30 December 2011

2012 Goals and Challenges

A couple of days ago, I got together with two of my close friends for a little holiday socializing. At the end of the evening, I wished our hostess a happy new year, and wished her luck with any resolutions she might be planning.

"Oh, I don't make resolutions," she said.

"Me neither," said my other friend with a look of distaste.

I should say that these are two super cool women. They are anti bandwagon, independent thinkers. They are not into the collective madness that is all too often a part of the new year. I think in a lot of ways, they have reason to despise the whole resolution trip. I once disdained it too. I figured that because I was already working pretty darned hard at everything I did, there was no reason to set goals or make a plan at the beginning of the calendar year. You get stuff done, you're happy, no reason to set goals, right?

That was how I used to feel. In that moment, though, I realized that I'd become the kind of person who looks forward to the new year as an opportunity to choose new goals, make new plans, and even, dare I say it, resolve a thing or two.

Sometimes one feels left out.
How did this happen? I decided that writing mattered to me. Gone are the days when accountability to others - my angry thesis committee, impatient clients, or needy students - made me hop to it and apply myself. When it comes to my writing, it's all about internal motivation now, and I have to say, I suck at internal motivation. Left to my own devices, I would be facing the spectre of large chunks of time in 2012 with only the vague idea that I would maybe like to write something at some point. It is not enough.

This will not be me in December 2012.
So, goals and challenges! Or even Goals and Challenges 2012! Something I learned about myself this year is that I do well when I rely on grandiose writing challenges, the more outlandish, the better. Here are some things I'm planning to fold into my writing plan in 2012.

Write 1 Sub 1. This year I'm planning to do the weekly challenge. Write, edit, and submit 52 stories in 52 weeks. I tend to work spasmodically, in concentrated bursts followed by long periods of rest, so this mega marathon challenge is going to be interesting for me.

Story a Day in May. What it sounds like. I did it last year and it was great.

The Race. This is more a motivational trick than a goal. Your score is determined by how many different pieces you have submitted, one point per short story. If a story gets published or rejected, you lose the point. Novel sample chapters and complete ms. are counted differently. The idea originated with the incredibly prolific Dean Wesley Smith, but the also incredibly prolific Deborah Walker explains it in a pithy fashion at Flash Fiction Chronicles. I've got a few pieces to sub before I meet my 2011 submissions goal (tomorrow), so I think I'll be starting the year with nine race points? I'm aiming to hit 50 at some point in 2012. The whole idea is to sustain a large number of pieces out at a time, because, as Dean Wesley Smith notes, "It is also always stunning how the writers with the most points make the most sales. Always happens for some reason."

NaNoEdMo. National Novel Editing Month, aka March. I've got this behemoth of a novel manuscript sitting in a file beside my desk. I plan to spend January and February doing some research to answer some technical questions I couldn't during November while I was writing. I've got a short reading list to help me make sure I'm not goofing on some of the broad, sweeping questions I have, mostly about ethnic minorities in medieval Europe. There are a few missing scenes to write. By March, I should be ready to edit.  

Camp NaNoWriMo. I would love to write another novel at some point other than November. Camp NaNoWriMo runs June and August. I might participate in the June challenge. I've got a sequel to my current novel planned, but I might try to put together a standalone project.

NaNoWriMo: Without National Novel Writing Month, November would just be a crappy descent into the darkest, rainiest, blandest time of year.

Other goals:

Raw Word Count. I usually set a word count goal for myself at the beginning of the year. Unedited, first draft, loosey goosey words count here. I'll probably use the same number I did in 2011 (225k). This is one way to measure progress, but this year it will be more for fun than anything else. Mainly I want to focus more on getting work out there than on how long any individual piece is. With what I've got planned, I don't anticipate falling short of 225k.

Reading. There are a few of us over at Stringing Words who, inspired by Eileen Wiedbrauk of Speak Coffee to Me, resolve to read 52 books in a year. My brain was glitching on reading at the beginning of 2011, and I fell behind almost immediately, which is shameful. I'll try it again in 2012.

I've devised another reading goal for this year, a short story a day. You read that right. I'm becoming more aware that the art of short story writing is quite distinct from novelling, and yet I mostly read novels. Reading shorts is a way to immerse myself in the form. It is not that hard to fit in a piece of flash fiction if you're pressed for time, and on days when you want to kick back with something more substantial, you can. I'll focus some of my short story reading on collections and anthologies, so they'll count toward my 52 books.

I'll be tracking my goals and challenges at Stringing Words this year. You're more than welcome to join us if you would like a place to talk about what you're up to and track your projects, word count, and / or reading from week to week and month to month. Plus there's still a little bit of time to enter our holiday giveaway and win a $20 Amazon gift card.

Happy New Year, everybody. All my best in 2012.

25 December 2011

24 December 2011

Best Thing Ever

Yes, it's time for another Pumpkinhead post. The Christmas version. I hope Santa gives all of you exactly what you want this year.

23 December 2011

Follow It Through to a Logical Conclusion

Via FailBlog

Holiday Giveaway for Writers at Stringing Words

I've mentioned before that I'm a member of a forum for writers called Stringing Words. This forum is basically the Cheers of writing communities. It's cosy, friendly, and a good place to hang out when you want to remember that one giant reason to be a writer is that writers make great communities. Though I can be a cynical bastard at times, I need love and support too. This a place I know I can get it. 

I use the Stringing Words forum primarily as a space for goal tracking and morale boosting, and secondarily as a go-to spot when I've got a question about writing or want to discuss anything to do with getting words on paper. We're a mixed group in terms of genre and achievement level and age. All are welcome. 

Now is a fabulous time to join for two reasons: one, it's almost 2012, and soon Stringers will be adding their own threads to a 2012 projects forum. Wouldn't you love to start a list of your giant, amazing, and ambitious goals for the writing year? You would. I know you would.

Reason number two: you could win something nice! We're hosting a holiday giveaway right now. It is open to new members. The prize is a $20 gift card to Whee! And we would love to meet you. 

13 December 2011

How I Wrote 100k in 30 Days Despite Knowing I Couldn't

There's been a lot of chit chat in the writeosphere recently about increasing output and speed. If you haven't read it already, Rachel Aaron's post on going from 2000 to 10 000 words per day is well worth checking out.

Why is speed good? Jay Ridler has some thoughts on how speed is productive when it comes to writing fiction, although not necessarily when it comes to other types of writing. As he experimented with writing a story a week and other challenges, he notes, "'Fast writing' turned my enthusiasm into work, and over time, I got better and sold more as I got more and more stories out and into publication and, hopefully, improved my game." On the topic of shooting for a 10,000 word day, Zoe Winters writes, "I want to be prolific. Not because I want to produce shit, but because I want to stop wasting my work time and actually work during my work time." Amen, sister. (p.s. the next day she totally did it.)

In today's market, speed is advantageous because we are in many ways entering a new pulp era. Okay, there is less actual pulp, and more digitization, but books and magazines have never been so ubiquitous and cheap and often awesome. Getting your name out there has to be as much about the sheer volume of work you have in circulation as it is about that one great story or novel that you wrote last year, or about pimping the work you do have out.

For these reasons and more, I've been interested in boosting my speed for quite some time. In November I had what I can only describe as a massive creative breakthrough, which was accompanied by a massive speed breakthrough. Here is what happened. I hope you can take something from it that's useful for you.

I wrote a novel in November. Not half of a novel, not a novella: a novel. 100,489 words. I finished the story arc, I fleshed out the main characters, I know what the story is about, and the plot makes sense: not bad for a first draft. These were the tools and preconditions that went into making that happen.

NaNoWriMo. I like big challenges. I am an extrovert, so it helps me to know that I'm virtually and literally surrounded by writers all moving toward a common creative goal. My NaNoWriMo regional chapter is full of amazing writers. As always, the social element of November helped keep me motivated.

Planning, but not too much planning. I used Lani Diane Rich's schematic, the Seven Anchor Scenes, to plan the first three major turning points of my story before November began. Once I knew where I needed to be, writing became a matter of leapfrogging to the next major turning point. At the beginning of November I knew how my novel would end, but only a little bit about what would go on in the middle or how the climax would shake down. I figured that out as I went.

Training. I spent most of 2011 writing short stories. I didn't quite make the Write1, Sub1 weekly challenge - okay, not by a long shot - but I did write a whole bunch of new stories. I know a few novel writers who eschew writing short stories, but for me, practicing the structure of beginning, middle, and end over and over really helped me when it came to writing a longer narrative. Simply put, I got better at connecting cause and effect in a logical way. That skill helped me immensely in November.

Stickers. You read that right. This tool is 100% about appealing to my inner kid. Most of the time, I get a sticker on my calendar for every day that I accomplish two goals: I have to read some fiction by someone else, and I have to write, edit, and/or submit something. During November, I suspended the "reading" rule and promised myself a big sticker on every day that I contributed to my word count.

I didn't tell anyone that I was attempting the 100k challenge. I downloaded lovely NaNo word count wallpapers from Kiriska's Deviantart files and put the 100k version up on my computer, but that was the only outward sign of my secret challenge.

I didn't make myself any promises. I thought, let's try this out. I knew I could write 3334 words in a day. I didn't believe that I could do that every single day for 30 days: in fact, I would have said that I knew it was impossible for me.

I didn't think about possibilities or my capabilities. I thought about my story and I thought about the scene or scenes I planned to write that first day. I did allow myself to fantasize, just a little bit, about writing a complete story arc in one month.

I started strong. Day one, I wrote 3714 words. By the end of day two, I had 7604 words. Day three, 11,957. Day four, 13,599. At that point, I had something going on: I had a sticker chain. Four stickers, a stick man saying "Nice Work," a couple of planets, and a stick girl saying "Super!" Day five, I put up a cute dog sticker and had 16,725 words. Something magical happened: I was loathe to break the sticker chain. There was no way I was not writing from that point on. The momentum was rolling, and I went with it.

I wrote fairly consistently, though not to a punitive degree. Some days my schedule was more conducive to writing than others. On the 12th of November I wrote a mere 545 words. On many days, I balanced lower word counts by writing 4k or more. In the end, I averaged 3350 words per day.

I shirked responsibilities and commitments. I shuffled my schedule and I deprived myself of sleep. Anything I could put off, I did. "I can do that in December" became my mantra. When I absolutely needed sleep, I took it in naps in the afternoon, traditionally my least productive time of day.

I did most of my writing between the hours of 9pm and 2am. I found that producing massive word count really depended for me on knowing there would be no interruption, and that however long it took, I would not be disturbed.

I should add here that I work part-time and most of my work is in the evening and on weekends. I am also a night owl. I do not think that I could have written quite this much if I had full-time work to attend, but who knows? There are ways to carve out more time than I did. I did not personally resort to using paper plates or eating takeout exclusively, but it could be done.

I passed the 50k mark sometime in the wee hours of the 16th of November. Hitting half of my goal at the halfway point of the month was a huge boost. I won't lie: I was tired. I felt and looked like twenty miles of bad road. But I was doing so much! I knew I could keep going.

The further I went, the fewer things I did other than write. In the latter half of the month, housework, any outside responsibilities that I could pass off onto someone else, and socializing went right out the window. Beyond basic self care and walking the dog, I was dead to the world. I was tired, but it was awesome. It felt amazing to make writing the centre of my life.

It took a good solid five days into December before I started to feel human again. But boy oh boy, did hitting that 100k mark ever feel good, as did writing the final scene of the novel. I still get a charge out of looking at my calendar page for the month:

In the end, I think basically I hypnotized myself through a combination of stickers and getting a strong start. After years of playing with different types of outline, I happened upon a minimal structure that encouraged maximum output without strangling my muse. I didn't limit myself by thinking about the challenge or how hard it was. I just carried on forward. I should probably add that I liked my idea, I was playing in a research area that I know backwards and forwards, and I have some substantial emotional investment in telling the kind of story I was writing. If any of those tricks works for you, I would be delighted to know.

Yes, Sally? I see you've got your hand up. What's that? Lots of writers say that the faster you go the crappier your writing will be?

Well, Sally, I've got a hypothesis for you: that's just wrong. Before you get all up in arms, allow me to demonstrate. Writing 10 or 20 words a day would not be productive or quality-inducing for most people. Unless you have superhuman powers of concentration in between writing sessions, 50 words a day would just result in choppy prose with compromised continuity. Writing 100 words a day, ditto, unless you're writing all Drabbles, all the time.

It is simply untrue that writing more slowly is more productive or more conducive to excellence. What people mean when they make this claim is that writing a certain number of words per day - whatever that number is for them - is conducive to excellence for them. No one can say what your optimal writing frequency is, except you.

For me, the NaNoWriMo standard of 1667 wpd was not enough. I lost traction on my previous NaNoWriMo efforts because I wasn't writing enough stuff in the course of a day. Pushing the speed on a long project was the key to producing a higher quality, coherent first draft. Each day I wrote, I knew I was going to be hitting a scene where something major happened. When I was going for 1667 wpd, that wasn't always the case. Those major events helped focus my daily writing. In terms of the big picture, writing full tilt for a month allowed me to keep the whole thing in my head. Even now, two weeks after the end of November, I have a clear picture of how I will need to add to, subtract from, and tweak what I've got to make it work in second draft.

The key is finding your frequency. What is your magic number, the raw word count value that will maximize your enthusiasm for your story? As it turns out, mine is a lot higher than I thought. I would like to propose that you will never find out your own magic number unless you try for a run of larger numbers than you usually write.

It may be that your ideal frequency is on the low side. Sarah Van Den Bosch, after learning that Graham Greene wrote The End of the Affair in 500-word daily chunks, restricted her writing to 500 words a day precisely. She concluded,
Forcing yourself to stop before you feel you’re finished keeps you thinking about the story and when you’re thinking about your story, you can’t help but to keep pushing it forward even if it is only in your mind. Not only that, but I found myself scrutinizing more over word choice. What would be the best fit for that sentence? Is that really what I want to say?
The key here is to find the number of words that helps you continue to think about the story in between your writing sessions. It could be that for you, like Sarah Van Den Bosch, 500 words per day is enough to keep the story alive in your mind. For me, the number is higher.

12 December 2011

Jim Meskiman's Night Before Christmas

Jim Meskiman does vocal impressions. Really really well. Since Christmas is fast approaching, but it's still too early to post the dancing pumpkinhead Christmas video, you can have this instead. Enjoy.

05 December 2011

Celebrate the Burnings of Your Life

I don't know why, but this is amusing me no end right now.

4koma comic strip - Some Mascots Just Want to Watch the World Burn
Via Comixed

I'm working on a larger post about the dark forces gumption I managed to rustle up in November. In the meantime, I'm watching some extremely fucked up movies and researching octopuses in order that I might better write about them.

30 November 2011

Six Digits

Earlier today, I made it across the NaNoWriMo double challenge finish line in two ways: one, I made it a little bit past 100k (100489 words). Two, I wrote the final scene of my novel. What I have feels like a well structured extremely elaborate outline of what could be a good novel someday. This is the first time I've managed a novel length piece without having it fall to pieces.

This evening, I took myself off to Wafflepalooza, our local NaNo region's way of celebrating the final day of the month, and I had a very tasty waffle.

Now, I feel like I could use the help of this little girl. Anyone know if she's taking new clients?

crazy parenting fails - Taking Dad For a Walk
Via Parenting Fails - though I would call this a parenting win.

29 November 2011


Home stretch. I've got a crisis, a battle, and a denouement to go. I'll report back when I'm all finished up. In the meantime, let's have one last Craig Ferguson Cold Open Dance Party, featuring Duran Duran's White Lines.

I want each and every one of you out of your chairs and shaking your boots. If you can't shake it to a song about cocaine lip synced by a pompadour-wearing Craig Ferguson, his amazing friends, and awesome puppets, you're dead inside. Dance, monkeys, dance!

Now get back to work. Those words ain't gonna write themselves.

28 November 2011

One of the Best Things I've Seen in Quite Some Time

Nothing to do with what I'm writing. I'm just trying to keep you amused so you don't notice that I'm not offering you any meaningful content.

I'm at 89021 words. Carry on:

27 November 2011


Last night, I took half an hour before beginning to write, grabbed a blank page, and plotted the end of the novel. I've known for some time how it will end (no I will not tell you just trust me it is great). For a while I've had some pretty strong ideas of the intermediate steps necessary to get there, but I wasn't sure how it was all going to hang together.

Now I know. It's just a matter of getting it all down on paper. I'm so excited. I can't believe I'm finishing this month in a state of excitement rather than in a state of bedraggled wiped-outedness. That is probably on its way, but it will have to wait until Thursday.

For all you WriMos, I hope you are enjoying the last few days of the challenge. While you're planning what you're going to do in December when your time is your own once more, check out Folly Blaine's post on an amazing sale on ebooks by Small Beer Press. We're talking 50% off, people! Apparently the sale is over after November 30. I found Kathe Koja's Under the Poppy and The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman, as well as some terrific short story collections.  

26 November 2011



I Get Letters

What's this, you ask? Why, adorable handmade bookmarks from Red Tash, who sent me stuff because she is awesome. Did you know that her book, This Brilliant Darkness, is available at a special price right now? You should totally buy it. After reading this review by Brent Nichols, I can't wait to read it. Tash, please pass on my thanks to your minions. They make great bookmarks!

I also got a review copy of Michael Monture's Slices in the mail this week. The collection looks excellent. It's available on Kindle and paperback. Many thanks, Michael! I plan to dive into it as soon as November is over.

24 November 2011


Still more writing to go tonight.

Current inspiration: Latcho Drom, a film by Tony Gatlif. The whole thing is wonderful. This is just a little taste.

The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum Needs Your Help

Bad news, my friends: the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, MD, where Poe began his short story writing career, has had its modest funding withdrawn by the city. Although the building is not under threat because it is considered a landmark, the museum might be forced to close in 2012.

The good members of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore are dedicated to keeping the memory of Poe alive and allowing people to briefly occupy the space where the super creepy and amazing "Berenice" was written, not to mention "King Pest the First," "Ms. Found in a Bottle," and others.

Here's where the good folks at Literary Landmark Press come in. They've put together an anthology of new stories, The Spirit of Poe. Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will go to the Museum to help it during this critical transitional time. Pre-order your copy here. If you're feeling especially generous, order one for yourself and then order one for donation to the Museum so they can sell it in their gift shop and earn extra dollars on it. If you're short on cash, you can always trumpet their cause to the skies. Every little bit helps, right?

Buy or promote the anthology any way you can, and take a few moments to investigate some of the other things you can do to help keep the Poe House and Museum open.

ETA: Poe House curator Jeff Jerome comments that if you want to help the Poe House and Museum, you should check out the new Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum website. I see that, among other ways to help, there's an address there to which you can send donations.

21 November 2011


My current inspiration:

The Burning Times is a remarkable documentary. While some of the claims of its experts have been called into question, it is radically subversive in many ways. This style of feminism, with its focus on recovering women's history and highlighting the deep misogyny of our culture, has long since gone out of style (if it ever was in style?), much to my consternation. As hokey as some aspects of neopaganism are, I think Donna Read and her team make a strong effort to sensitize us to the horrors of what they call "the women's holocaust."

About five minutes in, there's also this bit of weirdness. This guy deserves his own short story, or maybe a cameo in a novel.


17 November 2011


...and just about the end of the first part of my novel. I'm close to par for reaching my goal of 100k this month. Honestly, I have no idea how this is happening, except to say that somehow I have tapped my innate stubbornness in a way I haven't been able to since I was two years old.

Keep writing, everyone, whether you're insane a WriMo or not.

16 November 2011

Nothing More than a Moral Vacuum with a Deviant Message: NaNoWriMo Day 15

Today's title comes from a Vatican condemnation of New Moon, released shortly after the Catholic Church decided to start slamming Hallowe'en. Damn, vampmeyers get all the best reviews. I can only hope that someday, the book I'm writing right now will be similarly described. A girl can dream, can't she?

Word count: 47559. I should indeed pass 50k today. I can't believe I'm planning to spend the rest of the month repeating the overachieving ridiculousness of the last two weeks instead of slipping into a coma like half the internet probably wishes I would.

crazy parenting fails - Not What We Mean by "Turn the Other Cheek"
Via FailBlog

15 November 2011

It's Like That...and That's the Way It Is: NaNoWriMo Day...wait, what day is it?

My story takes place in the Medieval period, so my musical choices are limited, but if I could send my characters to a dance hall sometime in the late 1980s, I would have them moving to this, although maybe not as stylishly as the Red Army:

Sunday's word count took me to 39444. Monday took me to 43812. I'm a little less than a day behind, hoping to pass the mighty 50k by the end of tomorrow's writing. 

13 November 2011

A False Accusation of Poisoning: NaNoWriMo Days 11 and 12

From Pierre Boaistuau's Histoires Prodigieuses (1569)
Right now my source material is an incident in the life of Henry Suso, a 14th-century mystic who was also a follower of Meister Ekhart.

During the time of plague, a popular pastime was accusing various marginalized people and groups of poisoning wells. So severe were the symptoms of plague that many people could not accept that it was a disease, and so they chose to scapegoat members of their own communities. Jews were the most common targets, as the woodcut above depicting a Jew dropping a bag of poison into a well indicates. (The smaller figure with the spiral lower half is the devil, who is peeing into the well for good measure.) As a travelling mystic, Suso also fell under suspicion. When he arrived in one town, people there cornered his slow-witted travelling companion at the inn and made their accusations. The companion panicked, and, as people do under pressure, made up a story about Suso poisoning the local well:

My companion is a wise and experienced man. His Order has entrusted to him a bag of poison to sink n the wells, here and there in the country as far as Alsace, whither he is now bound. Everywhere he goes he goes he will defile everything with the deadly poison. See to it that you get him soon, or he will commit crimes that no one can ever undo. He has just taken out a little bag, and he has thrown it into the village well, so that all those who come to the fair, and drink out of the will, will be poisoned. That is why I stayed here, and would not go out, because I do not like it. And as a proof that I am telling the truth, you should know that he has a large sack, which is full of these bags of poison and with the gold pieces, that he and his Order have got from the Jews to pay him for committing these crimes.
(from Rosemary Horrox, The Black Death)

Such details, the little bags of poison, the Jewish conspiracy, were a common part of scapegoating efforts on the continent during the first waves of the Black Death. In telling that story, Suso's travelling companion would only have confirmed the delusions of the crowd. A mob scene ensued after this. Suso barely escaped with his life. 

Word count: Friday was a good writing day: I got to 37188 words, a little ahead of par. Saturday was not so good for writing, although it was good for other stuff. Word count: 37733. We'll see how far I get tonight after supper.

11 November 2011

If I Could Put Time in a Brothel: NaNoWriMo Day 10

Today's writing opened up the possibility of a sequence of scenes featuring disembodied monks in a brothel. I am afraid that this may be the beginning of the end for my (so far) serious novel. Isn't sticking a ghostly monk in the body of a prostitute basically the ultimate in jumping the shark? (Can we use "jump the shark" as a turn of phrase again? Or has "jumping the shark" jumped the shark?)

No nudge, no wink, just 33371 words.

10 November 2011

Waaaaahhh! NaNoWriMo Days 8 and 9

On Tuesday, I hit a wall. That would be the wall of lack of sleep and the wall of holy crap I've done so much already this month and the wall of I am blowing my own mind. Word count: 24068, about 2400 under par for the old Double NaNo challenge.

On Wednesday, I punched through the wall using the super fist of I can't quit now and I shall overcome and behold my awesomeness. So much is happening in my book now! We're talking body hopping and profound spiritual rituals and nasty revelations that are far nastier than I'd planned. Thank you, subconscious, for storing all those nightmares for me! They are coming in handy right now. Word count: 29499, about 500 words below par.

Now it's Thursday, and time to begin writing again. Many plots to plan and plans to plot.

Via Graphics Grotto

08 November 2011

Making a List, Checking it About a Hundred Times a Day: NaNoWriMo Days 6 and 7

I made it through an action-packed weekend with my word count more or less intact. Despite attending an emergency summit of girlfriends, teaching a double tai chi class on Saturday, and running a four-hour intensive workshop on Sunday, I kept on writing.

By the end of Sunday (Day 6), my word count was at 18953. Day 7, and I'm at 22648. My people are due for a mini-event that will presage the (disastrous) turning point of the end of Act 1. It should make the next couple of days relatively easy to write.

A while back a very wise writer from my home town told me that it's a great idea to keep a running list of characters as you write a novel-length project. Of course it is. I have a terrible habit of forgetting even major characters' names over the course of a ten-page short story. They often get renamed several times - a problem I deal with in revision.

With this project, I have a huge cast I'm working with, and many of the people appear only for a  moment to be disposed of in nasty ways, but you never know - they could show up later. This is a story that deals with life after death and harnessing spirits, after all. I realized I might be causing myself problems later on by not tracking character names, so today before I wrote I sat down and combed through the 36 pages of my manuscript, noting anyone who is mentioned in the course of the story, whether that character is central or not, onstage or not. The list is pretty and of limited legibility. I'm naming people on the fly and will probably do more checking later to see if I've introduced any anachronisms with these names. Major characters are in red; everyone else gets plain old black ink.

06 November 2011

Craig Ferguson Cold Open Dance Party and NaNoWriMo Day 5

I defy you to avoid boogying to this jam, especially once the sharks get into it.

Oh, and I'm at 16725 words.

05 November 2011

Dangerous on the Dance Floor (NaNoWriMo Days 3 and 4)

I am buckling down, my pretties. Yesterday, NaNoWriMo day three, my word count was at 11 957. Today was not an awesome day for writing - Fridays and weekends tend not to be, because that's when I do the majority of my teaching - but I am still ahead of the 100k in 30 days quota at 13 599. After working with my primary MC for the last three days, I've introduced someone new. Someone fabulous. 

I've started making a list of perfectly logical consequences of the way magic works in the story. I can't wait to swing these consequences on my characters. It's going to be awesome, and should make things much, much worse for them. I've named the list "Gruesome Discoveries." In honour of the list, here are my favourite pictures from an image search for "gruesome discoveries." Enjoy, and happy writing.


03 November 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 2

The sleep deprivation is definitely kicking in. I worked out this evening so I could stretch my old bones and not die when I teach my usual (excessive) round of tai chi classes plus a four-hour workshop this weekend, but then I came home and got right back into the writing. It's day two. I feel a certain obligation to keep up my high volume word count while enthusiasm is still high and my idea still feels good.

I will say this: aiming to write over 3k a day really helps with continuity and keeping the story foremost in your mind. If I'm not getting inky fingers at my desk, I'm thinking about what I'm going to write next. I'm using a tip I learned in grad school while writing the dreaded thesis: park on the downhill slope. Meaning, stop writing for the day in the middle of a good scene that you know will be easy to pick up again the next day. I find it helpful to do that.

Anyhoo, I've chosen a working title: A Plague of Witches. In the car on the way home tonight, Dave cheekily suggested Witch Plague as an alternative, and we got caught up in a discussion about the problem of titles that seem to be asking questions. Say it out loud, with a question mark at the end: Witch Plague?

I also know that at some point there will be golems.

Day two word count: 7604.


02 November 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 1

Yeeeahhhhhh! (Foam is coming out of my mouth right now. That's normal, right?)

I wrote 3714 words today. My book opens in the year 1348, when the Black Death struck Britain. (It hit bits of the rest of Europe the year before.) My idea concerns death and magic and diverges from what really happened historically on page one. I have no title, not even a working title, and that is driving me nuts.

Beginnings are fun but I know from experience that I have to move carefully. I'm trying to pack my opening scene with good, useful stuff for later, and not garbage that I'll wish I hadn't included. Because NaNo novels fly by so quickly, they need to have solid stuff that you can use later or else they turn into weird fluff by the end of the month. I don't want the fluff. I want necromancy and kickass chicks. Eventually I'll include a cast of thousands (well, tens), but for now my MC / focal point character is turning out to be messed up and cool in all kinds of great ways.

My outline includes the term "farm hooker," although my book will not.

Happy writing, Wrimos.

Coffin Hop Winner and Other Small Matters of Concern in November

The Coffin Hop is over! Booooo! The only thing I can say is that I wish it had gone on for a little longer, so I could have visited more sites while the cool giveaways were still happening. The best thing about the hop, though (besides the terrific badges) is that we can still visit the amazing writers who participated and get to know them that much better. Second best thing: there's going to be another one next year.

(Third best thing: I befuddled many people this past week by using the phrase "I've been coffin hopping" out of context.)

I absolutely loved the answers everyone gave to the question of what you'd like to be buried with. You guys made my Halloween with your awesome, Klingon-funeral wanting, bury-me-with-books needing ways. I love you all equally, but (dum dum dum!):

The winner of the One Buck Horror e-zine collection and the tiny copy of The Ancient Mariner is: Deborah Walker, aka Kelda Crich. Congratulations! I'll be in touch.

As a side note, the response that won my foul little heart was Anthony J Rapino's:

I'd like to be buried naked on a bed of red leaf lettuce. I should shimmer with a sweet glaze of honey (raw and unprocessed please). At my side I'd like a quart of barbeque sauce and some celery sticks.

Bon appetit.

You are sick, sir. And I salute you.

In other news, I won a skill-based ("skill-based") Coffin Hop contest over at Macromere Press, publisher of David Ewald's He Who Shall Remain Shameless. The book consists of fictional conversations with real-life dead people. The contest required you to name a deceased real-life person who you would like to see in the book, and give some reason why. I gave the creepiest answer I could muster, and I won some Amazon dollars for my troubles. I picked up a copy of He Who Shall Remain Shameless with it, because it looks smart and concerns some profound themes and I want to read it and you should too.

Finally, it is that time of year when we lose our heads and decide to write a novel. It's okay, though, because everybody's doing it. And yes, I would jump off a bridge if everyone else was. Hey, swimming together is fun! Posting in November will probably concern NaNoWriMo exclusively, so if you're not into it, you might want to duck and cover because it is going to get obnoxious in here.

23 October 2011

Coffin Hop Contest: You Could Take It With You

It's the week before Halloween, and the beginning of the Coffin Hop Horror Web Tour. Hooray! Last time I checked the website, there were 99 fabulous writers participating - which means that there will be tons of wonderful contests to enter and win. So get hopping, visit some new writers, and enter their contests!

What am I giving away, pray tell? I've got a two-part prize for you. Part one is electronic: you get issues 1-3 of One Buck Horror as a gift from me from, plus a copy of One Buck Zombies. Issue one of One Buck Horror contains my story "The Last Nephew." (Hooray!) Overall, this is one of the most exciting horror magazines out there. I guarantee you'll enjoy reading it.

I don't think a giveaway is any fun unless you get something in the mail, though, so I'm including something old and super cool as part of this prize: a teeny tiny leather bound copy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If you've read this creepy late 18th-century poem, you'll know it's one of the weirdest and spookiest pieces in English literature. If you've never read it, you're in for a treat. Impress and win the person of your affections by carrying this around in your pocket:

Looks impressive, right? But look how teeny:

That is a regular bic pen, my friends. The edition also has some awesome line drawings:

And it contains a copy of the poem Christabel, pretty much the earliest example of the vampiros lesbos genre that I'm aware of. I will mail this to you, plus Halloween stickers!

What do you have to do? Leave a comment on this post, and tell me the one thing you have or might someday have or fantasize about having that you'd like to be buried with when you kick it. In your ideal world, what would be with you in your coffin? Are you hoping for the perfect little black dress (or awesome black suit) or do you wish you could go with the full Mesopotamian funeral and take your slaves, your pets, and your numerous spouses with you? On November 1st, I'll pick a winner at random out of a hat or similar vessel and contact you to get your info.

This is a global contest. If you are on the earth planet, I will mail your prize to you.

Make sure you leave an email address or other means of contacting you. If you're worried about spammers, you can always format it this way: yourname at mailservice dot com.

17 October 2011

Halloween Warm-Up

It's almost here, boils and ghouls! Just to make sure you're in the spirit for Halloween and eagerly planning your costumes / movie marathons / candy binges / dark rituals, here's something old but so so good.

14 October 2011

Coffin Hop Horror Web Tour

At the end of this month I am getting Hallowe'eny with some fellow horror writers. If you're one of us...join us! If you're not, you might want to make a habit of dropping by the Coffin Hopper's websites that week, because we will all be offering treats, not tricks, in the form of contests! with fabulous prizes!

Deets for those who might like to play:

3) THIS TOUR STARTS: Monday, October 24, 2011 at Midnight (PST)
THIS TOUR ENDS: Monday, October 31, 2011 at Midnight (PST)
Winners will be drawn and posted November 1, 2011
***Authors have full discretion to choose an alternate winner in the event any winner fails to claim their prize(s) within 72 hours of their name being posted or after notification of win, whichever comes first. Anyone who participates in this tour is subject to these rules***
This is a Blog Hop!
Sign up at the Coffin Hop site or go there to start following awesome writers now!

13 October 2011

Mind Candy: James Mollison's The Disciples

This week I've been working on a short story about bubonic plague, trying to finish another about what happened to Icarus after he fell from the sky, and reading Malachi Martin's Hostage to the Devil, one of the scariest non-fiction books I've ever read.

In my never-ending search for amazing things to look at, I discovered photographer James Mollison's series called The Disciples. Mollison writes:

Over three years I photographed fans outside different concerts. I was fascinated by the different tribes of people that attended them, and how people emulated celebrity to form their identity.

Many more photos available at Mollison's online portfolio, including a musically enhanced slideshow. If that doesn't turn your crank, you can enjoy being fascinated by his amazing portraits of apes or his series on where children sleep.

09 October 2011

By the Lake

So, I've been away. Specifically, I've been in a Muskoka chair on the grassy shore of this jewel of a Northern Ontario lake. While I was there, and during the bits of September and early October that weren't spent there, I was sick with Deathflu (tm).

Look out for this flu, people. Everyone I know who caught it ended up with wicked bronchitis that stretched on for weeks. I'm (mostly) better now, but it took a while.

But ours is not to whine. My point is that normally while I'm up on Lake Charming, I spend most of my days scampering through the woods, meditating, and doing tai chi. The wild energies in this pristine natural setting are nothing short of mind blowing. No coincidence that throughout history, those who like to meditate tend to retreat to mountainous caves where no one will bother them and there is a low chance of human contact. The Lake Charming property is home to deer, moose, otters, beavers, herons, loons, ducks, jays, chipmunks, red squirrel, bear, and wolves. (Wolves!) It's an amazing place for a retreat.

This year, though, I was debilitated with Deathflu (tm). I had no choice but to sit in a Muskoka chair and read. (I know. It's terrible, isn't it?)

And read I did. I read up a storm.

I read at home, but it's all too easy here to get caught up in television watching and the daily grind. Some days it seems like it's all I can do to grab twenty minutes with a book, never mind the long solitary hours necessary to finish a novel or a story collection in one bite. But it's all about how you choose to spend the time you have, you know? And yet again I remembered how wonderful it is to sink into books and not come up for air. Since I've been back, I've been cultivating my reading habit on three fronts:
  • novels! This week I read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (wow) and Hater by David Moody (double wow)
  • short stories! I've taken up a new reading challenge that I'm tracking at Stringing Words. I've pledged to read a short story a day in November
  • research! It's only three short weeks before the beginning of NaNoWriMo - that's National Novel Writing Month for those of you who have been living in a hole. I'm planning an epic plot featuring political intrigue in an alternative England ruled by female necromancers. To gear up, I'm reading Machiavelli's The Prince, and reviewing Shakespeare's first tetralogy (the Henry VI plays and Richard III) 
What are you reading?

30 September 2011

The Other Daughter in EC's Cinderella Issue

Hooray!  My story, "The Other Daughter," along with the others in the Cinderella issue of Enchanted Conversation, is up today.

You won't believe how incredibly appropriate the artwork is to the story. It's perfect.

28 August 2011

Upcoming Story in Enchanted Conversation

Edmund Dulac's Cinderella (Source)

I just learned that my story "The Other Daughter" is going to be a part of the Cinderella issue of Enchanted Conversation. Couldn't be more excited.

22 August 2011

Exact Transcript of a Voice Mail Message I Received This Weekend

Yes, hello there, this message is for Gary. Your number was given to me by Natalie, regarding your boas and pythons and so on and so forth. My name is Joanne, and we were looking to meet and talk about the possibility of using one of your skates snakes for a couple of events. I am looking for an albino python if that's possible. My number is [redacted]. There is a cell phone number I'm going to call if that's okay, because this is a bit time-related and I'm excited to talk to you. Thanks so much.

My name is not Gary; I do not have an albino python. I hope Joanne found the albino python she desired when she called that cell phone number.

18 August 2011

Good and Evil

I recently came across this passage from Natalie Crohn Schmitt's essay, "The Idea of a Person in Medieval Morality Plays," published in a collection called The Drama in the Middle Ages (AMS, 1982). It offers a fascinating account of the Medieval European view of good and evil, and how this view influenced the way people experienced the world.

From "The Idea of a Person in Medieval Morality Plays" (quoted material is in italics:(

The war between Good and Evil was the profoundest reality of life, since upon the issue hung the eternal destiny of the soul. The salvation of the hard-pressed soul was the supreme prize of existence, and mortal life became subject to a single evaluation - the soul's progress toward God or its defection away from Him.

The adventure of life was, in our sense, inward and spiritual. God created the earth and the heavens and all things therein so that man might work out his life and destiny. Man was at the center of the universe and everything possessed significance not in itself but for man's pilgrimage.

The Devil and his demons indeed were very real and very close, and the powers of God and his angels needed constantly to be drawn upon to combat them.

What we call external reality was subordinate to the central conflict. The observer was himself in the picture at the center, and the world was more like a garment man wore about him than a stage on which he moved. The internal and external world were identified in a state of fusion and wholeness.

As a horror writer, I tend to think of evil as my bread and butter. Without some kind of badness, what would a horror plot be? For that matter, what would epic fantasy be without some Big Bad to confront and fight?

As a human being in this modern world of ours today, I have been led to believe that real life comes in shades of grey. It's fashionable to declare that there is no evil, only misunderstanding. (I don't think that's correct, for my two cents, but that's another blog post for another day.)

Reading this passage made me think a little harder about how different it might be to live in a culture that is totally immersed in the belief in concrete, tangible good and evil. Even if you're Christian, I don't know that it's possible to immerse yourself so totally into the mindset Schmitt describes here. You still have to contend with alternative points of view, even if you don't agree with them. In Medieval Europe, viewpoints that contradicted a Christian worldview were practically unthinkable, and where they were encountered, were dismissed as backward, which is to say, Satanic (thus folding them back into the good vs. evil point of view).

My question for you, Gentle Reader, is this: when you invent cultures with moral codes different from your own, how much do you alter the consciousness of your characters?