Tiny Little Update on Week 3

I’m tired. But back on track. What a difference a holiday makes!

Thanks to Francesca, my family, and my friends, all of whom cheered and encouraged me while I explained why I wouldn’t be attending their Thanksgiving dinners. On Thanksgiving, I was able to double my previous max daily word output, and get to 3500 words in a day. Yesterday and today, I busted just a bit past 5000 words. That gives me about 12,000 to go.

If tomorrow I can get to 5k again, then I just need to edge past 2000 per day during the week to get to the finish line.

Barring calamity, I think this is a done deal. Lotta work between here and there, but I see the finish line and I’m cruising toward it at a respectable pace.

Also, I kinda like some of the words that I’m putting together. I think they are real English and create actual recognizable sentences. So I got that going for me.

Speaking of going for me…

Go go go!

Before/After the Hump

Wednesday was the Hump Day — not just of the week, but of the month, the first day of the second half. Writing’s going well. I like the stuff that’s coming out, better than the “first shitty draft” I expected though it will certainly need some polish time and elbow grease (er, brain grease? ew.). Haven’t quite gotten into the right rhythm for style or dialog or even balancing description and action, but as they say, you’re never really qualified to do a thing until after you’ve done it.

Right now, I’m running almost exactly 60% of what I should be; this means every day for the first half of the month I was behind by 40%, so every day for the second half I’ll need to be 100% plus that 40% make-up. So during the second half of the month I’ll need to more than double my average per day to hit the finish line of 50,000 words by November 30.

I think it’s possible. I think I’m still in this race. Francesca wants to remind me that if I don’t make it I’m still at nearly 20,000 words of a novel that didn’t exist a month ago. Yes. True, dat.

It’s important to me, though. Not because if I miss the 50,000 I’ll feel like a failure, because my happiness is not tied to the end result. And not because it will be worthless if I don’t reach the deadline. This ain’t a cake. If I get 80% of the ingredients in there, things will be just fine.

But 50,000 is audacious. There is value in striving toward an audacious goal. And hitting that goal makes it even more powerful. So I’m reaching for that power. I think it’s worth it.

I spent yesterday and today researching, plotting, filling my head with images and conflicts. I know more about the correlation between latitude, dark days, degrees of twilight, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Solipsism Syndrome than I ever felt necessary. (BTW: the tendency toward Solipsism Syndrome in isolated Antarctic stations is a main reason my tough-as-nails detective cares for a greenhouse. That’s also the source of this great “See Also” pic.) Today or tomorrow I plan to watch two years’ worth of webcam footage from above the arctic circle to get a real sense of what “Night At Noon” is all about.

That set me a little behind, but in order to get a running start sometimes you need to start a little behind. Thanksgiving is coming up, I’ve set those days aside and the boss won’t wonder where I’ve disappeared to. Also, I’m counting on a little last-minute panic and over-the-hump momentum to build me up to a few 3000-word days near the end.

Go go go!

Power of images

I spent some time last week making pictures that didn’t exist before for stuff that used to only exist in my mind. I found it motivational, but given that I hadn’t published them I figure I was also embarrassed — I was supposed to be plotting the novel. Much like I’m supposed to be doing now.

Which is why I’m here, publishing this, instead. Procrastination!

Oh, crap. I just did it. Procrasterpated. Watched three Ze Frank videos, just cuz I was looking for that one. Dammit.

First week in stats: 4045 words, just about half what I need to keep on target. And on the downside, I was completely unable to do much writing this weekend — work intrusions, etc. Also, procrastination. But, some good things:

  1. I think I’m still on target, because I’ve got it all plotted out. That is, after I stop writing in this blog I’ll have it all plotted out. At least for tomorrow. Right!
  2. I’ve shown that so long as I have a plan when I wake up, I can get out of bed at 6 and write for 3 hours and generate about 2,000 words. That doesn’t suck as bad as it sounds.
  3. The guys at work never even suspect. Shh.
  4. Peet’s chocolate covered espresso beans are far superior to Trader Joes’ version.
  5. The chapters thus far are good. Enough that I think after a rewrite or two they may be real good. I hope.
  6. The story is translating to novel format well. I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

Ok, so the unix script I had running in the background while I wrote this is wrapping up, so I probably should too. Here are the pics:

Dark Month, the current book cover. The city of Frankfurt stands in for Antipodes City; the aurora was from NASA and is the borealis not australis; and the guy is just a guy.

The Right of Rule RPG has some modern-esque technology, like daguerrotypes. This is a picture of a gypsy woman and her baby; I made it all daguerro-like, slapped some tattoos on there and gave Souchart his trademark vitiligo.

Another faux daguerrotype, showing a yurt made from modern-ish materials but otherwise low-tech.

NaNo Eve

Spooky goblins. Ethereal ghosts. The undead, and not that crazy glittery Twilight stuff, but the real soulless, emotionless dead come back to life to consume all you hold dear.

All Hallows’ Eve.

My knees are knocking, but not from the ooky-spookies. We turned out the porch lights and I almost made a “Go Away” sign to ward off those costumed merry-makers. No, tonight is a different terror. NaNoWriMo has come for my soul.

50,000 words in 30 days? I accept that challenge, sir!

Holy crap.

I may beat it. I may succumb. I may let out a world-shaking “meh.” But for the next 30 days I’m going to be doing a lot of math in between breaths.

At 1666 words per day, given 30 days and a 20% rewrite or correction rate, then that means 2000 words per day to achieve 50,000 words which is a 200-page novel with generous margins and the most recent novel I read was 674 pages of cramped type but that was a long novel and the next most recent was 378 pages oh crap oh crap, but that’s ok because I often inflate by 28% percent on each rewrite so after 3 or 4 rewrites, which likely means March, plus or minus 2.4 weeks…


Tomorrow begins National Novel Writing Month. I have, helpfully, already decided that I am unlikely to survive. This gives me nothing to lose. Except the house, my wife, my job, sanity, and all this nicely stockpiled booze…

Enough. I’ll fake it. Those things, except for the booze, are pretty forgiving. My boss tolerates me because he doesn’t understand what I do and his partner thinks I’m the cat’s whiskers and luckily he doesn’t look at my invoices. My wife is awesome, and has let me explore all sorts of crazy shit recently. The house is unlikely to burn down, so long as I remember to call that guy for the furnace thing on Thursday. The booze may not forgive me, but it also may not survive the month depending on how things go. Never care about the booze’s feelings.

So, onward, I say! Bringest thou storms and deadlines, tangled plots and bit characters, collapse of home and demands of employ! I shall bear this burden joyfully, for it is in microcosm my life. It is a critical and irreplaceable bit of the puzzle of life that I am assembling, the plot to a biography I hope to be worth reading. For that is it. We are, in essence, requested by the universe to justify the energy we expend, the molecules we consume, to “write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.”

This month, it’s the writing.

Hard Boiled Test #2: Entries

Entries — entering rooms, meeting people, perception, observation, interpretation. These are disconnected and are just practice.

The rose bushes weren’t visible from the road, only after you committed yourself to walking the length of the driveway. It was this big looping thing, double entrance, central grassy semicircle in the center you could hardly throw a dollar across. The rose bushes were on the inside curve, telling people to buzz off, this grass isn’t for kids, it isn’t for picnics, it isn’t for you. It was show grass only, and doing a slap-poor job of it because like everything else in this City it wilted in the dark. Little lanterns on tall iron posts along the driveway curve lit the way. They had these stinging cyan bulbs in back, facing the grass, trying to get it to grow. One of those bulbs was out. The roses nearest the busted lamp were just sticks and thorns.

“You need to fire your gardner and hire an electrician,” I told the stooped man in the doorway. Here at the white plaster house, the light was positively painful. Near as bright as day, but with that eery shadowless quality that a thousand LEDs and plus-alby paint casts, so you can see everything but nothing looks real so you’re disconnected, floating in an image that moves with you.

The stooped man didn’t respond. Maybe he raised one of his steel-wool eyebrows, but with his wrinkly forehead and eyes squinting against the glare I certainly couldn’t tell. Maybe he was a bit synth. At his age, maybe it was the only part of his brain still ticking. Direct approach then.

“Ms. Stevens. She home? I’d like to talk with her.”

“She is not expecting you, Mr. (Sonntag|Vogelmann|Sochacki|Jankovics|Kowalski).”

I didn’t see any scanner on the door or just inside, but it was likely concealed. Even more likely, a place like this has an identity feed piping in the names and backgrounds of everyone who passes by on the street.

“Yeah, I didn’t call ahead. It’s about work. She home?” I asked stepping in like I was invited. Stoops backed up a bit and let me by, but he wasn’t too happy about it.

Inside was money, but not the grand show-off of one who had scraped himself up from a hole and now wanted to seclude himself by throwing a house between him and any visitor. Also not the regal social nexus of someone born to wealth. This was more solid, a stepping stone, a lawyer or MBA working his ass off and pulling down a salary five times what his men make, but still a salary.

The foyer had wide free-floating stairs curving upward off to the left, leading up to the private rooms. The entryway was cramped as a reception room, but it was decked out like one with two red velvet highbacked chairs with a short table between sporting a single travel magazine. Looked like real wood panelling along the walls, high ceiling and white curved plaster with no art, just a couple plants doing better than their outside cousins. The far side opened up without doors or pillars into a wide open plan, where the living room and chandeliered dining room and a couple other who-knows-what rooms were just separated from each other by a single step up or down, like some Frank Lloyd Wright neo-Japanese pastiche. Without pillars, the second floor seemed to just levitate there, resting lightly on the floor-to-ceiling seamless glass wall that circled around, framing the glittering Antipodes skyline, a faint green aurora curling above.

I first thought the skyline must be a projection. I’d been all over this City, never seen that kind of view.

I removed my hat and coat even before Stoops thought to wave me to the chairs. “Don’t worry, I got it,” I told the back of his head as I hung them on a doorside rack. He had shuffled off to a pair of wooden doors to the right, knocked twice and leaned in before there was an answer.

Iron bars had been sunk into the concrete years ago. Seawater rust bubbled out between the cracks in the orange striped paint they were coated with. They were decaying, but they did their job and no car had passed into this part of town in pretty much forever. But the road kept going, down a hill and around a corner where it was being pulled apart one teaspoon at a time with each ocean wave that came slouching in. Steam seeped from a manhole, jetting out every ten, fifteen seconds when some wave down beachside slapped against the open maw that now dangled at sealevel. The jets coincided with a bass thump, thump, the waves turning the sewer system into a mile-long tympany drum.

The buildings were rotten and every couple weeks one falls into the water or loses a wall or a few floors to the eroding, rising sea. A knot of cables and fiber overhead connected to dozens of rooms here, feeding power and data into the squaters’ hovels. They would be empty now, dead of winter, when most squaters had sold their stock and got real jobs or had figured out a way to be arrested for the duration of the dark. A man can’t live like that, keep a family like that, cold, wet, offline, never knowing if the building you called home was going to just wash away.

So these brick and steel ghosts were empty, but all wired up and waiting to tempt next summer’s crop.

Hard Boiled Test #1

I’ll be experimenting with styles in the next batch of writing. The novel I plan to write for NaNoWriMo is based on a science-fiction noir screenplay I wrote a while back. As film noir detective stories owe a lot to the hard boiled detective serials from the 30s and 40s, I thought I’d see if that style fits. This is my first attempt to write in the style, and even if I can master it I think it’s dated enough that I’ll explore some sort of modern hybrid. This story is just a beginning and not a whole story, and is shorter than normal because as an experiment I did a lot of deleting and trying again.

Bernard Fennelly wasn’t pretty. Sure, he filled out a sharp suit and a nice looking hat with a banded brim that kept his hair out of the wind. That’s about all the positive I ever noticed. He sported these shoes big enough to scuba dive with and painfully round shooter-marbles for knuckles. He once shook a fist in my face and I swear I heard them rattle. The ugly man pursed his lips to the side, and with his hook nose he looked like he’d taken a punch to the face and then stopped half way through to think about it. He wasn’t liking much the direction the conversation had taken.

“No gun. No gear allowance. No expense allowance. No goddamn allowance. You’re a cop, man. Salary’ll get you through.”

“Should’ve talked to me eight years ago, then, when that would have made sense.” Bernard’s assistant was silent, standing behind him, all wired up so that he hardly seemed present, like reality was just an option. He was built for the job, too: short, and barely enough mass to keep his pants up, with a phone clip in each ear, cam-scanner clipped on his glasses, and a three-leaf tablet he kept shuffling data on. Regular geekborg.

“Look. Rick. We could use your help. People are missing. Not here in the city. Not my beat, but before they got here so it’s not really somebody else’s problem either. We figured, Rick’s in Immigration, used to be a cop. Night’s coming, so he’ll be counting the ceiling tiles for a month. Itching to stand up, explore life outside the cube. Maybe he’d like to lend some insight.” Bernard leaned against my desk. “Unless you enjoy sorting through sacks of some FOB granny’s underwear for that salary you’re keen on.”

He was flattening some paper with his palm. I moved the stack of forms to the other side of my desk. They weren’t better over there. I just wanted to make him lift his hand.

Envisioning himself a radio serial hero, Nico Janssen swooped in from nowhere and slapped the corner of my cubicle. This guy was the tallest, greyest guy I’ve ever known. But not tall and big, just stretched a half meter beyond what you’d expect. If you saw him standing next to anyone regular you’d probably wonder when you accidentally stepped into the fun house.

He was my boss, head of this little department of that little division of Customs & Immigration. “All set up,” he said. “A little cross-departmental dalliance. I like it.” No smiles, but obviously pleased, he slapped Bernard on the shoulder and then moved on with his office patrol when Bernard didn’t seem to notice.

I dropped the paper stack into a locked bin. “Appears I’ve made up my mind.”

Bernard smiled. I didn’t think he could get any uglier. “It’s not like I’m asking you to the prom. Sedova’ll get you set up,” he said, jerking his thumb toward his assistant. He stood, rattled his knuckles then filled his pockets as he turned around. The LED light in this place took a dive toward blue, then shifted back toward something scientifically appropriate for ambient office work. The shadowless glare gave me a scientifically appropriate headache. I probably shouldn’t blame it all on the light.

Sedova caught his master’s eye and they briefly conversed. Bernard hadn’t practiced his whisper voice much, and though Sedova’s voice was an ID card slid from a fine alligator skin wallet, I could easily follow one side of the chat. The word “body” came up three times in as many seconds, and Bernard went for the door throwing a billowy coat over that nice suit.

Sedova looked up at me. “We’ll be out front in seven minutes.” He left too.

Souchart: A Wastes Ghali

This is a follow-up to the introduction of Souchart, exploring his life in the near-desert highlands West of si‘Scatvatsa, the primary location of The Right of Rule,the role-playing game I’m in. I should reiterate that I’m exploring the world, but exploring a part that is very different from the game. This gives me some leeway, but I’m also not able to really display the richness of what she’s created.

There will be more about Souchart. I’ve already invented a sail-powered train to get him around. There’s no way I’m leaving that in the dustbin.

This is just over 4000 words, and writing this for one post is why I did not post my 2000 word story on Monday. I plan to stick to the schedule more closely from now on.

Souchart had just entered his eighth Summer when he was sidecast and turned out from his family. A sidecast was untouchable, not an orphan. No family was allowed to take him in, but none could deny him his living necessities.

His first night he spent in the tribe’s herd of kamidar. The lumbering reptilians stank and moaned all night, but they were warm and they did not seem to mind. The light was dim and kamidar are not smart creatures; perhaps they saw his mottled, hairless skin and thought him one of their young, just out of the nest, encephalitic and unfortunately missing a tail.

Unlike the kamidar, Souchart had no beak with flat grinding plates, and he could not eat the grass and scrub brush that they seemed to relish. He owned a wooden bowl and a bent spoon, and was able to acquire food just by asking. One morning he decided he was tired of sleeping in the corral, and he bathed and washed his clothes, drying them in the sun as he carefully held them aloft to keep the dust off. That evening, he timidly approached a yurt just south of his family’s.

Continue reading

We Are Tools

When I was 13, I had a crush on a girl. I also played Dungeons & Dragons. These things are not completely oil and water, but in general there are not too many emulsifiers that work in this recipe. So when I say “crush,” do not suppose that it was anything except wild swings of imagination kept jealously to myself — until now. Allow me to elaborate.

I bought an Exacto knife so I could trim the D&D lead figurines of mystical elves and durable dwarves that I painted for more realistic role playing games. You needed those figures to map out the battles. You needed the figures to look right, so that people understood what was in your mind as you described it. You needed a sharp knife so you could clip that halberd into a spear, scrape away that pathetic bandolier of throwing daggers, or add the gash of a flowing wound so you can show just how badass your ranger was.

I stared at that knife. I had owned a pocket knife before, but this blade was different. Evocative. It was a wondrous tool, and it told stories. I held it in my hand and figured that, should civilization end due to the inevitiable accidental nuclear exchange, and should the roving bands of mutant Mad Maxians get a lucky shot off before my clever booby traps exploded their vehicles, and should that lucky shot lodge a single bullet into some quasi-expendable organ of the object of my affection, then never fear. Her family would be distraught; her father, reluctant to let me take charge. But I am convincing, of course. I have an Exacto knife. Therefore, I am a surgeon.

Naturally I remove the bullet without bloodying her up too much, she fully recovers and realizes how super I was — and always have been, she realizes next — and I go on to lead the now tight-knit band of survivors on a journey of about 300 feet over the next hill, which is gloriously free of mutant raiders and just exactly right for settling down to repopulate the planet. Oh, and due to a freak accident, the female-male ration was about 5 to 1.

True story. I fantasized imagined that scenario many times, often with critical variations such as the exact male-to-female ratio. I was the hero. I was a surgeon. I owned an Exacto knife.

I think it’s built into our DNA to instinctively react as if a tool imparts a skill. I think we’re just built that way, probably because for evolutionary millennia good tools were hard to come by. Now you can’t avoid them, with capitalism-driven marketing portraying a seductive life of accomplishment if only you buy this or that tool. Don’t you see this in your life?

Buy some enamel-coated cast iron pots. You’re a chef.

Buy running shoes. You’re fit.

Buy a filing cabinet. You’re organized.

Buy an easel and canvas. You’re a painter.

Buy an election. You’re a leader.

Buy Photoshop and a tablet. You’re a web comic publisher.

Buy a camera. You’re a photographer.

Buy some writing software. You’re a writer.

That’s how it works. Right?

This is what I did today, instead of writing. I bought the software made for writers, and for 90 minutes I configured the preferences, read the tutorials, added bits of “research” to my virtual binder. All the while, I felt productive. I was moving ahead, doing things. I felt like I was really setting the stage, really getting to a good starting point.

But I could have been starting. Actually starting.

Lesson learned. Again. I’ll do better tomorrow. And I’ll probably need to learn it again the day after. Starting is hard. Maybe I need better tools.

I have discovered that the 2000-word target is good, and reasonable, but much more difficult than expected for one reason: I had been thinking about disconnected short stories. If a short story veers off path, you let it veer. You let it careen off the road and into the brush and mud, and then you dust yourself off and say, “What an interesting experiment!” You walk away and start the next one already on the road. But in trying to write the second part of Souchart’s story, I realized a new block I hadn’t anticipated: when things stitch together, you need to spend time stitching instead of writing. If you left it while you were off the road, you start tomorrow off the road.

This is why I wanted to start my practice a month before NaNoWriMo. Because there are a lot of unknowns to discover, and a lot of demons to exorcise. I hope I’ve properly drawn this pentagram and lit the candles. Tomorrow’s demons won’t know what hit them.

Go go go!

Souchart: Born In The Wastes

This is the backstory of a character I am playing in a role-playing game, for a campaign called “Right of Rule,” based in a world by our game master Dru Pagliassotti. The basic scenario is “post-apocalyptic Tibetan diesel-punk,” and add to that a heavy Yakuza vibe, some dinosaurs-among-us, and physics-based magic called “chirate” and you have a good sense of the world. The other characters tend to be socialites and educated, so I decided to go after an illiterate kung-fu wizard. The problem with magic in this world is that it is chaotic and tends to damage the mage as much as his target, so I felt that to explore that part of the world I needed someone who had little to live for but an incredible passion to pursue.

This is written mostly for the other players, and so the description world is deliberately left a little sparse. I hope it still makes sense.

As was the custom among the Taanxiu, Tan Souchart was given his name two months before birth. “Born to a good life” his father Tan Bei explained. “A name that will give guidance to the architect of his machine.” Tan Bei’s wife, Xieh, chided him for assuming that she was to bear a third son for him, but a month later after a harrowing premature labor, Tan Bei’s expectations were proved right. Souchart was born.

The midwife pretended not to notice when Tan Bei left the birthing room and hid under a tree for an hour while his exhausted wife fluttered between consciousness and delirium. The babe that emerged was indeed male, small, but well shaped, with all limbs, fingers and toes accounted for. His spirit engineers saw fit to set his machine in motion, and his heart began ticking out the billion cycles we are each alloted. The bellows of his lungs powered a cry that bespoke of health, but that single pronouncement of terror at being exposed to the world outside the womb was the only sound Souchart made for five days. Though his silence was unusual, the babe was healthy.

What made Tan Bei run was not Souchart’s form, but his countenance.

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Volume first.

“Perfect is the enemy of done.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

“Fail faster.”

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

“If there are nine rabbits on the ground and you need to catch a rabbit, you need to focus on just one.”