Writing Update #whatever part 2.3

I’ve been updating my LiveJournal account regularly with what’s going on with my writing, but I haven’t been updating over here, and I know that there are people who read this blog but not my LiveJournal. So to help clarify things for my LiveJournal readers, my blog readers, and me, here is what’s going on lately with my writing.

  1. First of all, my NaNoWriMo novel, Fred, Again, is going along very well. Out of 50,000 words, I’ve written about 38,000. Only 12,000 to read the official NaNoWriMo target, and possibly 10,000 or so after that to reach the end of that story. I’m considering what I’m writing right now to be the rough draft for an actual novel, and it’s the first time I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the novel all the way through, without getting fed up with the story and the plot and so on. More on that in a bit
  2. And speaking of NaNoWriMo, there was an article in yesterday’s Vacaville Reporter about local participants in NaNoWriMo, featuring humble ol’ me. There’s even a picture of me. I’ve written to the reporter and asked if I could use the photograph on my person website, and was told to “go for it”, since it would be considered fair use and the photographer in question has no qualms with it. Check out the article here.
  3. A couple of weeks ago I sold my short story, “Who Remembers Molly”, to The Harrow. This is a pretty significant milestone for me, because it’s the first “serious” story I’ve sold, and the first of my “Mollyverse” stories. On the other hand, the timing is a bit ironic, since I’m on the cusp of changing my writing focus entirely. Again, more on this in a bit.
  4. Yesterday, I also received an e-mail from the editor of an upcoming anthology focusing on retellings of urban legends, asking if I would consider offering them “Who Remembers Molly”. Naturally, I said “Yes!” after first clarifying all the contract issues with the editor and with The Harrow. You know, I’d never thought I’d have to face that kind of quandary. It was frustrating in its way, but also really, really cool. And this makes my fourth acceptance this year, which makes five overall, which, to me, means my writing career is really starting to take off.
  5. Oh, I also got a rejection from Flesh & Blood for my story “Indications”. No hard feelings on this one, of course; the style wasn’t a match for the magazine. And in light of the four milestones above, this one rejection just pales in importance to me.

This is my fourth year doing NaNoWriMo; I did it the first time in 2001, skipped 2002, and then I’ve been doing it ever since. Each year, I’ve reached 50,000 words. I’m told that there’s a “second week hump” which is part of the process; during the second week of NaNoWriMo, apparently most participants lose their drive, their energy, their love of the project, and find that writing is much more of a chore than ever. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever experienced this. Sure I have my lulls, but I’ve never had a problem just charging on through. I hadn’t even heard of the “second week hump” until 2004, when everyone I knew was talking about how awful it was, and I found I couldn’t relate.

That isn’t to say I was enjoying everything every step of the way. I remember really enjoying writing Unfallen, my 2001 project; however, The Road to Gilead was rarely much fun, and last year’s The Outer Darkness was mostly just misery. I take out Unfallen and The Road to Gilead every few months or so, renew my resolve to sit down and finish them and make them publishable, write a few hundred words, them thrust them back into a drawer for another few months. The Outer Darkness, I think, will languish permanently in a forgotten corner of my hard drive, never to know the touch of a red pen. I liked the characters and the setting and the plot, but not enough to ever want to revisit them again.

This year’s project, Fred, Again, though, is different. I started at midnight on November first, with no idea of what I was going to write, who the characters were going to be, or what the plot was going to be. I had a title, though; I’d put out a call to all my friends on LiveJournal and in the real world asking for title suggestions, and said that the person whose suggestion I liked the most would get to be killed in the manner of their choosing. I got so many great suggestions, though, that choosing just one was impossible. I chose Fred, Again as the title, and killed off that friend in the first chapter and made her an important plot point. For each subsequent chapter, I’ve been using one of the title suggestions, and killing off the person who suggested the title in that chapter in a manner they choose. Actually, it’s been great fun, and apparently my friends have enjoyed their virtual deaths, even the one who got tossed into a wood chipper.

I have weird friends. Go figure. I love them.

Anyway, I love writing Fred, Again, and I would even if I didn’t get to kill of people I know while writing it. I can’t wait to finish it, and then to start revising it. Rationally, I know that the thing to do is to finish it and then set it aside until NaNoEdMo, but there’s a part of me that’s just quivering with the need to finish and revise. And this leads me to a bit of a quandary.

See, Fred, Again, while containing elements of horror, is primarily a work of comedic fiction, and apparently a pretty funny one. And several people have told me that my humor and comedy fiction are actually much better than my serious horror. However, the serious horror is what I’ve considered my “real” writing. On the other hand, I really am enjoying writing Fred, Again, and the process of writing it has sparked ideas for other novels in the same vein and even for comic fantasy stories, and I’m finding that I’m much more eager to write those — kind of chomping at the bit, really — than, say, complete the second draft of “Hollow”, a horror story which I think has potential but which has felt more like an albatross in many ways than a creative gem.

God help me, I wonder if I’m destined to write comic fantasy and horror? Are novels like Fred, Again and stories like “An Interrupted Nap” going to be my forte rather than hard core works like The Road to Gilead or “Hollow”?

I still have fun with my “Mollyverse” stories, though, like “Burying Uncle Albert” and “The Winds of Patwin County”, though I think they could be… funnier.


There, I said it.

I’ve been taking this writing thing far more seriously over the past year (well, actually, sixteen months) than I have over the rest of my life, and it’s been paying off in terms of acceptances and editorial interest. I suppose a shift in writing focus was inevitable.

So, I suppose, break out the funny hats and the clown feet. After Fred, Again, Cthulhu has a date with the Capulets and the Montagues.

People are starting to come back to their senses…

…although Texas has shown us that it’s still possible to slide backwards while other places are starting to move in a more rational direction. I know I have at least two friends who live in that state, and all I can say is, “Why?!!?” I mean, I know they both have life situations which sort of limit their options, but doesn’t being an intelligent person in that state sort of hurt, kind of like being a deep sea angler fish suddenly brought up to live in a tide pool?

At any rate, though, the real test won’t be until 2006 when the midterm Congressional elections hit. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to get some balance and sanity back in our national government by then.

Democrats Win Gov. Races in N.J., Va. – Yahoo! News

Bush Could Learn from Clinton

In Scandalous Times, Bush Could Learn from Clinton

From the above referenced article: “With the White House shrouded in scandal, the biggest obstacle to George W. Bush’s political comeback is that he’s no Bill Clinton.” I find this amusing in light of the fact that part of his campaign presentation in 2000 was that he wasn’t Bill Clinton.

The article’s worth a read, I think. It points out that it wasn’t just the fact that Clinton’s agenda was less self-serving than Bush’s that made the Lewinsky scandal easier for the American public to bear; it’s also the fact that the public in general had an extremely positive perception, overall, of the economy in the late days of his administration. Because the public’s perception of the current economy is not so positive (when middle class workers are still not getting lots of jobs and their health insurance rates are skyrocketing, it’s hard for them to feel like the economy is surging), the web of scandal surrounding the current Administration is harder to swallow.

It's Election Time

It’s election time, so all good Californians who haven’t already voted by absentee ballot should get out there and vote today. And because I know you’re dying to learn what my opinions are, here they are:

Proposition 73: No. It sounds good, on some levels, but I oppose it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s unlikely to survive a court challenge in California anyway (as I understand the way our Constitution interprets the individual’s right to privacy); and second, if a young woman isn’t telling her family about her abortion anyway, that family probably has far more problems than this legislation will solve. Herb Cain said it best a few years ago: the anti-abortion folks generally care about the baby right up until the moment it’s born.

Proposition 74: No. It’s another one of those propositions that we think sounds good on paper. Get rid of tenure rules for teachers so that we can fire the bad ones! Well, yes, there are bad teachers, but tenure rules are not in place to protect them; the tenure rules are in place to protect the teachers, period. I’ve also noted that one of the most frequently broadcast “Yes on 74” ads starts off with, “There was once a teacher who…” and then lists a litany of (two) problems. What bothers me is that only one example is given, and the source dates back to 1999. If bad teachers really were such a big problem in California, then you’d think they’d be able to find more examples, and more recent ones as well.

Proposition 75: No. Again, the advertising for this proposition is misleading and blatantly deceitful. Public employee union members do, in fact, have the right to opt out of having their union dues go to political causes. When Governor Davis signed the mandatory dues into law, this provision was included to allow for public employees who, for religious or political reasons, did not want their dues to go to politics. The “Yes on 75” contingent would have us believe that die hard Republicans are required to support liberal union causes, and this is a lie. That, in my mind, is enough cause to vote no on this proposition in itself. Given this fact, it seems blatantly unfair to me to place political restrictions on unions and no other entity. I’d much rather see an across-the-board restriction on political contributions. (To my shame, I signed the petition that got this proposition on the ballot. The petitioner had misrepresented the legislation to me, which pisses me off.) I see this proposition as punitive, directed against the unions which have legitimate concerns with the governor and his policies.

Proposition 76: No. From the bill’s summary: “Changes state minimum school funding requirements (Proposition 98); eliminates repayment requirement when minimum funding suspended.” In other words, gives the governor the right to give the schools less funding than is required by current law, and also says that the governor does not have to pay back such funding when he goes below that minimum. In what way does this increase funding for our schools? This proposition is nothing but a punitive measure designed to retaliate against the teachers’ unions who called the governor on his failure to keep promises to the schools to pay back funding that he owed them.

Proposition 77: No. This one is perhaps the only one that has anything resembling good intentions behind it, but it is horrifically flawed. Gerrymandering is a bad thing, but this proposition would only make things worse by removing the voters from the process. The ads also don’t mention that the “independent judges” who would be responsible for redistricting would, in fact, be chosen by the very politicians who continue to do the gerrymandering now. Very little would change, except that perhaps our state would end up even more strongly in the hands of one party or another (depending on who gets to choose the retired judges).

Proposition 78: No. That the drug companies support this measure and that the Consumers’ Union opposes it is pretty much enough for me.

Proposition 79: No. I waffled on this one, actually. It seems good in theory, and it’s supported by public employees and by the Consumers Union, but I just don’t think it would work. If it passes, it will end up simply causing money to be spent in the courts and will ultimately do no good since the Federal government — which supplies Medicaid funding in the first place — has never, without exception, supported a plan like Proposition 79. Something better needs to be devised.

Proposition 80: No. While I’m inclined to believe that Pete Wilson’s grand scheme to deregulate the power industry in California opened us up to the horrific abuses brought on us by corporations like Enron, and while I’m all for “green energy” wherever possible, I don’t believe that this proposition was well thought out. Changing the entire process by initiative is not the way to go; much more study needs to be undertaken and much more work needs to be done.

Now, if you happen to live in Dixon and are thus voting for the school board, I strongly recommend voting for both of the incumbents and for Amy Swanson. The other candidates are either unqualified or have an “Intelligent Design Must Be Taught In Science Class” agenda. Dixon has enough problems without the ID loons working their way into our schools. I’ve worked fairly closely with the incumbents, though, and I know their qualifications and their integrity, and I’m impressed with both of them (and those who know my general feelings toward politicians should see that as a very strong endorsement).

More Fred, Again

I’ve posted the first part of Chapter 3, “A Swing Session with Death”, in Fred, Again. In my own mind, this part isn’t as strong as the previous entries. I’m finding that it’s awfully hard to write good funny stuff consistently. How can writers like Terry Pratchett and Craig Shaw Gardner and Mark Twain keep it up for the entire length of a book?

Actually, I suppose that if I weren’t rushing through this to meet my daily word count for National Novel Writing Month (and I’m already a bit behind — hopefully I can make it up this weekend) I could probably make this work much better. I remember that when I was writing “The Unrevealed Tort, Revealed”, which is just over three hundred words long, it took me quite awhile. It’s a bit of a nonsense piece, but I think it’s funny; but I struggled with it for a long time. I knew I couldn’t repeat myself, I knew that each joke had to be unexpected, but coming up with funny, unexpected stuff line after line after line, even in such a short piece, was just plain difficult. It was a good learning experience, though.

And Fred, Again is turning out to be a good learning experience as well. I just hope I learn from it.

I’m beginning to reconsider my writing goals and direction. In August 2004, I made the conscious decision, after thirty-six years of just noodling around, to take my writing very seriously for a change (it was a good idea; since then I’ve published three short stories, for a grand total of ten dollars), and I sketched out a long-term plan which had me finishing up The Road to Gilead by now and starting work on a series of short stories and novels all developing the Terassic Cycle.

Instead, though, I’ve found myself writing a number of stories that take place in the “Mollyverse”, and publishing primarily humorous pieces, and not getting anything at all written in the Terassic Universe stories. Whenever I sit down to work on The Road to Gilead, my interest factor just sort of vanishes. I’d rather be doing anything at the time than writing. I force perhaps a few hundred words out, and then save it and go watch reruns of Family Guy.

It’s different when I’m writing either Mollyverse stories or humorous stories; I have a lot of fun when I’m writing those, and the words usually seem to just flow (and sometimes they don’t). So I think I’m going to put the Terassic Cycle projects on hold for awhile, and focus on these things. And I’ve been told by several people that my writing is strongest when I’m doing the funny stuff anyway.

So, you may see Fred, Again (or some heavily rewritten version thereof) on the shelves long before you ever see The Road to Gilead.

Anyway. That’s all for now. Go back to reading Fred, Again.

Braiding the Monkey

On Monday, a bunch of us piled into our office manager’s van for the fifteen mile drive from our office to the main division office where the Halloween party was. Climbing into the passenger seat behind the office manager’s, I noticed that she has a stuffed monkey attached to the headrest on her seat. It’s one of those long toy plush monkeys with really long arms, legs, and tail, which you can stretch, tie into knots, and so on. When I sat, I saw that the monkey’s two rear legs and tail had all been braided.

“Hey, R–“, I told the office manager, “someone braided your monkey.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “My daughter likes to braid the monkey.”

“Well,” I said, impressed. “That’s not something you hear every day.”

At that moment, J1 was just climbing into the van. “Huh, Richard? What don’t you hear every day?”

I quoted R–: “‘My daughter likes to braid the monkey.'”

“Braiding the monkey.” He nodded gravely. “No, that isn’t something you hear every day.”

The subject was dropped, then, for about five minutes. When we hit the highway, J1 repeated, “Braiding the monkey. Hmmm.”

“It sounds like a euphemism,” I said. “I can imagine it: Yeah, Bob, I had a real hard night braiding the monkey last night.”

After that, things pretty much just got worse, as we kept imagining other ways to use the phrase. When, during the awards ceremony part of the program, I received my own, J1 congratulated me. I replied smugly, “Yeah, there’s a lot of hard time braiding the monkey represented here.”

We made a pact, then, J1 and I, that we would find ways to incorporate that phrase into as much casual conversation as possible. I personally would like to see it become part of the standard American slang lexicon: “Braiding the monkey”.

So, my friends, I challenge you: find ways to use the phrase, “Braiding the monkey” or “Braid the monkey” in casual conversation. You get more points if everyone pretends that they know what the phrase means and don’t call you out on it.

When we hear it in Congressional speeches, we’ll know that we’ve really braided that monkey.

That writing thing

A few months ago I sent my story “Who Remembers Molly” to an on-line magazine of speculative fiction. They liked it, but wanted revisions. So I made some revisions, and sent it back about a month ago. I hadn’t heard since then, so today I sent a query, and almost by return e-mail I got a response from the editor who said she really liked it and that she wants to buy it for their January edition! I am ECSTATIC about this. Even though, as Jennifer reminded me, this is my third acceptance this year, and my fourth overall, this is a very significant milestone for me, because it’s the first of my “Mollyverse” stories; as another on-line friend of mine has pointed out, this is like someone “buying into my vision”, and that really means a lot to me.

Anyway. Details forthcoming.