Writer vs Reader Mode

I think I’ve said this before, but I’m the kind of person who has trouble being both a writer and a reader at the same time.  Usually, I switch between the two roles in a cycle.  For a few months I’m a writer, and I can’t concentrate enough to read ANYTHING because my brain is so full of my stories and characters and all I want to do for 20 hours of every day is sit at my computer and write.  And then, suddenly, I get total brain-block, and I can’t write a thing, and I start reading non-stop.

For the last couple months I’ve been pretty securely in writer-mode.  I got a decent amount of work done on two different WIPs, which makes me very happy, but I was really hoping I could keep it up right to the beginning of the Fall semester.  But for the past week and a half I haven’t been able to write much of anything.  Sometimes if I push and push and push, I could stay in writer-mode a little longer.  But I think writer-mode is now officially over.  Unfortunately.

So, I guess we’re on to reader-mode.  I read A Work In Progress in like a day and a half.  And now I’ve started Open Heart by Emlyn Chand (which I’d PLANNED to read and review near the beginning of the summer, but like I said, I was in WRITER-mode).  I guess it’s good to be in reader-mode since I’ll be doing so much reading for my Fall courses, although it’ll be frustrating that I won’t be reading all my fun stuff, but school-related stuff instead.  And, of course, I know from too much experience that I won’t be getting ANY writing done once the semester starts either.  But oh well.

Does anyone else do this?  Cycle through writer and reader modes?  Or is it just me?  Because it’s a little frustrating, and I’m more than a little jealous of people who can do both at the same time: write in the morning and read in the evening, etc.  I wish I could do that.  *sigh*

In other news, I’m playing with the idea of starting a Tumblr blog.  I had started to watch a lot of Tumblr blogs without having an account, and just collecting them in my browser bookmarks.  And over the last couple months I’ve started following even more, making it hard to keep track of them in bookmarks.  So I figured I might as well start a Tumblr account so that I could keep track of them all.  But now that I have the account, I’m thinking why not start a Tumblr blog?  It would be fun to have something where I can just post images or short comments and things like that, without worrying about making sure a post is long enough and well-written.  I’m playing around with Tumblr right now, trying to get a feel for how it works (it’s taking a little getting used to), but I’ll let you know if/when I get a Tumblr blog up and running.

Any opinions on Tumblr blogs?  Anyone have one?  Now that I have the account, I’m looking to add a ton to my Follow list!  They’re just so much fun!  😀

Okay, folks, that’s all for now.  I hope everyone has a good weekend, and I’ll see you all later!

Busy Summer Is Busy

As you all may have been able to guess by now, I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy this summer.  But you guys don’t even know the half of it!  Between taking vacation at Yellowstone for five days, going to three concerts (Snow Patrol in May, Legend of Zelda Symphony, and then the Chicago/Doobie Brothers concert in July), and having dinner with famous people, and reading as much as I can manage, I’ve also been hard at work.

School never completely ends for those in graduate school.  There are always things you need to do (or at least SHOULD do) during the summer.  For me, this has included mainly getting more involved with extracurricular/service activities.  I’ve mentioned on this blog before that the English graduate students at UH have been in the process of developing and promoting both a yearly Graduate Student Conference and an academic literature journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature.  While I did some work this past school year to help out with both, I decided that this upcoming year I wanted to be even more involved.  And I managed to get myself nominated as an Assistant Editor to the journal as well as Head of the Publicity Committee for the Conference.  And the work has already begun, especially for the latter.  I’ve spent the last few weeks creating contact lists for every Humanities/Liberal Arts College Dean, English Dept Chair, and Graduate Director/Advisor, for every university in Texas so that we can start sending out personalized invites to both present at and attend the conference.  I still need to make a list for all the community colleges in the Houston area.  And THEN I need to move on to the universities in Louisiana.  In the meantime, the Chief Editor of Plaza is working on the CFP for the journal, and I’m helping out with that.

At the same time, I had made plans last semester to make some serious changes to my syllabus for the coming semester, which I have now started work on.  After having done a lot of research on the benefits and practical applications for using blogging in a First-Year Writing course, I’ve decided to implement it in my classroom.  So I’m trying to work out a concrete plan for how and why I want my students to use blogging as a learning tool and as a way to open the classroom out into a more public space.  I’ve also submitted an abstract for a presentation based on all this research to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, along with two fellow grad students I’m doing a panel with.  It’ll be late August before we find out if our panel abstract was accepted to the conference (which isn’t until next March), at which point we’ll have to get hard to work actually writing the presentations.

AND THEN, throughout the whole summer, in between everything else, I’ve been writing.  A lot.  I started out writing the second draft of Midnight’s Knife, which I made some decent progress on until about three or four weeks ago, when I was hijacked by a new story idea that has completely consumed my brain lately.  It’s going to be a strange one, I can tell…  I actually have the basic premise for an entire series of stories, but this first one is a sort of science fiction detective story.  It’s a kind of mix of X-Files, X-Men, and Sherlock Holmes, with a large helping of human drama about a veteran with PTSD laced through it.  Yeah, if that sounds insane to you, you’re not alone.  It sounds insane to me too, and I’m so excited about it!  I’ve been living inside my main character’s head practically non-stop for two weeks now.

I have a month left until the Fall semester starts, so I’m trying very hard not to waste a minute of it.  We’ll see how much more writing I can get done before school-work takes over.

Also, I’m trying to finish reading Dominant Race by Elisa Nuckle – it’s a novella, and it really wouldn’t take me that long to read, except that I’ve been so busy the last week or so I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit down a finish it! – but hopefully you can expect a review on that on Friday.  And then I’ve agreed to review another novel, a literary fiction called A Work in Progress, which I’m planning (cross your fingers) to post on Aug 3rd.

Okay, folks, that’s all from me for now.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll catch you all on Friday.

Four Webcomic “Shorts” You Really Must See

Four Webcomic “Shorts” You Really Must See

I don’t read as many webcomics as some people do (I just don’t have the time), but I love the ones I do read, and I follow them religiously.  My favorites are in the Links list on the right side, for those who are curious.

I didn’t occur to me at first that along with the usual sort of webcomics, which are formatted as either strips or pages and which update on a regular basis, you could also have webcomic “shorts.”  A sort of short one-short story in comic form.  Then one friend introduced me to “Our Blood-Stained Roof” by Ryan A., and I was cured of my ignorance.  Now, I love webcomic shorts, especially those that are unique in style, and tell intriguing and strange stories.  It takes a lot of talent to both plan/write the story and to do the drawing/painting as well.

Here are four webcomic shorts that I absolutely love, and think you’ll enjoy too.  I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t give you any sort of summary for these (some of them would be kind of hard to describe anyway).  Just take my word for it: they’re wonderful.

“Our Blood-Stained Roof”

by Ryan Andrews

“Nothing Is Forgotten”

by Ryan Andrews

“Darkness”

By Boulet

“The Roller Blades of Suleimaniya”

by Sarah Glidden

I hope you enjoy them.  Please tell me what you think, and if you know of any good webcomics “shorts,” please feel free to share them!

How Alexander and Garfield’s Terrible Days Made Me A Writer

January Entry for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge:

As you may recall, I joined two reading challenges this year, the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, and the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge (click the image above to go to the info page for that challenge).  I posted my first review for the TBR Pile Reading Challenge last week, which you can read here: “A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1.”

Now, it’s time for my first post for the second challenge.  I decided to start from the beginning, with some of the picture books that were particularly special to me as a child.

And I’m starting with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz.

“What’s so special about this book?” you might ask.  Well, beside that fact that it is a wonderful, fun, beautifully-illustrated picture book, it was one of the first things that ever contributed to my path toward being a writer.

In second grade, each class had a mascot.  In my class, that mascot was Garfield.  Drawings of him littered the room, we had a stuff doll of Garfield, and everyone took turns taking him home for weekends to “babysit,” for which we all wrote little journals about the things we did together.

Now, in second grade, we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in class in one.  And we all enjoyed it so much, that we decided as a class to write our own version of the book with Garfield as the star.  Each student was in charge of writing and drawing a single page.  We worked on these for at least two weeks, in between our other classroom assignments.  And I worked diligently to make sure every word was spelled correctly, every letter was written with perfectly straight, neat lines, and my drawing was as close to the real Garfield as possible.  It was my pride and joy.

At my elementary school (the third elementary school I was at, actually), Montclair Elementary School in Virginia, the school had an ABSOLUTELY wonderful program unlike most schools I’ve been to (and I’ve been to many), called Quill and Scroll.  First: the school had a program for which we could by small hand-bound, cloth-covered booklets with blank pages, and write our own little stories in them.  They would also take already written pages to laminate and then bind them with wire rings.  And THEN, once a month, the library hosted a Quill and Scroll Night, during which any student could read what they had written to an audience of students, teachers, and parents.

Our class had our book, Garfield and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, laminated and bound.  And then, in a vote, I was given the honor to read the whole book at Quill and Scroll Night in front of my mother, my friends, the teachers, the other parents.  I was horribly nervous (I didn’t then, and still don’t, do well in front of audiences of any size), but also ridiculously proud.

The book stayed in the second grade classroom, to be shown as an example to future students.  I can’t really remember what my page look liked, or what we all wrote exactly.  But I remember that experience to this day, and always will.

Reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day again this morning (yes, I own a copy – I’m working a collection of picture books, in fact), makes me remember with vividness the hilarity and joy we got from the book in second grade.  As Alexander awakens to gum in his hair, stubs his toe, is forced to eat lima beans, and endures all manner of other horrible things, we could all relate to his plight.  Because who among us didn’t hate eating lima beans (and probably still DO hate them)?  Who among us hasn’t had one of those days when absolutely everything manages to go wrong?  And that’s the joy of writing: even when you write things that are strange, unique, or absolutely off-the-wall, you can find a way to make it relatable for people.

That’s what a good book does.  That’s what makes me love reading.  And what makes me love writing.

So, does anybody else remember that book with fondness?  What picture books really inspired you? Or made you extra-happy?  I’d love to hear about them!

Top 10 Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

I know, I know!  This is really late.  I’m sorry.  I had a rough week.  Please forgive me.

Now onward.  I got the wonderful idea for this post from Ashley Prince’s blog The Bibliophile’s Corner, and couldn’t resist doing a similar list.  My list actually ended up being 11 instead of 10, but I won’t tell if you won’t.  Also, I’ve discovered that 1995-96 was a bad time for me.  Three of the authors on this list died in that period of time.  And fourth on this list died in 1975.  So there’s little chance of actually getting another book out of those four authors, unless someone finds a long-lost manuscript somewhere, or someone learns how to channel them long enough to write their books for them.

Anyway, please enjoy:

The Top 10 Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book!

1)     Roger Zelazny: If you don’t know this yet, let me inform you: Roger Zelazny was one of the greatest scifi/fantasy novelists of all time.  Ever.  Period.  The Great Book of Amber is a brilliant and complex fantasy series with one of the greatest main characters ever written.  And Lord of Light… don’t even get me started on Lord of Light! An fascinating mix of fantasy, science fiction, Buddhist philosophy, Hindu mythology, and good old-fashioned adventure, Lord of Light will make you think, question, and explore more than some classic philosophers I’ve read.  Zelazny wrote plenty of books – many many MANY books, in fact.  But it’s still a crime and a serious detriment to the world that he didn’t write even more before he died in 1995.

2)     Michael Ende: Almost everyone knows his story, but many don’t know his name.  Michael Ende, very popular in Germany where he lived and published many children’s books, is known in the U.S. for only one: The Neverending Story.  And if you’ve read that novel, than you know why it’s a TRAVESTY that he never wrote any other books in that same story-universe, or that few of his other books were ever published in English.  Every single time I re-read The Neverending Story, I wish with a fervent passion that he had written some sort of sequel to it before he died (also in 1995).

3)     Austin Grossman: This man mainly works as a game designer, but he also wrote one novel called Soon I Will Be Invincible, which follows two parallel storylines – a young woman who has just joined the world’s most famous super-hero team, the Champions; and a Dr. Impossible, an evil-genius super-villain who is determined that next time, he will win.  This novel is AWESOME.  At time hilarious, at other times surprisingly sad.  At all times, amazingly human.  I have always loved stories that try to think through the real-world implications of superheroes, and this book does a brilliant job.  I just cannot understand why Austin Grossman hasn’t written another book yet.  Come on, man!  Get with the program!

4)     Frank Beddor: When I read Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy, which is a intricate reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, I was FLOORED.  It was so different and original, the characters were complex and fascinating, and the action was intense.  I love love LOVE these books, and I seriously NEED him to write something new.

5)     Walter M. Miller, Jr: Walter Miller only wrote two novels (and a slew of short story and essay collections): A Canticle for Leibowitz and Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse WomanA Canticle for Leibowitz is considered one of the greatest science fiction classics (the prequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman received mix reviews at best), and is one of my favorite novels ever.  It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a Catholic order of monks who survive through a couple millennia of chaos and war.  It is strange, and dark, and epic, and sad, and oddly funny at times.  And I wish to God Walter M. Miller, Jr. had written at least one more really awesome novel before he died in 1996.

6)     Kenneth Patchen: Patchen was best known as a pre-beat poet in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, who was more than a little mad and extremely avant garde, but he also wrote two novels: The Journal of Albion Moonlight and The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer.  I have yet to read Shy Pornographer, but The Journal of Albion Moonlight is HANDS-DOWN the most insane, most frustrating book ever written.  It’s beautiful and terrifying and hilarious and absolutely MADDENING.  I’d tell you what it’s about but I’m not sure I really can… I guess I’ll need to write a whole post about it at some point, just to get at a FEW of the things that make this book AMAZING and INSANE.  I wish he had written another book, and I don’t know why he didn’t.  He wrote Albion Moonlight in 1941 and Shy Pornographer in 1945, and didn’t die until 1975.  He had the time, dammit!!

7)     Richard Adams: best known for Watership Down (which I’ve raved about before), Richard Adams has actually written plenty of other books, most of which I have not read mainly because I’ve never seen any of them in the U.S.  He published a novel called Daniel in 2006.  And he released a short story a couple years ago.  But he’s 91 years old, and I hope that he writes at least one more.  Even though I haven’t had a chance to read most of his other works, I still wish he’d write another.  I’ll get to them eventually, I know, though it might require ordering books from the U.K., and I want to have many many to choose from.

8)     Harper Lee: She only wrote one novel, but it was doozy.  To Kill a Mockingbird is beautiful, and it will forever remain a classic.  It’s easy to understand why she might not want, or feel the need, to give a repeat performance.  But I wish she’d think of her adoring public and give us one more beautiful piece of art to cherish forever.  She’s only 85.  It could still happen.

9)     John Case: When I read the first book by John Case (which is actually a pseudonym for husband and wife team Jiim and Carolyn Hougan), The Genesis Code, I fell in love.  The Genesis Code, a suspense/mystery thriller with religious themes and slightly scifi undertones, was amazingly sharp and intelligent, fast-paced, intense, exciting, and truly suspenseful.  Their next book, The First Horseman (separate story but also containing religious themes) was equally brilliant.  They have now published 6 books, but the last one came out in 2006, and they need to hurry up and write another.  NOW.

10)   Tim O’Brien: Probably best known for his intense, emotional, and strange Vietnam War novels: The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato (which happen to be two of my favorite books ever), Tim O’Brien has written eight novels.  The most recent of these, published in 2002, was July, July.  Tim O’Brien is brilliant.  He needs to write more.  Period.

11)   Garth Nix: I have loved Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series for years, and while he’s written a number of other books, some of which I thoroughly enjoy, nothing can quite match the wonder of reading Sabriel for the first time.  Since he finished his Seventh Tower series and Keys to the Kingdom series for the Independent Reader age group, I’ve been waiting patiently (sort of) for him to write something else.  He would be much higher on this list, except that I’ve found news that we should be expecting a new addition to the Old Kingdom series some time in 2013.  Thank goodness!

 

(Click on the cover image to go to the Goodreads page for each book)

So, what authors would make it onto YOUR list??

Let Me Explain…

Let me explain…  No, there is too much. Let me sum up (bonus points to anyone who knows what that’s from):

1)     On Friday, Dec 9th, having completed one 20pg paper, one 10pg paper, one portfolio with various elements, one 20 min presentation, a final French translation project, graded approximately 50 student papers of various lengths, and compiled my final grades, I reached the official end of my first semester as a PhD student.  And survived!

2)     I spent yesterday (Saturday, Dec 10th) with my grandmother, as I had been too busy over the last month and a half to go visit her.

3)     I spent most of today (Sunday, Dec 11th) trying to clean the house, which became excessively messy and cluttered over the semester, so that I can start putting up Christmas decorations.  I will probably be cleaning and/or decorating all this upcoming week especially since we are Christmas-crazy in this house and I have four (count them, FOUR) Christmas trees.

4)     Beginning tomorrow (Monday, Dec 12th) I am participating in a series of blog tours with Novel Publicity. The first is for Terri Giuliano Long’s debut novel, In Leah’s Wake.  I am about halfway through the book myself (having started reading it the MINUTE I wrapped up my grading on Friday afternoon), and should have my own review up in a day or two.  The second is for Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch.  And third is for Emlyn Chand’s Ya novel Farsighted.

5)     I am planning some time over the next week or two to revamp a few things on the blog.  I’ll keep you updated on that.

6)     I have a list of 20 books I’m hoping to get through over winter break.  I probably won’t make it through even half of them, but I’m allowed to dream.  Be prepared for plenty of book reviews over the next month or two.

7)     I am also planning to get back to writing over Winter break.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to work on the story I started (and didn’t get far with) for NaNoWriMo 2011, or get back to editing Midnight’s Knife.  We’ll see.

In short, the hiatus is over.  I’ll be around for regular posting times again (MWF), through winter break.  When the Spring semester starts in mid-January I may have to adjust my schedule, but we’ll see what happens when we get there.  I look forward to getting back into the swing of things here, and to hearing from all you lovely folks again.  So please feel free to stop on by when you can.  The next few weeks are going to be fun!

I AM a “Real” Writer and They Just Don’t Get It

Free-For-All Friday:  I AM a “Real” Writer and They Just Don’t Get It

(CC) David Turnbull

There’s been some discussion on Twitter and various blogs (as there always is this time of year) about whether NaNoWriMo is really for “real” writers, or if it’s just for non-writers who want to FEEL like “real” writers for a month.  Now, I have NO DOUBT that many of the people who participate in NaNo never write a single word of fiction (except for that email to the boss about being sick) at any other time the whole rest of the year.  However, a) that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them wanting to try on the “writer” hat during a month when there is lots of enthusiasm and support for the endeavor; and b) plenty of “real” writers who write ALL THE BLOODY TIME also participate in NaNo.

Case in point, I consider myself a “real” writer (whatever the hell that actually means).  No, I’m not published.  No, I don’t have an agent.  And no, I don’t write all that often during the semester (I should say I don’t write FICTION often during the semester, but I’m writing non-fiction up the wazoo).  But I DO write at every given opportunity, I scrape out every spare moment I can, I write in the middle of class sometimes, and I forego sleep some nights because that’s the only time I can find.  And when I took the year off last year, I wrote pretty much NON-STOP.  And did FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY finish a whole first draft (and very long one at that) of a novel.  So, I consider myself a “real” writer, and I think I have right to.

And I LOVE NaNoWriMo.

I love it for a lot of reasons.  I love it because it is the sort of masochistic fun I tend to get myself into.  I love because of all the enthusiasm and support.  I love it because of all the crazy, eccentric, fun, would-be/hopeful writers who crawl out of the wood-work disguised as housewives and teachers and highschoolers and businessmen and firefighters, etc, etc, etc.

But here’s the one thing I think I love MOST about NaNoWriMo: For one month, I can tell my family I’m writing, and they back off.  For some reason, the tangible goal of writing 50,000 in one month is real enough and presumably daunting enough that they realize my time/energy/concentrate are precious, and they don’t bother me with incessant questions, or requests to “just spend some time with family,” or tirades about not doing the dishes in two days.  They leave me alone, and let me write.

Here’s the problem though: They just don’t get that this is how we writers think ALL THE TIME.  In November, when tell someone you’re writing, they don’t respond: “but you wrote YESTERDAY!”  They understand: “But I only have x days left to write x words!  I’m on a deadline and I just don’t have time for anything else right now!”  BUT, any other time of the year, if I say I’m writing, so I don’t have time right now, the retort is: “but you write everyday!” or “you were writing yesterday, can’t you take a couple days off?” or (my favorite) “some things [insert: spending time with family, doing housework, mowing the lawn, etc] are more important than your little hobby.”

They just don’t understand that we’re thinking: “But I only have the rest of my life to write every insane word crowded around and screaming in my brain! And that’s a whole helluva lot of words, dammit!  I’m on a deadline and I just don’t have time for anything else right now!”

Now, I’m not saying I do (or want to) ignore every other aspect of my life.  I still do housework, I still clean the dishes, and do laundry, and go grocery shopping, and do my homework, and watch a little tv, and go to family dinners, and all that other stuff.  But if the dishes wait a couple days while I get a huge chunk of inspired prose out of my screaming brain, then so be it.  And if some Sundays I’d rather sit in my office and write instead of sitting in my grandmother’s living room while all my uncles watch football and I try to look entertained, then so be it.  And my family just doesn’t get it.

As long as it’s November, and I have a clear start and end date, with clear guidelines and an attainable goal in mind, well then: that’s a pretty cool achievement.  But if I’m just writing, every day, any time I can find a few spare moments, when I should be doing homework, when I should be sleeping…  Well, then, it’s like my brother playing video games all the damn time: it’s a fine enough hobby in moderation, but it shouldn’t take over your life, and never supersedes your other duties, activities, etc.

Perhaps if/when I’ve published something, and can definitively say: look, this is a career choice, not just a hobby!  I AM A REAL WRITER.

Maybe then they’ll get it.

But then again, maybe not.

My Two-Cents on World-Building

Free-For-All Friday: My Two-Cents on World-Building

Hello everyone! It’s Nov 4th, which means all us NaNoWriMo nuts are now knee-deep into the writing frenzy.  Some people are already pulling ahead with word counts in the 10-15,000 range.  I, however, spent Tuesday (the first day of NaNo) frantically trying to grade papers and finish homework, that I am already behind.  By last night, to stay on pace, I should have had 5,000 words, but I went to bed having written only 4,000 (and that, just barely).  Still, I have hopes that I will be able to catch up a little over the weekend.  We shall see…

Speaking of NaNo though, I wanted to share a little of my world-building with you because I think world-building is one of the most important and most enjoyable aspects of writing fiction especially in fantasy and certain areas of science fiction when you are quite literally creating entire new worlds for your characters to inhabit.

I am not by any means an expert on world-building, of course.  If you want expert advice, I highly recommend Orson Scott Card’s How to Write to Science Fiction and Fantasy and World-Building by Stephen Gillet.  But, of course, I have plenty of opinions on the matter.  Detailed, thoughtful world-building can make the difference between a fantasy novel that is mildly interesting and/or cliché, and one that is unique, immersive, and exciting.  That is not to say that my worlds ARE all that unique, immersive, or exciting yet, but I’m working on it.

I could go on about physical world-building: continents, climates, and so forth, but for now, I’m just talking about creating a society/culture.  To that end, there are some very important elements that should be involved.  Some of these are obvious: government, cultural norms (are your people militaristic, artistic, pacifist, do they love to dance, are they vegetarians, etc), physical characteristics (if they differ from humans), and sometimes religion.  These are obviously important.  But there are others that are sometimes forgotten such as: economic systems, interactions with other societies, architecture (this one’s huge, folks!), and gender roles (even more huge, folks!).

Admittedly, this is all just my own two cents, so take it for what it’s worth.  Which probably isn’t much.  *shrug*

Just to give you an idea of how I go about world-building, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve come up with for my NaNoWriMo story.  I haven’t yet put it into any kind of systematic format.  I usually just write down everything I can think of about the society and worry about systematizing and filling in details later.  And keep in mind that this is still pretty early in the development stage, but in any case, might be interesting.  So, here is what I have on the Bheidien, which are the “mermaid” people in my twisted weird retelling of The Little Mermaid.

The Bheidien (which translates as “People of the Sea”):

The Bheidien are a race of people who, several millennia ago, chose to leave land and adapt themselves to living in the ocean.  They are part humanoid and part fish in appearance, with a variety of different styles and colors of tail, fin, and scale.  They are not actually related to fish at all; their ancestors merely used magic to mimicked fish as the adapted to the sea and evolved.

The royal family have traditional passed on a number of physical traits that follow two general family lines: one side have a more delicate feathered and colorful tail and fin (like a male Siamese fighting fish), and one side tends like look somewhat shark-like in shape and color.

All Bheidien have human heads, necks, shoulders, and arms, with scales beginning somewhere around the chest or torso and getting gradually thicker further down the tail.  They have two pairs of eyelids — one a normal “human” pair, and the other a clear pair that close in water and open in air.  They also have gill-slashes on either side of the neck for breathing, and feathered, fin-like extensions at the tips of their ears.

They can speak in water by use of long, thick vocal cords that are adapted to water, but because of the changes of sound in water, their language is slow, filled with high and low pitches, clicks, etc, and musical in quality — but still with actual words, and a vocabulary and grammar that is closely related to the parent language of the Cuval.

No, they can’t speak with fish.  (Just because humans live on land with animals doesn’t mean they can necessarily talk with them, right?)  Yes, they do sometimes eat fish. (Just because humans live on land with animals doesn’t mean they don’t eat them sometimes, right?)

The Bheidien have a fairly simple culture that relies heavily on tradition.  There are three separate kingdoms that do not have much contact with each other (being rather spread out in a very large ocean), but they are all fairly similar in basic structure: a city-state kingdom, with a magical “wall” that protects the kingdom from storms, hard currents, and more aggressive creatures like sharks; ruled by a monarchy, with a small but powerful nobility (of approximately 4 or 5 families depending on the kingdom); and a citizenry that is not much involved in politics or power, but is stable.

The Bheidien are powerful magical practitioners, though their kind of magic is somewhat different from the Cuval, and relies almost entirely on the spoken word and song.  They treasure singing.  They love beauty in all things.  They create intricate and beautiful architecture, using coral, other materials, and magic, without having to worry as much as humans do about structural integrity or weight (because of the constant presence of water).  They do not wear clothes, but love jewelry and decoration of all kinds.

The internal economic system is not based on money but on trade.  Goods are provided to the palace and royal family by way of taxes.  The small nobility class earns most of its goods in exchange for providing land and security to the citizenry.  The citizenry does most of the work of hunting (fishing?) and gathering other foodstuff, crafting and trading in other goods, and doing physical labor activities.  The Bheidien kingdoms occasionally trade with each other, and once or twice a year meet to trade with the Cuval (who come out in boats, or find piers, etc).

Revealing the existence of the Bheidien to humans is the worst crime one can commit.  However, the Bheidien still believe that all life of any kind should be respected, so despite their fear of humans, he does not in any way, shape, or form, condone the harm or killing of humans.  While Bheidien society allows for an eldest daughter to take the throne or inherit wealth, many other aspects of Bheidien culture are still patriarchal, so that all the younger daughters have little personal or political power.  Some can claim positions of power by becoming advisors and councillors, but most are only “useful” to the family and the kingdom if they can be married off well.  Men (yes, the Bheidien have a different word, but I’m not going to go into details about the language here, so consider this as “translated”), so: men are still mainly responsibility for the safety of the city, as well as most physical labor and leadership positions.  Women are still considered mainly home-makers, though many are also artists, architects, singers, and magical practitioners, etc.

So, what kinds of world-building do you enjoy doing?  What are the most important elements for you?  Who do you look to for advice/modeling on how it should be done?

Outline as Road Map in Planning for NaNoWriMo

Free-For-All Friday: Outline as Road Map in Planning for NaNoWriMo

Hello everyone! As many know, NaNoWriMo starts on Tuesday, Nov 1st, and many of us writerly types are frantically preparing summaries and character sketches and outlines and so forth as we await the NaNo kick-off at midnight.

A couple weeks ago, I thought I was doing well on keeping up with my schoolwork and would have plenty of time to prepare for and do NaNoWriMo.  And then early last week, the semester blew up in my face and things have been pretty crazy around here ever since.  I have not, therefore, had much time to think about my NaNo story, let alone do any of the usual detailed planning I usually do.  But I’m hoping I’ll still be able to pull off NaNo with some effort, little sleep, and lots and lots of coffee.  *crosses fingers* So last night, I finally decided on a title (which may change later, but maybe not), and a wrote a summary/blurb thing.  I also have a fairly decent handle on the main characters.  But where I usually have a pretty detailed plot outline by now, I have only the bare bones of the major plot points.  I’m going to be doing a lot more pantsing this month than I usually do.

That’s not to say I ever follow my outlines all that closely anyway.  But they are useful for direction.  I think of them as a detailed itinerary and road map for a long road trip, that gives me very clear instructions of where to go and when.  BUT that doesn’t mean I don’t get sidetracked or take alternate routes when I see some interesting or useful sign on the road.  Sometimes when I get sidetracked I can improvise my way back to the main road, and continue on with my itinerary with just that small addition.  Sometimes I get so far off the beaten path I have to simply make up a new route altogether and revise my itinerary accordingly.  But I still like to have the initial road map to begin with.  At least then I know where all the major landmarks, highways, and rest-stops are.  So to speak…  Otherwise, I might end up forgetting what state I’m in, let alone where I was headed.

I think it’s completely possible to have this kind of initial plan and still be a pantser at heart.  Because even with the map, you still never know what you might run into or where you might end up there might be a roadblock, construction, a sign pointing to really interesting scenic route or tourist trap you just can’t resist, and so on and then you have to improvise and quick-step your way back to your main plot/goal (and maybe you even change your mind and decide you’re not going to Los Angeles, you’re going to Las Vegas instead).  I highly recommend at least a basic list of important landmarks and highway exits to get you started.

But that’s just my two-cents.  *shrugs*

In any case, this time around, I don’t have the whole map and itinerary to work with.  I just have 5 or 6 of the major landmarks I have to reach with no clear idea how exactly to get to them.  It ought to be interesting…

If anyone wants to add me to your Writing Buddies list (once they get that up and running on the site), I go by “YummieYami” there (don’t ask, long story).  Also, for anyone who might be curious, here’s the summary I’ve come up with for my story, which is a weird, twisted retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid (set in an epic fantasy world I’ve created for a series of books):

Seaspell

When Jemirai, third daughter of King Uzon’yr of the Bheidien the People of the Sea risks not only exposure to humans, but human lives as well, Uzon’yr fears little can be done to make his angry, callous, rebellious daughter change.  And then he comes to a decision: he will turn Jemirai into a human and send her to live among them in hope she will learn patience and compassion.  To prevent her from using some magic to reverse his decision, Uzon’yr takes her voice as well.  And then he sends her to the sea-side principality of Emen, where the advisor of the heir-apparent, Prince Garan, was once Bheida himself, before becoming human for the love of a woman.

Prince Garan, at his advisor’s behest, takes the mute, cast-away princess under his care, despite his preoccupation with the illness of his father and his unwillingness to assume the throne.  Unknown to him, his cousin Duke Akthon has plans for the throne himself, believing Garan too soft-hearted to be an effective ruler.

Jemirai, meanwhile, resists her new life as a human, and is desperate to return to the sea.  Then an ancient sea-demon called Wave-Waker appears to offer her a wager: if Jemirai makes Garan fall in love with her within three months and kill him on their wedding night, Wave-Waker will return her to the sea; if she fails, Wave-Waker will devour Jemirai’s soul.

Jemirai accepts.  But that’s just the beginning.

So, who else is doing NaNo?  What’s your project about?  Do you do a lot of planning for it, or do you just go at it and see where you end up?

NaNoWriMo, The Truly Masochistic Endeavor

Free-For-All Friday:  NaNoWriMo, The Truly Masochistic Endeavor

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  We are 17 days away from the beginning of NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month, when a few hundred thousand people crawl out of the woodwork to participate in a month-long, high-intensity challenge to write a 50,000 word novel.  All sorts of people participate: students, housewives, full-time writers, published and hope-to-be-published-soon writers, people working two jobs…  It is always amazing to me how many people who have very little free-time still make the commitment necessary to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which comes out to approximately 1,666 words per day.

Last year I participated for the first time.  I had thought about it before, but I was in grad school and crazy-busy and it just didn’t seem possible.  But last year, having taken the year off from school before starting my PhD, I had plenty of free time to just write, so I did.  And I completely the NaNoWriMo challenge with approximately 70,000 words though I didn’t actually finish the whole novel until this past June (with 165,000 words).

It was an absolutely exhilarating experience.  I had a few friends who were also participating and we encouraged each other on Facebook and over messaging.  I also went to a few local write-ins and met some of the other participants in the Houston area, which was a lot of fun.  And it led me to starting and finishing an entire first draft of a novel for the first time ever.  Which was AWESOME.

This year, I’ve been very unsure about doing NaNoWriMo again.  I have started my PhD, and as some of you know, I’ve been very busy.  I’ve had difficulty keeping up with the blog, let alone any other writing.  And since finals week starts Dec 7th, which means that the month of November is when the scramble to survive the end of the semester kicks in.

And yet… I’ve got a fun idea for a strange retelling of the Little Mermaid story that would be an absolute BLAST to write for NaNoWriMo.  So, in a show of true masochist stubbornness (which I am fairly famous for among my friends), I have decided that I will be participating in NaNoWriMo this year.  It will be interesting to see if I can actually reach 50,000 words in the midst of everything else.  I might just end up in a padded room instead.

‘Cause let’s face it: we’re all masochists at heart, right?  We know we’re not going to get any sleep, we’re going to get carpal tunnel, and live on coffee (as if we don’t already), and our families are going to alternate between being supportive and being downright irritated, and we’re going to frazzled and stressed out and lose what little sanity we have left.  NaNoWriMo is a truly masochist endeavor.  And we all love it.  Because we’re masochists.  And that’s what we do.

One of the things I think it is vitally important that people remember about NaNoWriMo is that this project should be considered a first draft.  Or even a zero draft as I and many other writers call it.  NaNo advocates just sitting down, shutting up, and writing.  You don’t worry about quality, you don’t back-track to change things or edit, you don’t pretty it up.  You WRITE.  Every day.  Period.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach as long as you don’t think this is the final project.  There is not a single person who has ever written a NaNo project novel in 30 days and immediately sent out to an agent or editor, and actually had it published.  The idea is RIDICULOUS.  This is your zero draft: your “I’m going to get all my ideas down on paper without worrying or second-guessing or revising or editing or anything right now, because I know I’m going to have go back later and work on structure, and probably change/rewrite half of it, take things out, add things in, fix details, develop the characters more, etc” draft.

On that subject and others, here are few posts that have some great tips and information about preparing for and doing NaNoWriMo:

NaNoWriMo Cometh by Suzan Isik

The Ultimate NaNoWriMo Checklist by Suzan Isik

25 Things You Should Know About NaNoWriMo by Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds

NaNoWriMo 2011 by Ashley Prince of Byron’s Curse

The Whole “Nail Your NaNoWriMo” Series at by Larry Brooks at Storyfix.com

So! Who’s doing NaNo this year?  Have you done it before, or is this your first time?  If you’ve done it before, how were your previous experiences?  If you’ve never done it before, what made you decide to try it now, and what do you hope to get out of the experience?  It’s time to sound off, folks!