Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Preemptive Debriefing

Don't worry, I'm keeping my shorts on. This is about National Novel Writing Month.

I'm calling it, I don't expect to win this year. I'm planning to finish between 40 and 42 thousand words. So I'm not going to get a T shirt this year, but I am going to get about 40,000 words, so that's nice. This is my third year to do national novel writing month, and I do feel like every year I get a little better (though every year I also try to do something more ambitious than the past year, so I also feel like I fall slightly farther behind my goal each year. Live and learn).

This year one of the main problems was nailing down the tone. I was trying to write something that was both funny and horrific, and deciding on the measure of each was difficult. It took me a long time to get right and the sections where the tone felt off kept sapping the willingness to continue out of me, even though I knew it was something I could tweak in editing. Tone was an issue last year too, when I had more than one moment of paralyzation trying to figure out if I was writing a mystery or an adventure that happened to have a murder macguffin. I hereby resolve that in the future, I will deal with this before I start writing a book.

I also had a little trouble getting the characters down in the first chapters, and the result was me fumbling around in the narrative dark until I got my feet under me. Like the year before last, I had a good picture of the main character in my head, but it did not translate well to paper (by contrast, last year's two main characters were not terribly fleshed out and flowed out well). Both of the main characters I had done more advance work on in order to make them more complex ended up feeling, especially at the beginning, both terribly static and less complete than I would have liked- I was spending too much time trying to get them right according to how they were in my mental plan for the novel. I don't think this necessarily means I need to discovery-write characters, but I do think I need to approach them from a starting point of a more focussed characterization to get things started, then build outward from that through actual steps in the plot.

I could have outlined better, and I say that despite a pretty thorough plot outline. This time around I was trying to write a pretty complex story in terms of plot, with a lot of betrayals and reversals and the like. I did a lot of work on it before hand, but I still hit points while writing where I went "wait a sec, that doesn't actually work". This has happened in every book so far, and I'm not sure what to do about it, as I've already taken steps to correct for it. I guess just keep at it.

I have been reminded how much help it is to talk things out. For various reasons, most having to do with work scheduling, I didn't meet with my national novel writing month group for most of the month. I've also tried to avoid discussing specifics with people I intend to bother to beta read the manuscript. Those times I have sat down and talked out problems with the novel, it's not only usually solved them, it's reinvigorated me for the writing. Apparently, this is a necessity for me for longer works. I will keep this in mind next time.

I need to sit down further in advance next time and work out universal rules for magic and religion, as well as make maps so I'm confident of both distance and direction when my characters are running for their lives. Distance is an especially big one that's come up in every single novel I've written so far. I suspect this is one of those things where no matter how much you plan you're going to end up writing a spontaneous scenario that you hadn't done the calculations for, but I know I can do better than I am.

So that's it. While I don't expect to get my 50,000, I certainly don't consider it a waste. Every single one of these things has been a learning experience. And honestly, without them I don't think I'd have had the gumption to start a novel at all.

So how did y'all do, what did you learn, and what novel writing wisdom do you have to impart?

Happy National Novel Writing Month, internet.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Butching Up Lab Mice

An interesting study on mice brain chemistry. And while it's not the main point of the article, tremble at the casual rearrangement of mouse personality via engineered virus. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, Internet!

Because this blog is for a principally horror writer, I typed the phrase "hideous nightmare turkey" into google images to try to find an appropriate .jpeg for the occasion.

This is what I found instead:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can't Blog, Gotta Write

Sorry guys, there's trouble on El Rancho National Novel Writing Month. More blog posts later.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Written? Kitten!

Okay, so, I still think Write-or-Die (putting the prod in productivity) is a better motivational tool for me personally, but for those of you who don't like flashing red lights and your completed words being taken away from you if you slow down, may I present Written? Kitten! You can set your reward intervals and after each you will receive an adorable kitten picture. How could you not love it?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jailbreaking the Patriarchy

Jonathan, I am prepared for your bemused annoyance!

Okay, so a nice lady named Danielle Sucher wrote a Google Chrome add-on that automatically reverses all gendered terms (you can toggle it on and off). For extra fun, install it and read dating advice. Or porn. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shock Totem Holiday Special

God, this magazine never has a bad cover. Look at how gorgeous that is!

Shock Totem is putting out a holiday e-book special and you should buy it. You should buy it because Jack Freaking Ketchum is going to tell you a story about his Christmas. You should buy it because horror needs a holiday too. You should buy it because, hell, look at it! That's a switchblade snowflake and it's gorgeous.

Yes, absolutely, Skull Honey readers. Get out there and indulge in some holiday cheer. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Superhero Genre

I know that I've mentioned my love of the Superhero genre before, even though I don't really write much in it. In part, it comes from my love of comics and animation, and I do take in a lot of both that have nothing to do with people with strange obsessions putting on tights and capes and beating up street thugs and space invaders. I like Sandman and Bone and Transmetropolitan and Strangers in Paradise. But I also really love Superheroes.

I don't know if part of it is a hold over from growing up reading X-Men- the sort of crunchy sweet nostalgia that makes you adore something you rationally know is silly or bad for you. I think that's part, but not all of it, because I can certainly recognize good and bad stuff within the genre and I really do think when it's good, it stands up well against any other genre I enjoy reading, with its own little tropes and idiosyncrasies that it comes back and tries to address (you couldn't very well have had Watchmen or Identity Crisis if you didn't have a set of expectations).

Actually, when you get right down to it, I think the tropes are why I love it. Because superheroes are a genre that's grown up in comic books principally aimed at kids, there's a lot of inherent ridiculousness that's not only gotten a pass, but become enshrined as a genre hallmark. Superman can hide his identity just by wearing glasses. One single mutant gene produces a limitless array of magic powers including controlling the weather, super speed, talking to machines, laser eye beams, turning into metal, and randomly cutting from our dimension to a hell dimension full of monsters and back with a precision that allows you to get wherever you want to go. It's not weird for there to be man-eating alligator people in the sewers. Batman has a billion dollar computer inside a secret cave that can monitor and analyze whatever he wants. The Flash can run into things faster than the speed of sound and not become  a red and yellow smear against them. One crazy person in a mask with a few fancy gadgets is more effective than either the army or the police. The best way to fight crime is in brightly-colored, skin-tight spandex. The only other genre I can think of that has near as many completely accepted bits of utter insanity is Fairytales.

But let's be honest, I'm also a big fan of Fairytales. It's the juicy archetypes and tropes that become something terrifying and ridiculous on close scrutiny. It's the fact that readers have some very concrete and silly expectations waiting to be defied or refined in a million different ways. Or alternately, lived up to in ways they didn't expect.

Also, in a way very much like Fairytales, Superheroes have gotten bigger than whoever's currently writing them. Because these guys come out in comics that are printed generally once a month, with a rotating stable of authors, and in many cases with canon alternate versions of themselves and constant reboots and redefinitions, nothing about them is particularly fixed. It can be hugely frustrating if you're a reader who's been following a character, getting to know and love them, watching them evolve over an arc, only to suddenly find they're not behaving like themselves anymore. But on the other hand, it means that you're looking at the worlds and the characters almost through a hall of mirrors, with a million different acceptable distortions, so long as the essential characteristics are maintained. One of my favorite things ever in all of comics is called Superman: Red Son, by Mark Millar.

It's a stand alone, which is generally my favorite type of superhero story, in part because of the problems expressed above, and it's also a "what if?" story. In this case "what if instead of landing in middle America and being raised with all the wholesome American ideals that make Superman the guy we know and love, he came down in the Ukraine and was raised to be the paragon of communist values?" It's a fun, smart treatment that uses a twist on a very iconic character to talk about the cold war that dominated so much of the last century.

Then of course too you have things like Alan Moore's Watchmen, which takes the perspective of trying to look at what kind of people would really put on tights and punch criminals, and just how screwed up you really have to be to do so. (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, also by Moore, is superheroes as per English pulp/adventure literature of the 19th century, and it's quite a hoot.)

Another good one is Vaughn's Ex Machina, which is about a superhero who decides he could actually do more good in politics, and runs for and wins the mayorship of New York City. There are flashbacks to his tights and jetpack days, but it focuses more on what it means to do good and to make a difference in a world that doesn't just have super powered serial killers, but also the kinds of moral and social quandaries we deal with every day.

None of this is to say I don't enjoy straight superhero stories, because I really do. It's thrilling to watch one person or a handful of people stand up to comically exaggerated violence and terror and win (though my preference is often for the off-beat heroes where the licenses leave more room to goof off and experiment. The Question, Booster Gold, Green Arrow, Birds of Prey, Secret Six, Plastic Man). And some of the straight stories, particularly in the Batman and X-men lines, which do some of the most business and consequently attract some of the absolute best artists and writers, are well worth reading. There are also some absolutely wonderful writers who are absolutely worth following no matter where they go: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Gail Simone, Brian K. Vaughn, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, Robert Kirkman (some people would also say Grant Morrison, who I'm more ambivalent to. Some others would also say Frank Miller, but I really have to draw the line there).

It's not that there aren't problems with the superhero genre. There's a lot of places it lends itself to jingoism, simplicity, misogyny, senseless violence, and irredeemable silliness. It is still a pulp genre, after all. But the beautiful thing about it is how big and how diverse it actually is, and for everything out there that's rote good vs. evil ultraviolence or cheesecake exploitation, there's someone else pushing a fascinating character to their outer limits, asking unanswerable questions, and making you look at the world in a way you only can when you give individual characters agency that extends across the laws of physics. As uncle Ben said: with great power comes great responsibility. And whether the character you follow is equal to it or not, that by itself is a great story.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Verily Doth This Look Tapestry Shopp'd

I was speaking to a friend of mine who studies medieval history, and the Bayeux Tapestry came up. Not specifically recalling all the details of the tapestry, I typed it into google, with delightful results

Thursday, November 10, 2011


285 girls in Satara, India whose families gave them a name that means "unwanted" got a chance to pick new legal names in a ceremony put on by the local government. I say good for them, and good for the government. Thumbs up, guys. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Anecdote III

This one's about language and how it can kind of trip you up.

I was in an introduction to psychology course, and it was our lecture on language and psychology, and the whole Sapir-Whorf concept that the language in which you think necessarily constrains the concepts you are able to articulate and conceive. (The example you will have heard is Eskimos having 52 words for snow, and to a lesser extent, Germans having their own broad clutch of beer words). I believe the book took the stance that language reinforces culture which then turns around and reinforces language.

One of the examples in the book was how the Japanese are a conformist culture, where the same word means both "to be different" and "to be wrong".

My professor knew I was taking Japanese classes as well, so he turned to me and said "you're studying this, is that true?" And I said, "well, yes, the word they're talking about is 'chigau'." But it kept niggling at me. The thing is, chigau isn't a word that carries a lot of moral weight. It absolutely means "to be wrong" but it means it in the sense of getting a question wrong, or having your facts incorrect- literally different from the truth. If you tried to use it to say "that's so wrong" or "what you did was horribly wrong" it would sound weird. In that case you'd want a word like warui or yabai.

That's the thing. There's probably something to the whole "different" = "incorrect" statement, but I can't help but think there's also something important to the idea that the concept "incorrect" in English uses the same word as "morally abhorrent".

We take some very strange things for granted.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Did you know that the spectacular magazine Shock Totem now has its back issues in e-reader format? Yes, I'm just straight up pimping them. Ken Wood is a fantastic guy and these are high quality magazines. Look at that thing.
So, yes, if very well put together print editions are not your thing, or you only have ninety-nine cents in the world and you want to put it to the best possible use, you can go buy the first issue digitally and bask in its glory. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Captain Grandma

This is just the sweetest. Photographer Sascha Goldberger dressed his grandmother up as a super hero to cheer her up when she was depressed. These photos are the result. 

Friday, November 4, 2011


Issue #1 of Corvus is up, featuring a reprint of "Sweepers". These ladies seem like nice folks. Go read their magazine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Well, It's Now Midnight

National Novel Writing Month Go!
(my name on the site is "leslianne" if you want to find and friend me)