Sunday, November 28, 2010

I almost forgot: I'm a WRITER.

Check that shit out -- right there on the left side of this post. That's a NaNoWriMo Winner! badge. Wanna know how I got that? I wrote a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That was it -- all I had to do. It didn't have to be good, it didn't have to contribute to the national conversation, it didn't even have to be spelled correctly or use good grammar (although you can rest assured my novel does both those things, and does them well). It just had to be 50,000 words or more.

I committed to NaNoWriMo somewhere during the last week of October, when another blogger I like to read was talking about how she was going to do it, and used the word "again." I thought to myself, I'm being left behind. Left behind by people who don't even really write fiction. And so I figured I'd look into it, maybe give it a try this year. The main rule, other than the 50,000 words, is that you have to work on something new, not something you've already started. I'd had the germ of a potential chick lit masterpiece (um, right!) working its way around my brain for a few weeks leading up to this, so I figured I'd go ahead and commit that to paper. Or computer. Or whatever. Upon hitting the forums for the challenge, I took some advice from folks who have completed it in the past and decided to make an outline. Something I've never done in the past when working on fiction.

I got off to a really slow start. The entire first week of November was really busy for one reason or another, and I wasn't able to sit down in the evenings and start writing. In fact, I don't think I even started until maybe the 10th. So already, I was way behind. Apparently you want to average around 1,667 words per day. But once I get going, that kind of word count comes easily. It was just getting to the final tally that would be an issue. And once I did get started, I immediately started to feel it -- the feeling of obsession that's always come to me when writing fiction. I was suddenly distracted all the time, thinking about my characters, thinking about their wants and needs and hopes and dreams and motivations.

And that was the biggest road block, eventually: I've always written organically. My characters do what they want to do, or what they're going to do, whether I've gone into it thinking that they would do A, B, or C. And then I explore that, and let them go on their way, and see where it takes the story. It can be slow and arduous, but it's the way that works for me. And to force myself to use the outline and push forward the word count was nearly counter-intuitive for me. I wanted to go back and flesh things out; I wanted to revise as the characters matured; I wanted to add entire scenes. But I didn't. I stuck to my outline. And ultimately, I reached 50,767 words.

I reached it with a whimper, not a bang, around 5 o'clock this evening. I was starting to lose steam, as was the story. It has its good moments, but it has more bad and cheesy moments. If the purpose wasn't the word count, I'd have scrapped 60% of it and revised already.

But if the purpose wasn't the word count, I wouldn't have started it at all. I certainly wouldn't have pursued it till I reached 50,000 words. So what it was really about was reminding me of something I'd all but forgotten: I'm a writer. A writer. I've always been a writer. And I'd lost sight of that for the last few years. Busy with work, and taking care of my family, and all the distractions that cable television provides, I haven't written more than about 4 pages in the last five years. But now, I've written about 140 in the last three weeks alone. About 60 just this weekend.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to make a habit of writing 60 pages in one weekend... unless I'm actually getting paid for it.

But I do want to get back to the habit of writing fiction all the time. Because it's what I love to do.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stuff I'm Thankful for Right Now

This was going to be one of my generic "stuff I love this week" posts but then I realized it was Thanksgiving... Anyway, in no particular order:

1). My 15-year-old Vancouver Roots sweatshirt, which is quite literally falling apart at the seams but is still enough to keep me warm now that the temperatures have dipped below freezing.

2). That crazy giant bunch of cilantro I picked up at Sunflower yesterday morning. I've never smelled something so lovely. I wish someone would bottle that so I could diffuse it in my scent diffuser.

3). And Sunflower Market, which keeps us from going broke on almost a weekly basis.

4). My son, The Pook. He is caught somewhere between "little boy" and "tween," and although his attitude is often one of suckitude, he is always funny and mostly sweet. I love seeing him work so hard at karate, and still hold out hope that this will eventually spill over into school work as well...

5). My husband, Evil Rob. He is the best and the sweetest.

6). Disney's XD channel, which is full of kid shows and cartoons that are actually funny (or awesome, in the case of The Avengers: The Earth's Mightiest Heroes), so neither Rob nor I wish to stab out an eye while The Pook watches his shows.

7). Speaking of Disney, I'm totally thankful that we have already paid our January Disney World trip in advance. We're talking paid in full, people!!! This is so out of character for us, but here's hoping it's something that will be in character going forward.

8). NaNoWriMo. Or National Novel Writing Month for those of you who don't know. This is where you try to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. I've tried for the first time this year, and while I'm not sure at this point that I'll hit 50,000, I do know I've already written more this month than I have in the last 5 years combined. And have rediscovered my love of writing and making up stories, no matter how stupid they are.

9). GLEE. Please. I'm not gonna leave Glee out. It seems odd that a musical show has replaced Lost as my "best show evarrrrr" show, but there you go. And any episode that features Kurt as the main storyline is just icing on the cake.

10). Nicki Minaj's rap in Kanye's "Monster." This is seriously the best 1 minute and 20 seconds of a song I've heard in years. It's a master class in everything rap is supposed to be -- sort of over the top and insane, and she rhymes "Sri Lanka" and "Willy Wonka." It's outstanding. (If anyone is ever tempted to listen to a song based on my recommendation, I am going to warn you that this particular one contains f-bombs galore. Kanye seems a little irritated these days. I dunno why.)

11). Bruno Mars. Especially "Just the Way You Are." You may heard this one on GLEE this week. The original is even better. The song at the wedding in this week's GLEE is also by Bruno Mars, and is also awesome in its original form.

12). Kleenex. Was there ever a better invention than Kleenex? Especially this time of year.

13). I'm also continually thankful to have a job, and a good job at that.

14). My family.

15). My friends.

16). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. I love movies based on books that are actually outstanding pieces of film making, and this one fits the bill. Some have complained that the "wandering lost" scenes go on far too long (a similar complaint was uttered frequently about the book, by people who missed the point), but to Rob and I both, those were the best parts of the movie. I don't have to have stuff blowing up every ten minutes and special effects or whatever -- I need some emotion. And those wide desolate shots capture perfectly what's happening with Harry (and Hermione and Ron) at that time. Also, the scene where Harry and Hermione dance to Nick Cave's "O Little Children" was a really nice touch. Totally awkward and dorky, and perfect. I cried at least 10 times the first time I saw it but got that down to a mere 5 the second time.

17). My kindle, as always. I've got 4 books going right now. It's so much easier to do that with a kindle. Way less clutter. Don't get me wrong -- I still love actual books. Books are awesome. But my kindle allows me to keep reading after my carpal tunnel syndrome wants me to stop.

All right, I gotta go -- I've got cranberry salsa to make, sweet potatoes to chop, and brussels sprouts to bake. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

What I've Read This Month...

No More Dying Then, Ruth Rendell This is an Inspector Wexford mystery, sort of -- I mean, he's there, involved in the investigation, but the main focus seemed to be on one of his associates. It's always interesting to go back to the 1960s and earlier in mystery novels and see how the pages just drip with male chauvinism, even from female writers. Sadly, it was too distracting in this book for me to actually say I enjoyed it. And the resolution of the mystery was one of those ludicrous ones where it has absolutely nothing to do with any of the clues that were dropped or the suspects that were interviewed. That's one rule I like followed in my mysteries -- I don't want the ending to come out of left field. So a little off. But the writing was good. You may also remember this as being the "Booger Book" noted in my last entry. Good times!

Loose Lips, Claire Berlinski This one I picked up quite by accident as I was browsing the aisles looking for something else -- well, actually, the second book by this author was displayed with its cover out, and it looked pretty so I picked it up (I judge books by their covers all the time), and it sounded like fun when I read the jacket copy, and then I noticed this one sitting near it and figured I might as well read them both. So glad I did! This was a fun sort of "chick lit" book about a young woman who applies to the CIA sometime in the late 1990s and spends about a year in spy-training camp. She falls in love with a guy we're not meant to trust from the get go, and in the end, she doesn't quite make the cut. But it's a really fun read. Highly recommend this one.

Lion Eyes, Claire Berlinski This is basically kind of a sequel to Loose Lips. A metafiction sequel. If one can do metafiction in smart girl's chick lit. A fictional version of Claire Berlinski is living in Paris, struggling with writers' block following the success of her first novel (Loose Lips). She gets a random email from a man living in Iran one night, asking where he can purchase a copy of her book. She sends him a pdf file of it, and they strike up a correspondence, eventually falling for one another. Claire takes a trip to Istanbul to escape from her writers' block and falls in with an American couple; the wife turns out to be a CIA agent and wants Claire to convince the man she's been corresponding with to spy in Iran on behalf of the United States. I won't spoil the ending, although I kind of wish it had gone differently -- let's just say I'm a sucker for a happy, neat ending. The real Claire Berlinski isn't, though -- she's more a fan of allowing her strong female characters to be enough for themselves, just as they are. They don't need a man. Which is actually fantastic and made me love these two books all the more.

Last Night At Chateau Marmont, Lauren Weisberger I was all set to not like this book a whole lot, and I do have my problems with it, but all in all, I'm really glad I grabbed it off the New Releases tables at the library on my way to the check out desk. I'm just going to say that I hated The Devil Wears Prada (the book -- liked the movie well enough, though), and refused to even entertain the notion of reading Chasing Harry Winston. But this one sounded like a lot of fun because it involved rock stars. Sort of. Our heroine has been married several years to her husband, a musician with a local following; he is catapulted to stardom following an appearance on Jay Leno, and trouble for their marriage follows. They are both such decent, kind human beings that you find yourself rooting for them from the get go, and I will confess that at one point I did have to skip to the last few pages to make sure I was going to get the ending I hoped for. The things I had issues with: the cliche best friend, who wasn't even a very interesting character or sympathetic best friend; the failure to resolve a problem the main character has because of some very bad behavior on her brother's girlfriend's part; and some awkwardness in creating realistic dialogue. Otherwise, it was a really enjoyable read.

Blindman's Bluff, Faye Kellerman This is the latest of Faye Kellerman's Pete Decker detective novels, and it's an entertaining enough installment. I was sad not to see much of Pete and Rina's kids, but the plot was intriguing -- ripped loosely from the headlines as always. I am getting to the point of concern, though, with the casual racism in Ms. Kellerman's work against California's Latino population (all her novels take place in the Los Angeles area). I'm not sure if it's a misguided attempt at portraying the casual racism of some of the peripheral characters, or a poorly written attempt to do the same. Unfortunately, it just comes off as racism in the narrative. If this trend continues in her next book, I'll have to stop reading her stuff.
I've also been reading a bunch of free essays available from Amazon for kindle -- mostly literary criticism, but also some by Bruce Springsteen reflecting on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, one of my all-time favorite albums. And I'm still making my way through Neil Gabler's Walt Disney, a biography of gargantuan proportions (I believe the print version is around 1000 pages, so I'm really glad to be reading this one on my kindle). It's an excellent work, but it's very detailed and gets a touch dry at times. The chapter on the making of Snow White was weirdly gripping, though. Hopefully I'll have some more time to really sit down with it this weekend, and then I can move on to something else... "something else" being Life, by KEEEEEEEF... er, Keith Richards. I cannot WAIT to read that book!!
Um, not in the same way I cannot wait for the new Harry Potter movie, though. That would just be crazy.