NaNovel 2020 – 1 Week In, 9,516 Words Behind

Pros: I have written every day except last Friday (when I got a killer migraine that necessitated going to bed whimpering and wondering if my head would ever stop hurting).

Cons: Hitting 50k has gotten… more difficult, and may not happen.

For those participating in NaNoWriMo, how are you faring? For those not participating, how’s life treating you?

Joining the Madness

I vacillated pretty much all of October between whether or not to join NaNoWriMo this year. I don’t really

have enough time,

and sometimes,

I don’t really like my idea,

and

I have work deadlines this month,

and

I feel sick too often because I have allergies and my colds when I get them are never ending and cabin fever is definitely kicking in.

But then, I remember

how amazing it feels

to finish a piece of writing.

& how

it is a goal of mine

to become a writer,

which I don’t currently consider myself,

because I’m not writing every day.

& I remember

that there will always

be more work

&

another deadline,

so if something is important to me

I need to figure out how to work it into my life

anyway.

So I have taken the plunge. Signed up to strive to write 50k words this November 2020. I have met my daily goal for November 1, and am feeling hopeful, and am hoping that I’ll meet the 50k goal, but if I don’t, thinking that at least this could be a kickstart towards writing every day.

Anyone else hopping on the NaNoWriMo train? Leave me a comment below – let me know how the beginning is going for you!

Awhile back, I mentioned that I had read Sue Miller’s Monogamy, and that a post would be forthcoming. From the first glimpse of this book, I was intrigued. I mean, they say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but look at that cover:

This book left me transfixed – I liked pretty much everything about it. To save you from my babbling fan-girling, I thought you might prefer a succinct list.

  1. The writing – Miller’s actual word choice and sentence structure is eloquent – generally simple word choice arranged in a pleasing order that conveys the information succinctly and connotes the feelings and impressions readily. There is a difference between writing simply and using each word carefully. Miller doles out words precisely, resulting in a book filled with beautiful writing.
  2. The characters – No Mary Sue’s in this book! Miller’s characters are real. In reading this book, you are delving into the intimate thoughts and feelings of people who do amazing things, and love fully, who reminisce, and feel betrayed, and make mistakes, and live (or don’t) complicated lives. To be completely honest, this book doesn’t have a ton of plot, but if you’re a character reader, reading this book is the culinary equivalent of biting into a warm slice of apple pie.
  3. The marriage – Probably not shocking, given the novel’s title, Monogamy analyzes a marriage. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, and the questioning. What does it mean to tether yourself to another person in a civil and/or religious ceremony? Is it possible to remain in love with the same person for the rest of your life? Can you ever really know the people you are with, even the ones you are very close to? As someone who is married, this novel resonated with some of my own thoughts. I don’t think you need to be married to appreciate this thoughtful and in-depth analysis of one, but since I am married, to be fair, I may be wrong.
  4. The creativity – As a vein running throughout this book is the idea of creativity. Annie, one of the main characters, is a photographer who has had some success. Graham, her husband, founded a bookstore. Both of them interact with other artists – writers, musicians, painters, etc. The book itself is a work of art. Reading this novel was inspiring to me, personally, and reminded me that art can be difficult, but if you feel fulfilled by creating something, then it is worthwhile.
  5. The setting – Miller writes about the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, wherein much of the novel takes place, with love but not so much detail you want to throw the book across the room. I’m not the biggest fan of exposition, but reading this novel makes me want to visit Cambridge. Being stuck at home due to COVID-19 could be a factor in this desire, as well, but at least part of the credit goes to Monogamy.

Of course, my perspective on this book is biased, and not everyone can have the correct (i.e., my) opinion. Monogamy, the ARC I am woefully behind on posting about, has now been available for sale since September. Have you had a chance to nab a copy and read it? Do you agree/disagree with my assessment, or possibly have your own points to add? Please let me know in the comments below; would love to hear your thoughts!

Should YOU enter writing contests?

Subtitle: My response to a potentially fictional post I thought I read on Longreads that I can no longer find

So, I could be sheepish and apologetic that I haven’t posted in awhile, but I think you’ve been okay without my random blogging, and I’ve been busy at work, so…. I won’t.

#sheep

While I was in the midst of struggling to meet a deadline for work, I read this article about why you shouldn’t enter writing contests that I thought was on Longreads, but I’m having trouble finding it, so it’s possible I’m either mis-remembering the source or I made it up, so… No hyperlinked source for this one, but enough other people have posted on this topic that I feel okay with responding to this potentially fictional article.

This is probably exactly what Hamlet would be like if I had written it.

I think there are some decent reasons not to enter contests – the judging of writing is fairly subjective, and even if your writing is flawless, it may just not hit someone’s buttons, and if you’re going to be depressed if you don’t win, then… you probably shouldn’t enter contests.

On the other hand, contests have this thing called a deadline that can be very useful if you need a fire under your ass to finish anything.

As long as you’re not actually expecting to gain, like, notoriety from the contest or anything, and enter purely as a means of driving yourself to finish something, I think it’s reasonable to enter a writing contest. I recently entered a Wattpad contest, and there is a rush from completing something, and I actually created something that I really like, so I feel like it was a win. But whether I win, or don’t win, doesn’t really matter. Winning is nice. Not winning isn’t a big deal. And no matter what anyone else thinks, I like what I wrote.

Thanks, Hamlet.

What are your thoughts? Do you enter writing contests? Why or why not? And what are your thoughts on Hamlet (Shakespeare’s or mine are both up for grabs)?

Plain Bad Mediocrity

Brookhants, a property housing a boarding school that was last peopled with students in the early 20th century, is haunted. Parents stopped feeling comfortable sending their girls there after the mysterious deaths of several of the students, as well as members of the faculty. The terrible deaths surrounding the property, as well as the unconventional lifestyles and love interests that people the property’s tragedy, made for a fascinating, bestselling read when literary talent Merritt Emmons had her non-fiction book featuring the mystery published as a precocious teen, and are now in the works to become a (hopefully) blockbuster, (at the least) expensive movie featuring the famous and beautiful Harper Harper and her B-list co-star Audrey Wells. … what could go wrong?

If I were to draft a book wishlist, a book description fairly similar to the synopsis of Plain Bad Heroines would be on it. As a fan of thrillers/horror since elementary school, as well as enough of a follower to read shit because Emma Roberts’ book cult suggested it, it’s almost like Emily M. Danforth’s novel was crafted specifically for me. Sprinkle in characters that challenge heternormativity, and an intelligent, rich mentor character who met Truman Capote, and I have got to fucking read this book.

Give me ALL the books!

Unfortunately, although the plot and characters are interesting, this book was not as enjoyable as I was hoping.

Plain Bad Heroines is an interesting conundrum of a novel, in that it has really forced me to evaluate what I desire from the books that I read. Objectively, I consider the plot to be interesting. It has two primary timelines – one occurring in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, the other occurring more recently, in the early twenty-first century – and both timelines include interesting plots and have an approximate equal weighting. Objectively, I consider the characters to be interesting. There were characters I liked more than others, but the majority of the characters are either fairly well fleshed out, or appropriately rely on stereotypes that allow the reader to quickly understand them. I will say, not all of the characters really grow or change, but given that this novel is in large part a thriller/horror novel, I think that is okay. When you think about a lot of famous horror movies, the main character struggling to survive is often a static character, who may become traumatized, but has not really changed at his or her core, and has instead shown how his or her character has allowed him or her to remain alive. So, given that I agree that the plot and characters in the novel are fairly well done, what, exactly, was my problem with the novel?

That is an excellent question.

I’m going to try. Also, way to call bullshit on my stalling tactics.

Right.

I think the missing element for me with this novel was writing style. There were moments, brief glimpses, where the prose style was enjoyable to me. However, for the most part, the writing of this novel felt a bit plain. It was not that the sentences were even necessarily poorly crafted, they just didn’t appeal to me. The information that should have been conveyed was conveyed, it was just done in a way that felt too simple, that drew too straight a line from point A to point C. In essence, I think that this novel shows craft and shows writing, but just does not do so in a way that is in accord with my artistic sensibilities. I would not be at all surprised to discover I am in the minority in my feelings while reading this novel. At the same time, my honest, true feelings are that the writing style takes an interesting idea peopled with interesting characters and fails to elevate the story, leaving the book instead one more mediocre novel populating store bookshelves starting October 20th.

Ugh – I wanted to like this so much more than I did!

Did you read it, or are you planning to do so? If so, what did you think or what is most interesting/intriguing/appealing to you?

Timing

I was too late to make the deadline, but this post was written in response to The Wordsmith’s Weekly Writing Contest (15-21). Thanks for the prompt, Ms. Rachel Smith!

The ticking was cacophonous in the small room wallpapered with clocks of all shapes and sizes, each with its’ own slightly different measurement that resulted in there not being a single moment without sound. The lack of carpeting only increased sound, with every step George took in her high-heeled boots echoing loudly. She had to get out of here before the hour struck, not merely to save her brother, but also to save her sanity.

Robert had always had a knack for getting into dangerous situations, and George marveled to herself that it was slightly amazing that she was not yet tired of saving him. It probably helped that this time she was not saving him from himself. Robert may have been an alcoholic gambler and compulsive liar with impulse control problems, but he had not kidnapped himself nor absconded to this odd time dungeon voluntarily.

Glancing at the wall, George noted she had approximately 12 minutes to grab her brother and get out. Luckily, she did not also have to find him. There was nowhere to hide, and he lay 12 steps before her, his wrists bound in a thick, oil-smudged rope behind his back, his mouth gagged with a dirty rag, his chest rising in jagged breaths that belied the impression that he was no longer save-able.

She hurried to his side, curling over her toes and making her arches scream as she knelt. She pulled the rag roughly from his mouth, causing a scream and the plink of at least one tooth against the hard, cold floor.

“Jesus!” Robert screamed, red flushing across his face.

“Not Jesus,” she corrected. “George.”

“Fuck, George, what the hell are you doing?”

“Saving you.”

“Well, dammit, be more careful! I can’t afford veneers.”

“I think the words you’re looking for are, ‘Thank you for coming to rescue me, dear sister in shining armor. Losing a tooth sucks, but is probably better than losing my life. I also 100% realize that this loss is likely partially my fault, because I have terrible oral hygiene.’”

“It’s not my fault; I’m an alcoholic.”

“I don’t think that removes responsibility, but… Shit. 9 minutes. Why don’t you shut the fuck up so we can get out of here?”

“Why don’t you both shut the fuck up? You’re giving me a migraine.” The voice was cold, female elegance overlaid on the polar ice caps.

Cold and familiar.

“Of course,” George muttered. “I should have known.” She turned and greeted the woman: “Hello, mother.”

She woke up, the raucous chimes letting her know it was several hours later. Her arms were tied tightly behind her back, a thick and salty rag was in her mouth, and she had a splitting headache.

On Getting Shit Done #Goalz

So… some of you may remember my lofty goal of writing 2k words while on vacation. Which, unsurprisingly, did not happen.

#howembarrassing

And with this time of year, and my increasing frustration with feeling like I’m not performing as well as I want to at work, not mothering my children as well as I want to at home, and not fulfilling my creative needs ever, I’ve been thinking a little bit about goals.

I know, I know, talking about goals sounds kind of lame. So maybe we shouldn’t call them goals – basically, I’ve been trying to figure out how do I stop feeling like such a failure and start getting shit done. And what specific shit would I like to get done.

So, here are my steps to identify what shit I am going to push myself to accomplish in 2020:

  1. Take a deep breath, and think about what areas of my life I want to see changes for in 2020. You can’t come up with goals if you don’t really know what you want. I already mentioned the areas of my life I want to see changes: employment, family/motherhood, and creative/writing.
  2. Think through what, specifically, is causing unhappiness in these areas. You can’t come up with appropriate goals if you are not specific enough. From hereon out, I will solely be discussing my creative/writing goals, because, like, everyone hates their job and all mothers feel like most of their actions are just fodder for their child(ren)’s future therapy sessions. So hopefully, focusing on my goal that is more likely shared by you guys will make this post more interesting. If not, my bad, but, like – thanks for reading.
  3. Think about the large long-term goal I want to achieve in 2020 (i.e., what do I want to brag about achieving). For me, I want to begin writing more. I’m not planning to write my novel this year, or get published, etc. I just want to formulate the habit of writing more frequently. (Maybe next year, I can focus on getting published, writing novel, etc.)
  4. Think about an appropriate, achievable short-term goal I want to achieve throughout 2020 that will help me with my long-term goal. Note the use of the adjective achievable. There’s no point in setting a goal that sounds so difficult that it will feel infinitely easier to lie in bed and stare at the wall than even attempt them. Should your “shit-I’m-going-to-get-done” list push you? Absolutely. Should this list be so difficult that the likelihood you will achieve them is akin to winning the lottery? Probably not. At least, that doesn’t work for me. I want to write more – it would be nice to be writing daily, or almost daily by the end of the year. And I think the way to do that is to get more organized and focus on completing the stories that excite me in a more timely manner. To assist with this organizational need, I went to Barnes & Noble the other day and purchased a planner (thank you, 50% off on planners now that Xmas is over). My short-term goal is to write at least one short story each month. To do this, I am planning to write in the story I’m working on in my planner, and marking the dates that I write so I can force myself to visually see how far I am getting with this goal. Writing one short story each month will push me, and will help me to create that habit of writing nearly every day.

So that’s it! Obligatory New Year’s reflection on the shit I’m going to get done in 2020 accomplished. My other reflections on 2019 posts will probably wait until February through March, because everyone’s doing reflection posts, and so I think it would be boring to do it now. Also, there is other stuff I want to write about that excites me more, so I’m going to do that (assuming I can find time to write blog posts, since accountants are a smidge busy this time of year).

What about you guys? Have any goals in 2020? Share with me in the comments below! Remember, the more people you talk to about your goals, the more pressure you will induce in yourself to accomplish those goals.

“No pressure,” they said…. “It will be a great workout, they said…”

NaNo No Mo’

The air, at least in Michigan, is starting to chill. The leaves are turning shades of yellow, orange, and red before drifting to the ground as beautiful corpses that litter our lawns, and then get wet and gross and present rake-breaking eyesores. It is, in short, October. Beautiful, fall-is-here October. Which means next month is November. And as most of those who like to write are aware, November is supposed to be a push to get a (probably shitty) 50k word draft of a novel drafted by partaking in NaNoWriMo.

There’s no hard and fast rule saying you have to participate in NaNoWriMo. But as someone who feels like there is at least one decent novel hidden somewhere in her sleep-deprived brain and shriveled, cynical heart, it is an event which I have attempted a few times, and always feel I should consider.

But not this month. Fuck November! My November is going to be awful. I’m going to be up to my eyeballs in work, struggling valiantly to meet nearly-impossible deadlines while sitting in a cube and feeling my ass grow wider each day because exercise is for people without kids and soul-crushing jobs.

However, theoretically, my December should be calmer. In fact, I’m taking at least two weeks off. So I am setting myself a goal in December, instead – 2k words per day for 2 weeks on whatever. Maybe a novel, maybe some short stories. But I want to write consistently, in addition to keeping my house clean, and keeping my kids fairly happy and well taken care-of.

What about you? Are you torturing yourself in November? Or is November a no-go? If the latter, do you want to push yourself in December, like me?

Have to Share: Laura Rider’s Masterpiece

Loved this novel, and had to share, in case anyone else has been feeling a bit of reading ennui lately:

Laura Rider is a force of nature hidden amongst the housewives in her small Wisconsin town. She owns a gardening business with her husband, Charlie, with whom she has laughed, loved (but not physically, lately), and lived for more than a decade. But now, she pretty much knows the gardening business inside and out. So now, she’s bored. And looking for something else to do.

When one of her heroes, radio personality Jenna Faroli, moves to town with her husband, an older man who is also not providing for his wife’s carnal nature, both Laura and her husband notice. Charlie, the easy-going, charming, lovable idiot, is eager to find someone who is as interested in a sordid, motel screw as he is. Laura is fascinated that this charming, intelligent woman is kind of physically plain and also, interested in her husband. Romance, chaos, and creative forces ensue.

This novel is fun, funny, and looks at what happens when smart people are forced to recognize their own flawed humanity by making terrible mistakes. How being driven can help you figure out what change you are craving, and how to make it happen. And how believing in aliens does not prevent a man from catching the attention of not just one, but two, amazing woman – but keeping their attention requires effort.

I loved this novel, and the audiobook version I borrowed from the library was very well done. The reader had an engaging voice, and although my office may be freezing, this book made it entertaining to drive to & from it. I may have just listened to this book at the right time, but I don’t think so. Although it only has 2.5 stars on Goodreads, I found it well-written, funny, and insightful.

So I highly recommend, if you’re looking for something fun.

Haze

How could he have missed her, when her skin was luminescent, as though she were shining from the inside out? He knew, in actuality, it was a mutation caused by his grandmother’s excessive use of hairspray, his mother’s generation’s prioritization of convenience over climate. Still, his heart fluttered.

She had dark violet eyes, a shade his mother claimed people used to purchase plastic-silicone cups they put directly on their eyes to obtain. He had never understood the appeal of this optical vanity until he got close enough to see into her eyes for the few seconds before she maced him. It was the right move; the ever present fog comprised of pollution had further empowered and encouraged rapists, and glowing in the dark made her more noticeable prey.

He told his mother about her when he got home, though as usual, his mother didn’t really listen. His eyes may have been the ones stinging from capsaicin and not having been the unknown girl’s love at first sight, but his mother’s eyes were the ones overflowing as she wailed once more about how she was such an awful person to have brought him into this world that was so dark and bereft of something called Oxycontin, about how she had trusted the politicians who lied regarding the veracity of global warming when she should have listened to the hippies. And wasn’t it so ironic, now everyone lived like hippies because the water was the wrong temperature and too polluted for bathing, and the supply of dry shampoo had run out when he was only 2. Or maybe it wasn’t ironic because her understanding of that word came from a song from the ’90s, which she had later heard used the term incorrectly.

Eventually, his mother tired herself out. Her lids closed, and she drooped onto the tabletop, and he went to bed, because it was dark and no one else in his home was awake, and there really wasn’t anything to do.

He couldn’t sleep. Violet eyes, fringed with long lashes, stared into his own every time his lids closed. He should probably have been tired, but was oddly energized, as though he had come across some contraband Twinkies, and had sugar and preservatives coursing through his veins. Finally, after hours of pretending he would be able to get some rest, he went outside for a walk.

And saw her again.

He was wading round the corner of a crumbling brick building, amidst the foot of water that was now a permanent fixture of a decaying former downtown, when he was forced to halt his next step mid-air to avoid running into her. He saw her right hand begin to move in front of her, and cried out: “PLEASEDON’TMACEMEAGAINIWONTHURTYOUIPROMISEINFACTIWOULDLIKETODOTHEOPPOSITEOFHURTYOUBECAUSEYOUINTRIGUEMEBUTPLEASEPLEASEDONTSPRAYMEAGAINBECAUSETHENYOUWILLHURTMEANDDOESNTTHATMAKEYOUAHYPOCRITEANDOHMYGLOBALWARMINGNOWIMBABBLINGLIKEMYMOTHER. SORRYBOUTTHAT.”

Her hand halted. She looked at him, eyes narrowed, and then burst out into laughter. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

He ran his hand through his greasy hair. “Um… yes?”

“Well, it’s a good thing you said something, since I’m carrying a stun gun and not mace.”

He was relieved at having not been attacked again, and curious as to how she had obtained a stun gun, given that they were illegal. Mostly, though, alarmed: “Yes, good I said something. I don’t like being electrocuted.”

She shook her head at him, lips pursed in derision. “You can’t play cool now. You just admitted to the ultimate girly insecurity: fear of turning into your mother.”

He opened his mouth, sure there was an objection to this, and them closed his mouth, having been unable to find it.

“It’s okay. I don’t particularly want you to turn into your mother, either.” She winked, revealing sparkly lids, before pushing past him. He turned to watch her walk away, only to see her look over her shoulder, and prompt him to follow her.

“Where are we going?” he asked, walking quickly so that he was at her side.

She shrugged. “I dunno. To find something to steal.”

“… steal?” He was a well-behaved boy, having heard numerous horror stories about what happened if people were caught stealing. It involved cruel and unusual punishment, occasionally culminating in death.

“Do you have something to live for?” she asked him, flashing teeth in a reckless smile. Her words were flippant, and he could not tell whether or not she was serious.

They arrived at a large group of brick buildings, whose front glass doorways were dark with dirt and dust, whose parking lots were spotted with vehicles that rose out of the constant smog, which they avoided out of decency, since the owners were likely living out of them. They tip-toed through the mist, moving without sound over the concrete, before she picked up a heavy green pole still occasionally used to contain the remnants of an illicit cigarette, and broke open one of the large glass windows.

Dust kicked up in small tufts with each step across the small black and white tiles lining the floor right before the window as they weaved between tables. Shortly, they came to an opening in the waist-high wall, and stepped onto dark green, low-pile carpet. Large wooden shelves loomed, filled with paper. She walked to the nearest shelf, running her fingers along the items it contained. “What is this place?” he asked.

“It’s a bookstore,” she responded. She removed a slim volume from a shelf, the front of which showed sad, feminine eyes morphing into a night sky atop a glimmering city. “This one is one of my favorites,” she said.

“You can read?” he asked. He had heard of it from his mother, although it was a concept he had never understood. What was the point in straining your eyes to view small symbols denoting meaning in a world where no one could see anything clearly, given the constant fog comprised of pollution? Yet here, she of the violet eyes held the item so close – maybe there was something to the act he was missing. He stared more closely at the front of her book, seeing white and orange symbols that were obviously supposed to mean something — yet, after staring for a few more seconds, he was completely oblivious to what that meaning was, and agreed with his original assessment of this “reading.”

She, meanwhile, ignored him, seeking out a brighter area, and finally settling in an area of the floor where a small shaft of sunlight shown through the window, lay on her stomach, and began slowly flipping through the pages.

He walked around a bit, finally finding a book filled with pictures, which he took near her and began reviewing. Some of the pictures were very beautiful or interesting, and he found himself getting lost, to the point where he looked up, and realized she was no longer beside him. Tucking up the book he had been looking at under his arm, and feeling a thrill that it was his now that he had decided to claim it, he began searching for her.

He found her, sitting on the dead, formerly grass, slope behind the building, knees up, arms crossed atop them. He sat beside her.

After a few seconds of silence, she sighed heavily, her mouth opening wide like a Greek tragic mask. “Do we have something to live for?”

“I don’t understand what you mean,” he admitted.

She gestured around herself. “Look at this world. Our parents fucked it up. There’s nothing to see, not much to do, and when you find shit to do anyway, such as ‘stealing’ from defunct stores that couldn’t take money if you offered it to them, you’re tortured. What kind of life is that?”

“…our life?” I ventured. “I mean, we’ve never known any different.”

“No, but we’ve heard the stories. Of how it used to be. Our parents lived in a world of light. Now we know nothing but haze and darkness. Violence and isolation.”

“I don’t feel isolated right now,” I said, looking over at her.

She dropped her chin onto her arms. “For now. But this feeling, like the one we just felt, won’t last.”

He thought for awhile. She made a kind of sense, yet he knew, in his heart, that she was not entirely correct. After awhile, he said: “Our life is… not great. But I’ve spent enough time listening to my mother – because when you’re around her, all you do is listen, there’s no point in talking – “

Tiny smile.

” – And I don’t think that they had it better. Should they have taken better care of the earth? Yes. Was it selfish of them to have us, knowing that the world would be nearly unlivable in the very near future? Maybe. But we are here, and we can still find some enjoyment in our lives. Even without dry shampoo.”

She looked over at him. “Dry what?”

“I don’t know. It’s something my mother talks about. A lot.”

She laughed. “You’re a weird guy. Or at least, have a very weird mother.”

“Agreed. Pretty sure I have to give mom all the credit, though.” After a pause, he said: “I’m Jeffrey, by the way.”

She looked over. “Nice to meet you, Jeffrey.” After a pause: “Amy.”

They sat behind the store awhile, making small talk that dipped its’ toes into large talk, and increasing their amiable feelings for each other until the initial liking of each others’ company began turning into something more.

Written in response to M’s June Writing Prompts