Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Calm Before the Storm – Minus 2 Days to Nano

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So here we are. A fell wind whistles across the plain. It’s a scary time. I am quaking in my boots. Except i’m actually barefoot in my office listening to the Beatles on my Dan Fogelburg inspired pandora page. And i’m not actually quaking. I’m calm and relaxed and full of happy anticipation. I’ve already set up the scrivener project, i’ve got a bit of outline all roughed out. I’ve got my initial cover done. It’s all over but the shouting.

And boy… there’s enough shouting.

My head has been just running ragged with all of the stuff i want to throw in this little novel. It’s been multiplying rapidly. I’m not sure where i’m going to put all of it but i’m pretty excited. So I think, for this little blog post, i’ll just spend a moment telling you all what i’ll be working on.

The whole thing started when my friends kids asked me if i was a real writer. Here’s the thing about that question. There is no answer. I’m sure if you ever asked Ernest Hemingway if he was a real writer he would look at you boggle eyed, his gin and tonic halfway to his mouth and his eyes widening. ‘Real compared to what, exactly?’ Would most likely be the first thing that crossed his suddenly panicked mind. It was for me. But when you have two children asking that question, it sort of demands some sort of answer. So i said sure. Thankfully, their mom agreed. And then i said i’d write them a book. The events in question might be a little out of order but that’s basically the gist of it.

It’s always best when you find someone to write for. I know a lot of people say they write for themselves and that’s great and all when you’re younger and voiceless and being picked on and you believe (with some very real justification) that no one gives a hoot about your words. But the older you get – i hope – the more you’ll realize that writing works better, and you want to do it better, when you have people you want to write for.

I told them i would write them a story. They would have to come up with the basics of the story. Which is where i’m at right now and that’s another thing i would tell the prospective writers of the world. If someone throws a pitch, swing at it. My first five books – The Meg Brown Mysteries which are now on their sixth book and the seventh was last years nano project – were based on a suggestion from a friend on her way back to California. You never know where this stuff is going to end up and frankly, it takes a bit of the plotting out of your hands and gets your brain working on just HOW you’re going to do it.

Their idea, naturally, consisted of a bunch of characters who just happened to have the names of all their friends. And they suggested that they were all animals. They gave me the types of animals and all the names. They wanted some sort of crime to be solved (which, frankly, i’m still working on. I’m used to murder and violent death which, for a kids novel, is not exactly right on.)

From the bare bones of their ideas came the story of Lola, a young girl and the adventures of her friends Mia who is a Cheetah, Emily a Dolphin, and Ashley A Hawk. I even started writing it in a first chapter but it really didn’t work out well. Who knows? It still may not work out well. I have never written for kids before, but that’s just the thing. It’s a challenge and i’m now really looking forward to the plot and writing this little thing. There’s tons of charming little magic bits in it, pixies, faeries, a whale that lives in a maintenance shed, and a zoo.

It’s going to be fun. And that’s what this is all about. Sure. It’s also about getting the words out and putting that novel on paper but its also about turning off the world for a little while and just enjoying the ripe produce of your own brain.

And here’s the other thing about Nano – it’s gone global. In my auspices of an admin on a Nanowrimo Facebook page i’ve admitted people from all over the world who are participating. So people might whine and cry about the sorry state of literature as a direct response to Nano but to heck with those people. To me, and i’ve said this before, Nano is football. Not American football that requires thousands of dollars just to suit up, but the real European grab-a-ball-and-some-friends sort of football. It’s a november holiday for writers, for doing something a little crazy and a little beautiful and sharing the experience with people all over the world. Are we all going to be published geniuses worshipped for our wit and brilliance? Probably not. But for one month, we brave few – we happy few – get to have a collective breath of literary abandon. We get to shuck off the festering rind of an all too awful world and create the means of that worlds hopeful beautification.

Nano isn’t going to save the world, but here’s the little secret that all nanos know: so many more worlds get saved in November than most people ever know.

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A Rose By Any Other Name – Naming stuff in your potential books

So this one has been coming up a lot in the days leading up to Nano. Naming. Just what is my main character’s name? What do i call the animated lawn jockey that smokes like a chimney and spontaneously started talking? What is the name of my Love interests sisters cat?

Good question. Of course, by this point in Nano prep – with a mere 8 days to go – all of that shit should be fairly well settled. But anyway. I’d been meaning to write a blog and in lieu of the other blog article i thought up a few days ago and promptly forgot: let’s tackle this one.

So. In my opinion, there are lots of different ways of naming your darlings which you will then march forth bravely and put to death. The first is… make shit up. Make shit up is – as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time – my mantra. It’s very important. It frees your mind from taking itself far too seriously which minds seem prone to do. But, with training, you can get your mind to more or less elegantly make shit up. You do this with just a little bit of research. The trick is to not paralyze yourself with the research which is also easy to do.

Here’s how it works. Say i need the name of a heavily armed, claymore wielding duck who is a space pirate. Take all that stuff that you KNOW about a character and toss it in a blender and then go search any number of baby name sites – there are tons of them – and pick around until something jumps out at you. Try it on. Ask your duck if this fits for them. Okay so now i have Wally… does that work for you? Piss off. Okay! Now i know you’re a little salty too. See… it’s sort of like a little interview process. So we’re going to just come up with something. The duck is clearly an alien so how do we name an alien with nothing to guide us?

Well that can get a little complicated. For now we’ll call our duck Craig McQuaken. Now you’re probably saying to yourself ‘but Craig? McQuaken? That sounds incredibly human.’ And you’re right. But it also sounds right. Which brings me to the second method of naming which is more in kin to a Dickens sorta way. Make the sound right. BTW Craig is just a normal name in Duck language. It’s like John. Naturally ducks don’t have a John. They couldn’t pronounce it. So Craig. And McQuaken? Well… standard last name in Duck Language. All Male Ducks last names start with something like Mc or Mac. Because…. duck. Sound – sense (sorta)

Dickens always had characters with really evocative names Magers, Cratchett, Fagin, Magwitch. How did he come up with them? Well… He had an image of the character and found a sound that seemed to convey the character and made it fit. I think. I might be making that stuff up. But it sounds right doesn’t it? Get an image of your character into your head and then try and make something fit. Are they sleek and quick? Are they cold and calculating? Sinister? Let your brain go blank and sounds should start to appear then it’s just a matter of playing around with the sound that conveys that image until something comes up. Let’s take a slick capable assassin – He moves like oil on a snake, he has cold dead eyes, he plays with a toothpick… What’s his social status? Is he a successful assassin? Is he a gutter punk street rat? for the successful high end assassin with those qualities we might go with something like Albert or Jared. Somehow those convey a certain status. Jared works quite well. I found that on the bookshelf next to me. Jared. Jared Silvo. Now lets go to the other end – a street rat. Ollie, Jack, Bobby, Harry. I like Ollie. Mainly because who uses Ollie anymore and it has a sort of off putting easiness to it. You would never suspect an Ollie to slit your throat in the dark.

Which is another thing. If you follow the sounds it’s very easy to go reverse expectations. So Ollie Joyce – also a book on my shelf. Ollie… and there i hit a brick wall. I want an S sound in there somewhere to give it that oily feel to it. Joyce has it but… Something off about it. I want it slower. Which means it’s a good time to hit the books again. You can also find common last names online. I have to get to work or i would do it right now. But this might be a good time to get to know Ollie a little better. Does Ollie come from an immigrant family – if so, where? That’s a good place to start looking. Is he french? Troll around and find a suitable french last name. Is he russian? Hmm… Stolych. That almost does it.

Hopefully you’re seeing what i’m getting at now.

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The Nano Prep Begins – but what do i write?

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Here to inaugurate the great Nano 2014 is my glorious and insightful blog post about where to find the idea. You know. THE idea. The idea that will spin you off to Nano Victory this year and win you awards and accolades and acclaims of sheer genius. These tried and true methods are the best in the business. Even though they’ve never been tried. And might not be true. Either way they’ve worked pretty well for me in the past and they might be good for someone. Somewhere.

Let it be known, of course, that i am not a professional nor have these methods been endorsed by any professionals. In fact, i don’t know any professionals and i don’t think i want to. They’re a silly bunch who prefer wandering around the castle breaking into song at inappropriate moments such as before coffee.

So where do you get your idea?

This is going to sound pretty straightforward but here it is: FROM YOUR BRAIN. I know. Someone has a bitchslap aimed at my face right now but that’s really the easiest way to put it. It doesn’t take long for me to find an idea. It does, on the other hand, take a bit of time. And believe it or not ideas do not usually come down on a thunderbolt sent from Thor’s hammer. They come from taking seemingly random shit that has been stuck in the collective attic of your skull for a long time, just gathering dust.

Here’s what you do: Climb the creaky ladder in your head and start pawing through the attic. Open the various dusty boxes, take in the smell of mold, wipe away some cobwebs. You know when you go up there that you’re going to find something. Your going to open that one box marked ’80’s movie posters’ or ‘mix tapes from high school’ and something is going to pop out at you. It could be anything but it will have a potent meaning to you and it will grab hold with some nostalgia, spinning up memories and all that. Ideas are like that in that, when you find them you know you’ve found them.

But ideas aren’t memories at all. It’s stuff you’ve been storing in your brain. Stuff you keep around. Knick Knacks you’ve been meaning to put up somewhere but haven’t got around to it yet. And they can be anything. Literally anything. You may not even know what they are.

Which brings me to the second point. An idea isn’t anything until you get your brain working on it. Here’s how it works: You know that pretty piece of rock you found in the box in the attic of your brain. Take a look at it. Get your head out of the way. Don’t think of it as a thing or a something. Think of all of it and open up to it. Is there a memory to go with it? Throw that in the mixing bowl. Is it the color? What does the color say to you? Throw that in there. If someone gave it to you, why? Throw that in there. Is it shaped like Shia LeBoefs head? Throw that in there.

Now mix it all around and make a story out of it.

This is all confused and stupid isn’t it? It is. So what? This is what works for me.

Oh. And there’s something else. You have to get your writing imagination to start WORKING on this stuff. Lets take a concrete example. Lets say i have nothing to write for nano this year. On my desk right now are a series of knickknacks. For real. I have a small felted chicken, some plastic Muppet Star Wars figures, a knitted plush elephant and a wooden ship my grandpa made. How do i get my writing imagination to work on this stuff. It isn’t the stuff of high literature. It doesn’t have GRAVITAS. Well… make it. What if these weird little figures hopped on that ship and took a grand voyage of adventure? What if the beaker C3P0 was secretly in love with the Gonzo Darth Vader but he hated the felted chicken who was Beaker C3PO’s best friend because of something that happened in the past? What was that thing that happened in the past? What if Beaker is the worlds greatest salad maker prized for his ability to put amazing salad’s together and desires nothing more than a rare leaf lettuce from indonesia that grows only once in a blue moon that falls on a saturday in march?

What if’s are your life blood when creating an idea. And a what if should NEVER be stopped in the planning stages. You’ll start editing your idea once you hook into something you get excited about.

Ideas SHOULD be ridiculous. They should be a story. They should be your playground brain creating scenes and stories out of the shipwreck flotsam you find on a playground. It works the same way. You know that the slide wasn’t JUST a slide when you were a kid. It was a ramp to alien spacecraft, it was a fire outlook, it was the tip of an island slowly sinking into the sea. Ideas are the same thing. Don’t let your grown up brain interfere with them.

Now… You’ve got something. You’ve got a bunch of weird characters on a ship on a quixotic quest to find a leaf lettuce in indonesia. It may not seem like much – particularly if you have been unable to keep your editing brain from tinkering with it. But it is something. And if you’ve done it right you’re probably wondering where the fuck did that all come from? Don’t bother to think about it. This is your weirdo writing subconscious at work. Just keep generating. But now you can do a little refinement.

I have these people on a ship. Who are they? Why are they on a ship? Is that really important that they’re on a ship? What is the ship REALLY like? Strip away the plastic beaker C3PO and evolve that character into someone. Baker, Candlestick maker, get to know them. Don’t interview them like one would a celebrity on tv. Get them drunk and hold their hair while they throw up. Listen to what they whine about while drunk, watch the fights that happen. All of this stuff is important. It’s coming from YOUR HEAD. Which means, subconsciously that you’ve stumbled upon shit that is somehow – in some obscure way – important to YOU. You haven’t made it up like some 35 year old wanna be architect playing with lincoln logs. You’ve let it pop through your skull. You have AN idea. It may not be a great idea but it’s an idea.

Oh yeah. And do yourself a favor. Don’t start your Nano on a quest for a great idea. It’s a terrific way to start yourself in the hole. Let your brain stumble upon a great idea like sea glass on the beach. Let your brain play. That – to me – is what nano is all about. Not the great novel but a rediscovery of the playground and all the worlds it contains.

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