Monday, November 30, 2015

Sit Finis Libri

Somewhere around 2:25 pm PST, I wrote the last word of the first draft of Roger and the Meteor Mass. My 2015 NaNovel came in at 93K+ words, but something didn't seem right.

You see, I assembled the draft from several working copies, including scenes I had written as working notes from my Kindle, flash-fiction pieces for Charli Mill's Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge, and chapter-by-chapter texts composed in WrittenKitten.

My novel was plotted and outlined before November 1st this year, and I calculated it would be complete at around 90K words, plus-or-minus 500. Definitely not plus 3000!

I took my validation text online to half-a-dozen different duplicate-text finders. Each found one or more duplicates where I had assembled parts into the mix more than once. After about a half-hour of editing, I resubmitted for validation, and the final total matched my expectation: 90,493 words.

Before I put my "manuscript" away on the thumb drive, here's a final excerpt from the initial scene-setting for the town of Meteor, featuring Roger's initial encounter with yet another Mass member:

    The window of the bookstore in downtown Meteor was Roger's first stop. He was surprised to see one of his favorite techno-thrillers featured in a stack of books labeled, "Great Summer Reading Selections." Maybe the stock inside wouldn't be as lame as he feared.
    He decided not to go in, though. He hadn't brought a bike lock, and despite the casual way they had left the car open earlier, he still wasn't sure it was safe to leave things unlocked in the new town. Instead, he walked along the shops, peering into the drugstore, and passing a sinister-looking metal door with a barred window at eye-level.
    He craned his head back to read the sign overhead: "Flater Beer & Eats" was wrapped around the picture of a foaming mug. A smaller sign on the door  had been amended with an extra "t" in the name: "Flatter Beer & Eats." The door seemed to be locked tight, and the windows on either side of it were opaque black squares mirroring the street behind him. 
    The next shop seemed to be a real estate office, based on the sun-bleached prints of property photos that covered the single window. An angled wall made a nook to shade the shop's glass door. Roger scanned the offerings on the inside of the glass. Here was a barn conversion touted as a "quaint family dwelling on large lot." In the corner was a tiny building, listed as "two bedroom, one bath, starter home." 
    Just above it, Roger saw a picture of the house they had just moved into. He read the description, curious to see how it was described. "Three bedrm, two and a half bath, full grg." Half-bath? Roger supposed that might be the guest bathroom next to his bedroom, even though it had a shower stall in it. Maybe they meant the second bathroom upstairs.
    The description continued: "Two story and cellar. Asking negot., see agent." So there was a cellar. Roger wondered where the entrance was. Maybe outside? The house they'd lived in when the Pierces were in Missouri had a storm-cellar with a door outside, but it had also had stairs that led down from inside the house. He resolved to check when he got home.
    He rolled on, ignoring shops offering infant clothing and picture frames, until he reached the end of the block. Past this point Meteor became residential again until the high school. Roger crossed carefully over the highway main street, and turned back toward the new house. 
    On this side of the road, a small movie theater anchored the block. On the far side was the cafe where they had eaten dinner the night before, but on the near corner was an intriguing shop called "Marv's Marvels." The windows were filled with video-game boxes. Roger recognized some of the games. Along the brick wall on the other side of the door was a bike rack of the kind Roger's Dad always called a "toaster rack." Peter Pierce had taught his son not to lock his bicycle to such flimsy structures, but to look for pipes, metal railings, and other substantial, solid substitutes.
    Marv's Marvels was apparently a popular place for the locals; three nice bikes were racked loose in the slots of the toaster, and one "beater" bike was locked to the curve of pipe at the end.
    As Roger tried to see inside the shop, a raucous crowd burst out through the door, pushing past him on the sidewalk to unrack their bikes. "Way to beat that high score, Darrell!" said one boy, slapping the largest kid on the back. "Yeah, Harb's the greatest!" shouted another. 
    The largest, Darrell Harb according to the praise-shouting crowd, lifted his bike out of the rack and whipped it around, knocking Roger's front wheel askew as he did so. "Watch it," he snarled at Roger. "Keep outta my way!"
    Two of the others backed their own bikes out of the rack, and the whole crowd crossed the highway, some riding, some walking or wheeling bikes. Roger watched them head toward the high school.
    He racked his own bike loosely, and opened the shop door to peek inside. He was unwilling to leave his ride untended, but hoped he could see enough from the doorway.
    A double bank of arcade games led away from the door, beeping and buzzing an invitation to drop quarters. All the way at the back of the space, Roger could see a glass counter with boxed product displayed in it. At the last machine, a young kid worked intently at the controls.
    The rail-thin clerk leaning across the counter was totally focused on this game, and said without looking away, "Come on in and close the door, kid! Yer lettin' in flies!" Roger closed the door, but stayed close, keeping his bike in the corner of his eye. 
    "Close! Oh, so close! Keep it up!" The clerk was encouraging the player. "You can beat that last score!"
    Without shifting his focus in the least, the boy said, "'Course I can. Harb is good, but I'm way better." With the last word, he beat out a quick series of moves, and was rewarded by a tinkle of sound from the game screen. 
    "High Score: 380,274" the clerk read triumphantly. "Did it, Mikey! You didn't even have to break a sweat!"
    "The day I can't do better than Darrell Harb, I'll eat my latest owl's nest." His tone was scornful. "But you better erase my score, or you'll never get any more of Harb's quarters."
    Roger thought the arcade showed promise, and the kid Mikey might be worthwhile to get to know, but he was still nervous about his unlocked bike, so he scooted back outside. If the size of Meteor was anything to go by, he'd meet up with Mikey again in the small town.

    On the other hand, Roger mused, that meant he'd be meeting the unpleasant Darrel Harb and his buddies again, too.

Word Count: 7538 Day 30 and 90493 Final Total  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pushing 30

I managed to "win" NaNoWriMo by the third week this year, but there is still more of the NaNovel waiting to be revealed. To me, as much as to the world! 

By dint of some really early mornings, a couple of midnight revels, and diligently following a plan to write Every. Single. Day. I have reached Day 29 having written not only 50,000 words and more, but also having met my daily goal of 2500 words or more. Just two more days, and then November is over.

According to the plot and outline, there are 10,000 words or so still to be written. By doubling my average output for the next two days, I may be able to actually finish the first draft of my NaNovel in November this year. 

I plan to do two more midnight sessions, in addition to my regular writing hours, effectively doubling up for tonight and tomorrow, the final day of the month. 

When the writing month is over, I will refocus on the Ken Cummings memoir, Meant to Be Here. Kenneth has been kind enough to wait while I produce my fourth NaNovel, but I know he's eager to get back to our collaboration.

Word Count: 2568 Day 29-First Session and 80955 Total  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

If You Know Nothing, Write About That

Review: Novel Concept by Dan Fiorella

Like so many New Yorkers, Max Federman has a book in him. The problem is he wants to write a hit, but the book his publisher wants is a non-starter for the best-seller list. 

Max reads those book lists; he knows what readers buy in droves. They want "rich-girl meets poor hunky guy and falls in love." They want "unknown beauty captures heart of royal heir." They want "daring spy assists voluptuous twins win revolutionary glory."

They want fantasy from a world Max has never dreamed of, let alone lived.

Rather than write the book he has thoroughly researched, the one his publisher desires, Max sets out to research the popular concept instead. Armed with the wit that Max Shulman used to give all his protagonists, Federman boards a cruise ship to Paris (persistently listed as "S.S. Gauche, bound for France" in the text), and proceeds to step into every social awkwardness a clueless stowaway can find.
Max lives in a section of NYC "inhabited by many aspiring creative types: writers, actors, musicians, performance artists, and, up until the tragic yet much appreciated Great Pantomime Massacre of ‘08, mimes."

He attracts the love of the "heiress to the French frogleg fortune," Candice LaPortune, who has chosen "an idyllic ocean cruise over the whirlwind body cavity search that was air travel." His shipboard romance novel is well underway until he is side-tracked by murder, and being tossed overboard into a crime novel.

Max barely gets into the drug syndicate mileau (in France, naturally, home of the "French Connection") before being pitch-forked into a psychic-prison-escape scenario in Turkey, from which he is railroaded into revolutionary intrigue in the near-kingdom of Lacertosa. You know, where Lucky Lindy landed before realizing it wasn't France.

My favorite comic novel of all time is Barefoot Boy with Cheek by Max Shulman. What Shulman did for college life, Fiorella has done for the popular concept novel. 

Novel Concept lies for me in the field of second-place ties for comic best, after Shulman's classic, alongside any adult novel by Christopher Moore or Dave Barry. And Fiorella may be edging Moore and Barry slightly.

Liner Notes

  • Fiorella has a habit of using the suffix "-esque"complete with hyphenwhich would be fine if only it were spelled correctly. (He consistently renders it "-sque." I gritted my teeth so hard, I popped out a filling!)
  • On the other hand, he references Danny Thomas, Charles Lindbergh, and Charlie Callas, admonishing the reader to "Google them" if confused.
  • A sneaky collection of linked footnotes includes its own joke.
  • I loved the ending, but it only works if you come to it naturally. Don't spoil it for yourself! (I certainly won't.)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Filling in the Holes

At this end of November, the NaNovel is looking less like a net and more like a solid fabric with a few runs and holes in it now.

Before the groaning-board was fully set for the feast yesterday, I brought out this bottle we bought at a combination gas station, convenience-and-liquor store, and camping-gear outlet on our way to the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada  last month.

In case you cannot read it, the label calls this a "pie-oneering whiskey" made by blending Canadian Whiskey and Pecan Pie Syrup. Ever poured whiskey over a slice of pecan pie? Me neither, but if you did, I expect it would taste like this. 

Meanwhile, my nearly 74K words looks like this, where solid lines are written portions of the draft, and dots are plotted, but not yet written:

I expect the end of November will see the holes on either side of the "hinge" filled in, and filling the larger gap leading up to the climax will take a little bite out of December. 

The experience of writing a plotted novel has been mixed, but mostly good. I will probably move to more plotting for future novels, rather than less. 

For now, with a handful of days left to the experience of NaNoWriMo 2015, I will build a turkey sandwich, pour a glass of iced tea and dope it with Piehole whiskey, and get busy filling in the various holes.

Finally, I have to share the real reason I bought this bottle of weird potability. That slice of pie on the back label is the UPC (bar) code. How clever is that?

Word Count: 3923 Day 26 and 73832 Total

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pas Jeté (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

About one-quarter of the way through the plotted storyline for Roger and the Meteor Mass, I had jotted a note that I would need a new character to join the Meteor High School outsider-group, one who would not be a member of the extended Mass family. 

I tiptoed around the beginning of his or her advent three times, each time abandoning it half-complete. It didn't stop me; I would simply go past it to write the later parts of the story. Plotting makes that possible, but my preference to write a story from the beginning through the middle to the end made it uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge prompt for this week had me dodging and twisting, trying to come up with a dance scene to add to my NaNovel (when I really hadn't planned to include one):

November 18, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write dance into your story. Twirl your characters round and round or stomp your plot onto the page. Use dance in any way that comes to mind. Be specific or free, tango or disco.

In the back of my head, the genie who actually writes my stuff finally came through with a solution for both dilemmas. The paired solution could then be massaged to meet the challenge of Charli Mill's prompt.

Meet Kirby Dean, whose Meteor-alien nature comes by way of early schooling in Europe and a preference for the kind of football Americans call "soccer." He has a deep secret that could spell social doom when the Meteor bully, Darrell Harb, discovers it and decides to reveal it to the whole school. 

His secret? He's been dancing ballet from the time he was seven years old. But Kirby has a secret weapon to go with this social stigma, and he's not afraid to unleash it.


Pas Jeté

From the stands, Roger and the girls could only watch as Harb's bully-buddies dragged Kirby onto the field. "C'mon, 'ballerina'!" Harb shouted, "show us how a soccer fairy kicks a REAL football."

They kept him off-balance until the group jerked to a halt behind the ball on its stand. 

Kirby nodded sharply, committing himself. With an elegant sweep of his leg, he tripped Harb, calling "Rond de jambe!"  Then, "Couru, Jeté!" with three quick-run steps, he loosed a powerful kick that lifted his foot above his head, sending the ball flying.

Giving a triumphant ref's sign, he screamed, "GO-O-O-AL!"

Monday, November 23, 2015

Framing the Shot

Review: Decisive Moment by Eduardo Suastegui

Thus far, Suastegui's Our Cyber World series seems to divide into two sub-series: hacker-photographers and sniper-photographers. I've been enjoying the heck out of both sub-series, in large part because the paradigm of photography, framing the shot and capturing the moment, is used to good effect in setting the scenes and telling the story.

This episode brings several sharpshooter-turned-snapshotters together in a single story, with solid links to the quick eye and snap judgement that both tasks require.

Suastegui's women are of a similarly consistent kind to his heroes (in this series, at least.) They are all slightly amoral, hot, and intelligent, and are willing to be deeply involved in whatever action the guys are getting into. I really appreciate that, especially when it is obvious that the men are strongly inclined to be protective, and find it hard to accept that the gals are just as happy to pull some triggers.

I liked the protagonist of Decisive Moment, Roger Morris, much better than his brother (who doesn't deserve the help Roger keeps giving him), but not as much as Andre Esperanza, the other sniper-photographer from two previous novels, Pink Ballerina and Active Shooter. A third sniper character, Jesse, doesn't appear to have any pretension to fine art photographybut there's always a sequel!

I was able to read and enjoy this novel out of sequence again, which is one of Suastegui's strengths. Each novel stands on its own, braced in a shooting position, and ready for the decisive moment. Whether film or bullet, he always scores, so far at any rate.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hinged in the Middle

The "hinge" is one label for that moment on a story's arc represented by the hyphen in 'problem-solution'. Until the hinge is reached, the action is all building conflict, after it the action is discovering and applying the solution.

Sometimes the hinge and the "mirror moment" described by James Scott Bell in Write Your Novel from the Middle are the same. 

Bell writes that the "mirror moment" is usually smack in the middle of the book, and sometimes involves an actual mirror. In this scene, the protagonist confronts his own nature, and solidifies his own sense of his identity. This perceptive insight frees the protagonist to pass the hinge. 

Self-discovery may help the character decide to apply a solution he has discovered. It may lead him to search for a different answer to his problem. It might even provide a complete turn-around to the story, as he replaces the first problem identified with a completely different conflict.

This is why Bell recommends that writing the mirror/middle scene can make writing the rest of the novel easier.

For the past week, I have been reading for the first time the quintet of novels by Orson Scott Card that begins with Ender's Game. In that first novel, I was amazed to find an obvious mirror scene, in the exact middle of the novel. Eight-year-old Ender Wiggin has been training in an intently-focused way to command starships in the battle against the distant enemy alien Buggers, when they attack again.

In his free time, Ender and all the other boys he is competing against play the Fantasy Game, This video game is supposed to end with a scenario called the Giant's Drink, an unwinnable contest which measures the boys' willingness to keep trying. (In that, this is like Star Trek's Kobayashi Maru simulation, which James T. Kirk notoriously cheats his way through at Starfleet Academy.)

Ender surprises the designers of the Fantasy Game, who are observing, when he finds a way to win against the Giant, and the game immediately takes him to another hard-to-win scenario that involves a mirror. What he sees in the mirror is not himself, but his older brother Peter, and this informs not only the rest of Ender's Game, but also has repercussions through at least the next three novels as well.

In plotting Roger and the Meteor Mass, I have planned three different hinges. One is a mirror moment, in which the mirror is Roger's perception of himself through the eyes of his mother as they both watch his baby sister pretend to be a cat. While it is not written word-for-word, I have "watched" this scene in my mind's eye many rimes now, and have figured out what insight it gives Roger about his oddness.

The fact that I am past the "half-way" mark in word count, but still haven't reached this moment in my novel, tells me that this book (at least in its first draft) will be longer than 50,000 words.

(Written November 12, but not posted until November 16, 2015.)
Word Count: 2477 Day 11 and 26912 Total

Cast Out of Eden (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

Comfort means different things to different people in the real world, and it should mean different things to different fictional characters, too.

For Roger Pierce, my protagonist in Roger and the Meteor Mass, nothing is so much a comfort and refuge as a challenging book, with a quiet place to read it. 

Roger is the kind of reader who devoured Dumas in second grade, fell in love with Heinlein and Blish in third grade, and discovered algebra by reading his father's college textbooks when his classmates were struggling with long division and fractions. 

Roger's book-centric comfort zone informs my piece for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge this week:

November 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a place of comfort that is a refuge. Have fun with it, like a pillow fight between best friends at a slumber party or newlyweds in search of the perfect mattress. Or you can go dark and write about unusual comforts, like a bad habit or a padded cell. Play with the idea of comfort and refuge.

The flash will go into my NaNovel as a description, a snapshot of why Roger is the "stranger child." 

I have written before about why Roger is such a familiar persona for me. He is based in some part on what I have learned in helping Kenneth Cummings write his memoirs. This fictional flash is rolled together from two incidents in Cummings' real history. In one, he was actually barred from reading in the library during recess at his grade school. The other comes from a separate conversation with a high school counselor about what constituted his "peer group."

Word Count: 1952 Day 16 and 35059 Total


Cast Out of Eden

Roger was accustomed to sparse selections in school libraries, where "Wind in the Willows" and "Onion John" were considered challenging reads.

In Meteor, donated college textbooks and novels, plus a set of "Great Books of the Western World," filled one whole stack. They could be read in-library, but never checked out. For a month, he was in paradise, reading during every free period.

One day as he lunched with Newton's Principia Mathematica, he was rousted by the principal. "You should spend your time socializing with your peers!"

"But I was!" His protests ignored, he was barred from the library.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Getting Uncomfortable

There they are, your creations. Those folks who reside in your head, whose lives inform the words you are grinding out, 30, 300 or 3000 a day in November. It's natural to dislike taking them somewhere dark or nasty.

Unless you're writing a horror story, of course. Horror writers embrace that sort of thing, I know. I've written several novels in the genre.

The sad truth, though, is that to make an interesting story, you have to willing to make your protagonist uncomfortable at least. Maybe his dog doesn't have to die, so to speak, but it should at least catch a thorn in its paw.

Think about the novels you've read recently. For me, The Martian by Andy Weir is an excellent example of the point. Imagine the protagonist, Mark, left behind alone on Mars, but with full Internet connection, four years worth of food and beverages, functional heaters, all his favorite music and books. In other words, living in total comfort. Would that novel have made the best-seller list? Would you be eager to read it, then go see that movie?

It is the string of problems Mark solves so beautifully, the disasters that overtake him one after the other, the fear that despite his valiant efforts he will still die alone on Mars: that conflict drives the story. That is what makes it compelling.

For another example, consider The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The obvious conflict in that trilogy is the Games. But consider the lives of the people in the Districts. Their suffering at home makes a counterpoint to that of the tributes in the Games, and all are layered against the anguish of the triangle of lovers, Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. The power of these stories is in that suffering.

Does that mean your story must concern global pain or ultimate isolation to succeed? Of course not! Make your characters uncomfortable enough to drive them to take action where they might otherwise want to coast along. Give them the incentive to grow in order to escape or solve their problems.

And a little secret: The problem-setup-and-solution scenes are easy to write. Nothing breaks through a blockage like impending doom. 

Or maybe just a thorn in a paw...

Word Count: 3529 Day 8 and 24435 Total

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Handling the Inner Editor

I have a persistent inner editor (PIE). Obnoxious, really loud, nit-picking. Every annoying trait you can think of is waiting in my head to criticize whatever I write.

To be fair, it's not just my own writing that comes under fire. I rarely get through reading a novel any more without my PIE debating the author: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Over the course of several NaNoWriMo Novembers, I have discovered a few tricks that work for me. They don't silence the PIE, but they do serve to distract it so I can get on with the first-draft process of producing words that drive the story onward.

Mark and Go

I'm trying to get my protagonist out the door and on his journey of discovery, but my PIE wants to critique the single sentence that describes this movement:

He called from the door into the garage that opened into the front hall at the bottom of the stairs.

Yes, that sentence is not perfect. If I let it, the PIE will have me swapping words into a different order, maybe even breaking it into two sentences. Arghh! So I mollify the PIE with a note, telling us both I sincerely intend to come back and fix this in revision:

&&AWK:He called from the door into the garage that opened into the front hall at the bottom of the stairs.

Just like that, I can move on.

TBN #Later

I usually don't have a problem with character names, even when I'm pantsing. But once in a while, I know everything about a new actor in the story except a good name for him. When that happens, instead of abandoning the story to hunt around for inspiration, I name him "Tbn #Later" (To Be Named Later). 

I then use this name like any other: 

    Roger Pierce was surprised to see the athlete at the end of the bench, crayon in hand, intently coloring in a kid's book. His tongue projected slightly as he focused. "Who's that?" Roger prodded Joanna with his elbow and pointed as discretely as possible.
   "Oh, that's Tbn #Later," she answered with a little giggle. "Tbn's a good player, but he gets really anxious until he's in the game. He had an amazing fit one time when Coach kept him out most of the first half. Chewed off all his nails, broke out in hives... supposedly the coloring keeps his nerves steady."
   "You're kidding!" Roger said.
   "Yeah, I'm kidding. His dad donated the team uniforms the year he was a freshman, so they put him on the team. #Later plays like a klutz, but they don't have a full bench in Meteor, so they keep him on. He doesn't get into the game very often."

When it's time to reviseeven during November if a name just comes to me from the blueI can Search-and-Replace "Tbn" for the new first name, "#Later" for the last.

Bottom Line

Don't let the editor in your head distract you from churning out that first draftbut do let it do its job a little as you write. You're on the same team, after all.

You're just giving the PIE a coloring book to keep it occupied...

Word Count: 2523 Day 8 and 20906 Total

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Antagonists Are Important

Roger and the collected siblings of the Meteor Mass are the main characters of my novel, but they all share a certain oddness. Any story needs conflict, and in Meteor that comes in the shape of a common, garden-variety bully named Darrell Harb.

I've already shared Roger's first glimpse of Harb as the Slurpee thief in Brain Freeze. Now here's their next interaction when Roger heads to Meteor High School for his first day as an incoming freshman:

    Roger was happy to walk onto the high-school grounds with the Mass girls. Perhaps the local protection would help him avoid any oddball behavior for a few days. The Mass twins and Paula May would be freshmen this year too, and might even have classes with him. Gary Mass was already inside; he had AP classes that met at 6 am each day. Roger waved at Jack and Mikey, whose middle school was farther down the street, then ducked through the open gate behind the girls.
    Just inside the school fence, they pulled up short. A folding table had been set up across the sidewalk. Older students flowed around it to either side, but the three boys manning the table stopped the new freshmen. Roger recognized Darrell Harb from the drugstore Slurpee theft. The others were new to him.
    Harb pointed at a sign taped to the front of the table. "Name our band," he proclaimed, "and win a prize!" The wildly-misspelled, hand-lettered banner read 'Howling Cayotees Are No More — $10 prize if You're Name Chosen.'
    In smaller letters across the bottom of the banner, Roger read, '$1 entry fee.' He peeked at the list of names that had been selected, and swiftly counted them. Forty or more were listed on the top page, and it looked like another full page — maybe two — lay beneath that.
    "So you take in the entry fee, and pay out $10 reward to one entrant? Where does the rest of the money go?" 
    Harb's face began to darken, but one of the other boys stepped in between them. "I'm Ernie Ortiz, "E.T." for short, and that's Glen Worrell. We're all in the band, and we want to raise enough to change the graphics on our drum set and buy band jackets. But it's cool, you don't have to enter if you don't want."
    "Wrong, E.T., he's a freshman. They have to enter. The Mormon Mass too. We want a good selection of names to pick from." Darrell Harb was insistent, spreading his arms wide to prevent Julia from passing the table. 
    Her twin laid a dollar down on the table. "How about 'Brain Freeze'?" She smiled sweetly, and Julia laughed when the Ortiz boy and Glen Worrell both said, "Cool!" in chorus. Harb's face got even redder.
    "No, I got it, I got it! The best name ever." Roger dug four quarters out of his back pocket and dropped them on top of Joanna's dollar bill. "You should call the band 'House Of War.' H-O-W for short." He looked at the tight scowl on Darrell's brow, and quickly changed his mind about sharing the whole reason behind his entry. "H-O-W," he said again, "Harb-Ortiz-Worrell. House-Of-War."
    Harb was stunned. The name was perfect — his name was first. Glen's name was last, but 'Worrell' was evoked with 'War', and he knew E.T. wouldn't mind going along with the middle billing. And it sounded way cool.
    "Come on, man, you know that's gotta be our new name!" His band-mates were as enthusiastic as he expected.
    Darrell conceded reluctantly. "Okay, bell's gonna ring in a minute anyway. Although I did kinda like 'Thunder Makers' ..."
    "That's as bad as... What was it?" Ernie flipped the top page up and read with his finger next to an entry, "'Arthurian Legend'." He and Glen clapped out a high-five and chest-bump.
    "Okay! okay!" Darrell counted out ten damply wrinkled ones from his pocket, handing them to Roger. "What's your name, frosh?" His tone was sour and vaguely threatening.
    Roger was rescued by the bell and the Mass girls, who drew him around to the opposite end of the table from Darrell, and onward to the school building.
    The freshmen were directed by signs just inside the door to go to the gym auditorium for first period. Bracketed by the twins, Roger was challenged by Paula May to explain himself. "You thought that name was suitable for more reason than just the boys' initials. I could tell from the way you proposed it."
    "You're right," Roger confessed. "But I had an insight to explain it to them as being from the initials. See, the first time I heard Harb's name, it made me think of 'dar al Harb,' the 'House of War' from Islam. I didn't know he was in a band. And I never heard the other guys' names before this morning."
    The Mass girls and Roger climbed up into the bleachers that had been pulled out to make an 'auditorium' of the gym, and settled next to a small clutch of confused-looking teenagers. "How do you know about Islam?" Paula May was still probing his band-name choice. "Your last school have a class in it?"

    A stout woman in a business suit with a scarf was walking across the gym floor toward the group, her sturdy shoes squeaking on the polished wood. Roger read 'principal' from her clothing, so he whispered his response to Paula May's question. "I read it somewhere, that's all. Now, shhh!"

This sets up the coming conflict between the protagonist, Roger, and the antagonist, Darrell, on several levels, and makes it obvious that Harb's antagonism is not specific to Roger, but is shared widely with anyone he contacts. He's an angry kid, all right.

But it's also important to show the antagonist's internal motivation, remembering that no one sees themselves as the villain of their own story. What makes Harb so angry? How does he see his own behavior? Discovering this, and understanding the bully's behavior in that light, is part of Roger's character development.

Remember the questions Roger must answer: 
Roger has to face his own strange nature and make a momentous decision. Can he become ordinary? Does he even want to try?

I see the antagonist as a warped mirror in which Roger sees one aspect of being "ordinary." At least, that's where I want to take him in this novel.

Word Count: 5481 DoubleUpDay 7 (3034 in Second Session) and 18379 Total

Doubling Up

There are lots of ways to do it. 

You can type on an electronic keyboard, or a manual machine. You can scratch on paper with a mechanical pencil, or generate flowing loops of cursive letters in a notebook with an elegant fountain pen. You can uncap your Bic or sharpen your Staedler or your No. 2 Ticonderoga.

Whatever tool you use, the words must flow from you, or else remain forever unknown. The novel is there, inside you, and its only way into the world is through your writing.

We tell ourselves there are more important things to do right now than write. That we still have three whole weeks before the end of November, but only one Saturday in a weekend. We pet the cat or walk the dog, we study or watch TV or check the Twitter feed or open a book someone else wrote, while the novel remains trapped.

The challenge today is to set aside whatever other thing it is that stands in the way of writing, open the floodgates, and let the words flow from you into the world. Double-up! Don't let yourself stop until you done twice as much as any previous dayor more. You can do it.

My "normal" pace so far has been to write an average of 2500 words a daynot counting the disaster of yesterday's battle with Internet connectivity, which isn't "normal" by any definition of the word. My personal goal today is thus 5000 words. My plan is to double up my writing sessions, ignoring all other uses of my time in favor of letting the words flow.

Word sprints may work for you—the NaNo team has some national sprints set up, and your regional group may have more. There are local write-ins galore. You can challenge your writing buddies to meet goals, or promise publicly to meet a certain mark today, and then post your progressor triumphonline. You can race someone across the globe, or someone right there in the room, and celebrate your win with a donation to NaNoWriMo in your own name, or as a HaloSpree.

There are lots of ways to do it. Just do it!

Word Count: 2504 Day 7 and 15302 Total

Friday, November 6, 2015

Writing Without a Net

Yesterday, at Day 5 and just over a quarter of the way to 50K words, everything was flowing smoothly. This morning, with WiFi down both here at home and at Chick-fil-A, I find out how much harderand easierit is to write without a Net.

The photo shows my writing mascot, a 3D-printed gargoyle, who wasn't doing his job today at Chick-fil-A. I usually have a fall-back there to Xfinity when the CFA WiFi is down. Not today, there was zero connectivity in the restaurant. 

The real boot to the head was getting home after breakfast followed by several hours of running errands (AKA: not writing), and finding the cable truck parked outside the house. When they had finished resolving a "signal leak," I discovered the broken connection. It should be easier to write without distractions (Google+ and Twitter), except for the fact that it is difficult to focus, let alone type, with one hand holding a phone to my ear. 

Yes, I'm doing the tech-support search thing. I've been on the phone today a grand total of 55 waiting minutes and nearly two hours worth of conversations with three different phone-support people. A trip to the brick-and-mortar store was also required to get a replacement modem, and then there was a follow-up support call that left me with the choice of either cable TV or cable Internet connection.

Well, duh! That's a no-brainer choice. Especially since the alternative is waiting until next Tuesday for the scheduled service call.

Meanwhile kudos to Stevie at the Comcast Xfinity shop, and Valerie and Joanna in phone support. (And the less said about the earlier support call, the better, now that I finally managed to get my blood pressure back down out of the rafters.)

Finally, here it is nearly 7 pm, and the only writing I've accomplished all day was the few hundred words written before breakfast. At least I'm still above the line, even if I didn't make my goal yet due to the outage. I believe I will do the start-at-midnight trick I did for November 1st, so I have a chance to double-up my output tomorrow.

Night, all!

Word Count: 371 Day 6 and 12898 Total

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Brain Freeze (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

From Slocik Sketchbook,
Sharing scenes from my developing NaNovel every few days is part of the accountability I plan to practice during this NaNoWriMo. Plotting instead of pantsing helps with this. I know where Roger and his friends are going in the story, so I can write details of their story, piece-wise.

One of the surprises from my new plotter habit is that the story details are still created pantser-style. There's room for those unexpected characters to appear, well, unexpectedly.

That's what happened when an unanticipated character named Deevie Wilson arrived yesterday:

Forty minutes later, the cart was so full Grace had to perch on her mother's hip while Roger pushed it along. The huge woman behind the cash register threw an assessing look at the full cart, and asked, "New in Diablo? or new in Meteor?"
Ruby paused in the process of unloading the cart onto the traveling belt, although Roger kept working. "What do you mean, Diablo or Meteor?"
Roger answered from the depths of the cart, "She knows we're not tourists, Mom. We're buying too much. No motel room or RV refrigerator has enough room for all the cooler and freezer food in the cart. So we have to be local. If twenty-three miles away is local."
The cashier twitched her voluminous dress at the shoulders, lifting it away from her body slightly, and blousing it under the straps of her canvas store apron. "Yer son's right." She sounded surprised. "So yer new in Meteor then. Our local customers, I know'em. Tourists, they buy a pint of milk, quart at most, not several gallons. They sure don't have a gallon of ice cream, or six packages of ground beef in their carts!"
Ruby smiled at her. "Well, I'm Ruby Pierce, and this is my daughter Grace, and my son Roger. My husband is Peter, and I'm sure you'll meet him eventually. Although you'd be more likely to meet him if you worked at the hardware store." The two women shared a laugh at that. "We just moved to Meteor yesterday, and this..." Ruby waved her arm over the deeply-loaded traveling belt and half-empty cart, " supplies for the next couple of weeks."
"Yeah, so we don't have to drive forty-six miles to stock up." Roger muttered under his breath.
"Pleased ta meet'cha!" The cashier rested a beringed hand on her massive chest. "I'm Deevie Wilson, and before anyone tells ya different, it's short for 'Divine'." She said it, "DEE-vine." Roger could guess what other origins had been suggested for her nickname. Briefly, he wondered if she had been teased about her name when she was in school. Certainly so, if she had been as immense then!
For a second, Roger flashed on the idea that others had been as brutally teased and rejected as he had always been at his various schools. It was a mind-blowing concept, and he resolved to mull it over on the long drive back to Meteor.

Deevie serves the story's purpose by giving Roger a reason to move past his self-focus. I don't know if she'll show up again, but I hope so. There's a lot to her!

Being able to write little descriptive pieces doesn't always have to serve the passage of Roger along his character arc. It also helps when I want to write a flash piece for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge, as I do in response to Charli Mill's prompt this week:

November 3, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a frozen story. Is the weather the source of freezing or is a character frozen by emotion or lack of it? It can also be a moment frozen in time. What does it reveal?

In this flash, Roger and two of The Mass "help out" at the local drugstore.


Brain Freeze

Jack Mass threw Roger a swift look, then with a cautionary finger against his lips, pulled him down behind the cashier's counter to crouch at his half-brother's feet. "Watch this," he whispered.

Gary stood behind the drugstore register, doing his job, while Jack and Roger peered through the slats of the counter. Darrell Harb slammed into the store and went straight to the Slurpee machine, triggering it to run into his mouth.

"Harb, you gotta pay...," Gary began, but he was interrupted by a scream of agony from the Slurpee thief.

"Adjusted the temperature down 12 degrees." Jack whispered.

Word Count: 2689 Day 5 and 12527 Total