Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A NaNo triumph story

Yesterday I crossed the 50,000 mark in the words I've written for my WIP, In the Land of Pangaea.  This is significant because I wrote all the words in November, which is what you need in order to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Since I didn't participate officially, I don't get a nifty winner's button to put here, but I'm still incredibly pleased to be able to report my success.  In all, I spent twelve of the preceding twenty-six days writing, sometimes as "few" as 3,000 words in a day and sometimes as many as 5,000.  My original schedule had me writing for more of those days, and finishing today, in time to devote Thanksgiving and Black Friday to family and the last day of the month to my regular weekends off, but I was informed that today wouldn't be a regular kind of day either, so I had to quickly compensate, which was why there were two 5,000 days and a couple of 4,500s, too.

Although certainly a great push in the overall effort, my plans call for more than a hundred thousand more words, which puts Pangaea at the longest manuscript I've written to date, a different kind of achievement entirely.  I figure if I stay at a fairly good clip I'll be done by February or March, and I will certainly let you know how that goes, but I wont beat myself up.  I said I wouldn't if I didn't hit the NaNo goal, and maybe I wouldn't have, but I don't have to worry about that anymore.

Back in the old days, when I only had the one blog (Scouring Monk), I wrote victory posts after each successful NaNo, explaining how that year's story came to be.  I won't be doing that here, but I figured I'd at least acknowledge the tradition.

I'll be taking a short break from the WIP, probably won't be writing again until Tuesday.  But I'm not worried at all about it.  I've got NaNo behind me.  I've made a good start.  Now I just have to finish it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

More Who than You

This weekend I attended a performance of Seussical.  That's all well and good, because this past summer I completed a script for a Dr. Seuss biography comic.  It was only right that I finally saw the musical version of his legacy.  The real reason I saw it was because my brother, robotic(s) professor at Yarmouth High School Paul Lamson-LaPume, was in the pit playing his trombone.  He's the only one in the family who continued playing his childhood instrument, even though we received absolutely no local notoriety as the Second Genuine, Elastic Family Band.

Anyway, it's a pretty good play, splicing together the most famous elements from Seuss's collected works, centering on Horton the Elephant from his two separate adventures (Horton Hatches the Egg, which is his first appearance, and Horton Hears a Who, the more famous follow-up), with narration from the Cat in the Hat.

What it really got me thinking was how much of Seuss, at least as defined by Seussical, is dedicated to the power of the imagination and independent thought, two attributes I greatly treasure, both in general and as a writer (especially as a writer).

Later, because the whole afternoon and evening was spent with the rest of Paul's family, I got to read Seuss himself to my nephew, including Horton Hears a Who and The Lorax.  The Lorax is a surprisingly forthright social commentary, all about environmentalism (although unlike his successors Seuss stressed the word "UNLESS," which my nephew asked me about, and I waited until we'd finished the story to explain).  For Seuss there was always hope.  Even the dastardly Grinch is as famous for his redemption as his grinchy ways (much like his famous predecessor, Scrooge).

Seuss is known for a lot of things, including his peculiar use of nonsensical words and creations such as Horton, the Lorax, and the Grinch.  But perhaps now I'm beginning to see him as much as a champion for the thing he embodied best, a imaginative outlook on the world around him.  That's the part I most want to embody myself as I work on my own stories.

Monday, November 18, 2013

WIP/NaNo Update

Here we are on the 18th of the month, which happens to be NaNoWriMo, and I've got a WIP, In the Land of Pangaea.  According to a pace I've previously determined, I should be at 28,000 words, roughly, as of yesterday.  But I'm at 20,000.

Previous versions of me would have been in a panic.  Previous versions would be running around as a giant bundle of nerves, the way turkeys would be at this time of year if they realized how delicious they are at least once a year.  But then, because of previous versions of me, I'm behind but am already on my way to catching up.

When I did NaNo in 2004-06, I set a daily goal of 1,667 words per day in order to complete the challenge in November's 30 days (via cold calculation).  Anytime I didn't write on a given day, I knew I had to double that count the next day to catch up.  By the third year I was able to complete the challenge in far fewer than 30 writing sessions.  In the years that followed, I varied the length of my daily writing goals quite a bit, going so far as 10,000 per day in 2011, and then scaling back to 5,000 last year.  This year I intended to do about 3,000, but since I started falling behind I upped it to 4,000 and then to 4,500.  If I keep at this kind of pace on the weekdays I have available to write, I will hit the NaNo goal of 50,000 words in the month before Thanksgiving (and just who is this sadist Chris Baty to have organized the challenge in a month with a major family holiday in the first place???).

I've stated before that I'm not really concerned.  I haven't officially participated in NaNo since 2006.  I have no one watching over my shoulder except myself, and I guess you blogging readers, if you choose to be all judgmental and nasty about it.  But you guys are pretty okay.  You wouldn't do that.

As always, it's not the words but the sentences that increasingly interest me.  I love when a story that I think I know starts to take over.  While I plotted Pangaea fairly intricately two weeks ago, I like it when I discover new little bits of inspiration.  Pangaea has turned out to be an excellent way for me to meditate on other manuscripts I've written, a commentary and summation on those stories that will hopefully make all of them the easier to process, although each of them are completely independent, including Pangaea.

The only tough part remains that I know even after November ends I will still have plenty to write.  Which is also great fun to consider!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Neil?

So, why Neil Gaiman?

The short of it was that it was offered me and I was quick to embrace the opportunity.  The long of it, of course I'm a fan.  I didn't mention him in the Ode-athon, but Neil has been a huge inspiration to me.  His depiction of the trickster god Anansi has informed material in Minor Contracts, a manuscript I wrote three years ago, and is a considerable part of In the Land of Pangaea, my WIP.  Anansi was featured in Neil's American Gods and of course the subsequent Anansi Boys, and perhaps it's a sign of my affection for the character that I was never able to understand why people didn't like that one as much as I did.

Plenty of people love Neil's work.  I spent a good portion of this year reading his Sandman, and as I have yet to read the complete series (to say nothing of the new follow-up, Sandman Overture), I anticipate doing more of that in the future.  It's arguably the most literary comic book ever attempted, and the style hugely informed how I approached Modern Ark, a manuscript I wrote four years ago (what's easy to do in a comic book is not so easy to do in a book if you're looking for an actual audience; maybe I just need to identify my Morpheus more clearly?).  Since I didn't read Sandman as it was originally released issue by issue, even though I was actively reading comics during the second half of the series, it's been interesting to play catch-up.

Neil can sometimes be a little intimidating.  And yet I don't think he's hit his full cultural reach yet because I also think he can be underrated by people looking for a little more of the mainstream in his work (a problem that also plagues Grant Morrison).  Sometimes even as we champion artists who can make anything mainstream we limit our ability to find them by asking that they have a certain level of conformity to what already exists.  They see that Neil came from comic books and that's excuse enough to not take him as seriously as they should.

I haven't read enough of his work, Sandman or otherwise, even though I was still in high school when Neil started taking the art of writing books seriously.  That would have been a good time to start, but then I was still fighting my appreciation of Stephen King then, too.  I think Neil has a good amount of King in him, but they approach the same kind of material differently.  For Neil it's about seeing the grand scale on an intimate level, whereas King takes the intimate at a grand scale (which is why he can do horror and things like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption with equal aplomb).  But they're essentially the same.  They see the hidden mythologies around us and attempt to interpret them.  Clowns are scary, mm-hmm.

On the one hand having this comic biography under my belt means I'm an inch closer to working in comic books the way I always dreamed.  That's the selfish part.  On the other, I'm also an inch closer to Neil creatively.

But only an inch.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fame: Neil Gaiman released!

I seem to be completely out the loop when my Bluewater biography comics are released, but that also means I get to be pleasantly surprised when they are.

That being said, the title and image should explain this one well enough, and I couldn't be more pleased to have been involved in this project.

This is the publisher's official write-up of the comic.

I'm also pleased to report that there's already been comments around the Internet about it, which you can find at The Outhouse and Pop Mythology.

Here's the helpful comiXology listing if you'd like to purchase it digitally, and here's the Comics Flea Market print listing.

That leaves the most recent one, the rhyming Dr. Seuss project that obsessed me for a year.  That one will be truly interesting indeed!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Ode-athon recap!

First off, a huge thanks to all the participants!

I wrote about Peter Ackroyd, Douglas Adams, Dave Barry, Roberto Bolano, Jerome Charyn, Fyodor Dostoyevski, Stephen King, David Maine, Herman Melville, Grant Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, and Bill Watterson.  And because even that wasn't enough, I also included William Least Heat-Moon, Robert Pirsig, and Quentin Tarantino.

Readers of my other blog had a slightly different version of this recap, where I mentioned reading John le Carre in recent weeks, and if that had been earlier I may well have included him as well!  The thing is, this whole thing was as much about the writers I enjoy reading as the ones who have inspired my creative process, and what le Carre did was exactly that, in a fairly major way, introducing a major new wrinkle to my favorite Space Corps story after Seven Thunders, new character motivation that also helped inform a new part of the story I've been batting around for months.  It was already a story that heavily featured espionage, le Carre's specialty, but after reading three of the author's books I realized what was missing, and hopefully the resulting product will be the better for it.

It's too late to participate officially, but you can still leave your favorite writers in the comments!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

IWSG November 2013

Visit this to find out more about:

I was going to write this month's edition about the woes of finding readership for indy literary fiction in the States, but instead chose something more immediate, which would be that most regular of writing challenges, NaNoWriMo.

I participated in NaNo in 2004-2006, successfully completing it each year (and subsequently ended up with my first novel, The Cloak of Shrouded Men).  Since that time I've written novel-length manuscripts around this period, one a year, from 2009 to the present.  I say "to the present" because I have a new WIP, In the Land of Pangaea, and owing to how my year has developed, I waited until this month to begin writing it.

And I had a good mind to bang out at least the required 50,000 words for November.

I've done that several times with the previous manuscripts.  I know, I know, I know I can do it.  And that I can complete whole 100,000+ word stories.

And yet I'm still apprehensive about the whole deal.

My week is kind of screwy.  I've determined that the best days to write are actually the days I work, because I want to leave weekends to other purposes.  The ability to modify the number of words I write in a given day is not a problem.  Thanks to NaNo I learned long ago what I was capable of, and have played around with that to such a degree that it's just not a concern.

And yet, technically I am already behind, and that still leaves me in a kind of panic.

For instance, I've just used the last two days to further develop the outline rather than write the actual story.  This is a good thing (and keeping with the spirit of NaNo, which dictates you leave the whole process inside the month), and harks back to the extensive outlines I did for my Space Corps stories for years (although not, surprisingly the one Space Corps manuscript I've actually written, last year's WIP Seven Thunders).  At the time I was doing those, I wasn't necessarily thinking of them as novels, but I've since realized that I did myself a huge favor in that regard.  And this is the first time I've knowingly done the same for another manuscript.

That much is good.  That much is great!  In fact, I borrowed plenty from the Space Corps outline experience, including my favorite way to tell a story.  I've done the aha! character moments in other manuscripts, but this will be the first time I see it coming.  This will be the first time I haven't left myself with a lot of potential surprises.  I see this as a good thing, because there was plenty of that in the outlining process itself, and all the time I spent developing the literary landscape of Pangaea.

But still.  But still!

I no longer feel the need to prove to myself in any way that I can accomplish the NaNo goal, but it's still there, sentimentally.  If I don't do it this year, I'll feel bad.  Sure, I might get over it, but it just feels right to keep the tradition alive.

So that's what's making me feel insecure this month.

...stupid, stupid NaNo...

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Today begins the Ode-athon!

For the purposes of this occasion, we’re considering our favorite writers, the ones who inspire us, whether merely as readers or even as writers ourselves.  They’re the ones we couldn’t live without, and have treasured for years (unless we just discovered them this year!), reading them religiously, waiting breathlessly for their next release (unless they’re dead), recommending them without reserve to all your friends.

Here’s my list, because I hate to narrow my options:

Peter Ackroyd
I fell in love with instantly when I randomly discovered his then-recent release The Plato Papers at my university bookstore at the start of the millennium.  I’ve since come to appreciate his deep sense of history and his continuing patronage of the arts in various fiction and nonfiction works (although there’s so much of it I shudder at the task of reading all of it!).  Personal favorite: still The Plato Papers, a parable about the vagaries of reputation and the certainties of civilization (where I got the “mouldwarp” from Scouring Monk’s URL).

Douglas Adams
Hardly needs an introduction, but he’s one of the seminal writers I borrowed from grade school classmates and subsequently made my own (Jerry Spinelli is another).  Known best for the Hitchhiker’s, er, “trilogy,” Adams also created holistic detective Dirk Gently, and wrote a number of nonfiction works I still hope to catch upon some day.  Personal favorite: The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul, the second Dirk Gently book, which cleverly updates Norse mythology, and seems to have the most depth of any Adams book.

Dave Barry
Fell in love with him thanks to a syndicated humor column he wrote for years, but my appreciation only deepened when he delved into fiction, sometimes on his own but also with Ridley Pearson in the Peter Pan prequel books featuring the Starcatchers.  Of all the writers in my selections, I’ve easily read the most from Dave.  When I use the phrase “would make a great name for a rock band,” that’s a deliberate callback to one of his trademarks.  Personal favorite: Insane City, which the best (and most recent) of his solo works of fiction, although following the same basic pattern of chaotic events following a given set of individuals.

Roberto Bolano
The best pure literary voice I’ve yet discovered, and continually readable as I delve deeper into his catalog, an ongoing process.  Personal favorite: 2666, his most ambitious and accomplished book.

Jerome Charyn
Like an American Peter Ackroyd, Charyn wears his love of culture and history on his sleeve, although he’s decidedly more mischievous about it.  He also has plenty of books I’m still in the early stages of appreciating, but I have yet to be disappointed no matter his risks.  Personal favorite: The Green Lantern (not to be confused with the comic book character), Charyn’s take on Russian literature.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Speaking of Russian literature, as far as I’m concerned this is the master.  Personal favorite: The Brothers Karamazov, an amazing tour-de-force that to my mind eclipses the more acclaimed Crime and Punishment.

Stephen King
Growing up deep in the heart of King territory made it all but mandatory to read him, but I took my time getting around to it, so it was all the more gratifying to discover how much I truly admired him.  However, for everything I’ve read from King so far, I haven’t really touched his horror, which of course is what he’s best known for.  Personal favorite: The Stand, his epic take on post-apocalyptic fiction.

David Maine
Like Ackroyd and Charyn, Maine takes his inspiration from the stories he loves the most, and most of the time they happen to come from the Bible, but he’s also written about classic movie monsters.  Personal favorite: Fallen, based on the biblical story of creation, and the four humans unlucky enough to be there, each of them nursing their own private pain.  This one may be written most eloquently, tracing backward rather than forward and being all the richer for it.

Herman Melville
Everyone knows Moby Dick, and I actually enjoyed it, but I discovered to my delight that there’s plenty of truly excellent material that he wrote after it.  Personal favorite: The Confidence Man, a clever social satire that seems to have been completely forgotten.

Grant Morrison
To my mind the best of the comic book writers, endlessly inventive and immersive in his Byzantine explorations of superhero archetypes both with icons and more obscure figures, while also taking the time to come up with his own myths.  Personal favorite: Joe the Barbarian, which as I think about it more and more is the 21st century equivalent of Alice in Wonderland, and deserves to become a classic of any literary medium in its own right.

Thomas Pynchon
Seems to write almost exclusively in giant literary epics, and that’s perfectly okay with me, since he’s certainly expansive and wildly creative enough to repeatedly accomplish it.  Personal favorite: Mason & Dixon, which will have you reconsidering the earliest days of United States.

J.K. Rowling
Perfectly well-known and hardly needing me to sell more books, but there you are.  I devoured seven Harry Potter adventures, and was pleased to see that her magic exists outside of them.  Personal favorite: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which exploded that whole series into an intensely personal affair.

Salman Rushdie
Bold doesn’t begin to describe the writer who had a fatwa issued against him, but his talent is phenomenal and style as creative as you’re ever likely to find without the need of gimmicks.  Personal favorite: The Satanic Verses (source of said fatwa).  Brave the risk and treasure it for yourself.

Bill Watterson
I couldn’t possibly omit the cartoonist who defined my childhood, whose retirement in 1994 hardly affected his ongoing legacy.  Personal favorite: Calvin & Hobbes (yes, by default but by no means in a limiting way), the great chronicle of the ultimate 20th century nonconformist and his best friend.

Special bonuses!

Not specifically fiction or book writers, the focus on my other entries, but I still wanted to mention them:

William Least Heat-Moon
Best understands the United States because he’s traveled it a number of different ways and always written brilliantly about it.  Personal favorite: PrairyErth,  a “deep map” that saw him explore an entire rural county on foot.

Robert Pirsig
As far as I’m concerned, the definitive 20th century philosopher from the States.  Personal favorite: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Quentin Tarantino
The best screenwriter, knows film better than anyone, is still evolving.  Personal favorite: Kill Bill Volume 2 if we’re talking strictly screenplay.  It’s his most assured, least showy storytelling.

The Ode-athon continues!

11/4 David Walston at Blah Blah Blah Yackity Smackity
11/5 Pat Dilloway at PT Dilloway
11/7 Nigel and Maurice Mitchell at The Geek Twins
11/8 The Armchair Squid at The Armchair Squid
11/9 and back to me at Scouring Monk and Tony Laplume

Want to join the fun?

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