Category Archives: Writing

Entries where I talk about my writing: stories, novels, general creativity.

Writing Update #6: NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (nowadays also known as NaNoWriMo) begins in just over six hours from the time that I write this. In 2001, when I participated for the first time, I was completely on the sidelines and lived in my own little world while I worked on it (of course, there were no forums on the website back then, and it was in the days before weekly write-ins in different cities and so on). I was all set to write my epic science fiction post-apocalyptic western back then, but at about 5:00 p.m. on October 31, I suddenly decided to switch and write Unfallen instead. I saved The Road to Gilead for 2003, which was the second time I participated in NaNoWriMo; and then I went to the kick-off party and to the Thank God It’s Over (TGIO) party at the end of November as well. The Road to Gilead was, if I do say so myself, a great story. It’s not fit for general consumption at the moment, and needs a lot of work, but I think it’s got great potential.

This year, I’m writing The Outer Darkness, and I am nervous. When I wrote Unfallen in 2001, I based it off of a role-playing game that I had run a couple of years before, so the plot was still strong in my mind. In 2003, when I wrote The Road to Gilead, the entire plot came to me in one sitting a couple of months before I’d even begun writing.

This time, though, I’m having problems with the plot. The novel is based off of a role-playing game that I planned and plotted and set in a milieu that my friend K. and I created together, but that I never actually got to run (and probably never will at this point, unless I do so for DunDraCon 2006). The plot is simple, but I have no idea how to execute it. None at all.

Which makes me nervous.

It could just be that I’m worrying too much. I’ve been planning on The Outer Darkness for this year’s NaNoWriMo since ’round about July, when I developed my Long Term Writing Plan (which I wrote about here).

In an ideal world, I would stay up really late tonight and begin writing right at midnight. Unfortunately, I have to get up really early tomorrow to work out, and, sadly, I can no longer do the all-night writing binges that I used to do way back in the day. Perhaps I’ll get up at five and push out a few words and upload the document to my CVS server so that I can punch out some more during some downtime at work tomorrow.

In other news, today is Hallowe’en. This year, we’re sitting in front of the television, watching specials on HGTV about haunted houses and throwing candy at small children when they come to our door making vague promises of vandalism. Next year I want to have a Real Hallowe’en Party, with costumes and scary movies and ghost stories and all that; I even have the perfect costume in mind for next year. Hallowe’en is my favorite holiday, and it seems a shame to sit around and moulder in front of a television all night.

Writing Update #5

I’ve put off updating this journal for a couple of weeks, partially because I wanted to give both of my regular readers extra time to read about Rebecca, but also because, well, I’ve been lazy. Bad Richard. No biscuit.

So, a quick update on what’s been going on.

Last week, everyone in my office went to a distance learning conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. My boss picked me up and we drove to Walnut Creek, where we picked up BART to Market Street (I thought of my friend Little Owl as I did so), and that was, on the whole, less exciting than I thought it would be — though I did get stuck behind the stupid gate on my way out of the station after we got back to Walnut Creek. I was pretty darn embarrassed, I can tell you.

The conference itself was pretty interesting. While we in our office are in the process of evaluating an ILM (Intergrated Learning Management) product called Moodle — which we are liking so far, partially because it’s written in PHP and is open-source — we found that there are plenty of other really expensive products that we could spend a year’s budget on. And plenty of on-line services ready to take the rest of our money as well. We only found one product that looked particularly valuable because of its ability to transform Power Point presentations into Flash files, but we’re not convinced that it would be a better investment than — which is free but less full-featured — would be. It was also an opportunity to do some networking, which I did a little of.

Mostly, though, the best reason to go to these things is because of the swag. Swag, of course, refers to all those little goodies that vendors give away: pens and Post-It notes branded with the company’s name, for example. I made out with a couple of T-shirts (always exciting for geeks), a frisbee, a tote bag (perfect for groceries), a mysterious tube-like device which turned out to be an on-the-spot hand sanitizer device (I swear, it’s like a highlighter pen — only it sanitizes streaks on your skin instead of turning it yellow), and a little stress-relief toy that’s shaped like a little man. And brochures and software samples, of course, though I’ve only ever recommended one software purchase based on a sample I received at a conference like this. However, the best item of swag that I picked up was a little green dinosaur made of foam and attached to the end of a stiff wire. For some reason, the cats seem to really love this and will attack it madly whenever I bring it out and dangle it in front of the.

The next day, sadly, Jennifer and I discovered that our cat Allegra has bone cancer. We don’t have much time left with her, which is a shame. This news came especially hard because we’re still dealing with the grief of having lost Rebecca so suddenly.

October is turning out to be a bad month for animals in my family. First we lost Rebecca, then we got the bad news about Allegra; and earlier this week, my parents had to put down their little dog Rover.

I’m hoping November turns out to be better.

On the writing front, things are progressing slowly. I finally finished up the rough draft of “The Winds of Patwin County”; it’s about 15,000 words long altogether, one of the longest stories I’ve ever written. There were a couple of points where I almost gave up on it; but now it’s done. I also finished up the first draft (as opposed to the rough draft) of “Variations on a Theme”, which, so far, has gotten fairly decent comments from the one or two folks who have looked at it. I don’t like the title, though, and I’m unsatisfied with the ending, and I think I tried too hard in a couple of places. If you’re interested in reading it, drop me a line and let me know.

I also received a draft of part two of “A Thousand Times Before” from my friend Ed, and, along with some ideas that Jennifer gave me, I think that story has some Serious Potential. I probably won’t get to finishing that or finishing the first draft of “The Winds of Patwin County”, though, until December at the earliest. Because November, of course, is National Novel Writing Month, and I’ll be participating in that. My outline for The Outer Darkness, the novel I’ll be writing, is going slowly and with great difficulty, and I may simply scrap the whole thing and rework the entire storyline from scratch in a couple of days.

So, in summary: Life goes on, in spite of the randomness of animal health, the writing goes on. My goal is to be a full-time writer within five years, but I’ve got a long ways to go. I plan to write at least 2,000 words a day during November (so that I’ll have 60,000 words of The Outer Darkness done); hopefully, I’ll be able to write down some preliminary notes on a couple of stories as well: “Dracula Ate My Homework” and “Sunday Services”, but I won’t stress if I don’t.


I’ve been trying to figure out why I keep thinking of this past year as the year that I finally got serious about writing. I’ve been writing all my life. Sometimes quite seriously. But something clicked during the summer, and now I feel focused and committed.

I’ve been reading all my life; I’ve talked to a lot of people who can remember when the words “clicked” for them and they were able to, for the first time, understand what the words were saying. Me, I can’t ever remember not knowing how to read; my mother says I was born knowing how to read. When I was an adult literacy tutor, this became an issue for me, because it was hard for me to empathize with adults who couldn’t read (I got over it, though, and got to be a pretty good teacher).

When I was about six I took it into my head to start writing books. So I wrote a few short little stories, illustrated them myself with crayon, and stapled them. I remember writing something called “Tunnel to the Moon” and another one called “Tornado in the Sky”. When I visited my mother a few years ago, I found that she’d kept “Tunnel” in her cedar chest. I’m pretty sure she still has that.

In my pre-teen years I also wrote a series of mystery short stories about a private investigator named Fizziwinker (I have no idea where that name came from, and I’ve never figured out if it was his first name or his last name). I thought they were serious adult mysteries; turns out they were juvenile comedies. I had one fellow offer to publish them as a book for children, but I was determined to published them in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock. As a result, these stories continue to languish in my desk drawer. Someday, I’m sure, I’ll take them out and dress them up and try to publish them as juvenile stories. But at the time, I was really embarrassed.

In high school, I kept writing a lot. I still have most of the stories I wrote from this period: “Eradicator”, “Courage is an Accident” (another one my mother kept in her cedar chest), “Derelict”, “An Authority on Everything” (written when I was convinced I was destined to be the next James Joyce — that phase lasted about two weeks, until I finally tried to read Finnegan’s Wake), and others. I was really strongly encouraged by my high school English teachers, one of whom wrote this in my senior year yearbook: “You are without a doubt the best writer it has been my privilege to teach”. During that time I even made half-hearted attempts to publish; I collected quite a collection of rejection slips; and, as I’d heard many writers do, I even wallpapered my bedroom with them.

So what happened in college?

At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, I blame my loss of focus on the fact that I was good at just about everything I set my mind to in high school. My AP biology teacher told me I was one of the finest biology students she’d had the honor to teach. My history teacher told me I was great at what I did. And so on. I was in love with biology and went to UC Davis determined to be a doctor.

In college, though, I found that chemistry killed me. If I’d been smart, I would have switched my major to English and been done with it, but I was determined that I was going to stick with the sciences in some way. Somehow, though, I wound up getting a degree in philosophy, while taking as many electives as I could. I couldn’t take seriously the idea of doing graduate work in philosophy, so I floundered for a long time. I ended up focusing my creative energies on role-playing games, and became known in my town as one of the best game masters around.

So I lost focus on my writing for a lot of years. Now I’ve refocused, and even made a list of writing goals which should see me through the next decade or so. And somehow I’ve managed to stay focused for several months now. I think that part of this comes from the realization that my creative energies have been focused on my gaming for so many years. And as my friends continue to grow up and mature and take on responsibilities like families and going back to school, they simply have less time to commit to the kind of massive storylines and fifteen year plot arcs that I like to create. But the huge storylines and plot arcs are still yammering in my brain, desperate to be told.

I came to rely on role-playing games as my primary creative outlet, I realize. They’re great for getting a small group of people to think and enjoy themselves and my storylines for a few hours at a time. The risk of rejection is low, too: after all, my players kept coming back for me, which felt like success to me. And it was good to have the instant gratification and feedback that I could get from running a great game. Right after finishing up a game session I could count on my players to tell me what they liked about it, and I could take their suggestions. But best for my approach to things, I found I didn’t have to work too hard on making the stories work; I’m good enough at improvisational storytelling so that I can run an epic twelve-hour game session with little more preparation than a few lines scribbled on a piece of paper, and perhaps a few minutes to review the previous session.

In other words, running a role-playing game is simply not hard work for me, and that’s what attracts me to it.

Writing is harder work. To complete my massive storyline and my fifteen-year plot arc, I have to actively sit down for a couple of hours every day and write. I have to plot, plan, conceive, envision, write, and rewrite. The risk of rejection is greater: I could spend years working on the books of The Terassic Cycle, only to find at the end that no one is willing to publish them — or, if they’re published, that no one is willing to buy them and read them. The vacuum in which a writer exists is much deeper than the vaccum which envelopes a game master.

And I have discovered that one of my strengths as a gamemaster has proven to be probably my greatest weakness as a writer. As a gamemaster, I’m able to sit back and let the players drive the story, while my NPC’s are generally fairly passive (except for the villains, of course). The heroes really are my players, and I think that this makes me a very good gamemaster. Unfortunately, my tendency toward passive storytelling means that the characters in my stories are fairly passive, and events end up just happening to them. The characters are not played by other people, they’re played by some part of myself which I’m not used to listening to. Even the story I think of as my most recent success, “Burying Uncle Albert”, suffers from this flaw. Fotunately, I at least know that it’s a weakness of mine, and that I need to tune in to that part of myself where my characters are walking and talking, and pay attention to it.

Ultimately, though, I think that the rewards from writing are greater than the rewards from gamemastering. If my books are published, then the stories I tell will be appreciated by more than the five or six people who play in my games. And, perhaps, if my writing is good enough and appreciated widely enough, then someday, someone somewhere might just develop a role-playing game based on the worlds in my head.

Writing Update #4

It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these. For one thing, I’ve been working on the Goddamned Assignment for my Ethnic Collections Development class, which took up too much of my time before I finally finished it and turned it in on Sunday afternoon (I don’t expect a good grade on it; I worked my ass off, but I never really figured out what the professor wanted, so who knows?).

I’ve also been reading The Dark Tower, the last book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Say what you will of Stephen King and what you will about your estimation of my critical thinking skills and ability to appreciate good writing, but I think Stephen King tells a hell of a good story. Reading this book reminds me of when I watched The Return of the King last year; it’s the end of something I’ve been enjoying for years (in the case of the Dark Tower series, nearly twenty years), and nothing after it will even come close to comparing. Oh, sure, there will be good, even oustanding, movies and books afterward; but anything King writes after this will simply be afterthoughts. It’s no wonder, to me, that King is planning on retiring after this; the Dark Tower storyline has been the Big Story which has driven most of his fiction since 1982 (and possibly before), and with its completion, the story is done. He’ll either retire, or simply take his writing in an entirely new direction. King is a good writer. He’s also popular, though, which means it’s fashionable to discredit his writing abilities.

I did manage to do some writing over the past few days, though. I’ve added about a thousand words to “The Winds of Patwin County”, though I haven’t worked on the Outer Darkness outline at all. My writing is suffering because of my reading.

Some of the things that King has written in The Dark Tower, as well as some of what he wrote in On Writing, has gotten me to thinking about the creative process in general. I never took a course in aesthetics when I was getting my degree in philosophy, but I understand that one school of thinking in that field posits that creative ideas are not truly invented by artists or writers, but are, actually, “discovered”. The stories and the ideas are already out there; it’s the artist or the writer who brings form and expression to these stories and ideas. This is the sort of thing which Michelangelo had in mind when he said that he could see the sculpture in the rock, and all he needed to was chip away to obscuring stone.

One could argue that this notion seems to be supported by findings in comparative mythology: the same themes and ideas and motifs seem to crop up over and over throughout the world, across cultures, and throughout history. I think that the value of this observation to the notion of pre-existing ideas is weak at best, but it’s an interesting idea to ponder.

Many writers — including King, Tolkien, and many others — have said that they feel more like a conduit for the stories that they write and tell than creators. And just about every writer I’ve ever spoken to or read about has said that they often feel like the story “takes over” from time to time, or that the characters have taken over the story. More than one writer has warned that the stories which the writer tries to force too much control over are usually the worst. Of course, other writers have cautioned against going along too much with “what feels natural”, because what feels natural is often just the first thing that comes to mind; and the first thing that comes to mind is usually a cliché of some sort. I’ve noticed in my own writing that “what comes naturally”, though, is usually different from “what comes first”, and that what comes naturally is usually a lot longer in coming. Stories do have their own flow, and it takes awhile to discover what that flow is. And, of course, no story is ever perfect in its telling. God knows I’ve never managed to write a story which captured perfectly the tale I’m trying to tell.

At any rate: I’m not the first person to make this observation, and I certainly won’t be the last.

Some stories, I think, are simply parts of a much larger story that the writer is tapping into. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was simply a small part of a much larger history of Middle Earth that Tolkien felt he was tapping into. George Lucas’s Star Wars films are a part of the much larger Star Wars milieu that he and his fan base have been building over the last thirty years or so. And most of Stephen King’s novels have been a part of the overall Dark Tower story.

I’ve been trying to pull off the same thing myself. Most of the role-playing games that I’ve run over the past fifteen years have been a part of the overall Terassic Cycle story which I hope to wrap up this year, and I do plan on writing a series of novels which tell that story. I do wish, though, that I could have done what King did and write a couple dozen novels which all tied in somehow to the Terassic Cycle but which each stood as good novels on their own merit as well, but that would have required me starting my writing career about fifteen years ago. A little late now.

Of course, I know that I should be spending more time writing than writing about writing. So I’ll get to it now.

Writing update #3

Sadly, I got no writing done today. I was at work today, where, strangely, I focused on work. After that I went home for a couple of hours, ate dinner and relaxed, and then attended the town Library Commission meeeting, since I am a member of the Library Commission. At the Library Commission we took up the issue of the library’s new facility, which is an issue we’ve been working on ever since I joined over a year ago. Then I came home and fretted about my assignment for my class.

Actually, it occurs to me that even though I got no work done on either “The Winds of Patwin County” or The Outer Darkness outline, I did do a significant amount of writing. My previous journal entry measures at just about 1400 words, and that’s a pretty respectable amount for a non-NaNoWriMo time period. And that’s the point. The words just need to make it out of my head and into some tangible form somehow. And today I guess they did after all.

On a whim, I went back to my old journal today and thought that I should update all of my memberships in all of those webrings and burbs that were set up so that all of the online diarists could see who else was out there being vain and pretentious. I found, to my surprise, that ALL of them are defunct. Well, not all of them. But the ones that aren’t defunct had apparently dropped my membership some time ago, which explains the serious drop in traffic a few months ago. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. But I like to be noticed.

I think for now, though, I’ll settle for cross-posting these journal entries to my Livejournal, and counting on other people to read my journal and say, “Good heavens, there’s a smart fellow, we should bookmark him and read him more often.”

Yeah. That’s what’ll happen.

[Administrative note: I decided to disable my guestbook, by the way. It has only been receiving spam for a couple of years now, which is pretty useless. Individual comments on my journal entries seem to be more par for the course anyway.]

Writing update #2

As I figured, I only got about two hundred words written in “The Winds of Patwin County” today, and only a paragraph done on the outline for The Outer Darkness. I don’t mind all that much, though, because the two hundred words for “Winds” were two hundred pretty good words, and the paragraph for the outline was a useful paragraph, more or less.

With “Winds”, I now have a strong sense of where the story is going. I know what the central event is, who’s responsible for it, and what’s going to happen at that event. Oddly, it’s an idea which first occurred to me about three and a half years ago, and which has been festering in my brain ever since. I don’t yet know what role some of the other characters have to play in the story yet, but I know that they’re important ones. I’m looking forward to seeing how the story works out.

I know that I should start revising “Variations on a Theme” soon, as well. Unfortunately, I was so disenchanted with how that story turned out in its first draft that I just can’t bring myself to look at it. Not yet. I think I’ll wait until after I’m done with “Winds”.

The outline for The Outer Darkness is proceeding apace. I have three main characters in development, possibly four. I also have an idea of the Big Thought that the novel is Really About. Unfortunately, there are at this point three different storylines, and I’m not entirely certain how I’m going to resolve them into one. I’m not yet an experienced enough novelist to try a subtle interweaving of the three stories. I have the feeling that as I continue to develop this outline, though, these things will resolve.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, says that he doesn’t like using outlines. Worse, he says that outlines are for wannabe English professors. I think he’s right to a point. The outline I’m writing isn’t so much an outline — it’s certainly not broken down into a step-by-step description of what’s going to happen when. It’s more of a treatment; right now it’s nine pages long, and I think it will be about fifteen pages long when I’m done with it. Again, I’m excited to see how this novel turns out, though I know that there will be times when writing the words down will be like slogging through molasses.

Which is why, by the way, I’ve chosen to write the first 50,000 words of the first draft in November, during National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated in that twice before, and I’ve written two complete (though crappy) novels because of it. The rules stipulate that you can’t use NaNoWriMo to write anything that is already in progress, though you can outline and plot as much as you like before November begins. So, I have a reason to wait, and I know that when November comes, I’ll be able to get the words down, even if they’re crappy words that will all have to come out later. And sometimes, just getting the words down is the most important and most difficult part.

Writing update #1

One of the reasons that I chose this new journal with its new format and update system and all that is because I just felt constrained by the last one. I felt like each entry had to be witty, concise, informative, enlightening, and all that. I don’t think that way. Very few of the thoughts I have are worth preserving, and trying to come up with something that met all of those qualifications on a regular basis was far too much for my brain to take.

My Livejournal is useful for random thoughts and the occasional meme or survey result, and for communicating with my friends who also have Livejournal accounts (which is by no means all of them). But then I’d come up with something that I thought was too long to post into my Livejournal but not quite witty or pithy or enlightening enough to post in my regular journal. So here is my new journal, “Worlds in my Head”, which serves as a happy medium. I hope.

For example. Occasionally I want to just post writing updates, to let those who give a hoot what I’m working on and how much I’ve done. Perhaps people will read these updates. Perhaps they won’t. Doesn’t matter; the point for me is to have some accountability. I will be writing every day, and I hope that having this journal in place will help motivate me to do that. I could be wrong. Sometimes I am. We’ll see what happens. I won’t be posting exerpts from my daily writing output in this journal because of copyright concerns (I’m not afraid that people will steal what I write, but I am concerned about reprint rights for stories that are published on-line), but I may occasionally post complete stories to my web server in a password-protected directory which people will be able to view on request.

Anyway. Today’s writing update.

Today, my previous plans having fallen through, I decided that I would go to the next town and sit in Borders and do some writing. I like going to Borders to do this: I have access to coffee or tea, and I’m surrounded by thousands of books, which I find inspiring. And music, too; today I bought an album called Within a Mile of Home by a band called Flogging Molly; it’s Irish punk, which I love (see also Dropkick Murphys and The Pogues), plus a hint of country.

While I was at Borders, I did get some quality writing in. In my previous entry, I spoke of a short story that I was pondering called “The Winds of Patwin County”. Today, I got busy on it and wrote about 1700 words. I’m not entirely sure what the story is about or where it’s going, but it’s been an interesting experiment for me in writing style. Since the story is written from four different points of view, I’m trying to write it with four distinct styles. We’ll see how successful I am at it.

I also worked on the outline for The Outer Darkness. Since I’ve been doing some research for a class on “The Gospel According to Tolkien” that I’ll be helping Jennifer teach at our church, I’ve been reading a lot about J. R. R. Tolkien as well as reading The Silmarillion for the first time. The breadth and scope of Tolkien’s imagination is incredible, and I’ve been inspired by it in many ways. The Outer Darkness, I think, will benefit from my study of Tolkien.

That’s all the writing I did today.

Words, words, words

I’ve been struggling with my writing for a long time. It’s not that I think I’m a particularly bad writer (though I certainly know that I’m not one of the best), but I suffer from bouts of writer’s block that can last for months at a time. Years, sometimes.

The problem is that I have always had too many stories in my head that I want to tell. I get excited about one project, work on it for a bit, and then I get all excited about another project and move on to that before the previous one is done. The result, of course, is that nothing gets done at all. My files are filled with hundreds of short stories that I’ve started and not finished, as well as dozens of novels. I don’t have any plays or screenplays in there, but there is at least one teleplay that I started working on that never got finished.

It’s very frustrating. How do I know what’s a worthy idea, and what’s not? How do I decide which project to focus on? How do I stop that inevitable feeling of dread that comes up, the one that gets me thinking, “I shouldn’t have chosen to focus on this project, it’s a load of crap, I should have worked on something else?” I don’t know. It’s something I’ve struggled with for a number of years. I’ve even had the opportunity to discuss this problem with a couple of different successful novelists, who have given me some tips but nothing that could really help me in the long run.

So now, I’ve finally made a decision. I have A Plan. I’ve narrowed my list of projects that I want to work on, and I’ve come up with a timeline for working on them. And here is that timeline, with the projects listed:

  • From now through October, I’m going to work on an outline for The Outer Darkness. This is a space opera which takes place on a distant planet, in a universe that I developed with a couple of friends of mine for a role-playing game a few years back. The game never was finished, sadly, but I think that the universe itself has a lot going for it.
  • During that time, I’ll also be working on the following short stories:
  • “Variations on a Theme”. I just finished this story, but it’s in need of heavy revision.
  • “The Winds of Patwin County: A Tragedy in Four Gusts”. This is a short story I’ve been pondering for a couple of years now. I think I finally have an angle.
  • “A Thousand Times Before”. I wrote this story a month or so ago, and now my friend Ed and I will be revising it together.
  • I also have an idea for a short story called “The Reinvention of Timothy Livingston”, largely autobiographical, but I might put it off for awhile.
  • November is time for NaNoWriMo. So in November, I plan on writing the first 50,000 words of The Outer Darkness. That will be a really rough draft, of course. So starting in December I’ll be revising it. I plan to have the first draft of The Outer Darkness completed by June 2005.
  • And starting in December, I also want to take a year to outline The Terassic Cycle, a set of novels which take place in a universe I’ve been developing for close to fifteen years for various role-playing games that I’ve run. It’s a tremendously complex universe, I think, with lots of potential, but it needs… organizing. So I’m going to take a year to organize it.
  • Also in December I want to run a role-playing game using the Call of Cthulhu system called “The Shallows”. This game will take place in a universe I’m tentatively calling the Clooneyverse (after a character I played in a Changeling game, Gilbert Clooney). I’ve only been developing the Clooneyverse for a few months now, but I realized recently that the seeds for it were initially planted back in 1984 when I wrote a short story called “The Wayward Garbage Truck”. Most of my short stories take place in the Clooneyverse.
  • And then after I’m done with The Terassic Cycle — which I’m currently envisioning as a sequence of nine novels — I plan on writing novels that take place in the Clooneyverse. No ideas are forthcoming for them right now, but that’s easily ten years away anyway.
  • Looking at this now, I can see how ambitious this all is. Actually, it’s kind of intimidating. And my intimidation factor isn’t helped by the article I recently read in a back issue of Writer’s Digest: in this article, the author says, “Thirty-five may seem like a really late age for a first-time novelist.” I’m 36, and I’ve only ever published one short story. Thanks for the confidence booster.

    But I figure it’s kind of like that ninety pounds that I have to lose (well, eighty-seven now). It’s intimidating, but I know that by working hard and staying dedicated, I can do it.


    Two years ago, Jennifer and I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), mostly as a way to get my own mind on something else other than the fact that I’d been laid off the month before. Jennifer swears that the 50,000 words she wrote were pure garbage, but since she deleted them all, no one will ever be able to tell for sure. Me, I wrote the text to a novel I’d been pondering for awhile, something called Unfallen. It turned out to be half-complete. Someday I’ll finish that one up. And since it’s just part of a huge epic involving many different novels in many different genres taking place in many different times and places, it’s going to be a huge project. Maybe someday I’ll finish it. I suppose that I could use NaNoWriMo this year to write the next book in the Unfallen cycle, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that unless I finished the first one. Go figure.

    So anyway, I’ve decided to do something totally different this year, and write something called The Road to Gilead. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? It was originally going to be a post-apocalyptic story about a prophet in a mega-city called New San Francisco who was going to lead a group of refugees to a mythical homeland in the midwest known as Gilead. When I first conceived of it, the thing that enchanted me the most was the whole New San Francisco setting. But I never got anywhere else with it.

    Then I created this web page for The Road to Gilead. I grabbed the background image almost at random, thinking it was just kinda neat (it’s a picture of an old abandoned mill in the California ghost town called Bodie), but when I really looked at it, I discovered that it kind of awoke something in me. The original idea for Road to Gilead didn’t appeal anymore.

    So now The Road to Gilead is a western. A post-apocalyptic western, to be sure, but a western nonetheless. And since I’ve read very few westerns, this is going to be quite a challenge to me. I checked a few books out of the library and I’m planning on watching a few movies… but that’s probably not going to be enough.

    Well, fortunately, NaNoWriMo isn’t all that serious. And the point is just to get the thing written. You can always fix it up later.

    One of the really interesting things about NaNoWriMo, though, is how seriously people are taking their fiction when it comes to realism. I don’t think anyone is expecting to have a perfectly researched and written novel, of course. But there’s a forum on the site which is meant specifically to hook writers up with each other to exchange information, with the idea of making novels more realistic. I think that’s kind of neat. So I’ll be posing questions about horses, probably.

    Not much else is going on my world right now. I think it’s neat that the Chinese have sent a man into space; I wish it would help get the U. S. space program back into gear, but I know we don’t currently have the vision or the competent leadership that would be required. Tonight I lead Bible study at my church. No word on the process of turning my temp job into a permanent one. And so on.

    More Out the Gate

    Following up to my phenomenal success at selling “Ten Foot Tall He Was, with Eyes of Flame” to Anotherealm, I’ve begun a new round of marketing some of my short stories. I finally received a rejection slip from Cemetery Dance (”Who?” I hear you ask; “One of the top names in horror fiction today,” you hear me reply). I’d sent them “Ten Foot Tall…” back in April and they didn’t want it. Probably for the best, since I’d sold it somewhere else.

    Today, “Burying Uncle Albert” when to Cemetery Dance and “Indications” went to Weird Tales. I’d lost track of Weird Tales for several years, but found just last night that they’re still printing. I like their stuff and I think I fit in with them.

    So, my two stories are headed out. Godspeed, little fellas.

    Writing is hard. So, so freaking hard. Hard to get myself motivated, hard to put the words on to paper. But it’s like sneezing. The stories just kind of build up in you — more and more, worse and worse, until you have no choice but to expel them out of you as quickly as possible and maybe wipe up the remnants afterwards with some Kleenex. I write because it’s better for my health than trying to keep my sneezes all bottled up.

    And because there are all of these neat worlds inside of me. Well, I think that they’re neat. In my own mind I’ve managed to create a “meta-mythos” which kind of encompasses every novel idea and most of the role-playing game ideas I’ve ever had. I could write a dozen books and a hundred short stories and the poor fools who wanted to know what was going on in my head would have to read them all to figure it all out. I’m a devious little schmuck, aren’t I?

    But I’m still having trouble just sitting down and writing. So. Three pages a day. That’s what I’m promising myself. I’m planning on writing ten short stories this year, and possibly finish the first draft of The Troll King’s Daughter. I think that once I have some momentum, it’ll get easier for me again.