Archive for July, 2010


Start Your Engines!

As a blogging site, it is almost to be expected that a good deal of people here know of NaNoWriMo, something that occurs annually in November. For those of you who don’t know what it is, the handy acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month. This year being my first year, having signed up for it almost immediately after bumbling into it, I am prepared for anything. I’ve been flexing my writing muscles and working on them daily. 50,000 words as a minimum for a single month when I go all out is beginning to sound pretty easy.

Since I have also just started to utilize plot outlines after realizing that, as much as I might wish to be able to, I cannot complete a massive and expansive tale without them, I have also started to work on a plot outline for NaNoWriMo, as much as it might sound like it could ruin the spontaneity of it. According to the website, it is fair game to do so, but writing of the material cannot begin until November first at 12:01PM and all. All fine and dandy with me! Figuring I want to move on from what I’m currently writing and work on something new, I started a story that has been burrowing at the back of my mind for as long as I can remember. First rough, uncompleted draft of the idea went alright, not too great. For at least one of the difficulties, see my last post.

Then I decided that for the initial book, the plot was too massive. Rather than a single tome of some huge epic, I figured it would be better to do a series. I already am working on a series of books that shows no end, which, in this train of thought, has begun to look rather discouraging. I’d really rather not get wrapped up into a second series when I’m not even sure I can end the first. Ditching this series for  a month to move onto another wouldn’t be my best idea. Then, of course, the brilliant idea of a trilogy struck me and actually sounded pretty good. Something about a set of three just works out well. Not sure if it will work out, though, because I can’t think of a proper enough filling in that is original, and, thinking about the plot outline vaguely reminds me of countless other fantasy books that are also a trilogy, something that isn’t too great. For a trilogy to work, the initial conflict cannot be changed, which also provided an irritating dilemma.

From the look of things, this current idea I have, tentatively called “Under Grey Skies” will go the way of Neil Gaiman and “The Graveyard Book.” Maybe it will rattle around in my skull for twenty-some odd years like his did, and then it will come clear to me. Or maybe it will crystallize itself overnight and I can stop staying awake at night trying to wrestle with it. Now I’m no great writer, but I can already offer some advice to other authors, advice, which, if I could follow, would make my writing a lot easier.

Don’t try to  cram all of your favorite ideas into a single book.

You have the great idea of an individualistic hero and leader and also about a trio of pure-hearted leaders, oh, and then the one about a rebellious man who is aware of the fourth wall and keeps getting called into supernatural investigations? (Yes, all three ideas I’m having some trouble with; the last is the one I am currently working on, the series.)

Maybe those three are not supposed to live in the same world. There is no division. My main conflict is that the hero of “Under Grey Skies” is quite possibly my favorite character and I want to make him the best as well, so I am tempted to drag his story on or else put in elements of other character’s tales, ideas which alone warrant their own story. Example? A man who has the willpower to stand up to death. Completely different tale, but I feel like I should incorporate it and give my hero this heavy background. But it doesn’t fit in. Other ideas run around in my head late at night, but for now they refuse to come to my call; maybe that’s for the better? I cannot say for certain. Maybe their refusal to come to my beck and call is a good sign. Maybe it is a hint that my complaining about this and rambling nonsensically about it is coming down to something in the end and I’ll be able to start on “Under Grey Skies” without any further issues. I doubt it, though.

What do you think? What are your problems with ideas bogging themselves down in your mind? How do you manage to single out the ideas and limit which belongs where? If you’ve suffered through this post, you can tell why I could use the help!

How many characters are too many?

I don’t have much to say, and judging from the lack of activity on my blog, I haven’t had too much to say for a few days. Part of this is because I was out of town, but that’s not important now. Now that I’m back, hopefully I’ll be able to crank out and do some more writing than before, especially blogging; creative writing is going pretty well. At least what I’m currently working on; I have another plot idea that is boiling in the back of my head, an epic, or at least so I believe. And that gives rise to my question: how many characters are too many?

I’m undecided; the tale is for the most part something of a stereotypical fantasy epic and a lot of the characters are there as help to further the story and make it more believable. All of them have interesting back stories that I could,  if I wanted to, probably turn into their own short story at least, even if that is quite a large bit of writing to undertake. The fact that this epic is supposed to be a single book really makes me believe that character-wise, I should limit myself to a maximum amount. In a series I’ve been working on, you can introduce a handful of new people each book and still keep it fresh, without overwhelming people. In a single book, I fear that the mass of characters will just be overwhelming. But many of these characters I see will not fit into the series, unfortunately, and I’d rather not have homeless characters in the streets of my imagination. I’m trying to come up with an idea for what to do here but I find myself at a loss.

Any ideas? Anything will work, even if I’ve already said it; split off into multiple short stories, cut it off, use them elsewhere, whatever. What are your suggestions?

Or if you take an issue with my opinion on slowly introducing characters throughout a series, tell me your own. I will admit that minimum and maximum character amount has always been my weakest point in terms of storytelling.

Ticking, ticking….

I’ll begin this by simply coming out and saying that the creative team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin is perhaps the greatest out there today. I don’t think much more evidence needs to be given than the extensive history of great hits that they have consistently put out. Now, if you’re one of those people who believes someone like Eminem or Fifty Cent is one of the greatest song writers of all time, leave now. There’s a nice little X button on your page to leave.

Actually, don’t leave, I could use the visits and perhaps comments as well; I like to feel like I’m reaching someone.

Back to  the point at hand, though, one of John’s songs strikes me beyond most of the others. Off  the album Caribou, a somewhat lackluster album, apparently, the song wasn’t even, to my knowledge, much of a hit when it was released. If for nothing besides its length, I can believe it was never a single. Have you guessed it yet? From the title, those of you who know Elton John probably have. “Ticking” is a song that tells the story of a young man who goes on a killing spree. Just a little bit macabre, right? But in spite of the gruesome story behind the  song, it has quite a few lines that strike me as quite interesting and thought-provoking, especially when sung in John’s astoundingly wonderful voice. (A gay teacher of mine who saw Elton John in concert with Billy Joel described the experience as “orgasmic.” What more needs to be said to prove his amazing talent?)

Similar in tone to “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934),” the song is a slower number with a solemn tone throughout. Usually I imagine songs playing out as stories in my head, perhaps the reason this plays out so well; going by that literary-esque stylization of it, the narrative seems to flash back and forth between the current day events, namely, the shooting, and the past, his growing up. The title, “Ticking” and the lyrics which carry the same word, clearly refer to the ‘protagonist’ of the song as ticking, akin to a bomb, counting down awaiting the inevitable eruption and shooting. Similar to “In Cold Blood,” you begin to feel a certain amount of empathy towards the ‘protagonist.’

That isn’t the point of this, though. Back to the point I raised earlier about the striking lyrics which John sings throughout the song, probably written by Taupin, but I am not sure there and should not presume.

“‘Now you’ll never get to heaven,’mama said/remember mama said.” This occurs early on in the song and, in writing, it doesn’t appear to carry much meaning, making me begin to wonder if perhaps the wonderful talent and depth of the lyrics comes solely from John’s masterful way of spinning them. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that when sung by him they seem to bring up memories, to strike me and make  me think about the meaning, what deeper definition could be behind here. Or it just makes me realize how well written the song is and I’m just over analyzing.

“‘Don’t ever ride on the devil’s knee,’ mama said/remember mama said/ticking, ticking/’Pay your penance well, my child/Fear where angels tread.'” This is another line, and though it carries more of the original tone when written, it still does not compare to the magnificence that is carried when the words are crooned by John. Still, there are some deeper thoughts which can be attributed here, especially in the first line and the last as well. (Personally, the last line reminds me a little of “The Prophecy” with Christopher Walken, where the idea is proposed that it wouldn’t be too great to meet an angel; would you want to encounter a being that had spent several thousand years doing God’s dirty work?)

What do you think? If you have heard the song did you find it as touching and intriguing as I do or am I just off my rocker? Or if you have just decided to look it up and listen to it, what do you think, this being your first listen to it? Get at me!

Mental vs. Physical

Lately, quite a bit lately, and before that too, I’m often told by those around me that I’m lazy. It’s mostly as a joke because it’s always the excuse that I use to get out of doing something. Usually I’m one of the more active people out there. I mean, sure, I don’t do any sports like a lot of people do, but that isn’t what I’d consider all that constitutes  a lack of laziness. I work out every day, can run like a champ when necessary, not to brag, often have to do a job which involves physical labor and, to boot, when I go to friend’s houses, I quite often end up walking the distance to get there, which is usually a mile minimum.

More recently, summer has started and so has my summer job. My mom, who only works during the school year because of her job, now has decided to work with my dad and on the few days when she can’t, I have to work for a  few hours. Being a job of labor, it isn’t something I particularly care for but it isn’t exactly hard. Just boring. I come home from working and I’m fine to keep going with the day like I normally would. My mom comes home bitching and complaining about how hard it is for her and how tough it is. Irritating point number one is that she’s a lot slower than me and complains a lot more than me on the job. I get paid minimum wage and she gets paid about four or five bucks an hour more than me. Bullshit? Oh yeah. No doubt. I just ignore it, or at least try to.

And then she always ends up starting into how I don’t like to work, about how lazy I am for not wanting to work the rest of my life as some mindless laborer who is money-hungry and unable to stop working. Only once have I lost my temper to turn the argument around and point out that just because I don’t want to labor, it doesn’t make me lazy. That there are plenty of people who make a living off of their thoughts and that those people aren’t lazy, that they have had a huge impact on the world.  Now, sure, most people wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing to have a great work ethic like my dad but when your opinion on life is pretty much that there is nothing more important than working, I think you have problems. Probably the reason that I never had a father-figure growing up in the formative years and when he was there it was mostly to snap something at me and storm away. Real nice guy. This isn’t a counselling session though, so I’m getting off the point a little and should stop ranting about this.

No, after seeing him and experiencing his job I’ve decided that I’d rather be a more intellectual figure. My goal is to be a writer in life. I have some preferences, but in general just a writer; there’s nothing I love doing as much as writing. My family  considers this sort of job to be lazy, which is what sparks my question: does is make you lazy to want to do something besides labor?

I personally don’t think so. I’ve always been more of a fan of intellectual activities than physical ones. Sure, the usual argument that nothing would get done if it weren’t for physical work does hold water, however, most action, meaningful action, comes  from deep thought. And even as far as physical labors go, what I’m doing isn’t something that is as large of a physical impact as Genghis Khan had when he invaded. Genghis Khan was someone who had physical actions that had an enormous impact on the world whereas my job isn’t something with the same physical impact. This is an unnecessary train of thought because my writing will never be as influential as the greats, it will never compare to Aristotle, Machiavelli, Shakespeare or any of the countless others.

But by going off the logic shown by my family, every author, including those listed above, would have been lazy people. So would any teacher, professor or manager. Sure, most people would realize  how essential these talents can be,  but they would find it easy to discount them as lazy.

I’ll cut off the last two paragraphs of useless rambling to pose the question once more: do you believe that mental labors are laziness? What do you think? Which is more important? If you are someone who believes that anything besides physical labor is laziness, I would love to hear your opinion and why you think that way more than anything. Get at it!

Who does this reflect badly on?

So yesterday, I upgraded my phone, which is all good and dandy. Now I’m a minor and all, but I still have to pay my own phone bill and all that jazz, which is just an all-around pain. I also have to purchase all my own books and everything no monetary help, which is just as irritating. But to move on, I got an upgrade and through a series of circumstances, my mom got my old phone with a new number, free of charge. Now it’s irritating enough that she got a phone free while she makes me pay for mine, but, hey, it’s not like I can do much about it.
What is bad is that she now has access to texting. In the course of a single day, she, the single most computer illiterate person I know, has started to text. This is ironic enough because she considers herself ‘too good’ for computers and refuses to learn how to use them; instead she spends most of her time on a computer bitching about it. But I digress; she has started to text, and I have been on the receiving end of her texts. Before I’ve mentioned that I’m a bit OCD about grammar and punctuation in texts, so I find this intensely interesting.
My mother, someone who always goes on about how much smarter than me she is and all, how I’m so inexperienced in life, has already begun to text and she uses more text-lingo than I do. And to boot, she also misspells words like it’s falling out of style. It is by far one of the most irritating things that I’ve ever had to read. But it’s also a little embarrassing that my own mother is more into text-lingo than me… Bleh.
On top of that, I used to be able to hear my phone ring and know it was probably a friend texting me. Now, it’s almost always her with some random thought. Thanks for waking me up twice this morning and then ruining a great train of thought I had going for a book idea, mom! Just figures that I’m one of those people who can’t get a train of thought back once it’s been disrupted.
Now I’m just rambling again. Great. But tell me, what do you think about text-lingo? Do you use it? Does it irritate you? Or does it just seem out of place for a fifty year old woman to be using text-language?

“In Cold Blood”

This weekend I read Truman Capote’s nonfiction crime novel which tells the story of the murder of four  members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. For those of you who haven’t  read it, it is very well written, but don’t come out expecting a happy ending. It is no spoiler to say that the murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, are executed at the end; this is revealed on the back flap. This book is one of those far more about the journey than the destination. At the conclusion of the novel, you would think that there would be some sense of closure in reading about the deaths of the two murderers, but it doesn’t; it just leaves you with a feeling of loss, knowing that two more people have perished, even if they were two men who have murdered four innocents.

It is intriguing the way that the book progresses, something I’ve seen before. One begins to read and learns of Perry and Dick and their actions with nothing but disgust. Then, after the murders have been committed, Capote focuses on their story as well. Throughout the second section of the book, you feel, slowly, a degree of empathy for Perry due to his terrible upbringing and how he was forced to go through life. Dick remains a stone-like object who does not seem very personable, presumably because he never takes on the temporary role of third-person narrator. One of the only times that any empathy can be found for the character is when someone calls the police to confess to the crime; though never revealed with certainty, it is implied that this is Dick, who wishes to gain the reward money to repay his family. Adding on to the empathy one feels for Perry, the words frequently used to describe him make him appear child-like because of his small, deformed legs. Though I have yet to find a picture of him to see just how accurate these descriptions are, the pitiful way Capote describes him certainly do find a way of gaining empathy from the reader, in this case, me. Extra empathy must be given to Perry, especially during the trial; the mentions of the squirrel that he manages to tame in his jail cell  make him appear just that much more human and more touching as a person and character.

Dick Hickock, however, is not entirely an emotionless character. Towards the end of the book, in the final section, he becomes a much more empathetic character as the focus shifts more towards him than Perry. It also is revealed that in spite of Dick’s cold exterior, making him seem to be the obvious killer of the pair, it was Perry who killed all four members of the Clutter family; earlier when this had been claimed, it was hinted to  be something of a lie, put forward by a desperate Dick to try and cover himself and lessen his own punishment. This revelation makes one feel a certain degree of empathy for the character and begin to realize that perhaps he has been incorrectly personified with Perry as the third-person narrator. In this section, Dick also states the dislike for Perry that has developed among the other prisoners on Death Row, in the Corner, as it is called. Appeals and the like manage to push the date of their execution back for several years. When they are finally forced to go through with their execution, one goes to the gallows almost hoping to feel good about the death of these prisoners, who have killed four innocents without emotion. When they are killed, no good feeling comes in return; someone simply realizes how tragic it is that two more have perished, even if it is, perhaps, rightful. More empathy is put with the residents of Holcomb who primarily did not advocate the death penalty and instead wish for the prisoners to be given life imprisonment and pray for them. The ending pages, which tell the tale of Alvin Dewey and his last encounter with the friend of Nancy Clutter, on of those murdered, are certainly strange and touching, with timeless and beautiful prose.

Overall, the book was good and well-written, definitely a classic, however it is not the book for people used to happy-endings like those of the Harry Potter series or other fantasy novels or fiction that are so common to this time. It envelopes someone in the world of Holcomb and the many places that Dick and Perry flee too, making someone realize that criminals are still people and they still can be empathized with; just because they have committed terrible crimes, such as murder, it does not make it impossible to feel for them, to suffer with them through their troubles. I would certainly recommend it to someone interested in a good read.

Now, though, it probably is time to move on; luckily this isn’t a school essay, huh? Much too random and unorganized. Glad that that’s what a blog is for, pretty much! Hopefully this isn’t too hard or  irritating to read, but for those of you who have gotten so far, any idea just what Perry looks like in real life? His legs more specifically; the novel conjured up an image in my head that I have not been able to confirm or deny as true.

Free As A Bird

Great song by the Beatles, just to start; lyrics are insanely haunting and it just really conjures up good feelings of freedom. Unlike Neil Gaiman who is quite possibly   the greatest living author around right now, I wouldn’t say, “Fat Charlie wasn’t sure he liked freedom… There was too much open air involved.” Now, applying this to myself, I wouldn’t quite agree with it; I can’t get enough of freedom, probably because of how irritatingly imposing I’ve always found everything in life. Can’t do one thing right without getting screamed at for doing another wrong and all that.

But I digress, as is quite usual for these sorts of things. Today, I got back the results for an AP test that I took at my school. For those of you who don’t know, AP stands for Advanced Placement and in essence is taking a college class in high school  and then participating in an end of the year test for potential college credit. As the first available AP course, I jumped on this one. Today,  after  waiting for a few months for the results, I, along with the others in my school who took the  test, received my results. Alright, I wasn’t waiting, I forgot about the test about two days after I took it, but no biggie.

These tests are scored on a scale of 1-5, 1 meaning ‘why did you bother to enroll yourself in this class?’ and 5 being ‘good work, now it’s time to stop studying and learn some social skills.’ I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had gotten a…. (Drum roll, please)….

2!

No, I’m just pulling your leg. It was actually 2 squared, for those of you who like a good math insert. For those of us who are more simple minded, I actually achieved a 4. On the scale, that would be somewhere around a, ‘you’re above average in intelligence, but chances are talking to you is social suicide.’ So, all in all a good call; I’m happy to say I have avoided the pitfall of being social suicide to be seen with, so not too bad. Especially considering that a 4 is above average and that I didn’t study.

Reflecting on the test, it’s actually a little shocking I did so well. The test is pretty simple: 60 minutes, I believe, for 70 multiple choice questions and then about 2 hours to write three different essays; one document based, one change over time and one comparing and contrasting. I might be a little wrong in terms of the time given, but I believe that’s it. Multiple choice questions are taken on what is essentially a scantron sheet and the essays are written in a nice little booklet. Anything written in the essays and crossed out is not graded.

Yes, that is bait for students like me.

Naturally, there are the classic AP yearly jokes; this years was a simple, “Yo AP test grader, Imma let you finish, but this is one of the best essays of all time. ALL TIME!’ All fine and dandy, I did this in my second essay, a change over time, to lighten the mood. Essay one was mostly serious, being about the mechanization of the cotton industry in Japan and India. I know nothing about this, and  you probably don’t either; it’s good it was the DBQ, which pretty much provides all the info you need. The second essay was about how religion in Sub-Saharan Africa has stayed the same and changed throughout time; pretty straightforward. And the third was comparing and contrasting the Roman Empire and Han China.

Essay three was where I went all out. In fact, when I saw the page I had to rough draft, it was all I could do to hold back laughing; all that I had done was drawn a penis. One ball had China written in it, the other Rome, and the rod had ‘Roman Orgies!’ like I had made some grant discovery. Sad part is that I can’t post  a picture; my history teacher hangs onto these packets for examples for next year’s students. Moving on to the test, I can’t remember all that I did do, but there was plenty I do remember; references galore to the classic “Plains, Trains and Plantains” (http://www.ubersite.com/m/56674). In another section I pointed out, quite off topic, the importance of Romans inventing orgies and other similar things, before stopping to realize, “Oh, wait, that was the Greeks… Sorry.” All, of course, single-line crossed out. As far as Han China goes, it was something along the lines of how important the imperial examination system was in “squinting contests, determining who could eat the most rice and who could say, ‘Herro, prease.'” Once again, this was, of course, single-line crossed out. No offense to Chinese or Asian readers in general meant by these comments.

In closing, I was proud of passing the AP test because of passing it, but also because of all those sly little jokes I slipped in as well. I hate to be sexist, but since most of the jokes were perverted guy humor, I have to wonder if a bit of the humor was lost on my grader, who was apparently a woman according to the slip I received; hopefully she didn’t think I was just some immature sophomore… Of course, that would be entirely true, but that’s besides the point. Actually, immature junior now, so not entirely true. Anyone else here ever taken an AP test? What was your experience with the difficulty level and how did you do on it?

What's not to love?

That is, it feels pretty damn good.

Now, what am I talking about?

Sure, this is random and a bit premature considering that this blog was just opened today, or yesterday according to the wordpress calendar, but today, just a few minutes ago, I have, after a few months of work, finished the first draft of a first book. A first book that I wouldn’t be ashamed to actually have my name on, that is; in the past, like every author, I’ve written stuff, and like every author, I have plenty of skeletons in my closet in terms of writing. Stuff so bad that if people were to pick it up, I’d find myself sporting the pleasant shade of a tomato. Of course, at the time I wrote it, it wasn’t shaming, so this isn’t to say that a year from now I’ll look back and think that this is still my best work. A year from now, it probably won’t be. But hey, for now it is, and I live in the present. Why live if not in the moment?

Anyhow, I’d like to post it, but as I am an aspiring author, I won’t. I’ve learned from a handful of sources that if this even has a chance of ever getting published, posting it on the internet will squash those chances. Yes, I am cocky enough to believe that there is a high enough chance of eventual publication that I won’t risk my hopes here. I really doubt that anyone who has randomly bumped into this, or anyone even reading this, will give much of a damn anyway.
But, just to go on, it’s a retelling of that old classic story of a haunted mansion. Bloody history, murders and everything! Main character is a guy named Dante who is paid an exorbitant amount to investigate the place, but things don’t turn out quite the way they would seem. It turns into what just might be a one-way trip to Hell when he finds himself hunted by a demon that has made the mansion its home. And no, the one way trip to Hell bit was not a reference to Dante Alighieri and the “Divine Comedy.” …Or was it? A bit too intentional. Just for extra shits and giggles, Dante is aware of the fourth-wall, at least at the beginning and end of the book. Having too much fourth-wall awareness throughout the rest of the book seemed like it would make it seem a bit too comical and take away the dramatic tension.
All in all another successful ramble, huh? If any of you suffered through the first post, you’re probably calling it quits now, but for those of you who did manage to wade through both, thank you!

First blog!

I’m relatively new to this whole blogging thing. I had a few blogs briefly in the past, but mostly to try and showcase my writing. For those of you who couldn’t figure this out, that was a cataclysmic failure that I’d rather not speak on. My own tastes in terms of writing have advanced since then… Two years ago? I believe it was, at least; perhaps even more. As promised in my description, I’m already starting to ramble, so I might as well keep on!
What with this being a new blog, I’m sure you can realize that I just had to create it, username, password, etc. Going through this process, I’ve got to wonder how many other people were as irked by this as me; when you have to enter your username, it’s limited to lowercase letters and numbers. That’s all fine and dandy; except for the lowercase letters bit. Am I the only one who is borderline OCD here?
Reflecting on it, I have to admit to myself that I probably am; even in my group of friends I’m a bit anal about this. When I text, I always have proper grammar and punctuation, and the same is true for Facebook. Makes me wonder if there are people out there who are as irked by proper writing in a casual forum as I am by the lack thereof. I believe so, but off on what is hopefully my last tangent, this reminds me of a story my class and I heard from my English teacher.
In Washington, we still have senior projects that must be made and presented before a class in order to graduate. One day a year, every class in my high school, freshmen to juniors, must watch about three senior presentations. Naturally, when you have a particular affinity for some teachers you try to get them. As the story goes, my English teacher wrote to either ask about a certain students schedule, or else request that particular student. Apparently, he wrote it so well that his response can be summed up essentially as, “I cannot believe that this is an actual English teacher, I take it as my responsibility to write you back and inform you that a student is attempting to use some form of sabotage and has gotten on your computer.” Now, my English teacher is a sly guy; chagrined by this, he chose not to reveal that he had written it and instead replied with an e-mail that rolled with the story, saying that he was on the lookout for the student who had gotten on his computer for the e-mail.
Hm… Maybe not the greatest story via web, eh? In person it was a lot greater, though for the purposes of ego I have to say it doesn’t match some of mine. Now I’m REALLY rambling on, and chances are nobody’s willing to stomach this much of it. If you have, thank you for your time! Maybe next time I’ll actually have something to say, huh? One can only hope!
And of course, happy late fourth of July!