Oh The Things You Don’t Know

I’m finally getting to the point where i’m ready to publish Meg Brown Mysteries #6 – Meg Beats Cancer. Finally. It’s taken ages – like a full year since i wrote the last word. Which is just ridiculous. You might ask ‘why did it take so freaking long?’ Well… I can tell you. It’s not the things you don’t know that will mess you up. It’s the things you don’t even know you don’t know. Things like cover design, page layout, formatting. E publishing is a piece of cake compared to getting something ready for Print on Demand.

I did the cover myself. It wasn’t bad. I liked it. Everything was in its place and everything had a point and it wasn’t easy. As the story begins, and leads up to one epic fight in a very literal sense, i figured the background should convey that. It’s not easy making your type face into something that looks like blood stains and spatter. Nor is it easy making a blank background with wreckage and cracks. It was a good cover. It is a good cover. It has meaning and flows with the story.

But that isn’t the hard part. The hard part was putting it together. I do not have a publishing program, nor do i particularly have the skills to use such a program if i had one. Given certain events, which i will not address here to protect the innocent and the awesome (neither of which is me, sadly) I did something i generally don’t do. I asked for help.

‘Why don’t i ask for help more often?’, you may say. Well… it’s complicated, but the long and short of it is i have found that help is often LONG in coming – as in REALLY long – as in many times i ask and get a promise of help and then wait… and wait…. AND wait. And then wait longer. And then do some more waiting. And finally resign myself to never hearing from my ‘helper’ again. This is why i tend to keep things in house. Not to mention, sometimes the help isn’t terrifically helpful. Sometimes it’s actually antagonistic. Most of the time it takes the form of ‘yeah… i remember i said i would help, but dude… i’m eating pizza right now and Survivor just started.’ Correction, most of the time ‘Help’ takes the form of complete radio silence.

It’s enough to make a guy get a little bitter.

It’s enough to make you learn your lesson not to ask for help.

I hate being disappointed with people. I like to like people. Consequently, i try to give myself as few opportunities as possible to be disappointed in them.

Anyway. now that really sounds gripey. The point is, i didn’t go to my friends. Well… i did… and got disappointed. So i went to a professional with the pieces of the cover. She did a terrific job. The cover got finished. But here’s where the ‘didn’t know what i didn’t know’ part comes in. The SPINE of the book. It seems obvious in retrospect that the thing keeping all the pages together would be variable in size and you would need to figure it out somehow. There is a calculation to be made. This calculation is itself dependent on the trim size of the book. (basically the size of the book… trim size is one of those publishy terms that tell you the dimensions. i don’t know why they don’t just say… y’know ‘dimension’.)

So i fixed the ‘dimensions’ in the master file of the book. I looked at it. It didn’t look like a book. It looked like pages of some epic poem. The problem was the margins. In a real book, the margins have to be offset – basically alternating off center because of the space at the edge where one page curves into the binding. Right? Makes sense. Well… i didn’t know that. And i had no idea how to format that in a document so that it worked out. Luckily, Createspace has a handy dandy little template you can use. After a little rejiggering and a huge cut and paste, i managed to get it straightened out, got a NEW page count, had my cover designer recalculate the pixel size of the spine, redid the spine (at the end of the day i redrew the spine 5 times) and i am finally, almost, off to the races.

If you’re wondering who my cover designer is because you’re looking for one, it’s Kat Mellon. She does great work. If you’re not inclined to take my route and do it yourself, i highly recommend her. She’s excellent.

Anyway. It’s done. There’s more, of course. The book is nearly ready. It will be ready probably this weekend. The cover is done. And that’s about all i’m going to say about it.

The point of this blog is, there are ALWAYS things you don’t know that you don’t know somewhere out there waiting for you. Chances are pretty good that you’re going to sink knee deep in them at some point. They can be simple things that you just had no idea about and learning about them can be a grand experience, expanding your awareness. On the other hand there are the things that sap your strength, your will, your faith. There are things that clutch at your heart and snatch away the hope and joy you had if you let it. Trust yourself, gird yourself, take a deep breath. Do the best you can. And don’t give helpers the opportunity to disappoint you. If you can, and have the money (which i do not) hire the services of a professional and turn your book over to them to do all that stuff. It’s generally not worth the headache.

If you CHOOSE to follow my route – or are equally poor – well… that’s why i wrote this. So that you have a little foreknowledge of some of the things you do not yet know.

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The End of the Road – Sort of: NaNoWriMo comes to a close but the story goes on.

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So. I finished almost a week ago now and seeing as my ‘victory dance’ was rewarding myself with Dragon Age: Inquisition, i have been hanging out in Thedas since then. If you need me you’ll find me wandering more or less aimlessly through The Hinterlands, or some other bandit choked place.

But that’s not why you’re here are you? You’re here to find out how it all shook out and when you’ll be able to read my Nano masterwork. At least that’s what i hope you’re here for. Well… it’ll be a while now. This is my fourth completed Nano and this year i’ve had a big year in terms of writing. I finally finished working on the draft of The Stonemaidens Cup and have been up to my eyeballs in editing the massive thing. I finished writing and MOST of the editing of Meg Brown number 6: Meg Beats Cancer. I wrote a teleplay for the Nano group for Castle. I wrote a short story that i’m working on editing for Wattpad or somewhere similar, then there is Meg Brown 7 – last year’s Nano project which is just about finished in draft form and now The Normal Zoo. So really, in a weird way, Nano is a bit just like a day at the office.

But i love my office. And i love Nano and all the nano’ers reaching for their dreams.

The Normal Zoo isn’t finished. In fact, it’s gotten a bit bigger since ‘finishing’ the word count goal and will get bigger still as i work to complete it. It’s hard to see right now how much further i have to go. What i should do is take a breath that isn’t filled with Thedas air, take a gander at what i’ve got and start mapping out where to go next from here to finish it. Planning ahead this year (which i confess i didn’t do much of last year) really set me up well to coast on the word count for the first week or two and then it became another heavy slog where the story just puffed out like a popcorn kernal.

In the end, i’m starting to think The Normal Zoo MIGHT just become a series. I hope not. I have too many series already and aside from my Meg Brown Books and the Longmire novels i love by Craig Johnson, i’m just not into series. The trouble is that the book ballooned a little larger than i thought it would. I had more ground to cover than i figured. It’s possible that i’ll be able to chop it down in the end and get it under the word count for publication but it’s really hard to see that right now seeing as i’m at 55,000 or so and i think i JUST rounded the middle.

But again. It’s hard to tell.

So how was Nano this year? In some ways it was fantastic. I got to really tuck in to a story. When you tuck in like that you start with these people and you’re really sort of nervous around them. You don’t know them. They don’t know you. LIke any first time conversation, there’s a little awkwardness and unpleasant silences you or they desperately try to fill. Just like reading, though, you come to know them and they start surprising you and you start to love them a little more and loving them is what you need. Even the bad guys. Yes. I sort of love the Worsteads. I hate them, because they are awful people but they’re very vivid to me. But nothing beats Ashley and Lola and Mia and Emily. I didn’t expect Lola to be into old movies and film noir. That was lovely and we bonded over The Thin Man and My Man Godfrey. I didn’t expect Ashley to be so… funny. She’s really brave but doesn’t believe it at all and she’s… well… hopefully you’ll see. Yeah. I got to know them and for the moment anyway, i’ve left Lola in a bit of a low spot but she’s already trying to work her way out of it and i expect she’s going to get herself into a bit of trouble before then.

I miss the Chateau of Soot. I didn’t spend enough time there and would very much like to – when i rewrite it – give it it’s due. It’s a grand place, full of dust but very homey. I don’t know why it’s called the Chateau of Soot. It’s not actually sooty.

There’s nothing quite like having this thing bubbling and toiling in your head for a while – an idea that is pretty bizarre no matter which way you look at it – and finally sitting down and cranking out on it. It’s a flood like you see in a gum commercial, full of cool blue waves stanching the embers in your head that are threatening to get out of control. It’s a sudden cool ocean breeze on an otherwise sweltering day. It’s a lot of things. And that’s what Nano is all about in my opinion. You get to tell the world, for a full month, go screw yourself, i’m going to let my brain frolic like a deranged sweater-wearing bunny in a field made of minty evergreen grass. You get to put that imagination to use, sometimes for the first time since grade school recess. And yeah. It’s grade school recess.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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Review: The Short Man by Joshua Cejka

Hey… Why not. I’ll reblog this one too cuz… it’s about my story The Short Man and it’s quite a good review. Thanks!!

Shadow and Clay

THE CONFESSION:
I made this author’s acquaintance through a Facebook NaNoWriMo support group. The group currently has 21,491 members, so it should not be close-knit, and yet the regular contributors have managed to grow into a very large (somewhat dysfunctional) family of writers. Many of the books I review will come from members of this group – I unfortunately do not have the time to spend right now on books that aren’t essential to my own works in progress, unless I’m already a fan of that author or were written by someone I know won’t waste my time.

As one of the admins of this group, Joshua Cejka is a prominent presence. It still took me too long to find and read his books, and I kick myself for that. At the time that I first read and reviewed “The Short Man”, I was not one of Joshua’s “friends”. After…

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The Darkest Hour (no, this isn’t about the Green Lantern…)

Excellent article. And boy am i ever at that point in Nano right now. Just sort of stumbling along. But i think i’ve got it.

Shadow and Clay

The saying goes that the darkest hour is just before dawn. It’s very true. I have tried my best to avoid being awake to experience it but, with winter creeping over us even here in Seattle, I find myself daily immersed in the deep pre-dawn gloom despite my best intentions.

I am certainly not the first to draw a parallel between this natural truth and the other conflicts that are faced in life – that IS what the saying is a metaphor for, after all. But it is a truth also encountered on the battlefield of the written page, while marching through what I like to call the F*cking Middle.

It is perhaps coincidental that NaNoWriMo takes place in November, when the darkness abruptly creeps over the Northern Hemisphere (I’m going to ignore the Southern Hemisphere for this analogy, because it messes everything up), until by November 20th we…

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Nano Day… Whatever. I’ve lost track

Ashley2Alright. Let’s make this quick. I’m in the middle of a bit of a word war with the Shadow and Clay blog. I don’t have time for this blogging nonsense. Don’t you know it’s NANO?

Anyway. So here it is in a nutshell: After two weeks of work on this novel and 37000 words or so i can freely and honestly admit that it has spiraled out of control. I’m still really enjoying it and i’m having a blast writing the bits and bobs of it but those bits and bobs are only SLOWLY building into a story. I feel as though i haven’t even really started yet.

But that’s Nano for you. Get those words down. A draft – no matter how horrible or meandering or completely lost, or whatever, is nothing if not the longest outline you’re going to write. As of right now – all of the little bits i’ve been thinking over for more than a month are coming out. I have a talking hawk who is gradually inserting herself more and more into the story. I had no idea Ashley would become such a handful.

The little meeting with the talking whale who lives in an ocean inside a maintenance shed at the zoo went off perfectly and had everything i wanted. I have a group of nosy middle class suburbanite jerkfaces muddling in my MC’s business. I’ve got everything i wanted except a story that is moving inexorably to it’s conclusion. In fact, 37000 words in and i feel like i’m still in the first few chapters explaining the characters.

I finally have my main character, Lola, getting a tour of the school she’s going to attend. This SHOULD have happened in the first 10000 words but here i am. Way late – And dreading the intense and massive editing process to come. What gets saved? Will i have to reorganize everything? Can i condense? Do i just plod on and include all that i want to?

These are all thoughts for a much later date. For now, WRITE WRITE WRITE!!! GET IT ALL DOWN!

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Day Five of Nano – My Progress So Far

Alphonso

Alright. It’s… well… i’ve lost track now. Day six. I really should be actually writing something. Well… i am. Just not the thing i should be writing so let’s keep this quick shall we? So i can get back to it?

So far it’s been going pretty good. I’ve done four of these previously and let me tell you – the five day/day six or first week an be pretty rough. Lots of people have been tossing up the white flag in surrender right about now. Plots dwindle out or just abruptly drift off into nothing, characters are starting to rebel, real life issues creep in. Week one is… well… it’s wreckage. You start to realize just what you’ve gotten yourself into. Sometimes you even start making stuff up and just padding out the words.

All good strategies really. Sometimes you have to ramble intelligently to pick up your own thread. No harm in it.

Me, i’m at 18,000 words and the fifth chapter. Things are going great actually. I just introduced Allerdyne the zookeeper, Ashley the Red Tailed Hawk and last night i finally managed to get my Main Character to meet the Queen of Yesterday, Karin the talking whale and the ocean in the maintenance shed. It’s a pretty pivotal moment in the story, really so i’m pretty happy with it. The whole episode popped into my head in the late afternoon, right down to the nitty gritty details and it went off exactly as i imagined. In fact, it was better than i imagined. That’s when you know you got it right on the first try.

To any of you non-writers out there who might be reading this – it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you have something imagined (the first step in writing a scene is seeing it) and your characters decide at the last minute that they’re going to go in another direction. You can tell when this happened. You’re merrily writing the scene you pictured and all of a sudden the writing becomes forced and you’re fighting it, as though the circumstances and the characters are quite literally tugging you in another direction.

But the scene with the whale in the maintenance shed didn’t do that. I took my time with it and it flowed out right down the line. Dialog and all. That’s time for a victory dance.

If you’re wondering what the gorilla is doing at the top of the page here, well… that’s another character. Apparently, i’m having more difficulty naming him than i thought. The name i gave him in Scapple is Adolpho Bumbles but throughout the story it’s been vacillating between that and Alphonso. I think it will stay Adolpho but that will now require some editing. Adolpho and Marion Bumbles and their son Kevin – who is also a Gorilla. Talking gorilla’s of course.

For some reason i’m having the worst time remembering that the Gorilla wife’s name is Marion. I’ve had to look it up nearly every time i write it. Ah well.. Another one of those things that just happens i suppose.

Anyway. I am off to get my word count up for the morning. It’s nice to wake up early and crank out a good 500 – 700 words before showering, that way there isn’t such a long haul when i get home from work. Just another possibly helpful strategy to any of you still trying to find time somewhere.

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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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Have Pen, Will Sing: Karaoke for the writing soul.

keep-calm-and-karaoke-4-1The fact is writers, when traveling, should karaoke. Why? Cuz. Reasons. Let’s face it – most of the time, you barricade yourself behind a computer. You hammer out stories and words and thoughts and all that stuff and that’s terrific and all but you probably need to loosen up around people. Maybe just a little, maybe just a lot.

So what do you do, hotshot? Yeah. You with all your pretty words. Here’s what you do. You get out there while you are traveling. And Karaoke in an unfamiliar city is the perfect opportunity for this. Why? Because, there’s a good chance you may never see these people again which nicely mitigates the risk of complete embarrassment.

And you will, most likely, be completely embarrassed. It’s okay. That’s completely built into the matrix of Karaoke. Let’s face it, you could use it. You think too much of yourself already. You’ve got a chip on your shoulder. You need to take yourself down a peg.

So this is one moment in the life of the traveling writer where you can leave your notebook at home, grab a vodka cranberry (or four) and screw up the courage to put yourself on stage to belt out (as best as you can) the lyrics to Celine Dion. Or something.

But here’s a little tip: If you want to go whole hog on the knocking yourself down a peg (and want a fairly cheap, but well worth it show) try Karaoke in LA. Yes. Home of every up and coming or want to be up and coming star. They do things pretty seriously fun out there and the show you’re about to see is worth some writing fodder.

In my case, we went to a place for my birthday. A friend suggested it as I was incapable of coming up with an idea for something to do and they already knew i loved Karaoke. It was, well…. it was something else. I was expecting the usual ego massaging sort of thing where everyone is of a similar talent level (ie – None) but this definitely isn’t the case. There were people there who could flat-out wail. There were those who couldn’t carry a tune. There was a guy and his friend who danced out ALL of Kevin Bacon’s dance routine in footloose while someone sang it. There was the girl who timidly climbed the stage to sing Whitney Houston and then nailed it so hard I actually LIKED Whitney Houston for five minutes. Yeah. And I had to follow her on stage with my weak rendition of Johnny Cash’s Big River.

Intimidating? Yes. Totally worth it? Absolutely.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well… as you’ve probably gathered from many of my other posts, everything has to do with writing. And once again, it’s a great place for character. We writers are introverts by nature. And that’s okay. But while traveling, it’s critical to get out there and meet and do things a little outside of your comfort zone. If you don’t, as i mentioned before, you’ll most likely end up sitting in your hotel room tapping away on something. This is fine. You should do that. But not that ALL the time, and you need to smash down your own barriers. Karaoke is a fairly efficient method for doing that. Let the song flow through you. Be it’s conduit.

I don’t care that you sing like a tortured moose. Do it anyway. The guy who actually SANG the footloose tune that the other guys were dancing to? Yeah. Awful. But he did it anyway. It brought him joy and happiness and it will to you to. It doesn’t matter if you wail like you just stubbed your toe on a porcupine. The most important thing is just showing up.

Categories: Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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