Friday, October 30, 2009

If It's November, I Must Be Writing a Novel

A few years ago, I started a little sports blog at, mostly as a way to combine my dual passions for writing and sports than out of any real notion that anybody might be interested in what I had to say.

It took a while, but eventually I built up a fairly decent following, not to mention discovering a number of very talented writers whose work I enjoyed reading. In October, 2006, one of those writers made an offhand comment on one of my blogs about something called "NaNoWriMo," telling me she was going to participate for the second year in a row and inviting me to join in as well.

I was pretty sure "NaNoWriMo" had nothing to do with sports, since I had never heard of it, but I had no earthly idea what it was. Honestly, it sounded vaguely menacing, in a science-fiction, aliens-taking-over-the-world sort of way.

When I asked this blogger what the hell she was talking about, she explained that "NaNoWriMo" was short for "National Novel Writing Month," where participants commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Just November. Seriously.

The concept sounded just crazy enough to be appealing and although I now knew it didn't involve aliens taking over the earth (Unless that's what I chose to write a novel about), it was damned scary in it's own way. Naturally, I decided to try.

I had been itching to try writing a book for a while - blogging about sports was a blast but writing fiction has really been what I wanted to do since I was a little kid. I was hooked when I discovered the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes.

So on November 1, 2006 I began writing a tale about a professional assassin who really wants out of the life but isn't quite able to escape it. His downfall is that he's simply a sucker for anyone who has been wronged and requires his special talents in order to right that wrong.

To my utter amazement, by November 30 I had written the required 50,000 words, and was thus a winner in my first-ever NaNoWriMo attempt! The story wasn't finished, however, so I kept going, and by the time I wrote "The End", I was the proud owner of the first draft for a 95,000 word novel titled The Fixer.

I have participated in NaNoWriMo every year since. I won again in 2007 with what ended up being an 89,000 word horror novel titled Paskagankee, and in 2008 I completed an 88,000 word thriller titled Final Vector. I didn't win last year because I had already started the novel, and when I finished writing it in mid-November, I had nothing left to write.

I won't make that mistake again, though. This year I am planning a thriller about a regular guy who happens onto the attempted kidnapping of a teenage girl. He breaks up the crime and saves the girl, but in doing so, puts his own family squarely in the sights of the unhinged criminal.

If you're a writer, and maybe even if you're a reader, you have probably by now heard of National Novel Writing Month. If not, think of it as the Olympics for writer-nerds. As they freely admit on the NaNoWriMo website, "The ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly."

When I completed my three previous novels, two of which I started during NaNoWriMo and the third of which I finished during it, all I had were very rough first drafts. All of them required extensive editing and rewriting before they ever reached the point where I would be comfortable having anyone else look at them.

But they all eventually reached that point and while I remain unpublished - at least as far as novels are concerned - I have received constructive criticism as well as encouragement from agents and independent publishers and remain convinced it is only a matter of time before I join the ranks of professional novelists.

If you're a writer and you are participating in NaNoWriMo 2009, feel free to add me as a writing buddy. If you're not a writer but have a morbid curiosity as to why anyone in their right mind would attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days, you are welcome to use this link and follow my progress.

I fully expect to pop up from under my rock and post the occasional blog, but just in case our paths don't cross for the next month, enjoy November! I'll have my nose to the grindstone, or at least my fingers on the keyboard, composing fiction and wreaking havoc on the poor people who populate my new novel . . . I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Freud Would Have a Field Day

I do some of my best thinking when I'm asleep, or nearly so.

Anyone who knows me would probably not be surprised by that admission, but it never ceases to amaze me. I can't tell you how many times I have been stuck on a plot twist, or have written my protagonist into a corner which I have no idea how to get him/her out of, or can't come up with an original idea for a short story or novel, and as I'm drifting off to sleep, something comes hurtling out of nowhere and smashes me over the head.

Sometimes, of course, it's my wife trying to get me to stop snoring, but just as often it's the kernel of an idea that helps me figure out where I want to go with my story or novel. In the beginning, it would catch me by surprise. I would have no conscious memory of even thinking about writing, and yet I would suddenly visualize the solution to my dilemma with a clarity which approached "vision" status.

It has gotten to the point where I now make a conscious effort to dwell on the problem I'm experiencing in my writing as I feel myself beginning to drift off to sleep. Now don't get me wrong; I'm not going to try to make you believe that it happens all the time, or even most of the time. But it happens often enough that I know I can rely on my subconscious mind to help me out a pretty fair percentage of the time.

At first I would have a hard time remembering my "vision" when I woke up the next morning. My wife told me to keep a pen and paper next to the bed and write down my ideas, but honestly I am so close to falling asleep when they hit that I'm really not able to wake up enough to write them down. I've even lost a few. Now, though, I have gotten to the point where I am usually able to recall my "visions" from the previous night with little or no trouble.

I have to admit it's equal parts comforting and disturbing to know my subconscious mind has so much control over me. I assume we are all in the same boat in that regard, although maybe I'm just telling myself that so I won't worry too much about how close I am to occupying a rubber room with my arms tied into a straitjacket.

Sometimes I wonder what Freud would say about this whole thing, but then again, maybe it's better if I don't know.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Groucho Marx Had It Right

I'm going to take a leap of faith here and assume you have a Facebook account. I tend to run roughly a half-decade behind the rest of the world in using the latest technological advancements, and I have a Facebook page, so I'm going to go ahead and assume you do, too.

So you know those little blocky ads that run down the right side of the Facebook page? I'm sure you've seen them, they promise a coupon a day to eat out cheap in [Insert name of the closest city to wherever your IP address is located here], or show some hot chick toting a machine gun in an attempt to get you to play Mafia Wars, or promise to teach you how to self-publish your book (Fifty marketing tips!)

As near as I can determine, they seem to run in a kind of rotation, depending upon some AI determination of what your interests are. Somehow the collective computer intelligence of the web determined that I'm a writer, so I get those self-publishing ones a lot. Or maybe they're completely random, I don't really know, although I doubt it - what would be the point of touting self-publishing to someone who doesn't even read books, much less write them?

Anyway, my favorite little blocky ad that shows up on the right side of my Facebook page every now and then is the one that advises me, "Authors Get Honored Now. Find out if you're eligible to be included in the prestigious Cambridge Who's Who Registry of Distinguished Individuals."

What an invitation! I can be "distinguished," perhaps even if I haven't actually done anything! Of course, if "Cambridge," whatever that means (Cambridge, England? Cambridge, Massachusetts? Some guy named Cambridge? Who knows?), is really willing to consider li'l ole me distinguished, isn't that sort of watering down the term to the point where it's damned near meaningless?

I've achieved a small amount of success placing short stories in print and online media, and I continue to write novels, feeling strongly that I will have success with them at some point, maybe even selling a few copies. But even I, as much as I like myself, find it hard to believe any of that makes me "distinguished."

Groucho Marx once famously said, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." That's more or less how I feel about angling to get myself placed in Cambridge's Who's Who Registry of Distinguished Individuals. What's the point, really? If you asked anyone who knows me to give you fifty separate words with which to describe me, I'm confident "Distinguished" wouldn't appear anywhere on anyone's list.

Disingenuous, maybe. Disappointing, perhaps, depending on who you asked. Distractable, certainly. Distinguished, not so much.

So, to the individual or individuals tasked with the unenviable job of determining just who the hell is worthy of inclusion in the the Who's Who Registry of Distingished Individuals (Author Division), I humbly offer this small tidbit of advice. Maybe you should stop paying for that little blocky ad in Facebook, and instead start, you know, actually reading people's work.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Marred by Controversy

In a shocking display, President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech was interrupted yesterday by an angry outburst from singer Kanye West.

The man normally noted for his classy and graceful behavior at public events stormed out of the crowd gathered to hear the president's remarks, grabbing the microphone and ranting, "Barack, I'm really happy for you. I'll let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the most peaceful years of all time! One of the most peaceful years of all time!"

Security personnel rushed into action, escorting West from the podium and ejecting him from the Rose Garden. Witnesses reported hearing the furious hip-hop superstar mutter, "Jackass? I've got your jackass right here, Mr. President," as he was led off the White House grounds.

A few minutes later, Beyonce, on stage to accept some award or another, graciously ceded a portion of her acceptance speech to Mr. Obama, saying, "I remember when I was up for my first Nobel Prize and it was one of the most exciting moments of my life. So I'd like for Barack to come out and have his moment."

The remainder of the ceremony was uneventful, although insiders report that President Obama may not be done issuing Nobel acceptance speeches just yet. A member of the Nobel committee, speaking under condition of anonymity, said yesterday, "Our decision to award the peace prize to the U.S. President is based on our knowledge of just how badly the man wants peace in the world. So even though he has done nothing yet to actually, you know, achieve peace, we felt it appropriate to award him the prize. We have recently learned Mr. Obama feels just as strongly about eliminating cancer and other dread diseases in our lifetime, so we are seriously considering awarding the president the Nobel Prize for Medicine as well. Stay tuned."