Monday, November 10, 2008

And a one, and a two...

It's November 10th, and I'm at about 4300 words. I should say that this is somewhat of an unofficial NaNoWriMo attempt for me, as last Sunday I sliced open my left index finger rather than the bagel I was aiming for, and the seven stitches at the tip of it have precluded speedy--or any--typing.

I wasn't sure whether I would do NaNoWriMo this year, but thought: Hey, last year I realized that I couldn't write my book with anyone but a gay man dying of AIDS as my main character. As last year helped with that realization, then why shouldn't this year help me get this story moving.

I have to admit - the story hasn't received the attention it deserved. Part of the reason is abject terror, some of it (much of it) is LIFE. I have a few things in common with my main character (not the dying part), and, well, enough said I suppose.

My stitches come out tomorrow, and for the past two days I've been typing with very little discomfort. So - off to the races, right? Well, no. Part of this LIFE that I mentioned has forced me into a gym, six days a week (though I'm supposed to do seven, and sometimes only manage five), and it's absolutely exhausting. I'm also taking a 21-week grammar class, and have found that it's much more difficult than anticipated, which means that I am spending more time studying than I had planned on.

So why am I doing NaNoWriMo? That very question just now popped into my head. I don't expect to "win" this year. But I do need *something* keeping me focused on this story of mine. I need an explosion of creativity.

My hope is that this will be it.

More later. It's late, and the gym awaits me in the morning. I'm certain that as I close my eyes I can hear it gurgling and splunging, anticipating the many ways it can torment me. It's very creative, as there seems to be a new torment every morning.

Wish me well!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's been a while

By now I've probably lost the one or two people that might have been following this blog, but in the event that I haven't...well, here we go.

Next Monday will be the last meeting of my Sci-Fi/Fantasy workshop, and it's been a terrific experience. I had some real concerns, as I'd never written fantasy for others to read before (in classes or workshops), and doubted my ability to write something that would entertain people who were serious sci-fi/fantasy fans.

When I submitted my first piece to the class, I was extremely nervous. It was a prologue, or a first chapter, and until the second to the last paragraph of the piece, absolutely nothing about it rang of fantasy. It couldn't, because it was about my main character's frustrations, mainly that he's been close to death on many occasions, only to somehow fight back and stay alive. He is, he tells us, ready to die, and hopes that the next time his immune system "goes to hell" that it stays there and lets him rest in peace.

Prior to the second class, the instructor e-mailed everyone's submissions for us to read, and then discuss in class. Mine was placed last, and I knew that it was going to be a difficult night, as my nerves would just be nuts, because everyone's submission was quite good. And a difficult night it was indeed. For the first half of the class we reviewed the works (good examples and bad) of published sci-fi/fantasy writers. I think we had a bit of Gene Wolfe, George R. R. Martin, something from Zelazny's Amber series, Robert Jordan, and others that I don't recall. (I should say that Jordan's was the 'bad' example. The example was from-pick a book, really-where page after page after page of descriptions do nothing at all to advance the story, character arcs, plot, or anything. With all due respect to the man-it could be argued that without his very long books, that George R. R. Martin's books might not have achieved the level of popularity that they have-I wish he had been a more efficient writer. It started out beautifully, then was massacred by tangents.) We talked about how these writers did what they did, and why what they did or didn't work. That was daunting enough. Then we took a break, came back, and our material was read aloud to the class by the instructor.

I was absolutely amazed at how good everyone was. The writing was pretty solid, especially considering these were rough drafts, and more than anything, the creativity that my fellow classmates displayed was even more daunting, to me, than the works of the published writers - because these guys were in a class with me, and we were all trying to do the same thing, which was to write successful sci-fi/fantasy. I compared myself to their works, and found myself lacking. I wondered what in the world I was doing in this workshop, what gave me the idea that I could write fantasy, and frankly I just wanted to leave. When we got to my piece, I sat, mute, wondering how something with barely any fantasy elements in it was going to be received.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered, based on comments from the instructor and my classmates, that it was received well. By what I could tell, it seemed to be received very well. (Though I probably shouldn't say that as I'll jinx something.)

Subsequent submissions, all of them very rough drafts, have also been well received, and I've been extremely encouraged. In essence, my story passed the second test. (Well, it seems to have. I'm not saying that I'm sitting on the next A Song of Ice and Fire here, or even that I've written something worthy of publication. Just that it seemed to pass this second test.)

The first test was asking Donaldson fans if they thought my idea was too similar to the Covenant series. They said no, and they're a tough crowd. I honestly expected to fail that test. If I had, I guess that probably would have been it. The second test was workshopping this idea in a dedicated sci-fi/fantasy workshop, to see if what I was doing was viable. Granted, I didn't unveil the entire story line, or all of the plot points or characters. The class only saw a glimpse of the beginning, which I still need to do quite a bit of work on. And I couldn't have unveiled the entire story line if I wanted to, because I've had to make so many changes to it that I don't even know what's going to happen in this book. Not everything, at least.

But what I did present was well received, so now it's time for the third test, which will be to workshop this through a dedicated novel writing workshop. It's likely that most of my classmates won't have an intimate understanding of fantasy. So there won't be, what the instructor of that workshop calls, 'deep fantasy knowledge'. What there will be is 'deep writing knowledge'. I know the instructor/tutor of the novel writing workshop, and she's GOOD. She's teaching the Reading as a Writer workshop that I'm currently in (we read Patchett's The Magician's Assistant, which was remarkable), and the comments that she's made on the little writing that we've been asked to turn in have been extremely impressive and uncommonly insightful.

The novel workshop starts in March, and runs for eight weeks. I'll have a bit less than a month to get the beginning of my book set up, and then will hopefully get it turned inside out. The goal, of course, is to write the best book I can.

I'm still waiting to hear from UIC as to my application into their graduate program for writers. I don't have a good feeling about it. They're an academic institution, and my bachelor's degree is from Columbia College. *I* don't like the education that Columbia's Fiction Writing program provided me. It was horribly lacking, and frankly did me one hell of a disservice, considering how much it cost to go there. I know for a fact that UIC doesn't think much of their program either, and even others with MFAs, who prefer an MFA program to an MA don't think much of Columbia's program. I feel a bit guilty saying that, because I admire John Schulz and Betty Shifflet. John founded the program, Betty is his wife, and they both know how to use John's Story Workshop method to its fullest. The other teachers, frankly, do not. Aside from being forced to write, and aside from having won a national award for a piece I wrote while I was there, the classes I had that were headed by anyone other than John or Betty were next to useless.

But I was a straight A student there, so I can't exactly tell UIC that I thought their school, their program, and the degree I have from them isn't worth a roll of toilet paper.

Anyway. It will be interesting if I am accepted. UIC, as an academic institution, and as they offer an MA as opposed to an MFA, doesn't encourage genre fiction. And here I am, at the point in my life where I am most ready and capable to get to work on the fantasy novel/series that I've been waiting most of my life to be ready for. If accepted, I'll have until August to work on the fantasy novel before having to devote some of my attention to other studies and writings.

I'll be disappointed if I'm not accepted, but not heartbroken. Workshopping at Story Studio Chicago has shown me that there are more ways to educate oneself in the craft of writing than at the university level.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not a leper

This is a (relatively) brief post, just to let anyone know who might be looking for signs of life from me that I'm still working on my project. The GRE is taking up most of my time right now. Math is killing me. I'm too old (41) and it's been too long since I've done any of this! I have forgotten EVERYTHING, and the Princeton Review is explaining things by way of "new math". So I'm truly learning everything new. Eek!!

I've struggled with the identity of my main character for years. Ever since coming up with the idea that there is a disease, or what appears like a disease, infecting certain people in the "fantasy world", I've felt that the only real way to resolve that problem was to bring a sick person from our world into that world (for reasons that are too involved to be mentioned in a brief post).

Knowing what or who my main character had to be didn't make it any easier to establish his identity, because one of my favorite authors, someone I've followed for twenty-seven years, wrote a fantasy novel where he brought a leper from our world into a fantasy world. This author's world wasn't sick when he brought the leper over, but the idea of leprosy and health were initial starting points for this author's themes.

How could I possibly use a sick person from our world, when one of my favorite writers, in one of my favorite fantasy series, has already done so?

Well, because I have to. The story demands it. For years I've tried to come up with a different solution, but there isn't one.

So I posted my quandary to a discussion forum dedicated to this authors work, and asked a group of writers what they thought I should do.

Their answers were unanimous: if my story needs a sick person from our world, then that's what the story needs, and who cares if a few (or more than a few) readers think it's similar to this other work?

While posting, I realized that I don't need a sick man - I need a dying man. I'd always known this as well, but never made the distinction. And he HAS to have AIDS. Again, for reasons that are too lengthy to get into. I asked this same group of writers/fans what they thought of a gay main character in fantasy series who had AIDS, and was surprised when every single one of them, even one who said that homosexuality repulsed him, again voiced nothing but encouragement, essentially believing that attitudes toward homosexuality have changed enough where it's not as big of a deal now as it would have been twenty years ago.

Why does the character need to be gay? Well, he doesn't. The story only demands that he be from our world and that he have AIDS. Because of the population of AIDS patients, and my own sexuality (which I've never hidden, and if I were so insanely fortunate/lucky to publish, would likely be known), if I were to write a huge story like I'm planning to, and wrote the main character as being anything but gay, I would essentially saying that I was afraid of writing the character in the way that seemed best and most comfortable to me.

So the story demands that he have AIDS, and my own sexuality and what I perceive as my responsibility to the gay community and to myself as a gay man, demands that he be gay.

My main character is from our world, has AIDS, is dying, and finds himself transported to this "fantasy world" with only a month's worth of medication to take. Sticky.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


After giving it considerable thought, I've decided to work on writing the backstory of this whole mess as if I were writing a poor man's The Silmarillion. Nothing that I'll think about publishing, but something that sets the record straight, for me, on the hundreds of pages worth of notes that I have, and the thousands and thousands of hours I've put into creating them.

So that's my goal. And it's going to be in narrative form, not scene outtakes and other useless crap like that. As I said in the post below, either an entire narrative separated by chapters, or as short stories (or novellas - in terms of length).

I'd like to say that I wish I would have done this years ago - and I do! - but I don't think that I would have been ready to. And it's not better late than never - it's best to do it when you're most capable of doing it right. I think I'm closer to that point right now than I've ever been. And it's within reach.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

NaNoWriMo exhaustion and withdrawal

Well, the month is over, and it was an interesting month! I resurrected my "epic" and breathed some new life into it. Found a possible beginning, and solidified the backstory. The backstory is going to need more work, and I might focus on writing just that part of it until it's settled. It's rather complicated and involved, and I think knowing exactly how everything happens will only help me write the series better.

I was discussing various backstory concepts with Chris yesterday, and while I was trying to explain to him how everything works and fits together (though it doesn't all fit together yet), it struck me again that my starting point might not be the best starting point. I think the only way for me to know that is to write the backstory. Not as if I were writing a novel, but more long hand than short hand, or perhaps as a series of short stories.

Also, I realized that I need for the "hero" to come from the real world, although not the 'only one man can save the world' kind of hero; I think those heroes are crap - it always takes more than one person to do anything. There's something that he has in his own "blood", let's say, that is necessary for the development of the entire story, and is why I would start telling the story with him as opposed to some perfectly interesting ideas in the backstory that could just as easily be fleshed out and written by itself.

That frustrated me, because that's not what I wanted to happen.

But I've learned quite a bit this month: in order for me to fix the problems with my ideas, I can't just sit around and think about them. I need to put the seat of my pants in the seat of my chair and write about them. Eventually, everything will work out. That's what I learned from my work at The Story Studio, and what I learned this month.

So what's next? Having to write 50k words in one month was terrific. I needed the pressure of having "writing buddies" who could see my word count, and other people I could talk to that had been through this. And while some have said that they're so burnt out they don't even want to think about writing, I think that means this is exactly the time to think about writing. If we're serious about wanting to be authors, not just writers, this is about the pace we should expect to work at. 25k-50k words per month isn't outrageous, and it's probably what guys like Stephen King do when they're writing.

So I've thought about starting a website where I can post a daily word count, and keep the blog going to serve, at least, as a diary for my work. I'll probably set a goal for around 25k a month until school starts in next fall. Then - I'll be trapped by academia!

NaNoWriMo has posted only one official statistic about the month, and the rest should post soon. I'll post them here when they're available.

The official statistic posted was the total collective word count: 1,098,496,066. That's amazing!

Some other, unofficial statistics:

Top 15 word count by region

RankRegionTotal Wordssort iconAverage WordsDonations

1United States :: Washington :: Seattle15,542,59927,655$4,550.00

2United States :: Maryland15,128,56827,209$2,450.00

3Europe :: Germany & Austria12,221,24931,018$1,475.00

4United States :: Minnesota :: Twin Cities12,219,94926,739$1,940.00

5United States :: California :: Los Angeles11,640,56823,659$3,035.00

6United States :: Illinois :: Chicago11,228,04525,576$1,865.00

7Europe :: England :: London9,440,59724,713$1,280.00

8United States :: New York :: New York City9,422,50028,466$1,660.00

9United States :: Oregon :: Portland9,360,60924,763$1,155.00

10Europe :: England :: Elsewhere9,197,79827,212$890.00

11United States :: California :: East Bay9,041,27327,150$2,750.00

12United States :: Massachusetts :: Boston9,037,11525,673$1,755.00

13United States :: Virginia :: Northern8,528,41024,228$2,970.00

14Canada :: Ontario :: Toronto8,307,65026,542$830.00

15Europe :: Holland & Belgium8,277,22429,456$685.00

Total word count by genre
RankGenreTotal Wordssort iconAverage WordsDonations
1Fantasy 242,414,81224,685$23,625.00
2Other Genres104,288,52721,632$8,840.00
3Science Fiction 91,721,43723,829$13,955.00
4Literary Fiction 84,344,35823,415$14,140.00
5Mainstream Fiction 83,774,07324,617$12,970.00
6Young Adult & Youth 70,104,49421,360$6,960.00
7Mystery & Suspense 57,001,53525,266$9,005.00
8Romance 48,293,38624,243$5,400.00
9Horror & Thriller 40,437,41022,641$3,780.00
10Adventure 35,276,54721,897$4,193.50
11Satire, Humor & Parody 30,595,40120,396$5,345.00
12Historical Fiction 26,980,72025,192$4,030.00
13Chick Lit 25,713,20920,537$3,300.00
14Erotic Fiction 11,444,41623,355$1,135.00
15Religious, Spiritual & New Age 8,698,86621,747$730.00

Fantasy accounted for 24% of the total word count. If you include Sci-Fi in that, then that category, lumped together by booksellers, accounted for 33%.

That a LOT of competition. So I've decided that I want to be a writer, and to top it off I've chosen the genre that, apparently, is the most competitive. Yipee!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day 28

Yesterday evening I added an additional 2,123 words simply by going through the 2nd chapter and half of the 3rd chapter and adding more context. I knew that what I was writing was very rough, but I didn't realize it was quite that rough. I filled in a lot of blanks, but more importantly, fleshed out a key relationship between the main character and his brother, and introduced some new ideas about the main character's father.

You can see the new word count in the upper left hand corner of the blog. My goal is to try for 60k, but with only two days left, I'm not sure I could do 3,500 words today and tomorrow. I'll give it a shot, though.

Not sure if I've mentioned this: I am writing this entirely in first person, and I know that will have to change. There will be other viewpoints that I'll have to bring in for the full telling, so that alone necessitates at least a third person limited narrator.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day 28 - very early

Two quotes that I want to share. One I shared at the very beginning of the month, and I kept it in my mind the entire month.

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining--researching--talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.
(E L Doctorow)

The other quote has been behind my monitor for some time now.

Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book.

I knew that I hadn’t found the man yet – that’s why I kept that particular quote posted, to remind myself that I needed to keep looking.

This month, especially during the last three "working days", I found the “man behind the book”