Monday, December 7, 2009

Meanwhile, on my other blog . . .

I sometimes wonder if I separate things out a bit much in terms of blogging, but for those of you who only follow me here, I have another blog called where I talk about free writing and the various ways I make use of it.

This marks the start of something potentially amazing. I'm not sure where it might lead. But I do know that there's no going back from it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Yes, I won NaNoWriMo. As of yesterday, actually. Final count: 50,114 words.

These are characters I've been noveling about, off and on, since 2005 and I think I've written about as much about them as I'm ever going to need to. I've enjoyed playing with them in my little self-indulgent way and I'll probably go back and reread the results now and again for fun. I doubt I'll be inflicting the results on anybody else, though.

Having gotten all of that out of me has had a surprising effect--I'm now contemplating no less than three different ideas for other novels. And I think I may well go ahead and get started now instead of waiting for November.

So you may be seeing a little more activity here as I sort out the possibilities.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Day Five

Just crossed the 17,000 word threshold (17,015 to be precise) and I've still got an afternoon ahead of me. (I suspect a lot of novels will be written this month by my fellow Victims Of The Economy.)

For those of you reading who haven't cracked 10,000 yet and are feeling worried, despair not--first off, what I'm writing is so pointless and aimless I'm not even trying to get much of a plot out of it and secondly, if I can crank out 17,000 words in five days, well, so can you and you still have twenty-five days left to work with.

Permit me to offer a bit of advice for those who may be reading who are new to NaNo, which occurred to me as I was driving back from from running a few errands (and doing some obligatory writing-in-a-coffeehouse while I was out in the world with my laptop.) I live along the length of a very busy road (technically a highway) that crosses Interstate 285. As I was making my way home, I found that the traffic to get onto 285 was stacked up so badly as to slow my progress to a stop-and-start crawl. I knew that once I made it past the interstate, the going would be much smoother and it was only a short distance from where I was to my doorstep.

I refused to put myself through it, though. Instead, I ducked into a shopping center, went out the back way and took a winding series of much less crowded streets to get to my destination. It probably took about as much time as it would have if I'd sat through the logjam of traffic on the straight route. But I didn't care. I was moving, I was getting somewhere and that feels a hell of a lot better than waiting for traffic to inch its way forward. (Plus, the view was much nicer, now that the leaves are starting to turn here.)

In NaNo, you must do the same. If you find your characters need to get from A to B and the way how just isn't coming to you, send them over the long way round. Just keep moving. Throw in another character, have a sudden catastrophe happen, or even write down every little detail of the journey while your subconscious continues to gnaw on what exactly is going to happen once they arrive (which is probably what's stopping you from just getting your characters there.) But don't let the traffic jam get in your way. Just keep writing and you'll find your way there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Day One

I started just after midnight. Skipped the headliner at the EARL just so I could get home, fire up the laptop and get started. I even wrote some preliminary lines in my catbook as I waited at stop lights all the way home. Got a few hundred words in, went to bed, took advantage of the extra hour of sleep and then got up and wrote some more in between my usual Sunday business.

I'm at 2500 words already and I could call it a day easily, but this thing has already become an addiction--just a few more lines, a few more words, one more scene and then I'll quit. Really.

The compulsive quality is probably helped by the sheet of graph paper I'm using to visually track my word count, so I nudge myself to just a few more words to fill in just one more square and the next thing you know I've hashed out a paragraph.

It's . . . pretty crap, but I'm still enjoying writing it, and at least one or two good lines manage to slip through as I progress.

And I think I'm going to try and get just one more sentence in . . .

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Countdown to NaNoWriMo . . .

Yep, I'm doing it again. National Novel Writing Month starts in three days and the ideas are already percolating in my head.

This year, like last year, will be utterly self-indulgent fluff and I can't wait. I'd thought about tackling a more complex idea, but it doesn't quite feel ready yet, so I'll give it another year or perhaps even work on it outside of the bounds of NaNo, since it requires quite a bit of research.

So I'll be posting periodic NaNo updates here over the course of November. Might even resume the Excuse Note practice to keep myself honest.

The novel I started this blog over is still in limbo, as I'm still waiting on feedback from my inner circle. So I'll be keeping myself amused in the meantime with this.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Here We Go Again . . .

If I were ever doing any of this properly, my job at this point would be to start on My Next Novel while waiting to hear back from the select circle of readers tasked with reviewing my first draft.

Then again, I've been (as the Internet likes to say) Doing It Wrong from about the very start. Why start following the rules now?

I just got whacked over the head with a notion that will start with changing one or two lines of dialogue, reviewing all events that follow those lines of dialogue with an eye to that change and rewriting the ultimate outcome in a way that is subtly different but much more satisfying.

The line that will mark this shift will probably go something like this:

"That's okay, thanks."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Poking At Things

So I sent out copies to the short list of folks who I felt I could trust with my novel.

The only response to the manuscript itself has been "um, why did you do your paragraph breaks that way?" coupled with a promise to read in more detail when time was available.

I held my breath for a month and a half and avoided even looking at the thing, lest I find myself changing words and then having to send the thing all over again. Then, a few nights ago in a fit of insomnia, I finally reached some kind of breaking point and ended up rewriting two scenes in one particular chapter.

I packed up the revised chapter and sent it out. This time, I got a few responses of the "life's been crazy busy" variety. Can't really complain about that, given that I knew that was likely to be the case going in. Any response I get at all is a gift, and I accept that.

I think I will probably continue to refine the language and restrain myself from any rewrites that will significantly affect the structure of the novel itself until I get some feedback from my inner circle on whether the story itself holds up or not, which is the main thing I'm worried about.

So we shall see.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oh, crap, what have I DONE?

Is there such a thing as "submitter's remorse" when one sends out a manuscript? Heck, I haven't even sent it out for publication, just for an initial read by some friends of mine and now I'm thinking "Ack! What was I thinking? This is a self-indulgent mess!"

Then again, I'm grappling with a slight case of depression, so that may just be the serotonin deprivation talking. I suppose I'll find out whenever I hear back from the folks I sent it to.

Friday, June 19, 2009


So I did one last read-through, transformed it into a PDF and sent it to a short list of people I trust.

I feel like I just jumped off a cliff and have no idea what I'm going to land on.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Okay, remember that scene I'd retrieved from a previous draft and added back into the manuscript?

I took it back out again.

The perfect final ending I came up with didn't fully jibe with the scene before it and I realized that it needed to be excised for the thing to flow properly. I spent some time coming up with a better way to conclude the penultimate chapter and after a few tries I think I have something that works.

I'm still in the process of reading the entire thing aloud to catch any missed fuck ups and to purge any awkward language. Once that's done, then it's time for conversion and handing it to my initial readers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I think it's at a point where I can show it to people. Not quite ready to be published, but ready to be run past some People Who Are Not Me to get a feel for how it looks from other angles.

I'm kind of elated and frightened at the same time.

I think one more read-through and then I'll be dealing with formatting and converting the result into a PDF and figuring out who to send it to.

Endings, again . . .

So I was at a networking meeting thingy this morning and somewhere in the middle of it I got clobbered over the head with a scene that I feel brings the novel to a proper conclusion. I rushed home to hash it out the moment I had a chance.

I think it's a good sign that when I read the last lines I thought "Yeah. Yeah, that's it."

There are a couple more scenes that I want to revamp, followed by one more going-over of the novel in total and then the next step will be rendering it into a PDF and finding people I can trust enough to show it to. I still don't think it's fully ready for publication but it is at a point where I can solicit feedback without whimpering in shame at the obvious flaws.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I Suppose I Should Explain That One, Hm?

As I wrote in my excuse note, yesterday I didn't get any work done on the novel because I was sitting in a parking lot watching people trade stories for drinks. Yes, really.

Once a year, the Starlight Drive-In (one of the last surviving drive-in theaters in the country) hosts an event called Rock n Roll Monster Bash, which features rock bands during the day and a double feature of monster movies when it gets dark. The Venn diagram of people who like rock music and people who like B-movies has a pretty significant overlap, so it draws quite the crowd. So what does this have to do with people telling stories for drinks? Officially, nothing, but my older brother has established a tradition whereby he brings his portable bar and offers people drinks in exchange for interesting stories about their lives. When people scratch their heads and say they don't have any interesting stories, my brother prompts them with the following suggestions--arrested, almost arrested, could have been arrested or naked. Pretty much everybody he says that to will light up and say "Oh, wait, I've got one!"

I mostly stayed in the tent we'd set up and watched people tell their stories. It gave me some interesting insights into what makes a good story. (In the interest of privacy, the examples here are composites of the kinds of stories we would get, rather than specific ones.)

1. Detail is good. Telling me about the time you were fleeing the police is not nearly as fun as telling me about the time you were fleeing the police, spilled your PBR in your lap and nearly set fire to your backseat when your cigarette flew out of your mouth because you had the windows open.

2. Plot is better. Okay, I know where you grew up, I know what drugs you used to take, I know you really love that band and, yes, that's a pretty nice tattoo. But that doesn't quite add up to a story.

3. Mystery is especially good. We've had more than one waking-up-and-not-sure-how-one-got-there narrative over the years, but the better ones start with the waking up and end with finding out what happened, rather than starting with the events that led up to the amnesia.

4. Peril is also good. While not every story involved people coming precariously close to arrest, deportation or death (and they don't always have to, honestly) I must say that the ones that did certainly stuck with me.

5. Humor helps a lot. Particularly when dealing with peril, as noted above.

6. A story should be exactly long enough to tell everything that's worth telling, but no longer. Some stories were almost frustrating in their brevity, while others, well, I know I was losing interest when I started to feel sorry for the folks in line behind.

Our compulsion--indeed, our very ability--to tell stories is one of the things that makes human beings such a unique creature on this planet. Other animals may be able to communicate, but I don't know of another animal that can communicate in a way that surprises and delights the way storytelling does. I hope I can keep these lessons in mind as I continue the process of revision.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Excuse Note #7

Please excuse Sheila from working on her novel today as she spent most of the day in a parking lot, watching people trade stories for drinks.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


So I added back an additional scene that I'd lopped off and grafted it to the ending.

I'm still not 100% sure about it. But it seems to work better than where I'd originally left off and it was nice to retrieve some of those clever lines that I'd tossed away. (Thank goodness for saved drafts.) And now I'm already pondering ways to rewrite the returned lines into something a little more plausible than what I'd put down in the flurry of NaNo.

I think I'll go do that now.


Just at the point when I think, oh, man, I'm so stuck, I'm never going to finish this thing, I wound up devoting all three of my morning pages to writing about it. It's a sort of ramble about something that happens 'offstage' and now I'll have to rewrite the scene it leads up to now that I know more about what happened beforehand.

I sometimes wonder if there's going to be a word left standing of my original draft by the time I'm done with it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Take One Take Two

I'm now looking at two different versions of Chapter One for the novel.

I wrote the new beginning as something of an experiment--a way to get a clearer picture of what came before. Now I'm thinking it might do better as the start of things as a more detailed way of setting the scene. But I've gotten so used to the notion of the book beginning where I first began it that I'm reluctant to throw it away completely. So right now I have two different Chapter Ones saved in Scrivener and I'll be figuring out which one works best as I go.

I must say that the new opening seems to have refreshed my interest in working on it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Excuse Note #6 and Tropes

Please excuse Sheila from working on her novel yesterday as she had her time devoured by She did complete work on her novel today.

If you didn't shudder in recognition, you probably aren't familiar with It is an extensive wiki that started as "Television Tropes and Idioms" and eventually sprawled into just about every storytelling medium. It is also an enormous timesink because there is so much of it to read and each link tempts one to click, if only to find out what the heck a "Big Lipped Alligator Moment" is. (In case you wondered, it's a scene that comes completely out of nowhere, has no bearing on the plot and is never spoken of again.)

Tropes are things like plot devices, characters or settings that are seen over and over in various iterations. Anybody who thinks they have the most amazingly original idea in the world can quickly be disabused of that notion with a trip to, where they can find entries for just about every little thing that they thought unique about it--with a long list of examples from various media.

I've come across a number of tropes that apply to my work-in-progress. It's simultaneously enlightening and humbling. I'm a touch relieved that none of the tropes I've discovered in my work appear to be particularly threadbare ones (the term "Dead Horse Trope" is used for those) and some even seem to be popular in a way that suggests that there is indeed an audience for this work beyond myself.

I'm tempted to insert my own examples once the book is published, though that's probably cheating. I know I'll have definitely achieved my dream if a complete stranger reads my book and loves it enough to make sure it's properly indexed there.

Monday, May 25, 2009

When Ideas Attack

I spent my Memorial Day at home because I decided to start working on this nifty idea I had for a sort of instruction book on different free writing techniques I use. I think I may have gone and drafted the thing. It's more of a pamphlet than a book, but it's out of my head and in a Scrivener binder, so I can figure out what to do with it from there. May add to it a bit, but the main methods I use are in there so far (including the odd names I have for them like "Sub-C Session", "Catbook" and "Clicktappity.")

If nothing gets done on the novel between now and the end of the day, this may serve as my Excuse Note.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wait, why am I doing this again?

On the plus side, obviously, I've been working steadily enough to avoid having to post Excuse Notes here.

On the minus side, some of the work has been on the level of rewriting one sentence and scampering off into the night.

That's probably not too helpful. I mean, it may well get it done, but I'd like to have this thing finished by the end of the year, not the end of next decade. Since I'm not working under any external deadline and I do have other matters to attend to (such as finding a job before my unemployment insurance runs out) it's all too easy to file it under Things To Be Done Real Soon Now.

I pondered this in my morning pages (yes, I do morning pages, yes, I know this makes me a cliche, no, I don't actually give a damn as long as it works for me) and it occurred to me that part of my reluctance comes from a lack of focus on the reasons why I'm writing, so the reasons why not wind up driving my actions. Since the only Reason Why that I've been paying attention to is avoiding having to write an excuse note, I put in the minimum to satisfy that requirement and that's the end of it.

The Reasons Why Not are various--not wanting to waste effort on something that may well wind up rejected, not wanting to go over the flaws and be reminded that I'm not that great a writer on the initial draft, indeed, not wanting to confront the possibility that I'm not that great a writer at all.

What, then, are The Reasons Why? I have quite a few of them, some noble, some petty, but perhaps worth mentioning here so I can remind myself of them when I have need.

Because I really don't want to become that typical white person who talks about the novel she's working on and never actually finishes it.

Because the idea for this novel has been kicking around in my head for something like ten years and it's not going to stop haunting me until I've brought it into the world one way or another.

Because I like the idea of leaving something of myself behind, even if it just winds up on a dusty shelf after I'm gone.

Because it's a love letter to the art and music scene in Atlanta that I'd hate to leave undelivered.

Because people will undoubtedly take me more seriously as a writer if I have a published book with my name on it.

Because Tanith Lee said she was looking forward to reading it.

Because I've started this dang blog about it, so I might as well make it worth the bandwidth.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Excuse Note #4

Please excuse Sheila from working on her novel yesterday as she had . . . just a really weird day, okay? She did work on her novel today. Thank you.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog For A Very Important News Item

I have managed to avoid Excuse Notes for a few days running (and there's one day in particular that I want to write an entry about) but I have to get this out first.

I am delighted to discover that the domain has a new owner. was previously owned by the International Library of Poetry, a literary scam outfit that had been kicking around for decades. Originally, they solicited poems for their "poetry contest" in newspaper ads (I remember seeing them when I was a kid) and with the advent of the Internet, it became easier than ever for them to solicit submissions.

The trick of it was this--every single poem was a 'finalist' in the contest and they would offer to sell you an overpriced hardbound book of 'finalists' that included your poem. So, excited poets (or their proud parents) would pay a chunk of change for an 'anthology' of, well, twenty-line attempts at poetry and look, there's yours on page 187, crammed on a page with five or six other contest entries.

Many a writer tried and tried to write a poem that was just awful enough to get rejected. I even made my own attempt with an obscenity-laden spew of invective that I'd written in my more bitter days on the poetry scene, when I was trying to prove that any pile of crap could be presented as a poem. I submitted it via the site, provided my Mail Boxes Etc. address as a mailing address, and got hit with loads of junk mail about how marvelous my poem was and offering me awards that I could purchase, er, pay the rather considerable "shipping costs" for and inviting me to a poetry convention. (Read here for an account of how the convention held in August 2000 went.)

Surprisingly enough, I did later succeed in writing a poem that was rejected. (They didn't formally reject it, as such, but I received no acceptance notice whatsoever for it.)


This is a test.
Had it been an actual poem
it would have said something.
This is only a test.

I thought it was a nice little bit of popcultural meta, but apparently the notion was lost on them. But it allowed me to succeed where so many other poets had failed. (I know of one other individual who managed the same feat by cutting and pasting twenty lines from a Nigerian scam letter.)

At any rate, it is a distinction that no other poet can claim. While the domain still exists, it is no longer run by the International Library of Poetry, but, instead by

So, yes, it's still owned by a vanity press, but at least it's a vanity press that is run by folks who are open about their business model. They make no false claims to exclusivity--they'll print anything as long as it's legal and somebody pays for it. (As I've mentioned here before, my mom used them to print her clinical instruction book.)

They're even running a poetry contest, but from what I can tell the entries will be judged by popular vote. Whether this results in better poems winning, well, that's yet to be determined, but it's certainly encouraging that they're crowdsourcing the judging instead of leaving it to some shadowy cabal of 'poetry experts.'

So, raise a glass to the demise of the International Library of Poetry. Now, if we can just get rid of PublishAmerica . . .

Monday, April 20, 2009

Excuse Note #3

Please excuse Sheila from working on her novel today as she visited the library and ended up checking out four books, which she takes as a clear sign that her brain is in inhale mode rather than exhale mode at the moment.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Excuse Note #2

Please excuse Sheila from working on her novel today as she spent most of the afternoon unconscious and most of the evening attending a dear friend's birthday party.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Excuse Note #1

Please excuse Sheila from working on her novel today as she dealing with a distracting level of stomach pain and needs to be as well-rested as possible in order to play with her niece this evening, as promised.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Excuse Notes

I've decided to try something with this here blawg to motivate me to keep working on the manuscript. For every day that I don't do at least something on it, I will require myself to post an Excuse Note explaining why.

For example, today I might post something like:

Please excuse Sheila from working on her manuscript today as she spent the morning in a networking meeting, the afternoon in a nap and will be spending this evening visiting her family and then visiting a friend.

. . . except that today I don't need to do that, because I just made some cuts to the manuscript in anticipation of inserting a revised scene that deletes an extraneous character. So there.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Is This?

I can spend an afternoon reading my manuscript from beginning to end, making a few cuts and rewrites as I go, taking notes of which scenes need some serious reworking and then end up feeling vaguely weird and guilty, like I should have been doing something productive.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Myth of Time

One of the common myths that stands between people and completed manuscripts is the myth of 'time.' I'm sure you've heard it. "If I just had the time, I'd be able to Write My Novel." But our time is a limited resource, consumed by forty-hour-a-week jobs with hour commutes each way and all the other obligations of the business of living. If only, one sighs, one could have time to oneself, time to write without all those pesky distractions, then one could finally write that novel that one has been promising oneself that one would, one day.

One is, of course, bullshitting oneself. The beautiful thing that NaNoWriMo did for me--and, I'm sure for many others--is thoroughly debunk that myth. The raw material for the novel I'm trying to hammer into a publishable form was drafted in the space of two separate months of do-or-die typing (supplemented with some scribbling to allow me to keep the plot on track) while still holding down a job and everything else.

The problem for me now is that I have no deadlines on the revision process, and thus it has been dragging on for over a year and counting. And now one of the most prominent excuses--that forty-hour-a-week-job-thingy--has been removed from me as of last month. (Yes, hello, I've joined the ranks of Victims of the Economy. We'll not go into details here.) This has forced me to confront the flip side of the "time" myth--the fact that even when one does have the time to spare, the time has a curious habit of slithering down other channels instead of flowing towards the novel itself.

Which is not to say that I've done nothing on it at all. In between hunting for a job and working on some other projects, I've continued to work on tightening the dialogue in certain scenes. And, as unproductive as it may seem, I've been thinking about it. I've been turning things over in my head, asking questions about the characters, pondering things that could be seen as inconsistencies and trying to understand or resolve them.

There is, I understand, only so much thinking I can do before I have to sit the hell down and turn my bright ideas into words. And, as time goes on, fewer and fewer excuses for not doing so. (On second thought, that's probably not true; like most people I am capable of manufacturing a nearly limitless number of excuses.) So we'll see. Knowing my luck, I'll probably wind up getting hired or something just when I'm getting into the groove of having this kind of time to work with.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"So, what's it about?"

It's about eighty thousand words, give or take, at this point.

Since the full arc of the story is still in an odd state of flux, I don't feel fully comfortable explaining what it's 'about' to people.  But I am now at a point where I'm willing to at least tell people how the story begins, since I've read the opening scene aloud at a few events and it looks to be one of the firmly anchored points of the thing.  And it seems to serve well to give an impression of the kind of story I'm hoping to tell.

The narrator, June, is sitting in the Majestic, a 24-hour diner that's an Atlanta institution, having just wandered up the street from seeing her favorite local band at the 10 High.  She realizes that her wallet is not in her pocket.  She decides to sit tight for a bit, digs up enough pocket change to pay for a cup of coffee and when the guy behind the counter asks her if she wants anything, she explains that she can't find her wallet.

"It's in your jacket pocket," someone tells her.

She checks and can't find it.

"The inside one on the left," he continues.

And there it is.  She turns to thank her benefactor and sees a man sitting next to her with three most curious qualities.  His face is flawless, his hair is stark white and, as she rapidly comes to realize, she is apparently the only person in the room who can see him.

It kinda goes from there.