NaNoWriMo: Days 16 – 20

Service Engine Soon     I think I hit the wall last night. The “service engine soon” light suddenly coming to life on the dashboard, like some glowing harbinger of doom, was the capper. Barring a miracle, my NaNoWriMo attempt for ‘13 is done.
     I said I wasn’t going to do this, but before I hoist the white ensign, I’ve got to “see” and confirm the reasons behind the gesture. The list includes: moving—setting up, down sizing and repair (still an ongoing project); losing the dog—finding the dog; mom’s sudden medical issues; extra work duties (read WASC report); family birthday obligations (we love to birth our children in the months of October and November); Thanksgiving planning, prep, delivery and clean up (yep, I’m the host) and now the car with all its pending how-to-get-it-to-the-garage-and-still-get-to-work-an-hour-away juggling. So if my 11,650 word count wasn’t a clue, the rest certainly is—I think I’m pretty much toast.
      “Strike the colors, Mister Sunwolfe.”
     I’m not going to call it a complete bust, however. Though the word count is measly, I have written everyday and re-laid the foundations of a daily writing discipline. I made real progress on my latest manuscript and will continue to do so until it is done. I reconnected with some fellow writers and hope to stay in touch for encouragement’s sake. I gained powerful tools and insights from NaNo pep talks and fellow writers. I believe these things alone made the experience, however truncated, worth the effort.
     I still plan to participate to the very end, post my meager progress, cheer on my NaNo-mates and enjoy the last week of the event keyboarding with one hand while noshing a turkey leg with the other.
     In the meantime, anyone know a good mechanic?

NaNoWriMo: Days 8-15

     It is foolish to expect more from those around you than they can reasonably deliver. The key is knowing what is reasonable and what is not. Balance then, between hope and apprehension, is all.
     ~Helin Tshamis D’kur Uliekin

     My nightmares are ferocious. Their ferocity can be gauged by how close the dream world and the waking world are. The closer the twain, the harsher the nightmare. I feel alien afterward…as if a bit of the ‘otherness’ is now part of me and I am a stranger to this world.

     It is a distinct probability I will not “win” this year’s NaNo. I’ll not go into the litany of obstacles typical of many a fledgling writer’s blogs. Suffice to say that baring circumstances, I’m rather disappointed in myself because that’s where the ultimate responsibility lies. Though I still have the approaching Thanksgiving Holidays to look forward to, if these past less-than-1000-word-days are any indication, I’ll not expect more from them than I can deliver.
     This is not to say there is no hope (curse it). If nothing else, the NaNo helped jumpstart a writing routine that had been long on the verge and nearly derelict. Though I was writing—like now; this blog entry—all my manuscripts had stalled. Even this present NaNo manuscript is progressing in but fits and starts and I’m not very excited about writing it. I am, however, tired of not making it to the Rough-Draft finish line. Once there, I can cast about for inspiration, but I sense that it will take more than a few lucky sessions at the butt-crack-of-dawn and/or good ideas to get the process running smoothly and reliably again, but it’s a (re)start and I count that as a victory.

     The bookcases are in and (may my wife’s name be forever exulted) built, so this weekend’s projects include getting the Library in order. And with that, save for the garage—that black pit of despair, every room in the house is livable. There might be a box here or there, tucked away in the corner or temporarily misplaced on a shelf, but essentially we will be moved in. What genius scheduled a move to culminate during NaNoWriMo?
     I have not named the house yet. I may decide to keep “Iona Céin” for as my daughter pointed out “…a rental is your house, what you put in it is your home…”. Home is my family and the material and sub-cultural constructs that are the results of that expression. This rental is simply a shell I am presently constrained to encase it in.
     I’ll think on it more. Maybe the dream world can serve up some inspiration to season it’s terror.

NaNoWriMo: Day 7

DesireDriveDisciplineDedication     Freedom!
     I can’t praise this little program enough. It is truly a critical piece of software indispensable to my writing-kit. I am sorely tempted by the Internet each and every time I sit down to the computer. I call it “Alice’s Rabbit-hole”. Its allure is not blatant like Ulysses’ sirens; it’s more subtle yet no less deep or insidious. For example: I’ll want to check my email, “…really quick…”. An email from a favored merchant I subscribe to will send me off to check my account, “…just for a moment…”. Then cruise the sale “…for a second…”. The next thing I know, its been a half an hour or more and I’ve been to five or six websites in oblivious succession.
     Even going to the NaNoWriMo website is dangerous. I’ll check my NaNomail, send a “…fast…” missive, check the regional forums, click on the donation tab to contemplate how much I might be able to contribute, watch a NaNoVideo. There goes another 20 minutes.
     I suspect the story is a common one.
     If I can maintain enough discipline however, to open Freedom! and click on the “OK” button, I’m golden; the Internet’s delights are silenced for a pre-set hour…or two…or three…or whatever I’ve set it up for. At the end of the hour, it’s reward time…go cruise—or more likely, shut the computer off and get ready for work.

     I spoke to my sophomore honors classes about what it takes to be an honors student or to get anything of quality, anything worth having, done. It takes Dedication, but that “dedication” is made up of, “…the three Ds…”. The first D is Desire. Do you really want it? Not as one might desire a glass of water or a new pair of shoes, but like “Wow! He/She/It’s hot. I’d like to get to know them!” desire.
     The second angle of the triangle is Drive. Do you have the wherewithal to get up off your butt and physically go for it? We’re not just talking about signing up for the class here, we’re talking about actually going to class and participating, approaching Mr. or Ms. “Might-Be-The-One” and introducing yourself.
     These two Ds are founded, however, on the most important part of the triangle-of-dedication: Discipline. Do you have the discipline to work at it not just for the day or the week or as long as you are inspired to, but for as long as it takes? When drive is at its lowest and desire is minimal, do you still have it in you to get the job done? Do you sit down, butt-in-chair, and pound out those words, not because you feel like it, or because you’re inspired—because you must. You might be sick, pissed off and tired, but do you do it anyway. This is why, of all the Ds, this last one is so critical and is the foundation upon which the others stand. If you don’t have it, if you don’t develop it, your success—that “A” or that manuscript—will always be ephemeral and a hit-or-miss proposition.
     I need to take my own advice. I know I desire to be a published author. I know I have the drive and wherewithal to do it, but do I have the discipline? Do I have it in me to rise at 04:00 each work day, hit the Freedom! button and for 60 minutes or more, sit and write—good stuff, bad stuff, inspired stuff or drivel notwithstanding—and get that manuscript done? I don’t know.

     Mission time-count for the morning accomplished.

NaNoWriMo: Day 6

Moving-in Blues     Yesterday I did not make the mark, but I did write and I count that as a forward momentum. Meetings at school went late (whoever thinks that teaching is an 8:00 to 15:00 gig is not a real teacher), and then with the commute, shopping, dinner, moving-in chores and mom calling to tell us she is being scheduled for gallstone surgery (yeah, the hits keep coming, but that’s the way it is), I just didn’t have a lot of time.
     On the positive side of things, I got my bedroom squared away enough to sleep in it last night and I slept much better. My last bed frame squeaked and groaned like some sort of wounded animal, but this present frame, though not new, made no noise whatsoever. Wow. What a difference. I hadn’t realized how much my former “vocal” frame prevented me from falling into a more satisfying and worthy sleep.
     The new place has two stories. Callista cannot navigate the stairs with her three legs, so up until last night I’d been sleeping in a hide-a-bed in the living room both to keep her company while she settles in to the new place and because my room wasn’t yet ready for habitation. Well, last night was the night and I got better sleep than I have for a while. Unfortunately, though I set my alarm, I didn’t turn it on and woke up at 5:00 instead of 4:00 and thereby losing 3/5ths of my writing time, but with all the stress of moving and Bella running for it, I surely needed it. I suspect what I really need is about a week’s worth more! Did I say I’m looking forward to the Veteran’s day three-day weekend?
     Thus, I have but a few minutes to pen this and a few words on my NaNo manuscript. Still, I am hopeful and confident of reaching the goal. I just have to catch up. I’ve got my sights set on the Thanksgiving holidays as a catch all. We’ve got a whole week off and if I’m still behind by that time, I hope to use it to balance the scales. My administrator hinted last night, however, that he might want to use a day or more of that week for working on the report for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) re-visit in the Spring. As a part of the Leadership Committee, I’m obligated to be there. Still, and after all the shit this month has dealt out, I remain fixed on that 50k.
     Note to self: remember to pick up writing fuel (coffee) on the way home tonight. I sucks finding out there’s only enough left for a single cup—a cup I gallantly brewed for my wife, I might add.

NaNoWriMo: Day 5

Papapavalos Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken     In the end, it was Craigslist that did it. Yesterday a big hearted lady of the highest caliber, a Dog-Lady, responded to my post: “I have your dog…”. Music, simply music.
     As soon as I saw the email, I phoned my wife from work and within half an hour Bella, the sneaky bitch, was home no worse for wear. Marirose relates that the dog seemed to take it all in stride with a “Hi, mom; where ya been?” sort of attitude. Callista, on the other hand, was thrilled to see her “sister” safely home and greeted the wayward canine-escape-artist with joyous sprints and jumps—no mean feat for a 100+ lbs three legged dog.
     After arriving home and spending some time with the little minx, my wife and I went to celebratory de-stress dinner. On the way home, we removed the lamp-post flyers I’d put up and discussed how lucky we were to recover our mutt.
     She had ranged about a mile from the house. Her savior related to my wife that Bella came to her attention barking at her front door.
     “I’m not sure why she came here, but she certainly came to the right place,” she told my wife. “…not sure why,” indeed!
     “…fools and little children” it is said. I think dogs can be safely added to that list. At least this one.
     Sigh.

     NaNoWriMo
     Let’s see how much damage I can do today with two meetings and a full slate of classes to teach on the schedule. I’m pretty deep in the pack, but with a little dedication and a few very good writing sessions cranked out over the up-and-coming three-day weekend and the following Thanksgiving-Day holiday week after next, I think I can at least get my nose even with the rest of the horde. We’ll see.

NaNoWriMo: Day 4

Bella 2b     Well, I’m beginning to wonder if I should give up writing my fantasy and start a blog about my life as an epic failure. I’m sure it would be a lot more entertaining than my fiction.
The latest. So, I drove home the back way from the north. Lots of traffic mixed in with orchards and open fields for both agriculture and development. We’re on the literal edge of the city here. I saw no dog-bodies by the side of the road that fit Bella’s description. Relief.
     Marirose texted and suggested I go to our old neighborhood in an adjoining town to have a look around. Good idea, I thought. Our former home was but three to four miles down the road almost in a straight-shot, so it is possible that Bella might have headed for “home” once she’d scored freedom. Dogs do weird things like that. I doubted Bella would though. Sharp as a pin with a brain like a sponge, Bella has absolutely no “wisdom” or savvy when it comes to cars, directions or repeated instructions. Experience teaches her nothing. I just couldn’t imagine she’d figure out the way back home, but, there it is, got to turn over the stones.
     I ran into a few former neighbors, warned them about Bella’s escape. They, of course, offered to, “keep and eye out.”
     On the way back home, I stopped off at the Vet just around the corner on a whim.
     “I know it’s a shot in the dark, but have you seen a shepherd mix…?”
The receptionist looked at me with wide eyes and replied yes,
     “…just yesterday; a lady brought her in to have her scanned for a chip….”
Collar and all fit Bella’s description, but even as my heart soared, it plummeted like a rock when she said she’d not asked the lady her name. I could tell she was very sorry she hadn’t. I didn’t get too upset as I was so happy Bella was alive and pleased that someone, obviously in the neighborhood, had her and was thoughtful enough to bring her in for the scan. On the other hand, if I’d only had her chipped…or at least had her license tags on her walking-collar. Hindsight is 20/20, and it sucks. I left my name and number and headed home.
     The receptionist suggested Craigslist and, of course, the animal shelter boards. When I got home, I set up a “lost and found” and a “pets” post on Craigslist. I made a few poster-flyers, grabbed some business cards, put Callista on a leash and headed out. Even though it was dark and just about the end of the dinner hour, I figured I’d bump into some folk.
     I talked to a few people. One guy on the corner said that a man in a Ford Explorer, “…late 90s style…with a primer gray paint job…” had been up and down the street with a dog fitting Bella’s description in the seat next to him, asking folk if it was their dog. Sighting Two! Though he didn’t know the name of the guy or recognize the car, I was heartened. Alive and well. I left my address with the guy and moved on.
     The second guy I ran into had not seen Bella, but said he’d be on the watch for the gray Explorer and the dog. He told me of stray he’d just rescued and I felt good I’d run into him. I left him one of the poster-flyers I’d printed up.
     I took Callista home and printed up more poster-flyers, checked my email, checked shelter listings and headed back out to post the flyers on a few lamp posts along the street where the gray Explorer had driven.
     I got two responses from Craigslist, both from the same dog-lover, offering me advice on what to do for a lost pet. They were good suggestions, but the surge of hope and adrenaline to my heart when my iPhone pinged almost did me in.
     Today, Marirose is going to head to the shelter to put in a lost pet report. They only keep dogs without identification for four days before putting them up for adoption or euthanizing them. Fuck. Bella is very adoptable, so I’m thinking that if the couple (?) don’t keep her or adopt her out, Bella will end up on the adoption list. From there she’ll get snatched up–I’m sure of it. We have such a small window to work with and I’ve wasted the most precious time of it. I should have hit the Veterinarian’s right away—it seems so obvious now. I can only think I was so upset Sunday, I couldn’t think straight and honestly, hadn’t been thinking straight–it won’t happen to me–on the whole issue of tags and identification.      Dumb-ass.
     Suffice to say, no NaNoWriMo word were written yesterday afternoon.

NaNoWriMo: Day 3

Tags

     Though I got some work done on the governmental form for my story’s featured city, an important piece of the plot, I did not write as much as I wish I could have.
     One of our dogs slipped out the gate when my back was turned and I didn’t notice she was gone for about 30 minutes. By that time, being a runner, she could have been half way across town. I searched, by car and on foot, but I knew after the first “Bella, come!” and no dog showed it was a fools errand. We’ve just moved and she’s only been on a few walks. I doubt she’s imprinted on “home” yet.
     Honestly; after that, I really didn’t feel like writing. A terrible no-good fucked up day :-T

NaNoWriMo: Days 1 and 2

The Kraters of Ivory and Jet II     This is where a lot of bloggers apologize for having been gone for so long from their boards. I’m not going to do that as I’m reasonably assured no one has been pinning away due to a lack of my oh, so witty repartee!
     “When is André going to post more of those deep insights that make my day? I wonder what his latest frustration is–he always makes my life seem a bit better when he posts about the things that bother him…I don’t feel so alone.”
     I mean, honestly, at this stage in my writing adventure, my blog is little more than a message-in-a-bottle meant to help me feel (as illusionary as that might be) that I’m part of a larger community of unpublished writers rather than due to any delusions concerning an eager audience. Somehow, the act of posting, trusting to the Fates and tossing it out into the cyberspace sea, is a comforting one. The illusion is enough and at this stage, I ask no more of it.
     NaNoWriMo 1
     Due to the madness that is part and parcel of a high school English teacher’s typical Friday, as well as the fact that I have no inspiring story calling out to me, I did not make my word count goal for the day. I’m not too surprised, nor am I unduly worried. Today is a Saturday. My wife is at work and I and the dogs have nearly all morning to write. Still, write what? is the question.
     As November approached, I reflected on what I’d done in the past. I had successfully completed four WriMos, two of which were NaNoWriMos. I had proven several times over then that I could both reach 50k and sustain a story idea that could use at least that many words. What had yet to be accomplished was a fully finished first draft, something I could proceed to revise and refine. Thus, I decided this year’s NaNoWriMo strategy needed to be a bit different. I would not start a new manuscript and write another 50k that would in all likelihood end up simply being another unfinished story. What I needed to do was rebel and make this NaNoWriMo experience a bit more utilitarian.
     I decided I had several options.
     A.) I could write 60 30-word Holly Lyle “Sentences”. Though it would most definitely not result in 50k, it could subject my right-brain muse to just the right exercise to identify a story idea about which I was passionate.
     B.) I could review my unfinished manuscripts and write up 30 in depth character profiles, each about 1,500+ words long. This was a win-win idea considering that if I did, I would easily have 50k, but also, knowing my twisted mind as I do, it most likely would lead to jump-starting an old story or conjuring up a new one long before the 30th profile was reached.
     C.) I could do 50k of world-building. Presently I have multiple on-going projects. I could easily crank out the required wordage and end up with something concrete for both my gaming and writing worlds.
     I ultimately decided on a fourth option: D.) I will take the Brandon Sanderson option with an eye toward finishing the draft and continue an existing manuscript for another 50k. Maybe not as glamorous or NaNoWriMo-script-conservative as a new story line, but preferable to an additional orphan “under-the-bed.”
     Tomorrow then, should see me beginning the 04:00-cycle and working on The Kraters of Ivory and Jet II.

We Do Not Row Because We Must…

The days here are measured. Each one that passes draws us ever closer to the end…when we will leave Far Iona—my Iona Céin. No one will know what that means but me. No one will feel the shame but me. We tried. I tried. I failed.

I work and sleep in my library almost constantly now, because it will soon be gone. The matriarch says that I should be thankful that for at least a time, I had it. The pages call me. The maps beckon. The owls watch from dilating pools of jet wherein I dream nightmares. How can I not? No one wishes me good-night, no one tucks the covers in around my neck and kisses me “sweet dreams” or better yet, “no dreams” at all.

Thus, I doze in the captain’s chair rocking and listen to the waves crash on the shore, to the books age and to the music of the great chime beyond the water…pretending it’s all not happening…that it is all a nightmare…that it will all somehow last, survive, continue. But time is finite and change is inevitable. In the twilight and the false dawn, in a moment of weakness I wonder if I will ever find such a place again knowing I will not.

Gone. Gone. Gone. It’s all gone.

We sailed into the mouth of the beast—against all odds we sailed. We gambled with the gods and we lost. They sleep now, draped over their oars, snoring at the benches, mouths agape in the throes of dream.

They do not yet know we are soon to leave; do not yet know I have betrayed them. Oh, but they will when we’ve cleared the ship shed and they see the stacks of cargo and I order them to retrieve and install the oar-wings then they will know this is no stretch of muscle for the sake of muscle—we are leaving.

“We shall sail the Sundancian Sea!” I had promised. And they cheered and I believed. They rowed and will keep rowing. It is their fate, I suppose, never to reach solid “home.”

And rowed right valiantly they have, to Idwelan’s Needles, through the Targun’s Gap and beyond to Far Iona. We ran our bronzed rams up on her white sands and slept under her green trees. We swam in her pools, marveled at her rainbow fishes, ate her nectarines, peaches, plumbs, pears, plucots, lemons and grapefruit, watched the trees turn white with blossoms that fell filling the courts with fragrance and snow,

And now we must leave her. Now we must give it all up. Now we must either submit to the Heen or…or what? Brave the Oanerles Sea? They will weep for it, knowing they will never arrive, never leave this ship. I will weep for it. I weep for it now. I never did build the holy shrine, never drink from the holy well.

We do not row because we must; we row because there is nothing else to do.

Where will I die? Master of a trireme…a sea lord no less! It is hard knowing I will not die on my own deck…watching the sea. I will not die in battle. Perhaps it will be in some leeches sanitarium, a place where the forgotten go to die and the living are already dead staring at walls without memory, shitting myself for uncaring people who but wait for me to give them what little gold I have in the hard currency of “getting it over with so they can go home.” Home…something I have never known. At least on Iona Céin, it would have been in a place I cared about—even if no one was present to care for me.

Oh, yes. Hell exists, my mariners. Hell is real and your oars reek of it.

A “man” thing…family is all that matters—or so I am told. And where will you host that family? I ask. Will they come visit you on your cot? Will they all cram into your death chamber when the time comes? Where will they gather when it is over and time to honor your memory? Where will they light the incense? Where will they make their offerings? Where will they stand and say, my father, my mother, they stood here?

They do not care—it’s a man thing…you see.

Kast, the deck dog cared. I remember the day she plunged into the icy sea after me and saved my life…the day I spoke to Wintar…the day he told me of Iona Céin. She should have let me drown for all his prophesies have served us. Oh, many armed wise one; oh, master of fate and destiny; read to me from your book.

Bastard.

You forgot to read me about this part.

Now it will belong to someone else who will know none of what happened here, none of the losses, none of the pain, none of the possibilities. None of what it means to want to protect or to want to be remembered as a protector, a provider, a strong rock upon which to cling. It is so hard to believe I will never hang my sword over my own hearth—from here on the stones I sleep upon will not belong to me…not belong to me…not belong to me…not belong to me…ever.

The days here are measured. Each one that passes draws us ever closer to the end.

Elizabeth Moon’s Oath of Gold

Oath of Gold     I enjoyed Oath of Gold, the third in “The Deed of Paksenarrion” trilogy and getting to know Elizabeth Moon’s early fantasy side. It has been remarkable to watch the evolution of her writing style. She seemed to have found her stride during this the final chapter of Paks’s story and Paks truly stepped out to become round and dynamic. The dialogue felt more authentic and the predominantly human versus human conflicts extremely satisfying.
     On that note, a thought came to me as I finished the book. Was the dialogue an issue for me because Moon was still developing her skill or was it a purposeful device to support Paks growing from a young country girl naïve in the ways of world to a full grown woman tried, tested and sharpened by harsh experience? As I reflect on the trilogy as a whole, I plan to keep this thought in mind when I next read a fantasy. To answer the question here would take a second read of the trilogy and my reading list is too long for that. Another tantalizing tidbit gleaned from Moon’s website is the suggestion that trilogy was first written as a single long story, broken up “…for practical purposes…” I can only imagine this means for publications sake. Did Moon’s skill evolve more organically then rather than in stages? Or are my own observations too amateur and arm-chair in nature?
     As intended, Moon’s exploration of the military-religious mind set was thought provoking. I am always torn between wanting the authentic ring of the ever-compromising human mindset and a craving for a clear cut conflict between good and evil and a champion clear of mind and purpose. Paks seemed to reflect more of the later than the former in her perception of right and wrong, which was alright by me. Her need to come to grips with the reality of human suffering however—the feelings of those who cannot wield weapons in their own defense due to status, class, economic or training limitations—I thought was a great touch and satisfied the former.
     We (and I use the term very loosely) are so jaded against those with a singleness of vision. We fear the power it gives them and its possible abuse. Templars come immediately to mind. I wonder, however, how much of the negative reputation gained by such holy warriors was not the result of the greedy men and woman who commanded them; who, though purporting a veneer of religious intent, were truly concerned with narcissistic gain and infected with megalomania. What resulted was an order of knights fed at an infected teat and as far from the Grail model they dreamed of as one could be. Our opinion of such is further influenced by our own political leaders who have failed us time and time again…and continue to do so, unable to agree on anything, behaving in a fashion no recess-monitor would tolerate on the playground let alone the halls of congress. The scope of this musing does not allow for much more than idle thoughts, but it is a tantalizing thread.
     I still felt put off by the use of elves, dwarves, gnomes and orcs as too crutch-like, unnecessary for an enjoyable story. I think it would have been more exciting had she kept such at a minimum and relied predominantly on exotic human constructs or developed her own races and species as she did with some of the creatures Paks encountered. Again, I realize this was the rage at the time of publication—witness the Dragonlance saga. I also realize it is most probably my own tastes which are involved here—thousands of RPG inspired novel readers can’t all be wrong.
      So…what has this modern master taught me or reminded me of that I should keep in mind?
     I love a good bildungsroman. I love reading about characters going through a process of both structured growth as well as growth and evolvement that is experience based. Paks satisfies both categories as she undergoes her military training in the first book; her spiritual training in the second and the harrowing ordeals of the world’s training ground in the third. Over and over again, I am reminded of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I note that this predilection is on my HTTS’ “Sweet Spot Map” as one of the things I’m drawn to.
     In relation to the above, it was satisfying to read as Paks learned from her experiences and to place them as filters over the past. The changing POV and her notice of it lent another layer of authenticity to her characterization.
     Paying attention to dialogue is important. Though the honeymoon phase between reader and author is a real as it is brief, authentic dialogue, reflective of a character’s experience and place, is important from the start. I’ll need to look into this very carefully and be wary of it.
     A book that provokes thinking is always good. I would rather write one like that than one wherein my reader smiles, has a good read and promptly forgets they ever read it.