NaNo 2012: A View from the Top

Winner badge 180x180

That’s me! As of Monday, around eleven-ish. I promised myself if I finished by midnight I would buy myself a winner’s shirt so Merry Christmas to me! I wrote ten thousand, thirteen words in a single day. A personal best, without a doubt.

Now I can clean up my house and give up soda and take up exercise to make up for abusing myself and my surroundings for the past month in the name of fiction. But first!

At the beginning of this month, a fellow WriMo asked me if it was harder to write my first novel or its sequel. I couldn’t really answer that question at the time, but I feel qualified to tackle it now.

Thoughts, Lessons, and Other Stuff from NaNo 2012

1. I finished writing several days earlier this year than I did last year. One might say I had become a better writer or that writing a sequel was easier, however my husband was able to point out from his relatively impartial perspective that I had all year to think about Starsand and plot it out in my head, while Grove was started in a seat-of-the-pants moment late on October 31st (or early Nov. 1st if you want to get technical). All year to sort out plots and playlists and ponder my characters and their motivations.

2. My actual writing was slower with Grove, because I was not particularly practiced and questioned my choices on everything from tense to specific words. Starsand was easier because those choices had been made, and I had a template of tone and world to follow.

3. On the other hand, I spent a lot more time staring at the screen with Starsand, debating with myself over how things would happen given my characters and world. How they would see things. How they would say things. I had parameters and history to contend with, I couldn’t just start fabricating things when the writing got rough without considering how it fit into what I already had.

4. I like Starsand now a lot more than I liked Grove when I finished it. That felt like the seed of something good, this feels like…something good. I am excited about it. I kind of love it. It isn’t quite finished, but it’s close.

5.  With Grove, I skimmed over events that I didn’t know how to write well…or ones whose place in the narrative felt uncertain to me. Sometimes it felt like writing scene-to-scene-to-scene. I wrote Starsand in a much more linear fashion, it flowed like telling a story out loud. I only skipped around when I got good and truly stuck.

6.  Writing Starsand was what I needed to do in order to be ready to edit Grove. It needs some fairly major surgery, but that seed of goodness remains. I just have a much clearer picture of what it’s supposed to grow into, now. I understand what it’s about. I understand all my plots and how they should relate. I am no longer terribly concerned that it will hurt anyone’s feelings or offend anyone or cause Conservative Christians to build book-burning bonfires (it might, I’m just not worried about it).

7. Last year’s NaNo was more exciting, more fun even (maybe), because I didn’t know if I could do it. I had that thrill of daring myself to do something ambitious. This year I started knowing I could, with my work clearly cut out for me. It was a different kind of challenge, and one that often felt like the work it was. A challenge of refinement, rather than one of creating something compelling from whole cloth.

8. I’m thinking I may try to become an ML next year because our region’s turnout has just been sad. I was completely alone at the last write-in!

9. I still do not have a firm grasp on how to punctuate dialogue.

10. I like writing dialogue and setting more than almost anything. Describing physical expressions/postures/actions and emotional states, not so much. A tendency toward the cliché.

Since I am sitting here listening to my Starsand playlist, enjoying how appropriate it ended up being despite the late-night addition of one seriously questionable song by Grizzly Bear,  that’s what I’m going to leave you with. If you don’t have Spotify, you should get it because it’s free and it’s one of the best things.

NaNo 2012: Finish Line in Sight

I should already be in bed on the off-chance that I get the dread Monday morning, 5:45 am call to substitute at a local school. Instead, I am here, updating my blog. “Why?” you might ask. I suppose I feel a duty, a kinship even, to the three people who will actually read this entry (as opposed to the half-dozen who stumble across this blog searching for “the selection fanfiction).

It was going so, so bad you guys. I didn’t write at all between last Monday and today because I was quagmired (the dictionary says I can’t use that as a verb, that it should be mired, but I like it the way it is and you can’t make me change it) in the plot of my story. Like Artax in the Swamp of Sadness bad. My book was the horse and I was Atreyu and I just kept pulling on the reins and crying and saying “please”.*

None of those actions get a book written. What does is sitting down and making yourself write a thousand words before you can have breakfast. Then two thousand before you can get a shower, and so on. I wrote just a bit over 8,000 words today and most of them were good. Some of them I like a whole lot. This novel has been tough. Sometimes my story is so amazing I can’t believe I came up with it, and so hard to write I can’t believe it. Other times it’s so completely crappy I can’t believe I committed it to paper (or pixels), and so hard to write I can’t believe it.

I am at 40k, and that means I really am going to finish. Today was make or break: I was going to catch up or blow it, flaming out in my second year and going off to kick rocks.

Bearing in mind that, as I told my pal Kristen over at A Scenic Route, I have late-stage NaNo brain…here are some tweets from this week:


*For those of you who are not children of the 80s, a visual (and auditory) aid:

If you aren’t a fantasy fan, I seriously don’t know what you’re doing here. 

Top Ten Tuesdays: The Thankful Edition

It’s almost Thanksgiving for those of us in the U.S., the day where we get together with family and eat too much food in gratitude for our good fortune. The ladies of The Broke and The Bookish have set forth a topic in the spirit of the upcoming holiday:

Top Ten Books I am Most Thankful For:

1. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson

Most of my reading is fiction and I love a good novel like the breath of life, but there are a few books I keep on hand to get me through the minutiae of daily life and this is one. When we moved away from the oceanside and I needed to get that mildew smell out of everything we owned, I reached for Home Comforts. When  a family member stained a brand new piece of furniture (with blood). When we were too poor to buy brand-name cleaners but I wanted to keep my house sanitary. It’s a tremendous reference for anyone like me, raised a few generations removed from the ladies who received housekeeping knowledge with mother’s milk (and any man with a house to keep, too). Amusingly, I have the book because my mother received it as a gift and felt it was an insult to her housekeeping. Lucky me!

2. The Betty Crocker Cookbook

This is my baking Bible. I learned to bake cookies and lasagna from its pages, and when I moved into my first apartment my dad bought me my own copy (his came from my grandmother). I’ve adapted my Snickerdoodle recipe from the one in its pages (the cookies that caused one pregnant neighbor to call me after midnight in hopes that I might whip up a batch). I used it tonight to whip up a crust for a pecan pie. It’s not trendy, it’s a staple.

3. The Better Homes and Gardens Bridal Cookbook

This was a wedding gift from my mother-in-law, and I was skeptical. I knew how to cook, and I had my trusty Betty Crocker. What could this cookbook possibly have to offer? In the five years since, I have discovered that the answer is quite a lot. This is now my go-to cookbook for cooking (as opposed to baking). It has great reference material on the basics of food: cuts of meat, properties of different grains, ideas on stocking an efficient and compact kitchen. The recipes are tasty and earmarked with notes like “low-fat”, “quick”, or “best-loved”. My favorite part has to be the meals portioned for two. These recipes kept my husband and I fed in style with no leftovers spoiling in the fridge. We particularly like the meatball soup, and my husband once ate the provolone-stuffed meatballs raw while I was away on a trip.* They’re that good.

4. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

I am thankful for all seven books of The Harry Potter series (even Chamber of Secrets) for many reasons. I have read them all a few times, some of them more than a few, and I know that I will read them again throughout my life and be just as excited and engaged as I was the first time. I know that I will share them with my children. I am thankful for the virtues championed throughout the series: courage, loyalty, perseverance. I am thankful that the narrative prizes love, friendship, and intelligence over sex, self-interest, and the YOLO mentality. I am thankful that (SPOILERS) good wins in the end. It might not be edgy, but it’s enduring.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It is on so many of my lists, but I am specifically thankful for it because I have my absolute best conversations with students about this book. About why the presence of the word “nigger” in a book does not make it racist, can in fact make it anti-racist. About the significance of mockingbirds, Boo Radley, and the actions of Atticus Finch. I am thankful that more than a half-century on this book is still getting teenagers to think critically about morality and character and what type of person they want to be, even though the America of this book is so far removed from the one they know.   I am thankful that my husband replaced my third destroyed paperback copy with the fancy schmancy Barnes and Noble hardcover!

6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This book was my gateway into science fiction and fantasy literature, and for that I will be eternally thankful. I am also thankful that is presented a smart and physically unattractive heroine, who was somewhat difficult to get along with, and yet people still saw her value. She was still the heroine. I am very thankful to have had a book like that available to me in my childhood. Thankful that L’Engle didn’t talk down to her readers. A Wrinkle in Time is a dense read, though the volume is slim. I appreciated the challenge then and I appreciate it now.

7. On Writing by Stephen King

This business of me writing things that were not for classes and letting people read them only started a little over a year ago. The whole idea had me shaking in my shoes and dreading turning into some of the things I associated with “writers”. I’m thankful for a book that talked about the business and mechanics of writing without getting all purple about it. I am thankful that reading it has already improved my writing.

8. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis

This book is the kind that inspires me. It is the story of many intelligent and talented people who saw both a problem and an opportunity and, instead of complaining about it or protesting, crafted a brilliant solution. An enduring solution that continues to evolve and grow in order to serve its purpose. I am thankful for those people, and for the people who took the time to record their story for posterity.

9. American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig FergusonPhoto: Get out and vote today. For bonus inspiration, here is a picture of one of my proudest moments, the day I became a citizen.

I am thankful to be an American. For all our troubles, America is a progressive nation: open-minded, offering freedom and opportunity. I am grateful to Craig Ferguson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the thousands of naturalized citizens every year who breath new life into the American Dream with their hope. The ones who don’t take our abundance, our cultural tolerance, and our freedoms for granted. This book is not only hilarious, but it is deeply patriotic in a way that reminds me how glad I am to be American.

10. Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator by Thomas S. Buechner

This enormous, heavy book was once my grandmother’s. She was moving and selling it at a garage sale, so I asked if I could have it. Many of my adolescent artistic efforts involved drawing studies of the gestures and poses on its pages, and I loved the image of idealized Americana it presented. America in our best moments, and America as we wish we were. I am thankful that Norman Rockwell existed, was so prolific, and stuck to his traditional style and subject matter when the ugly, abstract, and unpleasant came into fashion. I am thankful for this record of idealism.

So I’ve hit the major themes of Thanksgiving: tradition, food, virtues like gratitude. Thanksgiving is an American tradition, an originally American holiday, which is perhaps why my list skewed so traditional. The new and flashy is not always better than the tried and true, and I am thankful for the things that endure.

*I nearly had a heart attack when he told me. They’re half pork!

NaNo 2012: Bootstraps

Taking a break from updating my writing playlist (recently added: Grizzly Bear and Chicane), in preparation for tonight’s work, to update my poor neglected blog. I didn’t get any writing at all done during the week, no forward progress between Monday and Saturday. It was a tiring week at work and I found myself zombified each night, and if I’m being honest I have to admit that my story had me more than a little stumped. I knew what was happening and what was going to happen, but not how to get from one to the other in an interesting and logical fashion.

Saturday, I gave myself permission to hop in the time machine and travel to scenes both past and future.  The result was one scene of total garbage that I didn’t even add to my word count, and two that I love. With encouragement from my husband (and the promise of a Holiday Mint McFlurry on completion) I hit 25k before bed last night! Twenty-five thousand three words, to be exact. What does that mean? It means that there is less to write than I have already written! Hooray!

Here are some tweets from yesterday/last night:

The upshot of all this is that I officially feel out of the weeds! I love the scene I wrote just before bed last night, it was hitting all the right notes, and even though I’m deep in the soup of my novel I’m no longer drowning. I know where it’s going, I’m beginning to understand where it needs to have been, and lord help me I’ve got enough plot for the next installment.  Goal for tonight is 30k by midnight. If you want to join me on Twitter for some mutual back-patting and butt-kicking it’s part of my plot pondering distraction rounds.

I will admit that I am a bit surprised at how sad my book has gotten: my MC is being put through a lot and it’s not over yet. With what I wrote last night, there is no possibility for everyone to get their happy ending. That’s how I know it’s getting good.

Here are some Grizzly Bear lyrics, ‘cuz:

Prove it all to me
Check again to see
Leave me with no words
If you call again, subside

And I know I’ve made it all a lie
Shuffled back and forth, it’s only in my eyes

And I always wanted to resist
Everything I bought into is no man

Fool me once, it’s fair
The floodgates leave me there

I count on you in a way
There’s nothing left besides

And I want to hide it all away
Taking back all of the silly things I used to say

And I’ll give you all of my time
Because I’m foolish and never know how to resign

Looking back and forth, turn around
One that makes no sense but feels good anyhow
And I’ll leave it all as it should be
Where you are you and I stay me

So talk to me: how is your NaNo going? Are you happy with what you’ve written? Tearing your hair out? Sailing along toward a win or hacking your way through the jungle back to caught up?

Top Ten Tuesdays: Desert Island Necessities

Nothing fancy this week, folks! I’ve got an early job subbing high school Biology tomorrow and I need to hit my word count for NaNoWriMo before bedtime. I won’t be linking but maybe I’ll throw in a picture or two. This weeks theme:

Top Ten Books I Would Want on a Desert Island

1. SAS Survival Guide 2nd Edition: for any climate, in any situation
A desert island doesn’t necessarily mean tropical, after all. Hopefully this handy guide, written by a former member of the British Special Air Service who went on to become a survival instructor, would keep me alive long enough to enjoy everything else on my list.

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Because it’s super long and I haven’t read it, but also because as a former student of French language and culture I am fascinated by Russia’s attempts to imitate French culture during a period in which France was quite literally attacking Russia. Why do people do these things? I imagine it would be good mood reading for stormy days on the island.

3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Another long one. I’ve seen the Gerard Depardieu miniseries (well worth watching, it is to TCMC what the Firth miniseries is to Pride and Prejudice), but have not read the novel. I’d take it in French, because I would obviously have the time to work my way through.

4. The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer
I’ve read The Odyssey a few times, but I haven’t gotten to The Iliad yet (much less The Aeneid). Not only is it another long one, it seems appropriate for a desert island of the tropical variety.

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Actually tried to check this out of the library today, it’s been on my list for ages, but all the copies were gone. Probably because of the movies. Nothing like the suffering of others to make one feel fortunate, and the suffering of society’s maltreated might make one feel better about being a castaway. Like the Dumas, I’d take it in French.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It’s my favorite, and I can read it over and over and love it just as much every time. Some might bring the bible for spiritual comfort, I’d bring Harper Lee.

7. The Best of Roald Dahl 
Honestly, if I read too many French and Russian novels I’d surely get depressed and off myself. Better bring some Dahl for a laugh now and then.

8. The Curiosities: A Collection of  Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff
Short stories are convenient when one wants a little fiction break between catching fish and building a lean-to.

9. Ender’s War (Ender’s Saga 1 & 2) by Orson Scott Card

I just read (and loved to pieces) Ender’s Game, so I’d like to have it for re-reads and continue with the series. After a long day facing the harsh realities of survival, what could be more escapist than space?

10. Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction by Howard Irving Chapelle and Jonathan Wilson
Eventually I would want to make my escape.


Look at that, I got all fancy after all. Art historical even. Do you agree with my list? Disagree? Think I’m a pretentious twit? Tell me how it oughta be done on the comments. 


NaNo 2012: From the Trenches

It’s Day 11 of NaNoWriMo 2012 and I, ever the model of efficiency, have just boiled a massive pot of water and tossed in half a dozen Candy Cane Lane teabags that I might lay in provisions for the campaign ahead. I started this battle with three Writing Buddies this year, and as of this moment we are all still in the fight. Some of us are ahead, some of us are behind, but we write on!

This week has been rough on me. I had to take some time away from NaNo to prepare and send work out to a gallery show (at a cost greater than I could really afford), and I fell farther behind in my word count than I was comfortable with. Then on Wednesday, as I was heading out to a write-in at a local frozen yogurt place hoping to make up some lost ground, the starter on my truck gave up the ghost. Not only did I not make it to the write-in, my husband and I had to absorb a pretty big financial blow. It’s really going to hurt come Christmastime and we had to cancel plans to see family for Thanksgiving, but we’re not homeless yet by George!

We only have one vehicle, so I had to take an unpaid “vacation” from subbing until we could get the truck fixed. This might have been a boon to my NaNoWriMo word count if I had not developed an ear infection walking home from the garage in low temperatures and high wind. It’s in the inner ear, so not only is it quite painful but my brain is working about as well as a steamed potato at the moment. I went into this weekend about 5,000 words behind.

Oh yeah, I also had to go help choose the next President of the United States and vote on California’s eleventy-billion ballot measures. The first time I’ve had to wait in line at the polls.

All is not lost! We have a good garage and they got the truck fixed up in a jiffy (it had also been regularly scheduled for new shocks and brakes at the end of the month), so I was able to attend the Saturday write-in at the local coffee shop where I met one new WriMo and wrote about 800 words. Then I came home and wrote 3,000 more. The ear was worse this morning so I spent several hours with a clove of garlic jammed in it and then took a long nap. I’m now feeling like I might be able to put a few thousand more words to paper, and end this weekend in the green.

Some of my tweets this week:

Looking through one’s old tweets really is an exercise in inanity. Yikes. Incidentally, if you’d like to follow me on Twitter that’s dandy, but I will warn you that I retweet a LOT of astrological stuff. Which is why my Twitter is not connected to this blog via widget. Now, to send you back off into the NaNo night with fresh vigor for the writing that I hope you are doing, some fresh writing links:

I will leave you with a song from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, in hopes that you jump into your metaphorical racing-car and zoom through the next 5,000 words!

I couldn’t find the full clip of the video, but if the song is your thing it’s worth it to check out the cupcake dresses on AKB48.

Top Ten Tuesdays: All I Want for Christmas are MOAR BOOKZ!1!!11!

I bet you thought that you wouldn’t be getting any Top Ten Tuesday action from me this month. Ha! Joke’s on you, writing this lets me procrastinate re: my NaNoWriMo responsibilities while still feeling productive. The babes of The Broke and The Bookish did their list with a birthday theme, but as I am a summer baby and the yuletide fast approaches I’m going with Christmas!

Top Ten Books I Want for Christmas

1. Unwound by Jonathan Baine

I just read about this book and I very much want it. It is relevant to my interests: biology, dystopia, social unrest, children who do not strictly fit the societal standard. I’m so there.

2. A hardcover copy of Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson

Recently read this book and loved it down to the ground. I would like to permanently add it to my library, where it can sit between To Kill a Mockingbird and White Oleander at the end of the Harry Potter shelf. The cover on the hardbound version is so beautiful.

3. Timm Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet by Tim Gunn

One of my loves is for textiles and fashion, another is for history. In junior high the school library had a series of books about fashion through the decades/ages, starting with Elizabethan and going right up to the 80’s (it was the mid-90’s at the time). I checked out each and every book and basically memorized the contents. This seems like a grown-up version of those books, and you can’t go wrong with Tim Gunn.

4. Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel

World myth is another of my passions (I have a big heart, okay?) and having pretty much exhausted Greek and Roman myth short of learning a dead language and reading the classics in their original forms, and never really clicking with Norse myth, I’d like to learn more about Hinduism. This beautiful picture book illustrated by a Pixar animator would be a great introduction to one of the Hindu Epics. I also have books on Celtic, Welsh, Korean, Vietnamese, African, and Native American myth;  I think this would fit right in on my shelf.

5. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell

I am trying to add more poetry to my diet of classics, and I’ve enjoyed several Rilke poems I’ve come across.

6. The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language

I have a French degree. I am learning Spanish. I read books about the origins of the English language and linguistics texts for fun. Sometimes I write books. I think it’s safe to say that I am a language nerd. I very much enjoyed Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, an overview of the development of American English, by the same author. I’d recommend it to folks who like that sort of thing.

7. No Strings Attached: The Inside Story of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop by Matt Bacon

It is still a cherished dream of mine to someday be a Muppeteer. I love these wacky puppet folks and everything they do.

8. Collected Folk Tales by Alan Garner

Because I think it’s clear by now that I like that kind of stuff.

9. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Preferably one of those nice classics versions that has a hard cover and pretty illustrations. I love the story but I’ve never read the original. No time like the present (Hehe. Get it, present? Oh whatever, printmakers and language nerds love puns.)

10. Hello, Jell-O! by Victoria Belanger

I like to cook, and Jell-O was a staple of my childhood. I also like silly, kitschy things so books like this (and the Hello, Cupcake! book I already own) are right up my alley. Plus, the pictures are so pretty that I can leave it out and my friends will flip through it when they come over. Then sometimes they want to make the the things. So we do.

Sometimes I think I’m pretty lame, then I look at a list like this and recognize myself as the awesome weirdo I truly am.

In case Santa, Daddy Warbucks, or a Sugar Daddy (or Momma, hey) who likes completely platonic relationships with happily married women is reading: what I want more than anything for Christmas is a small printing press I can use here in my apartment. Then I can print my own books with lead type I already own! Thus it is wished. I have also backed it up in other wishing formats, for good measure, so let’s see if it works!

Have you read any of these books? Did you like them? Were they terrible? What is your Christmas wish?