Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cold White Blanket

It snowed here! This is my first snow since the year I lived in Yosemite. I like it, for now--I'm cozy and warm in my house, and everything is quiet and beautiful outside. I also spun and knitted myself a cowl.


The snow made for a good chance to see some pretty Christmas lights. One of the standard displays around here is this one. Instead of strings of lights, an electric candle is placed in each window. This looks great on old colonial-style houses with many small, uniform windows. The picture below shows a pretty one. There's also a guy in town who got some horrid dim bluish candles--the house looks more haunted than merry.


This is just a pretty one. Is it too arrogant of me to think this looks a bit like Magritte's Dominion of Light?


Or maybe it's just the lamppost.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Grand Finale, and a Holiday Treat

I finished the novel today! The final wordcount for the first draft is 53,647. I wrote the big finish, but I really skimped on the denoument. I figure I'll come back and re-do it in the second draft when I have a better idea of what needs to be denoued. I'm pretty satisfied with the ending, though--to my surprise, I managed to come up with something that actually tied together many of the random events and characters from the rest of the book in a way that kind of makes sense. Now I just need to go back to the beginning and try to make the ending seem more inevitable. That should be fun. I might work on something else in the meantime, though.

For now, here's a recipe of mine that was discussed at length on Facebook today. It's an old family favorite, passed down from my grandma who probably got it out of a magazine in the fifties. This is the sort of dish that you either love or hate. Personally, I love it. Some say it tastes like toothpaste, but they are wrong. I'll give you the traditional version first, then the gourmet version after.

Candy-Cane Pie (aka Peppermint Pie)



1 pkg (9 oz) Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (could easily substitute chocolate graham crackers, Oreos, etc, but you want a fairly dark cocoa taste)
1/2 cup butter, melted

Crush the cookies using a hammer, rolling pin, or food processor. Mix with the melted butter and press into the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan.


1 pint heavy whipping cream
12 candy canes, crushed
4 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup pecans, broken up by hand

Whip the cream until quite stiff. Fold in the other ingredients.

Note: It's best if the candy canes aren't totally pulverized--it's nice to have some little crunchy bits in the finished product. Be sure to use red candy canes, or green candy canes, but don't use candy canes that are colored both red and green, as this will make an unpleasant brown color. You can also use starlight mints if you can't find good candy canes.

Spread the filling evenly over the crust. Refrigerate, preferably overnight.

I'll be straight with you--this makes a scary-looking dish. It's a delicate shade of pink, studded with little marshmallows. Some people might think they are too good for it. To make them feel better, I offer the following variation, which I haven't tried, but I'm sure it would be great.

Gourmet Candy-Cane Pie

As above, except halve the recipe for the filling. Instead of the 9x13 pan, use two nine-inch round pie pans. Press the crust in the bottom and up the sides of the pan, as if making a graham cracker crust. Chill the crusts until firm.

Meanwhile, prepare your favorite recipe for dark chocolate ganache. This normally involves bringing some cream to a boil, then stirring in quite a lot of high-quality dark chocolate. After the ganache cools slightly, spread a thin layer over the chilled crusts. Then fill the crusts with the peppermint filling. Then top each pie with about 1/4 inch of poured ganache. Chill. Garnish with a mint leaf.

Monday, December 14, 2009


OK, so now that NaNoWriMo is over, you may be wondering how I pass the time.

Well, I've been going places:



Knitting stuff (mostly socks):

Photo 72


And cooking:


Soon I'll get back to writing, but for now I'm enjoying the break.

My blog needs a new name. Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Well, it was fun writing 50,000 words in 30 days, but now what? The glamour and companionship of NaNoWriMo is at an end.

I didn't write a word for the past two days. Instead, I mostly knitted. I also wasted ample time on the internet. Oh, and I also attended the local NaNoWriMo "TGIO" party at this crazy giant arcade-burger-palace called Dave and Busters. Once again it was a very small event, but pleasant enough.

Then today I felt like getting into it again. After all, I'm really supposed to be writing all the time, right? So today I wrote about 1900 words, and my guys are on the brink of the final bump in their adventure. I even kind of know what it's going to be. It's amazing how talking to Darling Man can get my stuck wheels turning--it only takes a second. A couple of weeks ago, I said to him, "what should happen to complicate my story?" And he, not knowing any details of the plot at that moment, said "doppelganger." It was perfect! A doppelganger was exactly what I needed. Then yesterday he asked me how the story was going to end. I sighed. I said I didn't know. I said that it was going to take place in the ruins of the royal city, and it should be an act of assimilation. Then I said "maybe I should have them wake up the king." That was literally the whole conversation, but, you know, I think that's exactly what's going to happen. They're going to wake up the king. The land is a wilderness because, in DM's words, "the king is not in session." Why didn't I see it before?

Today I also went to the library (I rode my bike there!) and got a couple of books. I got Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose (her real name), which was recommended by the NaNoWriMo people, and I also got Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian. No doubt you have heard of this one. I got it because someone told me that O'Brian deals well with having two heroes. I'm also curious to see how he manages the rest of the crew, since that has been a problem for me. Also, I guess some people apparently think this is a good book, or something.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 30: A winner is me!

I hit 50,000 words today! Yes!

I still have to finsih the story, though. I think it will take about 5,000 more words, give or take.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Day 28: So close!

Wordcount: 46574
Minimum: 46548

Wow, the end is so close I can taste it! Or maybe that's the kale I had for dinner...but anyway.

Today I made the mistake of reading some novel-writing and -selling advice. Why do I do this? It nearly always makes me feel like I'm doing it wrong. Today's culprit was this description of the Snowflake Method, which I have heard a little about before. It actually sounds okay, and I have tried using some elements of it in the past, but on this particular day it kind of got me down to read about all this intense "planning" and "knowing-what's-going-to-happen" that some people apparently indulge in. Ah well. On with the show.

I also today picked names for all the surviving members of the expedition. As a little treat to myself, I used Tilden's "The Football Players" as inspiration for a few of the names. I googled the phrase "womble hopper hall" and found this nice little blog entry that helpfully lists the names found on the statue's plinth. It also exactly describes the charms of this particular inscription.

Although I've made my target, I'll be writing more tonight whilst Darling Man plays Ocarina of Time on the Wii. We're back home from the in-laws' house, but tomorrow we're going into NYC to have brunch and loiter in certain neighborhoods, with an eye toward their attractiveness as potential places to live. Sounds like a pretty busy day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 25: Reunited

Wordcount: 43426
Minimum: 43100

We're at the in-laws' house for Thanksgiving, and you know what that means: I got my charger back! I'm writing on the MacBook once again. Ahh, feels so good.

When I got all my writing of the past week pasted back into the main document, I discovered I had more words than I thought! Score! I'm not one hundred percent sure how this happened, but I won't look a gift horse in the mouth. I'm delighted to get a little break during this busy time. Speaking of busy times, tomorrow is the one day this month I have officially set aside for not writing. Maybe I'll still write a tiny bit, but I bet not.

43,000 words! I can hardly believe it. If push came to shove, I could probably finish this off in a day! Looking at where the story is, though, it's going to take a lot more than 7,000 words to get to the end. Right now I'm struggling with the question of how/whether to incorporate the remaining troops into the rest of the story. On the final edit I think I may make the expeditionary party smaller from the beginning, and give more personal attention to each of the men. Right now they're just this big vague entity, "the men". I think I'm going to arbitrarily cut down the number for the rest of the story so that I can have a more coherent questing party.

I'm starting to feel that the story will end a bit differently than I originally thought. The plan all along has been to have the party get knocked off one by one, until at the end it's just the two main guys standing alone in a final, fatal situation. But it turns out I don't naturally go in that direction when given the choice. I like to see people succeed and feel happy. Maybe there's hope for this mission yet.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day Twenty-Three: Thanks!

Wordcount: 40225
Minimum: 39652

Since Thanksgiving is coming up and I probably won't have a chance to update between now and then, I just want to send a big THANK YOU to all you have let me know that you're following along and rooting for me! It helps A LOT.

I went to a NaNoWriMo write-in this evening, about an hour west of where I live. Two other ladies showed up. One of them writes "for reals"--her NaNo of last year sold! It's a romance novel. I think the title is "Enchanted Cowboy"? She showed us the cover art on her phone. I would link to it, but her website has apparently exceeded its bandwidth.

Here's a concept: Networking. Apparently there is a big writers' conference near here in March. maybe I should go.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day Twenty-Two: Vision

Wordcount: 38430
Minimum: 37928

I can't believe we're heading into week four of NaNoWriMo! A month is really not that long a time. Oddly enough, it also now seems to me that 50,000 words is not that many words. Of the many things I'm learning from this exercise, perhaps the most worthwhile is simply this: I can actually do it. I can do it without that much agony.

Don't get me wrong--I have basically no other responsibilities right now, and that has certainly made it much, much easier. But I think that even with a busier life, I could do almost this much...maybe sometimes it would take me two days to do what I currently do in one, but if I wrote every day, it would still build up pretty fast. And since my life currently isn't busier, that probably means I should set a more ambitious goal for next time so I don't start wallowing in hubris.

Yesterday an interesting thing happened. I was just writing merrily along, describing how Captain Pitt was recovering from being hit on the head by a villager disguised as Captain Farrowell (long story). Captain Farrowell was looking at Captain Pitt and thinking, gosh, he's looking better but he's still pretty pale, and Captain Pitt was smiling wryly at something, when suddenly--forcefully--I saw Captain Pitt's face. Really saw it. Sure, I knew what he looked like before--eye color, hair color, approximate height and build--but I couldn't have picked him out in a crowd. Now I could. We're talking teeth-shape, eyelash color, adam' s apple, not just the color of his eyes but how big they are and how far apart. I now know exactly who I'm writing about. Then he called Captain Farrowell "Captain F", which I really hadn't planned.

This is a very good sign. This isn't the first time I've seen a character's face, but it's the first time in this project. Usually I don't get that level of sight unless I've spent a lot of hours daydreaming about a character that I really, really like. I take the fact that Captain Pitt has solidified in this way as a sign that this is really going somewhere, that he's responding well to my efforts to give him things to do and thoughts of his own. It's odd that Pitt came first, because, as I noted earlier, I've spilled a lot more ink over Farrowell, but in a way Pitt may actually be a more interesting character. Farrowell is a little more of a caricature right now. Sometimes his words sound to me like bad imitation Jane Austen. But having that mask to turn to has made him an easier character to write about. So, I suppose my work is not done where he's concerned.

In other news, Darling Man's computer won't boot. I had to write at the library today, which was good in a way, because there are no twisty-ties or spinny chairs or three-legged tin elephant piggy banks at the library. I just have to survive like this until we go back to the in-laws' house for Thanksgiving, and I can get my Macbook charger back.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day Twenty: Yes!

Wordcount: 34765
Minimum: 34480

My story is really starting to cook, if I do say so myself! Yesterday and today's sessions have brought forth lots of great developments. For one thing, it turns out that the group of "natives" that my guys have been dealing with have an origin story of being expelled from a city as punishment for their religious practices. Is this a real city, or a metaphor for heaven? If it's real, does it still exist? Only time will tell! This information is interesting enough to give the expedition something to look for besides a way across the Nymean Tract, which was frankly a pretty boring goal. Also, Farrowell, Pitt, and Midama (the cagey Sacagawea figure) are now hopelessly separated from the troops and are going to have to thrash about on their own for a while, which is great because having thirty men in the background takes a lot of verbal maintenance and greatly inhibits the interactions of the MCs.

I was less distractable today. I was only distracted by food, tea, a Q-tip (clean one--did you know can spin string from the cotton on a Q-tip?), and a very large oak leaf that I noticed on the porch.

Seriously, it was a really big leaf.

2009-11-20 11.01.13


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day Nineteen: Home again.

Wordcount: 33031
Minimum: 32756

Now that I'm home from my giant trip to Berkeley, writing seems surprisingly more difficult. Sure, I wrote over 3000 words yesterday, but that was to make up for my mishap of the day before, and I was propelled by urgency. Today the urgency was gone, and I sat at Darling Man's computer being distracted by every little thing. Here are some of the things that distracted me:

  • Food
  • The internet
  • Pair of binoculars
  • Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America
  • Three-legged tin elephant piggy bank
  • Laser pointer
  • The Goldberg Variations
  • Squeezie hand exerciser thing
  • Box set of His and Her Circumstances
  • Spinny chair
  • Twisty-tie
Yep...I'm home again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day 18: Disaster!!

Wordcount: 30182
Minimum: 31032

I'm not done writing for the day, but I wanted to give an update.

The last few days (days 14, 15, and 16) I have been on track with writing but have not been able to update this blog. In particular, day 15 I spent on planes and in airports, traveling back to Boston from Berkeley. Day 16 I spent kicking around in Boston and then driving to western MA to pick up my cat from my in-laws. (I got to walk down the Infinite Corridor at MIT--I was there once before in a text adventure!) So far, so good--plenty of time in transit means plenty of time to write!

Then, on Day 17, disaster struck! My computer hadn't charged up completely the night before, I think due to a problem with the electrical outlet, so I was only able to write about 600 words in the car. No big deal, I thought, I'll just write the rest when we get home. But then when I got home, I quickly realized that I had somehow failed to pack up my computer charger! Oh no! How am I supposed to work on my novel with no battery in my laptop? There was just enough juice left for me to send the file to myself on Gmail, but that was all. This made Day 17 my first day of sub-par wordcount. Total bummer.

But, it's not the end of the world. Darling Man got his cranky desktop computer working for me to use, and it turns out I can also get online at the library. Since the file is just in rtf format, and I've sent it to myself through gmail, I can easily just open it up on any computer using Google Docs. Consider this my plug for Google Docs--it saved my NaNo and my neck!

(On the downside, I'm finding Google Docs gets pretty bogged down with the large size of my file. Apparently 30,000 words is kind of a lot! I ended up starting a new document for the day's writing.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Day 13: Nomadic Typist

Wordcount: 22749
Minimum: 22412

Since I'm only visiting Berkeley and don't really have a home to call my own, I've been spending a lot of my time wandering around the town looking for places to write. In case you ever find yourself in this situation, here are my reviews of the local hangouts.

Bittersweet Cafe (on southern College Ave): Nice atmosphere and delicious snacks, but a little pricey. Also, with the limited seating, you can't really in good conscience hang around there for hours and hours working on your NaNo. The coffee is excellent...they don't serve Blue Bottle there anymore, but their new house brand is almost as nice. The real draw is the assortment of gourmet chocolate-based drinks.

Semifreddi's on Claremont: The music was too much in here. Oldies. I didn't write anything. Staff a little brusque. Good sandwich.

Doe Library (on campus, head upstairs to the reading rooms, no student ID necessary): Ample seating and ample electrical outlets. Beautiful space. Excellent for getting things done, because there is no internet access (unless you are unfortunate enough to be a student), no drinks, no snacks, no music, no anything really. Please note that if you have a Mac laptop, you should bring the extra extension cord, because there isn't room for the square white adaptor thing to plug in.

People's Cafe (Shattuck Square): Ample seating and ample outlets, no distracting music. Coffee is pretty bad, pastries are nothing special. Mysterious collection comic books (several file-boxes of them, probably hundreds of issues) in storage in the bathroom. Free internet.

Berkeley Espresso (Shattuck and Hearst): Get there in the slower hours to stake out a seat near an electric outlet. Tons of people bring their laptops here. The coffee is tolerable. Snacks are nothing special, although they do have some decadent cheesecake things and the variety is good. Tends to play inoffensive classical music. Good selection of tea. Can be a little noisy. Free internet.

Fertile Grounds (Shattuck at Delware): Great coffee (Illy Espresso). The pastries are nothing special, but the falafel pita is excellent. Cute dude works there. Seating is limited and a bit uncomfortable. Never noticed any music. Rotating art exhibits. The chairs tend to be a bit too hard for prolonged writing.

Village Grounds (across the street from fertile grounds, in the coffee pun district): Haven't had the coffee, but the mint tea is pretty good. Nice morning buns, ample outlets and seating. Drawback: classic rock station playing loudly. Free internet.

Cafe Strada (College and Bancroft): Run by Cafe Roma which also runs some other cafes in town. They make a gut-scouring cafe americano that I am pretty fond of. Some of their pastries are good, in particular the apple harvest cake. Indoor seating is very limited. You can usually get a seat outside, but there are no working electrical outlets (you will see outlets, but don't be fooled, they don't work). This is my favorite place to work on a nice day.

Mo'Joe (Sacramento and Dwight): This was the site of my failed NaNo write-in. To be fair, it was raining. They have some comfy chairs and outlets. The pastry I had was very was a pumpkin cheesecake tart with a white dome-shaped garnish on top. I thought the white thing would be white chocolate, but it had more the consistency of a flavorless milk-based gummi. Staff didn't know what some of the items in the pastry case were. On the bright side, they served me really nice herbal tea in a personal tea-pot, one of those glass ones with the built in press. That was nice.

Au Coquelet (University and Milvia): The big draw of this place is that they're open late. Watch out for crowds on Friday and Saturday nights--this is a big venue for after-parties, especially Gaskells. Decent beverages and seating, some outlets. Some good pastries (carrot cake) and some terrible ones (anything in a tart shell). Unlike other local cafes, this place has some wine and stuff on the menu.

Brewed Awakenings (Euclid and Hearst): Lots of seats, but this place is popular, so it can fill up. Good supply of electric outlets. I had a good pastry. Tea was average. Didn't try the coffee.

In writing news, we were sent a NaNo "pep talk" likening the middle of one's novel to the middle of Australia. I can dig that.

Day 12: Ho Hum

Wordcount: 20946
Minimum: 20688

Not much else to say today. Things are moving along.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 11: Ups and Downs

Wordcount: 19003
Minimum: 18964

I didn't post yesterday, but I was on target (wordcount 17279, minimum 17240).

Yesterday the writing passed with amazing ease; I think I broke 800 words per hour. My secret? More rehashing of the earlier plot via a discussion between characters! It wasn't even gratuitous. Today I had to actually move on to the next plot point, which was slower going, although still not bad.

I think I'm having trouble with the pacing in this story. Considering I'm writing it with so little planning, this is not altogether surprising. I feel like I put a big exciting event too early in the story, and now I have to keep topping it with more and more exciting things. The upshot of this is that the ideas I had for minor encounters are not getting used.

I'm encountering a rather odd problem with the story I have chosen. So much of the magical nature of the fairytale landscape depends on the sentience of things: deer, birds, trees, fish, the wind. I'm having a bit of trouble coming up with encounters that don't involve something unexpectedly talking to my adventurers. In this environment, it rapidly becomes unbelievable that they would not simply start expecting plants and animals to talk to them. I haven't really come up with any other sorts of encounters other than dangerous beasts (which I am saving for later), and of course meeting native "tribes". What else can I include to show the fantastic nature of the landscape?

The natives are causing me a different problem. I wanted them to have kind of the feel of Tolkienian elves, except more hostile and dangerous (or at least unpredictable and alien). I've also been reluctant to make them too culturally advanced--they are still pretty primitive. So the problem with all this is that they are looking more and more like a thinly veiled (and somewhat offensive) representation of Native Americans. It turns out that if you keep nature-focused mysticism, and subtract the trappings of civilization, you end up with Noble Savages. Plus they're white. This isn't the direction I intended to go at all. I think I will need to re-write these encounters extensively.

Writing the blog entry has actually given me some ideas. I had so far been thinking of the Nymean Wilds as essentially a wilderness, inhabited only by "primitive" peoples. Maybe the fantasy element would actually come through stronger if there are cities and towers and libraries and so on. That would certainly be a shock to my explorers!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day Nine: Productive Rehash

Wordcount: 15522
Minimum: 15516

In today's story, Pitt and Farrowell continue their conversation. This ended up being pretty much just a rehash of the plot so far, in the characters' own words. This was both revealing of character, and very easy to write! I think the character development side of things should get easier after this. Also, I now feel like there is sufficient padding since the last big event that I can move on to the next big event. This is good.

In other news, I went out for dinner and drinks tonight with the coworkers I left behind in San Francisco. They are so great. We ate at a place called The Monk's Kettle, which has a simply bewildering array of beers available. I had a lamb burger, which was pretty good, though not excellent. I tried to have a blackcurrant cider, but they were out, so I had a fancy hefeweizen instead. Viva la chick beers. Anyway, it was awesome to hang out with that crew. Among them was Case, who is also, he says, doing NaNo, although his wordcount is sadly lagging. Get on it, Case-man!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Day Eight: Rounding Out

Wordcount: 13900
Minimum: 13792

Okay. Writing today's words took me a long darn time. On the bright side, though, I think the writing is getting smoother. I found that, quite without meaning to, I had written my two captains into a situation where they were soaked and freezing and needed to take off their wet clothes and go to bed in their tent. Usually this type of situation can only go in one direction, but I resisted, and they ended up talking to each other instead. This was good! I've been having some trouble developing the captains as characters, and I've especially been having trouble with the relationship between them. Locking them in a tent together with nowhere to go turned out to be a good way to deal with this problem. The only problem here was that I had to think up names of cities for them to say they came from...always a time-consuming prospect.

One challenge of the story I have chosen is that there are two main characters: Captain Farrowell and Captain Pitt. (Farrowell is inspired by Meriwether Lewis, and Pitt is inspired by William Clark.) It's difficult to provide a balance between the two characters, and to know when to switch from one point of view to the other. So far, I don't think they've really been working as a team; when you look through Farrowell's eyes, it's like Pitt isn't even there, and vice versa. On top of that, I haven't thought about Pitt's background much yet, so I tend not to write from his POV as much. The result is that there is some risk of Farrowell being the hero, with Pitt as a sidekick. I need to come up with some special adventures for Pitt so that he can come into his own. The benefit of little conversation I wrote today is that it opens the door for more development of the characters' individual backgrounds. In the final draft, all of this should probably come earlier, but for now, it's something I just need to get out of the way in order to move forward with confidence.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day Seven: The Skin of my Teeth

Wordcount: 1268
Minimum: 1268

Oh my. Today was not a good day for writing. I severely underslept last night (certainly not the fault of my gracious hosts--I should have gotten up to pee, there's really no way around it). All I could do was stare at the screen. Today was also a busy day of flitting from place to place in Berkeley and meeting up with friends, so finding a coherent block of writing time was tough. But there's really no excuse--I did sit in a cafe for three straight hours. Nonetheless, when I got to the minimum wordcount, I stopped in the middle of a sentence, not knowing how it was going to end.

I don't think it's totally coincidental that this comes after a couple days of the writing going well. For the last few days I've had a strong vision of the scene I was working towards. Now that that scene is over, my life feels empty somehow, devoid of purpose. Well, not my life, only my novel. I do have more ideas for scenes I'm looking forward to writing, but now I'm back on the long slow path building toward them. I spent much of today looking for things to write about that would get me some wordcount without having to really know what's going to happen next--Captain Pitt had a dream. Maybe it was prophetic--who knows! Then the ship got caught in a big storm. Lots of action, not much plot.

Day Six: Goofing Off

Wordcount: 10535
Minimum: 10344

There was a NaNoWriMo meetup this afternoon in Berkeley. I went, but only one person showed up! Perhaps due to this rather weak showing, I was not very motivated. I made my minimum, but I wrote less than on previous days, so my cushion has shrunk quite a bit. Lame. At least I broke 10,000.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Day Five: Go Speed Racer

Wordcount: 9458
Minimum target: 8620

Today I had only a brief window of time available for writing. In the morning AJ and I had coffee at Bittersweet Cafe with our friend Angie. Then we met up with our friend Ariana at Earth Island Institute, where she works, and had lunch at Cancun. By that time it was 2:00, and I had plans to meet a friend in SF at 5:30, so I was a bit worried about meeting my wordcount target for the day.

Oddly enough, I not only met the target, I exceeded it by quite a bit! Since I had a cushion of about 600 words from yesterday, I only needed about 1100 today. But I managed almost 2000! Could it be that pressure makes a difference? Could it be that I'm a more efficient writer when I'm not relaxing at home? Hmm, food for thought.

To track my NaNo work, I'm using a spreadsheet template from Huckleberry Hax. It's nothing too fancy--it lists the wordcount target for each day. When you enter your actual wordcount, it calculates how many words you wrote that day, credit/debit against the minimum, percentage of 50,000, and average words per day. It's nice. It also has some color coding for the different weeks! Today I added columns to track the hours I spend writing and count average words per hour. This information should help me set reasonable goals for myself in the future. Today I increased my "credit" from 614 to 838! Yeah!

In other news, I saw Where the Wild Things Are tonight. I wasn't crazy about it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day Four: Learning Curve

Wordcount: 7512 (and counting)
Target: 6896

I'm in Berkeley now. After a delicious "waffle special" at Fatapple's, I spent the morning writing in the North Reading Room of Doe Library. The North Reading Room is so lovely--why didn't I spend more time there as a student? It's a high, vaulted room lit by ample windows and skylights. The reading tables are beautiful old oaken monstrosities, with chairs to match, and on each table are several foliate brass reading lamps, each with electrical outlets built into its base. Now I'm in a cafe with a couple of medievalists, hard at work. Well, I'm mostly hard at work, but now that I've made today's wordcount (with some words to spare, thank you), I feel justified in cruising the NaNo forums a bit, and of course posting here, which is for some reason much easier than writing a novel.

For today's featured topic, I'd like to talk about my difficulties. What's so hard about writing a novel? I can only answer for myself, but here are a couple of problems that I'm struggling with:

First and foremost, there is the obvious problem of plot. Thinking ahead, building up the path that moves the narrative logically yet suspensefully from introduction to climax, is difficult. I'm not saying this doesn't get easier with practice, but it is hard work. It just is. And when this isn't working, it creates the most difficult kind of block to work past. It makes it very hard to say anything at all.

Then there's the problem of managing dialogue. My biggest problem with dialogue is making it serve the rest of the story. My characters start talking to each other, and before you know it I find that I've forgotten where this little speech was going. Or, worse, they've said what needed to be said, but now they're trapped in a conversation that has to come to a natural end. In real life, conversations go on. There are few situations in which a conversation between normal people ends with, "well, that's all I needed to say. Goodbye." But in a story, you can't just let them stand there telling each other about what's going on with them. You have to come up with interruptions so that they can shut up and you can get on with the story.

These aren't my only problems by a long shot, but they are the only ones I have time to talk about right now. One of my guys has just done a very stupid thing, and they are about to get in really big trouble.

Words on the move

Wordcount: 5788

This is a healthy 616 words above the minimum.

We flew to CA from NY today. I wrote on the plane and in the airport and on BART.

My metabolism thinks it's 3 am right now. Good night.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day Two: No time for writing!

Wordcount: 3456

Today's wordcount is just barely above the bare minimum of 3448. AJ and I are packing to go to Berkeley for two weeks, and there is much to do. My captains have just had their first uncanny encounter, but they don't yet realize how deep in trouble they are about to get.

I've settled on a name for the book, at least as a working title. It's called The Nymean Corps (rhymes with Crimean War, I suppose). I usually don't title anything I've written until it's complete, but there are certain incentives in this case. A New York design firm called Fwis will be selecting 30 NaNo novels over the course of the month to have cover art designed for them. The books are selected based on their titles and synopses, so I figured I had better get these fields filled in if I wanted to be considered. My original working title was The Journals of Farrowell and Pitt, which I like for its clear parallel with The Journals of Lewis and Clark, but I don't think it's really catchy enough. The phrase "Nymean Corps" was inspired by the name "Corps of Discovery" which was applied to the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Here's the synopsis I'm using right now (from my first draft of the prologue of the novel):

As the reader is no doubt aware, the ill-fated expedition of Farrowell and Pitt is today considered one of the greatest debacles of Kortland's colonial period. Communications from the expedition slowed, then ceased over a period of just a few months. The two captains never returned from their harrowing adventure, and those few members of the expedition that did reappear remembered nothing of the experience, or were incapable of coherent speech until their deaths. Recently, thanks to better equipped expeditions via lighter-than-air craft, a significant expanse of the area now known as the Nymean Wilds has been explored, and the records of the original expedition have been recovered.

What follows is an account of the expedition gleaned from these records, including a collection of excerpts from the personal journals of Captains Farrowell and Pitt. For the complete journals, as well as other records of the expedition, the interested reader is directed to the collection of the Colonial Museum, High Street, Wallingsgate.

What do you think? Do you prefer this version of the synopsis, or do you like the summary in my last blog post better?

I'm also adding a link to my NaNo author info in the sidebar.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kick-off Party, and What My Book is About

Wordcount: 1905

I wrote about 600 words before bed last night, and the rest of them today in the morning and early afternoon. At 2:00, I realized that I was supposed to be at the Long Island regional kick-off party, so I dropped everything and went down to John Harvard's Brew Pub on route 347, near the strip mall and the real mall in Lake Grove. The party was fun--about ten other people showed up--mostly women, varied in age. I had a good time with them, sensing the kind of tribal kinship with them that has been lacking with most other Long Islanders I have met so far. I was given a goodie-bag containing two corks ("one to uncork your imagination and the other to cork securely your inner editor"), some marbles ("because if you are writing 50K words in a month you probably lost a few"), and Christmas-themed rubber duck (I didn't really get the reasoning behind the rubber duck, to be honest). There were also two fun pencils and a couple of NaNoWriMo stickers. A success all round.

As today's blog feature, I thought you might like to know what I'm writing about. The story was inspired by the journals of Lewis and Clark. Some of you have heard me rant about this before. Lewis and Clark were a pair of enlightenment gentlemen sent to find a track through the trackless wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase. They encountered the primeval American landscape in all its unspoiled beauty, and saw it all through the eyes of their culture. When they discovered a new kind of animal, they shot it. When they discovered a beautiful waterfall, they named it after the President, or after one of their lady friends back home. When the native tribes told them that grizzly bears were dangerous and difficult to kill, they scoffed, until the day when they actually encountered one and couldn't stop it with bullets. In short, they behaved like the thoughtless, ignorant, arrogant Europeans they were. (I'm not saying they were bad people--they were simply a part of the culture that made them.)

Now imagine that, instead of the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark were sent to explore the landscape of fairytales. Imagine that the wildlife is sentient, or protected by beings with the powers of demigods. Imagine that the native tribes can express their displeasure through enchantments and potent curses. Imagine that, instead of grizzlies, there are dragons. Imagine that Sacagawea is a capricious sprite with no sense of fair play. Imagine that winter is not a season, which passes, but a country, which must be passed through. That's the story I'm writing.

I won't be using the names of Lewis and Clark, but I will be relying heavily on them for inspiration. Reading the journals, one comes to think of Lewis as an erudite gentleman, enthralled with the new school of scientific thought. Clark is more a doer than a thinker, writing tersely where Lewis' prose is florid. I'll be playing with that dichotomy of character, and I'll be trying to evoke the atmosphere of Enlightment scientific endeavor. I decided not use the real Lewis and Clark, and the real America, for the simple reason that I don't think the creatures and tropes I'll be playing with belong to the American landscape. I'm not prepared (at least not for NaNoWriMo) to do justice to Native American mythoi, so, we'll be in more of a Brothers Grimm universe.

Enough about that...I could have spent this whole time writing!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kicking off NaNoWriMo

In just eighteen minutes, it will be November 1st in my time zone. When that happens, I'll be allowed to start writing the 50,000 words required to win National Novel Writing Month. People call it NaNo for short, but the smallness implied by this abbreviation is at odds with actual hugeness of the task. To get this done, I will need to write an average of 1,724 words every day, not including Thanksgiving Day. If I don't end up with any plans for Thanksgiving, then I'll be giving thanks for some extra time to spend on my novel.

Will this task be difficult? I'm not sure. I know that I can easily write a couple thousand words in just a few hours when I'm inspired. The challenge will be to stay inspired, or, failing that, to write even when I'm not inspired. NaNo guides are full of advice about how to shut off your "inner editor" and just write. Sometimes I can do that...sometimes I can't. One thing that should make it easier is that I've chosen for NaNo a story idea which I cherish somewhat less than The Novel that I have been wrestling with moths or years, depending on how you count. Working on the less developed idea will, I hope, give me freedom to write without worrying about about such trifling matters as originality, plausibility, etc.

Why am I doing this? Mostly, it's to see if I can. If I can do this, I'm hoping the memory of it will buoy me up when I start to wonder if writing is really something I should be pursuing at all. I also hope that thirty days of living with intensive writing as my first priority will jog me into a routine or ritual that I can come back to for my next writing project. If I should happen to get the beginnings of a publishable novel out of this exercise, that also would be nice.

Why am I blogging about it? A few reasons. I've wanted to start a blog for some time, and this seemed as good a milestone as any for the inaugural post. More than that, though, I want to harness the power of peer pressure to keep me on track during NaNoWriMo. Please follow this blog. I will be posting my daily wordcount here. If you notice that I'm falling behind, I invite you pester me via comment, phone, email, IM, Facebook, Twitter, Wave, or whatever way you have of reaching me. Even if you don't, knowing that you're watching will help keep me going.

Two minutes to go...