If I Were A NaNoWriMoer

I did not sign up for NaNoWriMo this year.  I didn’t participate not because I don’t like NaNoWriMo, but because I knew that I wouldn’t win, and there was no point in pretending that I could.  Participating wouldn’t have provided any additional motivation to write than I already possessed of my own volition.  Wanting to write fifty thousand words wouldn’t magically permit me to rearrange my life and affairs to allow for the possibility of succeeding.  There’s still the day job, and there’s still the family, and there’s still the attendant obligations of house and home.  Writing is very important to me – but those things come first, before writing.

Still… as we close out the month of November, I thought it would be an interesting excercise to look back at the month, just as a hypothetical, and see what it would have looked like if I had signed up to NaNoWriMo.

The goal in NaNoWriMo, as you are no doubt aware, is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Continue reading

Writing Progress: Week Ending November 26, 2011

Like I said last week… I’ve struggled to get over 2,000 words per week, which used to be about my average.  I’m guessing the average has gone down by now.  Still… I came so close.

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 1,871 words

Grand Total: 1,871 words

Funny enough, I probably could have done a good amount more writing if not for the holiday weekend, maybe an extra 400 to 600 words this week.  I’ve said this before about holidays, but it bears repeating: you’d think holidays would be good for my writing productivity, but in fact almost all of the “free time” opened by holidays is usually taken up by other, holiday-related activities.  Time with family appreciating and enjoying the holiday is not time spent writing.  Sometimes holidays entail travel, too.  Travel time is not writing time.  And my laptop is so large, it usually doesn’t accompany us when we travel – it’s portable only in the loosest sense of the word, but that’s because when I got it I needed a desktop replacement more than I needed portability.  When we don’t travel (which is rare on the holidays right now), there’s usually so much to do around the house that the available time vacuum is filled quickly and without remorse. 

And so it was that when I was thinking, earlier in the week, “Surely I can find time over the weekend to write another 400 or so words and break my sub-2,000 drought” that, in fact, I was not able to.  Other things took precedence. Continue reading

Giving Thanks

Today, here in the U.S., it’s Thanksgiving Day.  I hope my international readers will bear with me, but in my country it’s customary on this day to wax gratitudinous and reflect on the blessings in our lives and the things we have to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving is many things.  It’s a day for family or friends to gather together and eat a traditional feast: turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie and what have you.  It’s a day for many to kick back and watch football (American style, of course).  It’s a day to tell grade-school American history and mythology of the Pilgrims who sailed from England and Old Europe aboard the Mayflower and came to the Americas seeking freedom from religious persecution, and how they landed at Plymouth Rock, and how they faced and survived a harsh winter with the help of the local Native American tribe (the Wampanoag, specifically) assisted especially by one named Squanto, and how they were able to have a bountiful harvest, and invited their Native friends and held a massive feast.  And of course, it’s also the official start of the holiday shopping season, the first day in which it’s officially okay to play Christmas music, the day Santa appears in malls and department stores everywhere, following his triumphant arrival at the end of the annual Macy’s parade.  (Of course, these days he’s already been around for a few weeks.)

But more than all of that, Thanksgiving is supposed to be about giving thanks – about recognizing the wonderful blessings we have in our lives and expressing gratitude for them.  In keeping with that tradition, I want to express my thanks.

I’m thankful for my family.  My Dear Wife, who pushes me to become a better person, to improve who I am, to be better and wiser each day: how can I ever express my deep appreciation for what she does for me.  I try to be a good modern husband, helping around the house and taking a share of the responsibility, but in all honesty Dear Wife is the center of our home, ensuring everything happens on time and everything is in its place. I try to be proactive and productive, but I often fall short.  Dear Wife is the driving motor, the vitality, the energy of my life.  She’s smart – much smarter than I – and beautiful and compassionate – need I mention more beautiful and more compassionate than I?  And she’s even been supportive of my quirky little writing habit, helping to make sure I have time to do it.  What more can can a guy with a writerly bent ask for?

And my precious little B.T.  How can I say how thankful I am for him?  He’s talking now – really talking, stringing words together to form simple sentences – and boy does he have a lot to say.  When I come home from work, B.T. is so eager and excited to see me that he just can’t stand it – he just can’t hold it in.  Lately, he’s been rushing down the walkway to greet me as I get out of the car, shouting “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” and throwing his arms as tight around me as he can to give me one of his incredible hugs.  When you come home to that how can your heart not melt?  How can you not be thankful for that kind of love in your life.  B.T. means the world to me.  And I am deeply grateful to have him in my life. 

After those two things, everything else starts to pale in comparison.  But I’m thankful for a lot more.

This is a writer’s blog, so it’s not out of place to say I’m thankful for good books.  I enjoy reading, and good books by talented authors are the wellspring that lead me to become what I am: an author.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to express myself in words.  And I’m thankful that frequently other people – however small in number those other people may presently be – read the words I write.  Which means I’m thankful for you, dear reader.

I’m thankful for the speculative fiction genres.  I define myself as an author, but it is the worlds of speculative fiction that excite me and inspire me and motivate me.  If there was only the ordinary, mundane, modernist and realist kind of writing out there in the world, I somehow doubt I would’ve become a writer, because I’d never have had anything to excite my imagination.

I’m thankful for parents who cared about my education, growing up, who supported my interests and supporting my learning and helped me as much as they could even when we were skating the edge of poverty.  I’m thankful they kept their home well-stocked in paperback books to feed my growing hunger for words.

I’m thankful for my faith.  I’ve struggled periodically in my life with the specific tenets of my denomination (both that of my birth and that of my adult choice), with troublesome histories and troublesome policies.  But it’s the simplicity of my faith that sustains me when I can’t find the answers I crave to the questions that keep me up at night.  I still don’t have all those answers, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep looking, to find the path in life that complements the basic truths that I hold dear.

And I’m grateful still to have a mind keen enough to keep putting words to paper, to keep questioning myself and seeking answers.  I’m still young enough, yet, that I shouldn’t worry about the slowing of my mind in time – but there’s no time like the present to express gratitude for opportunities I’ve had to expand my mind and sharpen my wits.

Those are just a few of the things I’m grateful for.  What are you grateful for?

The Passing of Anne McCaffrey

I heard the news yesterday.  One of the elder craftsmen and great figureheads of the SF&F genre, Anne McCaffrey, passed away on Monday.

If I’m totally honest to you, dear reader, I’ve never read any of the Pern books, nor anything else written by Anne McCaffrey.  But her influence on the genre is still felt, and I know her passing will be a sad one for the legions of fans she has earned in her lifetime’s worth of work. 

It’s a strange thing to admit that I’ve never read any Pern books, given my unapologetic obsession with all things draconic.  My particular obsession takes the form of an interest in dragons of myth and fantastic literature, whereas in time McCaffrey’s dragons were revealed to be science fictional in nature.  See… I may not have read those books, but I’m at least familiar with some of the core tenets of her world.  As I said, her influence on the genre is felt, even by one such as I who has not read her work.

My understanding of McCaffrey’s influence is that she was an early pioneer of bending genre expectations and tropes between fantasy and science fiction.  Technically speaking, her Pern series is sience fiction: starring as it does the descendents of space-faring humans who’ve colonized a world and genetically re-engineered one of its species to more closely resemble mythological dragons, or something to that effect.  (Most of my knowledge of the specifics comes not from reading the Pern books, as I said, but from reading about them.)  But many people have read and continue to read Pern as fantasy, despite the latter revelations about the history of Pern, and her writing apparently was such that you could happily read it either way.  For a long time I think she was fairly unique in this sort of genre-bending, but I suspect that we’re beginning to see and will see still more such genre mash-ups as time goes by: both fantasies that are really sci-fi and science fictions that are really fantasies and many other such combinations which are spawning whole new genres.

Another big influence, I suspect, was her portrayal of dragons.  The concept of dragons who telepathically bond with a given rider is something that’s been explored in other fantasy stories – notably Eragon and the other books of Christopher Paolini’s series – but which was first pioneered, to my knowledge, in McCaffrey’s Pern books.  Her take on dragons will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations of fantasy fans and authors to come.  I know even my own takes on this most venerable of fantasy species has been touched by McCaffrey.  That’s how the genre works: a grand master lays down some innovative ideas in a celebrated work, and new writers take those ideas and turn them into other new ideas through a process of iteration and mutation, through homage and parody and carbon-copying and any of a number of other ways, until those ideas are so threaded in the history of the genre that it’s inseperable.

Anyway, I can say without reservation that though I myself never read her books, yet I know her presence in the genre will be missed.  May she find herself flying with dragons in that great beyond.

Have you read any of Anne McCaffrey’s books?  If you’re a writer, have you felt her influence on the genre?

More about Anne McCaffrey’s passing here and here.

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Lessons

At first I was a little embarrassed that I was going to write three entries to run a full analysis of lessons learned from Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians.  I was able to contain a short review, analysis, and lessons learned of the short story discussed in my first “Interrogating the Text” series in a single post.  And then I realized: waitaminit… a novel is a lot longer than a short story, and there’s a lot more depth to what’s going on in a novel.  It only makes sense that a complete textual analysis for a novel is going to be longer than for a short story.  Heck… I’m probably missing a lot even confining it to three overlong posts.

That said, to get the full benefit of this post, you’ll probably want to check out the prior two posts discussing my reading of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians: here and here.  The first is a relatively spoiler-free review that discusses my initial reactions to the book.  The second is a deeper and more thorough (and far more spoilery) analysis of why I had the reaction I had.  Now, I want to bring it all together to talk about the lessons I think I can take away from all of that.

The short version, then, is that I enjoyed reading the book.  The reason I enjoyed it was, mostly, for the high-quality prose, style and voice of the book, first of all, and for the clever twists and tweaks on common and sometimes-cherished, sometimes-maligned fantasy (and YA fantasy, especially) tropes. Continue reading

Writing Progress: Week Ending November 19, 2011

I’ve struggled these past few weeks to top over 2,000 words.  I got close this week, but still didn’t make it.

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 1,804 words

Grand Total: 1,804 words

On the plus side, however, where last week I had begun writing, at last, the history of the pivotal war responsible for the milieu of the present-day setting, this week I finished writing the war and got about half-way through the aftermath and remaining history before the start of the story itself.  Another week, two at most, and I should have a complete historical account, insofar as can even remotely be considered relevant to the story at hand.  My next steps, after finishing this history, is character briefs and related notes and plot outline/synopsis. 

The character notes and the plot synopsis I’ll probably develop in parallel, because the course of the plot will depend a lot on the characters and the development of the characters will depend a lot on the events of the plot.  In many ways, I guess, I see plot and character as equal in importance and co-dependent: you can’t have one without the other.  Plot grows out of conflict between characters, but characters grow and develop based on circumstances and events of the plot.  Done well, and the two feed on each other in a cycle.

I’ve considered the history important, meanwhile, because it sets the stage for who the characters are before we are introduced to them.

Now, in a semi-related, semi-off-topic line of thinking… bear with me as I switch gears slightly. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Analysis

Last time I picked up the pieces of this “Interrogating the Text” series and gave you a general review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  But I wanted to talk a little about the writing lessons I learned from this book: what I liked, what I disliked, why I liked or disliked it, and what I can learn from that to apply to my own writing.

The remainder of this discussion won’t make much sense if you haven’t read The Magicians, I’m afraid.  And if you haven’t read it, and think you might like to, this post will contain spoilers for the ending of the book.  If you’re not sure if you’d like to, may I suggest you take a gander at my review in last week’s post, or this review here.  And one last warning: I’m going really in depth here, so this post is rather quite a bit long.  So settle in for an epic journey, if novel-writing-lessons are your cup of tea.

First, I want to make it clear, in case it wasn’t in my earlier post: I really enjoyed reading this book.  It was compelling and interesting.  For much of the book, it was a page-turner.  But I wasn’t satisfied by it’s ending.  Something felt off about it.

So let’s dig into that.

What did I like about The Magicians?  I liked the book’s style: while not as lyrical or poetic, for instance, as the works of Cathrynne Valente, it was nonetheless composed with a very compelling and interesting style.  It’s intelligent, and it makes no excuses for its intelligence.  It comes with a clear literary pedigree, but instead of eschewing the conventions of genre or speculative fiction and especially of YA fantasy (despite being decidedly not a YA book). 

I especially liked the manner with which the book played with genre conventions, and the clever use of a book (series)-within-a-book.  The Magicians plays up the tropes of the normal-person-enters-magical-world (i.e. “portal fantasy”) at every turn, and cleverly lampshades these conventions several times.  (For example, the Harry Potter books are mentioned by name in the course of the narrative, as is Tolkien’s Middle Earth.)  And there’s a lot of cool meta-fictional layers to the whole idea of Fillory in the book.  For example: Christopher Plover, the fictional author of the Fillory books, has a webpage.  There are even web pages for “fans” of the Fillory series.

But there were some difficult things about The Magicians as well, and they relate primarily to the characters and to the ending.

The characters are somewhat problematic in The Magicians because most of them, with the exception of Alice, are to a greater or lesser degree unlikable. Continue reading

Writing Progress: Week Ending November 12, 2011

Not a shining example of productivity in writing this week, and yet I’ve no excuses…

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 1,606 words

Grand Total: 1,606 words

I had more than one writing day this past week in which I stared at a screen blankly and simply did not produce words.  It wasn’t due to writer’s block.  I just had other things on my mind.  Nothing of significance, really, but life’s been throwing a few curve balls of late, and there are a few more on the way, I’ll wager.  And sometimes, when you get curve balls, you get other things on your mind, and writing doesn’t happen.

And yet, I did get some writing done, just not as much as I’d have liked to.

In related news, I did pass another interesting milestone this past week.  But first, a little back-story to “The Book of M”:

I describe “Book of M” as “Final Fantasy meets Mad Max”.  A slightly longer-version goes this way: “a steampunk-flavored post-apocalyptic epic fantasy”.  The immediate circumstances of the novel relate to the “post-apocalyptic” part, but I didn’t want a post-apocalyptic wasteland for post-apocalyptic wasteland’s sake.  There had to be a “how” and a “why” to go with the “what” of the post-apocalyptic setting.  Understanding the “how” and “why”, as it turned out, necessitated understanding the “who”.  In other words, if there is a wasteland, there is a reason for the wasteland.  In this case, there was a war some indeterminately long-ago that left the land thus.  But if there was a war, then there were different sides to the war, and there was some mechanism by which the war resulted in a wasteland.  That means understanding the people who went to war.

Up until now, the entirety of the background history I have been writing has been toward this goal: understanding the character and history of the two powerful nations whose war ravaged the landscape.  I went all the way back to the foundation of those two countries, the better to understand the idealogy that underlies the cultures of these countries.  (Ostensibly this world has a history that goes back still farther, but that still-more-ancient history was mostly irrelevant.  Rather like how understanding ancient Mesopotamia would have little relevance for someone trying to understand the causes of World War I.  Arguably you could make a case for the relevance of the history of Europe and the Middle East going back to late Roman times, but much farther than that and you’re probably stretching things a bit far.)  That’s what I’ve been doing: telling the tale of World War I by telling about the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of new kingdoms and divisions in Europe and the shifting political affiliations and alliances, until at last we have these big, earth-shattering powers that face off in an epic grudge-match.  Okay, actually I’ve been writing the history of World War III in a world that skipped World Wars 1 and 2.  But anyway, you get the idea.

All of which is the long way of saying where I started in the long, long ago history, I’m finally up to that pivotal historical point: the start of the war that created the milieu into which my protagonist will find herself.

In terms of writing the historical background of this world, it’s all downhill from here.

So, how was your writing week?

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Review

Some time ago – back in August, now – I started a new, very occasional series of posts focused on critically reading and reviewing published works of fiction that I call “Interrogating the Text”.  The series, so far, has had a grand total of one entry (on the subject of Catherynne Valente’s “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While”).  Today marks the second entry in that occasional series.

I recently finished reading Lev Grossman‘s send-up to the fantasy genre: The Magicians.  It was an interesting read – I enjoyed it but, as I say, with caveats – and at about the two-thirds mark I resolved to blog about my reactions to the book: what I liked and what I disliked and why.

I’m going to start this off with a relatively spoiler-free review of the book, in a general sense, before I load up with an extra helping of spoilers and do the in-depth analysis that someday if this series ever gets more than two entries will be thought the hallmark of the “Interrogating the Text” series.  I’ll be breaking this down, then, into two posts.  One for the review, and one for the spoilery analysis.

So… Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  I liked it, but with caveats.  I keep saying that.  What does that mean?  It means that I found the writing and story to be engaging and interesting.  It was very well-written, stylistically.  The prose was at times poetic, clean, and evocative.  I kept reading because I found I had to know what happened next.  And yet, at the end of the story, I wasn’t satisfied. Continue reading

Religious Freedom vs. Anti-Bullying: FIGHT!

Apropos to my recent post on the subject of bullying, and further apropos to my own religious beliefs, ideas, and convictions (and the struggles that I have therewith, which I shan’t go into here), I found this post by author Jim C.  Hines very interesting.  Let me say that I agree with Jim’s argument here: holding to certain deeply-held religious or moral beliefs does not entitle one to belittle, badger, or bully another human being using those beliefs as a cudgel.

More on this particular problematically flawed anti-bullying legislation here.