pure gold. You may not have your book on the shelf for a couple of months, but follow my advice, and you will be able to spend your massive advance on Christmas shopping.

Seriously, I hope your friends like Rolexes.


1- Don't worry about your health. It's not like thirty days is REALLY the long haul. You can risk caffeine psychosis and heart problems between now and then. Hallucinations are good for your creativity!  If it were legal, I might even recommend crystal meth or cocaine. You know....IF IT WERE LEGAL--catch my drift? (~wink wink~)  Nothing rocks your creative casbah like a little nose candy. Just ask Stephen King! You want to be like Stephen King, don't you? Besides...who gets hooked on drugs after only thirty days of steady use, right? You'll be fine.

I mean....IF it were legal, of COURSE.  ~artless whistle~

2- Make NaNo work for you as you work for NaNo. If you are not the kind of writer who can hammer out writing at a fevered pace, like 1667 words a day, stop not being that kind of writer and be AWESOME instead. Buck up. This isn't National Whining About Your Novel Month. But don't worry....  If you pull this off like I'm telling you, it will be the only real work you have to do.

Until you're ready to write your NEXT bestseller, of course.

3- Don't set aside time. The worst thing you could do is plan and schedule and turn this into some banal chore. That will just sap all the joy and enjoyment right out of the whole thing and leave you creatively bankrupt when you need it most. For fuck's sake, you're an artist. If it doesn't feel like cloud surfing on a rainbow, then your writing is just going to be crap.

The best thing you can do is to spend a lot of time thinking about your novel, outlining your novel, researching minutiae details for your novel, character sketches, and all kinds of things that aren't writing but put you in the mood to write. Then surf the wave when the mood seizes you.

4- Do not stray from the path.  NaNo has a lot of rules that you might be tempted to break.  Don't. Art isn't about individual expression; it's about following the rules to the letter. Follow the NaNo regimen strictly, and you will erupt into a world of endless possibilities.

I mean if you want some freeform bullshit soup, why would you do NaNo at all?  Just go play with the letter magnets on your fucking refrigerator and let the adults make some serious art, okay?

5- Be vocal about what you're doing, especially to professional writers. You of all people know the power of words. Don't water down what you're accomplishing here. Tell everyone (whether they ask or not) that you're writing a novel. Put stress on the word novel and say it multiple times. Work the word novel into conversations.

If someone tells you that they're a writer, become even more enthusiastic about how you are writing a novel.  There is a very good chance that they will become so blown away by your sheer universe-altering will about your novel, that they will probably introduce you to their agent. If you say it, you give it life. So talk about your novel as much as you can. Novel.

6- It's okay to stop after two weeks. If writing is starting to feel like work instead of creative fairies flitting about on your nips, you're doing it wrong. This isn't about discipline or effort. This is about creative genius. If you keep trying to write after it starts to turn into a chore, you're just going to write a bunch of uninspired crap.

By two weeks, you've got the main chunk of the beginning done, and any publisher is going to be able to see that it's absolutely genius.  Don't worry about writing the entire thing out completely.  That's for later. Once you have the advance, you can get to work on the rest of it--or better yet, the publisher will probably assign you a ghost writer who you can just describe what's going to happen and they will do the tough writing part.

AFTER

1- First of all, you should not revise. Revision is for people who didn't write a good story in the first place.  You already know your story is awesome. A lot of people talk about revising their story, but you can tell that deep down they know they've struck mental gold. That's what the team of editors that your publisher will assign you is going to do.

2- Don't even worry about that polish. "Polish" is just code for "I don't have confidence in my abilities." Polish is code for "I didn't write an awesome story." Are those things true? If they are, stop wasting your time reading this article, and go play with your coloring books.

3- Submit your novel right away.  The rush of NaNoWriMo manuscripts is about to hit publishers everywhere. You don't want to get caught in this rush of losers. Even though your awesomeness will stand out, anyone can get a bad break if they're manuscript is in a stack of a hundred.  So how do you avoid getting lumped in with a bunch of plebs' sub-par manuscripts?

Submit yours first.

Not revising and not polishing isn't just about having confidence in how awesome you are. It's about beating all those losers to the punch. If they spend two or three days editing their draft, that's two or three days earlier that you will get in before them. Is some publisher going to pass on your bitchen idea because you forgot a comma? I don't think so.

4- If you must, hire a revision service. Okay if for some reason you think it might just be a little too messy--you want to give it a quick once over before you fire that bad boy off, spend a bunch of money on one of those "novel prep" services instead of doing it yourself.  By now you should be used to the idea that serious writing comes with serious monetary investment, and scrimping won't get you anywhere. Spending money means it will be better.

Edit it yourself??  Don't be silly.

5- Announce yourself.  Be sure to tell the publisher you send your novel to that you just wrote it for NaNoWriMo, and that it is so good you sent it immediately without even a revision.  They will respect and admire your candor.

As will I, my impassioned pen wielding warrior. As. Will. I.

6- Most importantly...take a break. You've had a tough month. Time to put your feet up and let those creative batteries recharge. Take a month or two at least...probably longer.  You want to be ready when the next lightning strike of inspiration hits. True genius comes in fits and starts.

Follow these simple steps, and your dreams of having publishers shit themselves and fall over each other to publish you will come true.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Poll: What is the BEST Speculative Fiction?

The poll is up.  Vote for the best (non sci-fi, non fantasy, non horror) speculative fiction.  

The poll is ready for the BEST Novel in the Horror Genre.

The poll itself is at the bottom of the left hand "widgets" (the menus, ads, share buttons, and such that run down the left side of the screen).   

Everyone gets three (3) votes.

I took all the entries that got at least one second--preferring to have a bigger poll to a smaller one. However, since the size of the poll was pretty big already, I made a pompous, asshole gatekeeper decision and took Sandman off the poll. While I would never say that graphic novels are not "real art" or some bourgeoisie bullshit like that, I do think it is a different medium, and even if you're talking about the writing, it has different conventions and aesthetics.  Apples and oranges, basically.

What I think would be really cool is if someone wanted to do a guest blogging article (or series of articles) on writing for comic books and graphic novels.

About half the nominations got no second vote and didn't make it to the poll.  There were some really good books there (including my own nomination, Sputnik Sweetheart).  You should definitely check them out if you haven't already.

The poll will be up for the next 20 days.  Please vote for your favorites, and get your friends to vote too.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

7 Bits of Advice To Get You Through Week Two of NaNoWriMo

It's a shocker, but there are fewer than three weeks left.
(See what I did there?)
The second week of NaNoWriMo is the toughest but here are some ways to help you slog through.

The Best of the Twins here.

So you ignored Chris's Stupid Ass Haterade Advice (as well you should) and started up on NaNo. Now you're in week two, and shit just got real. The bloom is off the rose. The glitter is gone. The honeymoon is over. The cliches have come home to roost. The first day you woke up, punched out 2000 words, and thought to yourself "what the fuck is all the fuss about? CAKE!" Day two you spent some time staring at the cursor, but it still got done in a couple of hours. "No problem. Totes doable. Cake." you said. Day three there was that...fucking scene. Oh you got done, but it took like four hours and someone in your life nagged you for the entire last hour to do that thing you said you'd take care of. "I can do this. C....cake." you said, but you noticed a waver in your own voice. Suddenly day four you were uploading podcasts of motivational speeches and having a good cry before you sat down at the computer where you rocked back and forth repeating "The cake is a lie. The cake is a lie. The cake is a lie...."

You have reached the point where your raw creativity is transitioning into discipline and everything just started to really feel like work. This is where your inner drive really gets tested. This is where the sexist cliches about hairy chests and balls and making men come in.

Now you don't want to have to go back to that stupid blowhard, Chris, and tell him he was right to warn you that NaNo was too hard, do you?  No, of course you don't!  So let's get through this, and keep that pretentious n00b from the satisfaction of doing the "Toldja So" dance.

Stay on target!  (And try not to blow up.)




1. Week two is as bad as it gets.
The second week is the hardest. It will not actually continue getting harder and harder. Statistically speaking, you have a better chance of quitting this week than all three other weeks combined. At least according to my memory of what some blogger said who I read like three years ago, and who claimed to have gotten that statistic from the NaNo webpage (with citations like that, it must be true). As you move past week two and into week three, a sort of grisly determination and habit sets in. Not even Aunt Edna and her to-die-for stuffing will deter you from what must be done. You gain this thousand-yard stare, and your friends (the ones you see at all) really wish you would shower, but a kind of grim inexorability has seized you, and if you can get past week two, you are likely to finish.

2. Remember that you're never going to publish this version.
One of the biggest problems in week two is that people stop being okay with writing crap. They start to fall in love with their characters and enjoy their own story. Suddenly they start to slow down because now that they're invested, they're worried about getting it RIGHT. Don't worry about that. Just keep writing crap. There is no way in all the nine realms and all the scrote sacks of the pantheon that you aren't going to rewrite this bad boy at least three times (probably more), so go ahead and keep sacrificing quality for speed. The point here isn't to get it good. It's to get it down. And while that is somewhat true of any first draft, you are taking this zeroth draft to its caricature extreme.

So unclench your butt cheeks, stop worrying that it has to be good, remember that it's a zeroth draft, and get back to writing for the "why-the-hell-not" reason you originally undertook this venture.

3. Stop researching! Fly, you fools.  
When you start out, you can check all these random facts about police procedure, acceleration physics, authentic clothes of a dead culture, how fast bodies decay, or the actual city geography of Kuala Lumpur. You don't care that it's slowing you WAY down because you're still in the fun part. But if you didn't catch the last sentence, it IS slowing you way down. All that crap is just a time sink.  Focus on the writing. Just write what you think might be true and put a note to yourself in the manuscript that this will be something to look at when you rewrite.

4. Remember that you're never going to publish THIS version.
Don't go back and fix stuff. There is no damned chance in a million years that you won't end up rewriting this at least three times, so stop trying to make it "right." If something major changes, make a note of it in what you are writing right at the time and keep going. Cleaning up old writing is what revision is for, and NaNo is about finishing, not refining. Fix it later. Plow ahead today.


5. Let your characters do the driving for a while.
One of the reasons week two is so rough is that most people have this sense of their story that goes like this: Totally awesome concept. Cool beginning, nifty early scene....something, something..... underpants... ???.... profit.... not really sure..... REALLY COOL END FIGHT! A lot of week-two blues happen because for the first time in the story, you have no idea what you're doing and how exactly you're going to get from point C to point W near the end. That's okay. Let your characters react to the events and drive the story for a while without worrying that they might be derailing your best laid plans. That's how characters are "supposed" to be behaving in stories anyway. And if they start to take you someplace vastly different than the ending you had planned, maybe that's a better story anyway.  Don't worry, there's always time to shoehorn them into a railroaded plot in a later draft.

Welcome to the creative process! You might want to wear galoshes.

6. You're. Not. Going. To. Publish. This. Version.
You think your writing sucks? You think your plot is maybe not as brilliant as you first thought and may, in fact, be a shot glass of the sweat collected from bison testicles? You think your character isn't as undeniably compelling as when they lived inside your head doing buddy Christ poses on the backs of your eyeballs? You think maybe major elements aren't working--at all, let alone with each other?

Here, let me help you out: it's not working, it does suck, it's not brilliant, it doesn't work, you aren't Shakespeare. Got that out of your system? Good. Now you can stop analyzing and get back to writing.

Guess what? First drafts are shitty, and yours is even shittier than most because you're trying to write it like you're The Flash on crystal meth or better yet, that Bruce Almighty GIF that was so fucking funny back on day one but now makes you burst into tears.

What started as a joke ended up making you cry....
But don't worry.  All first drafts are shitty. All of them. Shitty first drafts are how the writing process works. There was literally (hur hur) no way yours was somehow not going to be crap. None. So stop trying to second guess yourself. Quit trying to go back and fix things that you think will make it suck less. Just keep writing.

Remember, novels get published through endless, painstaking hours of revision and editing. They are drafted multiple times. You had no hope of writing something great....or even something that didn't suck. As soon as you stop having that unreasonable expectation of yourself, you can get back to pumping out that sewage line you have hooked up between your brain and the page. If you really want to make your novel good, that's another part of the process.  Do that after NaNo is over. For now, just keep sucking at full speed ahead.

YOU HEAR ME? FULL SUCK SPEED!!!!

7. Take care of you.
It's all a big joke--and almost a point of pride--how much caffeine and junk food the NaNo writers pack in during November. Ha ha ha, right? Here, let me make a meme about how big my coffee cup is and we'll ride our lollerskates to Lolzville. Ha ha ha ha! NaNo is so droll. Hahahahaha! My coffee is bigger than yours. Hahahaha! Caffeine overdose is funny! Hahahaha! I ate nothing but microwavable burritos for the last thirty meals. Hahahahaha!

But what about the SECOND hour?  Hahahahaha!
Hey, guys, my chest kind of hurts.  Hahahaha!  No seriously, stop laughing. Hahahahaha!

Great. Are you done enjoying the fucking frolicking whimsy of it all?  Good, because if you are basically hooking up a chemical spill into your body, the second week is about the point where your body doesn't have anything left to give. That might be why you are starting to hit the edge of your metabolic cope this week. Your body is not a garbage dump, and even legal stimulants have both their backlash and their limits. You may be dying for a good night's sleep, suffering from vitamin deficiencies, and not noticing that your eyeballs have dried out.

No one is saying you need to switch to alfalfa sprouts or forgo your regular morning cup(s) of joe, but you can only be exceptionally abusive to your body for so long before there are consequences.  (And unless you're an 18 years old athlete, that length of time is WELL under a month.)  Don't go overboard on the abuse, even though there turns out to be almost a bragging rights competition about how dysfunctional one can be.

I can't imagine why I'm having trouble
thinking straight.
Image Credit Unknown
Also, as much as most writers would love to think of their body as the carrying case for their brains, it turns out that they are not sold separately. You can use drugs to power through a bad day or two, but you can't abuse them for a month straight--no matter how many cute fucking memes you make. If all your brain has had for a week is coffee and triple bacon cheeseburgers, there won't be a lot it can do for you in the way of creativity. Its creative dendrites will be covered in grease instead of neurotransmitters. (Shut up! That's totally how it works!)

Get some real sleep. Eat a real meal. Don't go overboard on caffeine--a little is okay, but you shouldn't be substituting it for sleep. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You don't have a paper due tomorrow.  This isn't even finals week. You have to make it a whole month. You (and your body) are in it for the long haul.

Once you get through this week, it will actually get easier. It will feel more like a grind--just something you get up and do. And if you keep doing it at the same time each day, you may even find that your creativity begins to bloom about thirty minutes before you sit down, like clockwork.

Which is, of course, what we've been trying to tell you all along.

And don't forget the most important thing if you're really serious about being a writer:

On December 1st, don't stop.