Category Archives: writing

The Week in Words (August 21)

At the Editor’s Desk

This week was so busy it ran into next week! Sorry for the late newsletter, but it’s been delayed by some truly exciting projects, so I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

Master of Professional Writing

This week I attended the orientation for new graduate students in the Master of Professional Writing program at the University of Oklahoma. It’s a two-year graduate degree that focuses on writing novels, non-fiction books, and screenplays. You know I’m already focusing pretty heavily on the first two of those, and I’ve got secret dreams of seeing Gods Tomorrow as a screenplay within my lifetime, so there’s incredible potential here.

I said a little bit more about orientation (and my expectations for the coming semester) over at the Consortium blog, in case you’d like to know more.

Gods Tomorrow

I’ve also spent most of the month really wrapped up in last-minute improvements to a two-year-old manuscript. That’s because I’m planning to self-publish Gods Tomorrow in early September.

It’s a huge undertaking, but I’ve been making rumblings here lately against the publishing establishment, and I’ve been linking you to article by J. A. Konrath who makes screeds against the establishment, so I’m doing my due diligence. I’m going to publish my best, most polished, most promising manuscript as a total gamble, and let you know what I learn.

Of course, I’m doing everything I can to bias the results, so I’ve been pretty busy planning a coverart photoshoot with the amazing Julie V. Photography (not to mention contacting Julie Roads for some help with the back cover copy).

On Unstressed Syllables

This week we covered two major topics: after exhorting you to accept your expertise as a writer (I called it “writing in the deep end”), I went on to demand that you obey some writing rules again.

Sunday I introduced the Technical Writing series on expertise with a story about throwing my daughter in the deep end of the pool, and watching her struggle back to the top. Ugh! Just typing that makes my stomach tie up in knots, but it turned out to be a good thing.

Then on Monday I talked about pretending to be an expert writer. I’ve spent most of the last year practicing what I preach, as far as that goes, and it’s definitely turned out to be a good thing.

Then Tuesday I tried to tell you how to overcommit yourself as successfully as I have done. It’s all about stretching your competence, and I’m pretty confident that’s the only way anyone has ever earned the rightful title of “expert.”

On Wensdy (as we sometimes say it in these parts), Courtney told us what she learned about writing this week when she returned to her writing Bible, a memoir/textbook written by Stephen King; in essence, she told us — as he told us before — to use the words we know and stay away from the big and fancy words, no matter how tempting they might be. I think it’s good advice. How about you?

Thursday I introduced the Creative Writing series on writing rules with a story about a high school math teacher who let me sweat it out, before doing me a tremendous favor. Who would have thought math could be so suspenseful?

On Friday I talked about suspense, and the challenging balance of surprising your readers without keeping them in the dark. One of those things is a requirement of good writing, and the other one is absolutely against the rules. Fun.

Saturday’s article cleared things up a little bit, though, because real suspense isn’t built out of ignorance. The best way to write suspense is by creating real concern for fictional characters. Once that’s in place, you can do more to worry your readers by revealing what’s in store than by hiding the things they need to know. It’s liberating…and incredibly powerful.

The Week in Words (August 14)

At the Editor’s Desk

This week my works in progress included four books, and all of the How Tos. That’s not normally the way I run things, but this week has been an excellent exception.

Catching Up on My Reading

This week I didn’t get any new scenes written for The Girl Who Stayed the Same, but I’ve been busy reading anyway. I finally read through Chris Baty’s No Plot, No Problem (the NaNoWriMo book), and it was inspiring. I wanted to start writing right away. None of that’s a big surprise (most of you know I’m a three-time NaNoWriMo winner), but the message wasn’t a surprise and the book still got me ready to go. It’s incredibly well written. I recommend it highly.

I also picked up ePub: Straight to the Point this week, and started working my way through it. It promises to teach me everything I need to know about digitally publishing a novel and making it beautiful. So far I’m a couple chapters in and it’s telling me to do all the thing I’m telling you to do, but I have high hopes the second half will be the actual application bit.

Getting Behind on My Writing

And I’m not just getting behind on my writing for The Girl Who Stayed the Same. I’m making it worse by adding new projects to be behind on!

This week I designed and outlined a new e-Book that’s all about using Google Docs as a Documentation Production Environment (or, put simply, getting the most out of Google Docs). Much of the book’s foundation (just like the ePub book I bought) will be the stuff I’ve said here in the last month or so, but I’m going to get into some pretty detailed advice for management and publication in the e-Book that would be hard to present on the blog.

I’m also working on a new e-Book that’s all about writing a novel during NaNoWriMo. And yes, of course, my finally reading No Plot, No Problem is related to that. I needed to make sure my book wasn’t too much of a duplicate, and it’s not. I think the two guides could coexist quite peacefully.

Two new e-Books, three novels I’m working on at the moment, and the publication of Gods Tomorrow scheduled for September. It’s going to be a busy summer.

On Unstressed Syllables

This week we covered two major topics: programming your language and pointing your plot.

Sunday I introduced the Technical Writing series on programming languages with a story about writing a macro in VBA to handle complicated Word tasks. It protected my productivity and saved my sanity…and gave me a great chance to show off my technical skills, too.

Then on Monday I talked about automating tasks as a Technical Writer. Programming might not be a normal pastime for writers, but it’s an incredibly valuable one.

Then Tuesday I told you which programming language you should start with, if you’re ready to get started. Dive into Python. It’s a programming language that does its best to read like a human language, and it can do remarkably cool things.

On Wednesday, Courtney told us what she learned about writing this week from painting trees for Julie V. Photography. She told us to get really good at the things we’re good at, and…well, to get good at the things we’re not good at, too. I think Chris Baty would agree!

Thursday I introduced the Creative Writing series on plot points with a story about my high school graduation, and the dedication of my first home. Both of them were monumental moments in my life, and both of them proved to be major turning points in my story. I think that qualifies them for a couple hundred words of memoir, don’t you?

On Friday I talked about monumental moments and turning points in your stories. I explained the concept of plot points — what they are, and what they have to offer.

Today’s article came with a little caveat, though: they won’t really pull their weight until you learn how to write effective plot points. It’s a matter of deliberate design. You don’t have to outline every scene in your book, but every scene should know which plot point it’s moving toward, and what that change will bring.

Around the Web

I also found a couple of good articles around the web this week, that I thought you might find interesting.

The Week in Words (August 7)

At the Editor’s Desk

After last week’s big reveal of my other project, I think it’s time to get back to a real focus on what brings us all together here: hating Dan Brown.

Freelance Services

It’s a shame that I’ve never gotten around to preparing a sales page around here, but as some of my blog posts in the last couple weeks have probably hinted, I do have some valuable services to sell. In addition to my own extensive experience with creative and technical writing, I’ve done writing coaching, document design (fiction and nonfiction), story editing, voice editing, line editing, copy editing, and several types of copy writing.

At the moment, I’m working on breaking into grant writing, and I’m in talks to maybe do a ghost writing gig. It all sounds like a lot of fun.

Incidentally, since I don’t have a strong sales process set up at the moment, I’ve got some open availability, so if you find yourself in need of some of those services, you can feel free to send me an email (or use the site’s Contact Form) to ask me for an estimate. I’m not cheap, but I’m terribly good.

The Girl Who Stayed the Same

There’s the technical and the creative writing to do, though, and I’m still going strong on my current work-in-progress. This week I finished chapter seven and started chapter eight of The Girl Who Stayed the Same.

Someone finally asked Jonas if he was an angel (and he answered with a qualified no), and we also learned that Jonas is really terrible at chess. He’s also pretty emotionally unstable, but what do you expect from a dude who hangs around with artists all the time?

On Unstressed Syllables

This week we covered two major topics: following directions and preparing a document according to the rules (specifically grant applications), and following the rules and writing stories with due respect for your readers.

Sunday I introduced the Technical Writing series on grant applications with a story about my three-year-old daughter learning to read…by memorizing the shapes of words. It’s limited in a way phonetic alphabets aren’t supposed to be, but it’s also advanced in a way three-year-olds aren’t supposed to be, so I’m considering the whole thing a wash.

Then on Monday I talked about grant money, selection committees, and how grant writing is just like the slush pile all over again. It’s frustrating in ways, but it also gives experienced novelists a leg up on the competition.

Then Tuesday I took it a step further, saying that grant writing is just like writing Shakespearean sonnets. The metaphor isn’t perfect, but the application is — if you can learn to express your ideas well within someone else’s strict structure, you’re ready to call yourself a professional writer (and start raking in the dough).

On Wednesday, Courtney waxed domestic with a story about sewing up some torn garments, and in the process taught us how to patch up holes in our stories’ plots. It can be a lot of work, and it’s certainly the sort of thing we’re often tempted to let pile up on our To Do lists, but a little extra effort can save a story from becoming scrap, and turn it into a perfectly serviceable Saturday shirt.

Thursday I introduced the Creative Writing series on writing rules with a story about Trish trying to watch The Da Vinci Code in spite of all my lecturing. The lecture’s got to go someplace, though! So I spilled it through onto Friday and Saturday, too.

On Friday I talked about respecting your readers, and specifically focused on understanding and deliberately crafting your book’s reading experience. When you consider how your story affects your readers (and what they’re offering in exchange for your storytelling), it becomes far easier to stick to some of the core rules of writing.

Today’s article tied that up with a detailed look at what some of those rules are: premise, verisimilitude, and the unforgivable sin named “Deus Ex.” It’s been a pretty academic week, and if you’ve followed along you probably deserve a couple hours of college writing credits for it. Alas, my blog isn’t yet accredited.

Around the Web

I also found a couple of good articles around the web this week, that I thought you might find interesting. They’re certainly relevant to our most recent discussion.

  • Writing this week’s aggressive broadside against popular novelist Dan Brown, I couldn’t help thinking about literary agent Nathan Bransford’s fantastic article last week, The One Question a Writer Should Never Ask.

  • Wouldn’t you know it, though, Bransford followed up with another excellent post this week on the same topic, Writing vs. Storytelling. Be sure you read both of these — you’ll be a better writer for it.

My 48 Hours

Last Thursday, while I was still at work, T– took the kids to Wichita to spend some time with her family there. The plan was to stay through a big birthday party Saturday evening, then drive home late Saturday night.

I intended, as I often do on these occasions, to take advantage of the peace and quiet to get some good work done. Mainly I had some computer stuff I wanted to do — reviewing a blog for a new friend, getting caught up on my own blogging after a busy few weeks, and putting together some notes on a new project I’m working on (the Consortium). I figured I’d do a little lawn and house work, too, since our property got hit pretty hard with last week’s apocalyptic hailstorm.

Anyway, when I got home from work to an empty house Thursday afternoon, the first thing I did was make a To Do list. (I estimated roughly that each item in the “Must Do” list should represent about 90 minutes of work).

  • Must Do
    • Thursday night
      • Write Sun/Mon/Tue blog posts for next week
      • Prepare newsletter for Saturday
    • Friday morning
      • Mow the lawn
      • Clean out the gutters
    • Friday afternoon
      • Write Thu/Fri/Sat blog posts for next week
      • Set up blog review spreadsheet on GDocs
    • Friday night
      • Review Julie’s blog posts
      • Review Julie’s blog posts
    • Saturday morning
      • Chainsaw some trees
      • Paint hall and bathrooms
    • Saturday afternoon
      • Review Julie’s blog posts
      • Review Julie’s blog posts
    • Saturday night
      • Edit and link next week’s blog posts
      • Prepare next Saturday’s newsletter
    • Sunday afternoon
      • Email Julie about the Consortium
      • Complete detailed descriptions of the Consortium in Wave
    • Sunday night
      • Write Sun/Mon/Tues blog posts for next week
      • Outline blog posts for June
  • Remember to Eat!
    • Lunch with D– (discuss Consortium as non-profit)
    • Dinner with K– and N– (discuss Consortium network/software)
    • Lunch with Courtney (recruit her to the Consortium)
    • Dinner with B– (discuss Consortium business plan)
  • Extra Credit (if I have free time)
    • Recruit Carlos to the Consortium
    • Social Writing
    • Help Toby program BookMaker utility
    • Get in touch with Doolin
    • Email Julie about blog review
    • Get Courtney her photos (from a Julie V shoot)
    • Design novel template in GDocs
    • Scan many things
    • Edit/link guest posts for Doolin
    • Make chapters for Carlos’s e-Book
    • Review Carlos’s other support requests
    • Call OU Admissions department
    • Email Shawn about the Consortium
    • Finish Ivanhoe
    • Email Courtney about her blog
    • Contact Schwinn customer support
    • Lowe’s run
    • Fix exterior lights
    • Drop seed, weed killer, and fertilizer on lawn
    • Clean out garage work area
    • Put some stuff in the attic
    • Convert Becca’s and Bryce’s books to e-Book format
    • Read Becca’s and Bryce’s books
    • Check out Courtney’s new WIP on GDocs
    • Write Thursday’s Creative Copy Challenge post
    • Reply to many comments on my blog and Doolin’s

Those were my 48 items in 48 hours (I mentioned them on Facebook). And…well, technically four of those items were scheduled for Sunday, but I’d have my whole family home on Sunday so I figured I’d need to get much of that done in advance.

Of course, I ended up adding to the list before I was done.

  • Added since Thursday afternoon (all extra credit)
    • Email Courtney about new photo policy at my blog
    • Update About Page photos in color
    • Clean up storm detritus on driveway, porch, and sidewalks
    • Replace shattered plastic house numbers over garage
    • Pick up a birthday gift for K–
    • Fix fallen A/C register and attach headboard to bedframe
    • Murder weeds growing in driveway, porch, and sidewalks
    • Patch busted wood trim around bathroom door
    • Caulk floor joints both bathroom
    • Organize tool chest drawers
    • Wash and put away three loads of laundry
    • Paint over garage hail damage
    • Take out the trash
    • Do the dishes
    • Email Cindy about the Consortium as a non-profit

And I made time for my 4.5-mile jog every morning, because with all that cerebral work going on, I needed some physical exertion to balance it out.

The problem, it turned out, was that 45 minutes jogging wasn’t close to enough time to balance it out. I got started working on the lawn Friday morning, and found myself still working outside when it came time to go to dinner Friday night. Woke up Saturday, went for my jog, and figured since I was going to have to shower anyway, I should do a thing or two outside first.

By the end of the day Saturday (my forty-eight hours), I’d spent about fourteen hours sleeping, eight hours at business/social meals, and a hair over an hour (total) sitting at my computer. The other twenty-five hours I spent toiling — repairing my house, cleaning, or working in the yard. And none of that was by choice or priority — it just sort of happened. I was driven.

When everything was said and done, by the time I went to bed Sunday night, I’d completed 34 of the 62 items on my To Do list, including just half of the “Must Do” items. The finished list looked like this:

  • Must Do
    • Thursday night
      • Write Sun/Mon/Tue blog posts for next week
      • Prepare newsletter for Saturday
    • Friday morning
      • Mow the lawn
      • Clean out the gutters
    • Friday afternoon
      • Write Thu/Fri/Sat blog posts for next week
      • Set up blog review spreadsheet on GDocs
    • Friday night
      • Read Julie’s blog posts
      • Read Julie’s blog posts
    • Saturday morning
      • Chainsaw some trees
      • Paint hall and bathrooms
    • Saturday afternoon
      • Read Julie’s blog posts
      • Read Julie’s blog posts
    • Saturday night
      • Edit and link next week’s blog posts
      • Prepare next Saturday’s newsletter
    • Sunday afternoon
      • Email Julie about the Consortium
      • Complete detailed descriptions of the Consortium in Wave
    • Sunday night
      • Write Sun/Mon/Tues blog posts for next week
      • Outline blog posts for June
  • Remember to Eat!
    • Lunch with Dan (discuss Consortium as non-profit)
    • Dinner with Austins (discuss Consortium network/software)
    • Lunch with Courtney (recruit her to the Consortium)
    • Dinner with Bruce (discuss Consortium business plan)
  • Extra Credit (if I have free time)
    • Recruit Carlos to the Consortium
    • Social Writing
    • Help Toby program BookMaker utility
    • Get in touch with Doolin
    • Email Julie about blog review
    • Get Courtney her photos (from a Julie V shoot)
    • Design novel template in GDocs
    • Scan many things
    • Edit/Link guest posts for Doolin
    • Make chapters for Carlos’s e-Book
    • Review Carlos’s other support requests
    • Call OU Admissions department
    • Email Shawn about the Consortium
    • Finish Ivanhoe
    • Email Courtney about her blog
    • Contact Schwinn customer support
    • Lowe’s run
    • Fix exterior lights
    • Drop seed, weed killer, and fertilizer on lawn
    • Clean out garage work area
    • Put some stuff in the attic
    • Convert Becca’s and Bryce’s books to e-Book format
    • Read Becca’s and Bryce’s books
    • Check out Courtney’s new WIP on GDocs
    • Write Thursday’s Creative Copy Challenge post
    • Reply to many comments on my blog and Doolin’s
    • Email Courtney about new photo policy at my blog
    • Update About Page photos in color
    • Clean up storm detritus on driveway, porch, and sidewalks
    • Replace shattered plastic house numbers over garage
    • Pick up a birthday gift for Kris
    • Fix fallen A/C register and attach headboard to bedframe
    • Murder weeds growing in driveway, porch, and sidewalks
    • Patch busted wood trim around bathroom door
    • Caulk floor joints both bathroom
    • Organize tool chest drawers
    • Wash and put away three loads of laundry
    • Paint over garage hail damage
    • Take out the trash
    • Do the dishes
    • Email Cindy about the Consortium as a non-profit

I Am a Writer

I’ve been a writer all my life. I started inventing worlds and stories when I was in first grade, and I started learning the mechanics of it all even before that, when my granddad taught me touch-typing on a battered old typewriter.

The Prologue

I first started thinking of myself as a writer in a sixth-grade English class, when I was supposed to write a one-page story incorporating a least half of our vocabulary words, and I wrote eight pages and used them all. I made that the first in a series of absurd detective stories that I developed over the course of the year. When I was twelve my family moved to the big city, and I dealt with the frightening upheaval in my life by writing my first novel. I wrote my classmates into the story to make friends.

When I was in high school I spent an afternoon patiently explaining to my dad that I didn’t need to go to college. My only goal in life was to be a writer, and I already knew how to write. I was well into my second novel by then, and I was marking up my Creative Writing teacher’s noir mystery in my free time. My dad’s wisdom prevailed, though, and when I got to college, I discovered not only the limits of my understanding but also the real value of others’ ideas. I chose Oklahoma Christian University for its creative writing program, and took a writing class every semester for four years.

In the process I learned the rules of the craft, I learned to develop my narrative voice, and I learned how powerful a diversity of styles can be. I’ve since had the opportunity to coach my dad in creative writing, and I was able to teach him using some of the same methods I learned in that college program I’d once assured him I would never need.

The Process

Those methods have become more and more important in my life. They include everything from the intensive character development and plot architecture that I’ve used to build my Ghost Targets series, to the minute attention to mechanics and detail that makes me such a good Technical Writer (and pays for my two houses).

When I first started in the industry, I hated that I was selling out and getting a day job, and I spent a lot of energy separating technical writing from creative writing in my head. All I got out of that was a lot of heartache, and a couple novels that languished as unfinished drafts for years. I’ve recently come to appreciate the similarities in the two disciplines, and learned how to play to my strengths in both fields. As a result, I’ve got pretty much the same writing process for both.

I start with as much prewriting as I can reasonably do, whether that’s real-world research or rough scene lists, but I always limit the amount of time I dedicate to that. When I’ve got enough material to put together a draft, I stop researching and start writing. I do a first draft start to finish, with as little editing as possible. When I’m done, I take a quick pass through the document to smooth some of the roughest edges, then hand it off to one or two test readers to get feedback.

From there, I go through multiple stages of dedicated revisions. I’ve talked about that elsewhere, but it’s critical to the process. It also usually takes two to three times as long as the prewriting and writing stages combined, so I’ve got to dedicate time and energy to the review process from the very first, or I’ll find myself in a real bind when deadlines start looming.

The Products

Honestly, I end up applying that process in nearly every type of writing I do. That includes my journal entries here, emails to my friends and coworkers, and my articles on Unstressed Syllables. I’ve used some of my training to create some extremely effective tutorials, and to prepare business letters and queries for all my many projects. I end up doing a lot of editing work for friends and family, too. All of it is good practice, and all of it depends on my continued dedication to quality writing.

It’s rewarding, too. Just last week I was skimming through an old draft of an unfinished novel, looking for an illustration for my blog, and I accidentally got caught up in the narrative. Half an hour and two chapters later, I remembered what I was supposed to be doing, but I came away from that with a determination to get that novel cleaned up and in the hands of some readers. That’s an incredible experience, stumbling across some long-forgotten scene and rediscovering the magic and creativity that helped make it happen in the first place.

Currently, that’s where most of my energy is focused: getting all my old, unfinished projects up to code, and getting them in the hands of readers. That has me working simultaneously on a utopian near-future sci-fi and a dystopian near-future sci-fi,on a dry political think-piece masquerading as traditional fantasy and on a juvenile emo romance masquerading as traditional fantasy. And, of course, through it all I’m constantly creating new stories. I have a fourth Ghost Targets in the works, and half a dozen story ideas spawned from dreams or debates. I have a handful of non-fiction works germinating, and a rather significant investment in UnstressedSyllables.com. Oh yeah, and then there’s the full-time job. No question about it, I am a writer.

(I prepared this post according to the assignment description in this week’s Technical Writing exercise over at UnstressedSyllables.com. I also posted a link in the discussion board there, so you can feel free to leave comments here or there, depending what you want to discuss. I’d love any feedback you’ve got to give, though.)

National Novel Writing Month 2009 Post Mortem

I can’t believe it’s over.

I did finish NaNoWriMo. I’m a winner. I could post a JPEG proving it, but it doesn’t really, so I won’t.

I took a strange path to 50,000 words this year, cobbling together scenes from three different novels in two genres, an open-ended collaborative writing project, and a short story. In the past, I’ve done 50,000 consecutive words (or many, many more), and I’ve done them in a novel that I wrote start-to-finish during the month of November. Obviously that’s more impressive, but with everything else I had going on, I’m glad to have produced anything at all this year.

Anything at all. Hah! I wrote the end of two different novels, one of them a long-languishing partial that needed closure. I’ve still got a lot of rewriting work to do, but I now have the foundation on which to do it.

In the end, that’s what NaNoWriMo is about — struggling to accomplish more than you should be able to given all the other demands in your life, and getting a rough draft down on paper, so you have something to work with in the rewrites. I did both of those things, and in a big way.

To keep myself honest (and to make things easier), I wrote all those eclectic scenes in a single Google Doc, copying and pasting them out to their appropriate parents periodically. That workspace, though, was a document that ended up with the title Ghost Kings: Sleeping Targets: Golden Restraint Age Shelter (and a short story). Here’s how that came about:

  • I started off early doing my prewriting in October so I could work on a major rewrite of Royal Holiday in November, then scrapped that plan at some late hour.
  • I did another set of prewriting, this time on a major rewrite (and completion) of a Sleeping Kings sort-of-prequel called Golden Age. As part of the prewriting, I wrote a new first chapter (which doesn’t count toward my November word count).
  • I showed up at our kickoff meeting all prepared to finally get Golden Age done, found myself blocked, and instead I wrote the next scene in my newest Ghost Targets novel, Restraint.
  • From there, I just went ahead and finished Restraint (book 3 in that series).
  • Then I started on its sequel, Ghost Targets: Shelter.
  • Then I started a new, and totally unplanned collaborative writing project with Courtney on Google Wave by writing the opening scene of a novel about wizards in Oklahoma City. It starts with a magical battle in a 7-11. Awesome.
  • Then I wrote a totally unplanned short story set in the fantasy universe D– and I had been talking about years ago. It turned out surprisingly good (in my opinion, anyway).
  • Then I found myself totally blocked, unable to proceed past the middle of chapter 1 of Shelter, and instead started work on an unfinished scene in Golden Age.
  • Then I realized I’d written three consecutive chapters of Golden Age, without really realizing it, and I was about 6,000 words from the end of the book.
  • Then I finished the book. And NaNoWriMo. All with about an hour to spare.

I dunno. If you want to call that cheating, you’re welcome to. I could say that I finished National Strange Hash of Various Fictional Prose Writing Month, but I don’t have the time or energy for that sort of acronym. “Nooshvoofpwym,” I would pronounce it. “During nooshvoofpwyn,” I would say, “I wrote 50,000 words in gookstuhgraws (and a short story).”

Whatever.

In December, I’m going to do nothing. Hah! No, not really. In December I’m going to put the finishing touches on my new Tech Writing textbook, I’m going to lay the groundwork to launch a new commercial blog in January, and unless I’m prepared to face some real wrath from some surprisingly real fans, I’m going to do at least a quick touch-up on Restraint and share it out to some trusted reviewers.

I started 2009 with a pretty ambitious plan for my writing, and ended it in an entirely different place, but almost as impressive of one. I didn’t rewrite Royal Holiday and I didn’t start an entirely new sci-fi property premised on what turns out to be a total physical impossibility (in a bad way), but I did become a university professor and write a textbook. That’s pretty cool. I got my old creative writing text dusted off, too, and it’s ready to go.

So that’s my plan for 2010. Not as much ambition for the new, but lots of rewrites. I do want to finish Ghost Targets: Shelter before the end of September, so I can devote October to prewriting and November to Ghost Targets: Faith (my first season finale). Two novels in a year is actually pretty tame for me.

Then I want to get Expectation cleaned up (I never did redo the ending), and I want to get Restraint totally rewritten, and expanded by at least 9,000 words. Same for SK: Golden Age, and once that’s done I’ll need to write a new first chapter for SK: The Wolf, and my first NaNoWriMo project, SK: The Shepherd, still needs its first real rewrite, too.

That’s my order of priority. I’ve got more. King Jason’s War still needs the first section reworked, and a polish everywhere else, and I’ve been talking for years about splitting Taming Fire in two, and it could use some touch-up while I’m at it. More and more I find myself thinking back on The Poet Alexander, too, wondering if there’s some rough gem somewhere in the rambling, inarticulate beast that would be worth paring out. Who knows? I’d have to work miracles to ever get far enough down my list to find out, though.

Stay tuned. Maybe I actually will. I’ve spent three years now consistently accomplishing more than I ever thought I possibly could. And, in the end, that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about.

Journal Entry: November 2009

I survived.

I’m tempted to make those two words my whole journal entry, but so much happened in November that I don’t want to forget. And so much happened in November that I’m going to forget it.

Even this post won’t get it all, but I want to grab the highlights.

I started the month with a NaNoWriMo kickoff party at IHOP with my writing group, and that actually is documented already. I’ve also talked a little bit about my NaNoWriMo progress, and my class sessions. I’ll do another post with a post mortem for NaNoWriMo, but here I wanted to talk about what else I did.

I finished a major manuscript for work on the 5th, and that freed up some of my attention and some of my creative energy, so I finally really got started writing on the 6th. I had a birthday lunch at P. F. Chang’s on the 8th, and then a holiday (Veteran’s Day) on the 11th that gave me a pretty easy work week, and a good opportunity to get caught up on my word count again. Then Saturday the 14th I had a great opportunity to get behind again.

Probably the big event of November (for me), T– threw a big birthday party for my 30th, inviting my mom and dad, and all my friends. D–, of course, B– and E–, K– and N–, my little sister and her family, as well as Courtney and Ed (who were a real hit). T– had everyone bring a bottle of wine, which was quite a treat, and she grilled up ribs for us as the main dish in a pretty extensive (and delicious) spread. We chatted and played Rock Band, and had a great time. Shawn and Liz showed up after most of the other guests had left, but stuck around to watch UHF with the Cantrells and me. That was fun. The whole night was incredible.

In WoW news, I got my Hunter to 80 (which marks the first time I’ve had a Hunter at the level cap). I also started a pair of Horde characters on Shawn’s server, so I can chat with him from time to time. He’s popped in on Dark Iron a time or two, too, and that’s been fun.

I had a conversation with T–, and a conversation with my writing group, and a conversation with my dad over the phone on a drive home from work, and the end result of all that is that I’m finally going to try to get some treatment for my social anxiety. That’s not really something I want to talk about in detail in this post, but it happened in November. So there you go.

Then last week was Thanksgiving week (which is always drama, and NaNoWriMo brings its own demons). T– headed up to Wichita early, on Tuesday afternoon, and I had dinner with D– at a new Mexican place downtown (Iguana Grill, and it’s awesome), then went by Bruce’s to borrow his ladder and ended up spending an hour and a half chatting with him, then went home and got started on Christmas preparations instead of going to bed.

I wanted to have the tree up (and ready for decoration) by the time T– came home from Wichita. I decided to get all the decorations down from the attic, too, and somewhere in there I decided I should hang Christmas lights outside. Wal-Mart had LED lights at a reasonable price, so I picked up 8 strings and spent Wednesday afternoon crawling around on the roof of the house, getting everything set up. It proved to be more work than I anticipated, but the end result is stunning. (I’m sure T– will have a photo up on her blog eventually.)

I’d barely gotten off the roof when D– showed up to take me down to Chicasha to pick up his grandma, and then we all headed to Wichita. With that extra trip, a two-and-a-half-hour drive became something perilously close to five, but I spent most of it sleeping in the back seat, so who’s complaining.

Then Thanksgiving was four straight days of Charboneaus. That’s an amazing family, and they really know how to have a good time when they get together. T– brought my XBox and Rock Band, and that was incredibly popular. The food was incredible. The Cowboys won convincingly, and then a disappointing Sooners team showed up on Saturday and totally shut out OSU in the Bedlam game, so that was pretty satisfying.

We got home Sunday afternoon, and as we turned the corner onto our street, AB called from the back seat, “Ooh, the house is ready for Christmas!” T–, of course, was thrilled. After watching her parents get all their Christmas decorations done Friday morning, she’d been left wondering when we could even get around to it, and here it was all ready for her.

AB couldn’t wait to get started, and she and her mom got the tree all decorated before bedtime.

Then yesterday was the 30th, the end of my wonderful, grueling November, and I capped it with a write-in at Courtney’s. We both made our official submissions to the NaNoWriMo website around 11:00, validated our winning word counts, and then stayed up far too late talking. All too often, in the midst of a conversation about this or that, one or the other of us would trail off, staring away into space, and then just say quietly, “I can’t believe it’s over.”

It’s over. And I survived.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

National Novel Writing Month 2009 Progress Report

I’m fifteen days into NaNoWriMo, and doing terribly well.

Well, okay, sixteen days. I was going for the parallelism, though, so shut up!

I made a long post to my writing group’s discussion board last week talking about goals — specific, personal goals, and the impetus to reach them. The gist of it was that I had one: I wanted to finish Ghost Targets: Restraint (which I began back in June) by the 16th, when Julie and Carlos were coming by for a visit.

I did that. I actually finished the story last Friday afternoon, which put me at 29,000 words in November, and 55,000 words in the book. For those of you who are good at math (and know the rules of NaNoWriMo), you’ll be wondering what I plan to do with my other 21,000 words in the next two weeks.

As of now, I’m undecided. In the last three days, I’ve written a couple pages of introduction for a totally new story idea (that’s intended to be a collaborative project with Courtney), a couple pages of introduction for the next Ghost Targets book (which is currently laboring under the working title Shelter), and today, over lunch, four more pages that drive me a good distance into chapter one.

I’d spent the early part of the month thinking I was going to finish up my Sleeping Kings opener, Golden Age, and I’d still really like to do that. It’s complicated, though. I was a different kind of writer when I wrote the SK books, and I don’t think it would be worth the effort to rewrite the whole series to bring it more in line with my current writing style, but I don’t know how well I can fake the old style to get a seamless introduction.

And, at the end of the day, I’ve got a lot more energy behind the Ghost Targets series now. I could end the month with a third of the fourth book done and soar past 50,000 for the month, and all of that would be pretty effortless. Or I could labor over every page, force out a passable introduction to Sleeping Kings, and barely hit my target even with all the extra effort. It would be awfully nice to have that done, but I don’t know that I have the discipline or the motivation to make it happen.

Either way, I’m limping into my pre-class downtime today, so it’ll be sometime Thursday before we know more. Well, before I know more. Chances are good this space won’t be updated until the end of the month, though, and by then it’ll be done, one way or another.

If you’ve got an opinion, feel free to cast your vote. Maybe you’ll surprise me. Maybe you’ll even motivate me.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

National Novel Writing Month 2009 Kick-Off

I’m five days into NaNoWriMo, and not doing terribly well. I’m right at 1/4 of my target word count. My writing group is on fire, though, and I’m taking a little bit of (probably undeserved) paternal pride in that.

We started things off in a big way last Saturday night (Halloween), when a bunch of us met at a local IHOP for a big kick-off party. I think I’ve seen differing counts, but I’m pretty sure there were seven of us writing (and an eighth writer who left before we actually started writing), and two visitors who came by just to spectate.

We met at 11:00 PM, so that we could socialize a bit before getting down to business. I spent most of that time talking with Shawn about World of Warcraft. That was, without question, an accurate indicator of what I should expect out of the night, and out of my November. Don’t mistake that for me placing blame anywhere but on me, though.

Anyway, it was fun, and we all had a good time socializing. There was a real air of anticipation, too, as we got closer and closer to midnight. Somewhere in the midst of that, a young couple headed toward our tables — one of the seven writers, and one of the two spectators. The latter of those was also one of my students in my Tech Writing class. He’s a young man with considerable personality — more than he can reasonably keep to himself.

It was my intention to get 2,500 words written. I was willing to leave as early as 1:00 if I managed to hit my word count by then, but I was expecting it to take until about 2:00. That’s okay — I’ve closed down bars in the not-too-distant past, so I figured I could handle 2:00. We had the advantage of Sunday morning being the end of Daylight Savings Time, too, so I’d get the extra hour of sleep.

Most of our writers had laptops — no, check that, all of them did. Except me. I had a scribblebook, because that’s how I roll. We’d picked IHOP for its late hours, but one of the major selling points had been the free WIFI. Unfortunately, when midnight rolled around and everyone opened up the laptops, we found ourselves unable to locate that free WIFI. I don’t think anybody ever did. There wasn’t easy access to electrical outlets, either, but I think everyone’s batteries survived longer than their writing impetus, anyway.

Anyway. While they were wrestling with their network management utilities, I was scribbling in a cramped cursive at laughing at them all. Muah hahaha! I filled two and half pages (a hair over 500 words), and ran out of words. I spent the next thirty minutes or so forcing words one at a time to fill another page and a half, and then I gave up. Oh, what a shining example I am for my writing group!

About five minutes before I gave up, though, my oh-so-personable student Sean (no, not Shawn, that was someone else) gave up on his project to get ad hoc StarCraft going, and came to our tables to talk some more. I was able to pretend to humor him, and act all friendly as an excuse for closing my scribblebook, unclicking my Pilot G-2, and spending the rest of the night just emptying glass after glass of Coke.

That was one-ish, so I had an hour left before I was going to let myself leave. Fifteen to two, a hostess came by our table to warn us that the bars were about to let out, and the clientele would become considerably more boorish. Courtney proudly proclaimed that we were writers, and we delighted in observing vibrant characters in action.

We got more than we bargained for there, though. Just past two, a fistfight erupted in the parking lot which quickly ended up as four guys beating the hell out of a fifth guy down on the ground. Our table gave us an easy view of it, but everyone in the restaurant was quickly on their feet, watching the fight through the wall of windows. It was impossible to look away.

Courtney called the cops. A manager and some employees risked their lives to try to intervene (and quite possibly saved the fifth dude’s life in the process). Fifteen minutes passed before the ambulance and firetruck showed up, forty-five before the cops. None of us really felt like setting foot outside until that happened.

So I stumbled in the door well after three in the morning, too buzzed on secondhand adrenaline and caffeine to fall asleep, and I spent half an hour lying in bed thinking, “Oh, the hangover tomorrow is going to suck.” That was habit, because the only time I come home after two in the morning is when I’ve been out drinking (and, when I spend that long out drinking, the hangover tomorrow always sucks). I kept having to remind myself I hadn’t actually had anything to drink.

And then tomorrow came, and the hangover was awful. I’m way too old for three in the morning.

I cleared eleven hundred words on day one, and then had to go to work on day two. I taught a class on day three. I’ve been swamped with a Maintenance Handbook on a Nov. 14th deadline, and too exhausted at the end of the day to do anything but log in and zone out. I ended yesterday at 2,485 words. Got another five hundred done today, though, and the weekend is looking shiny and full of promise.

Every novel I’ve ever written has had at least one 8,000-word day in it. Maybe this year’s will come early.

Anyway, that’s most of what’s been on my mind. I’m off to a slow start, but I’m still a long way from out of the game.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

The Golden Age (a poem)

“She’s got a rule. She never dates her friends.”
“I know,” he said. “I really hate that rule….”

She keeps it, though, and she is all alone.
Alone at home, at work when it gets bad.
There’s trouble in the air, has been for years,
Then something breaks one quiet afternoon
At a presidential speech.
A kid is killed, and soon it’s on the news
And riots follow, cities start to burn.
There’s soldiers in the streets, and all too soon
There’s bombs.
And she is all alone.

She goes back to a place she once called home,
To friends who all among them made her world
And quietly they watch this world burn down.
All huddled up, squeezed tight on that sad couch
In his tiny apartment, second floor,
And wonder what the future holds in store.

For days it’s dazed and frightened disbelief.
At night their only light is CNN.
Then Dave hears that his boss has got a plan
The governor needs him to craft a speech
A bold address to set the city right
And bring back hope and reason, end the fight.
They go — these four, these friends, these college buds.
They’re kids, but they’ve been called to save the world
And only one has doubts — in that, she’s all alone.

More bombs in store, more death than they could guess
But through it all, he holds them to the course.
He’s brave for her — he saves the day for her —
But in the end they all are heroes true.
Here in the quiet Heartland, they wake up.
They face a dragon, slay a villain dark,
And live storybook lives in too-real life.

But then it’s done. It’s done, and they’re all safe,
But her mother back home is so afraid.
Her dad is, too, and asks her to come back.
To leave her friends, and come back to her home.
And hero though he is, her friend, she’s got a rule.
So she goes home, to grander stories yet….

And she is all alone.