Friday, November 29, 2013

NaNoWriMo Washout 2013

So I didn't finish NaNoWriMo this year. Again. This was my ninth attempt but only my second washout.
It doesn't seem like anyone is surprised. Except me. At least a little. I really thought I could do it. Maybe.
I knew I could overcome the usual odds: only about 30% of participants achieve a winning word count. After all, I've finished seven times before, plus three successful attempts at Script Frenzy. I've had fun. Writing is almost always fun. The words start flowing and as long as I have the time and focus, I can pound out the requisite 50,000 words and still have a bit of a life in November. 
The last time I didn't finish, there were extenuating circumstances (which you can read about here). This time around I guess I saw the writing on the wall and simply chose to ignore it. What happened?
  1. Not to be too blunt about it, but this year my Dad passed away. It happened 5 weeks before the start of NaNoWriMo. He was pretty sick for a couple of months before that and I was pretty wrapped up in helping my family take care of him. Then he was gone and it hit us all pretty hard. But I decided that at least trying to accomplish another NaNoWriMo was better than not trying at all. If I was lucky, I might even get some sort of a crappy draft I could use to write a real novel some day. Nope. No such luck. Grief is a tricky beast. It sits there quietly for a while, letting you think everything might be all right and you can get back to living your life. You even get some days when you write 3 or 4 thousand words. Then it sits up and simply devours your life for a time, hours if you're fortunate, days if you are not. It consume several days of writing in November. I had a lot of days with nothing to show. And just as many with only a few hundred words.
  2. Family is a wonderful thing and usually pretty manageable in November. Most years, we NaNoWriters only have to worry about losing Thanksgiving Day itself to family, along with a few other obligatory hours here and there. This year, however, in the context of the loss of my Dad, family time became precious time and it was difficult to let any of it go. That cost me at least another five full days. It's possible I could have written for at least part of a couple of those days, when I was just traveling. But truth be told, my heart wasn't really in it.
  3. That's really the core issue here. This year, my heart just wasn't in it. On top of the obvious, I chose the wrong story to work on this year. I needed something that would fire up my imagination, something that would get me out of the here and now, and something that didn't require a lot of wrestling with reality. I needed something big and bold and crazy. For some reason, I instead chose a quiet mystery story where I didn't understand the mystery or the characters involved or the McGuffin. I thought I had enough to just get rolling and let the writing lead me, but that didn't happen.
So here I am at the end of another NaNoWriMo with only about half the words I need to win. As recently as yesterday, I thought maybe I could use the last three writing days to at least put me over 30K (or even 35K!). It's not happening. Am I disappointed? Only a little. At least I tried. At least I had a bit of a distraction from all the other stuff. And maybe I learned a couple of things.
  1. If I ever tackle another straight up mystery, I can't settle in with a subtle antagonist. I need somebody with a genuine evil purpose. I need someone trying to make something happen that captures the attention of my protagonist. I need something more entertaining than based in reality. I also need to work out the antagonist's plans and purposes before I dive into the protagonist's story of discovery.
  2. Corollary to that, a mystery requires a more detailed outline, timeline and map. Who's related to whom? On what days do things happen? Where do things happen? Those questions have to be answered before writing the first sentence. I was already becoming convinced of this. Now I'm more convinced. I just need to do it. This requires patience and focus and application.
  3. Corollary to that, next time I come up on NaNoWriMo and want to participate and don't have a well constructed outline, etc., I will rummage around in my trove of story ideas and, instead of choosing the most sensible one, I will choose the most outlandish one. Maybe that will give me a big enough sandbox to play in and write 50K words in 30 days.
In the meantime, where's the remote? I've got 3 or 4 weeks of television to catch up on.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

read: Fiddlehead (4 stars)

Fiddlehead (The Clockwork Century, #5)Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cherie Priest takes her Clockwork Century series out with a bang with Fiddlehead. She gives us a crazy scientist predicting the end of the world, spies, counter-spies, corrupt politicians, and plenty of wacky steampunk technology that has no business existing in the mid-nineteenth century.

The writing, as usual, is crisp and clear and fun. It takes things just seriously enough to keep the reader in the story, but adds the dash of fun that's needed to propel things past the preposterous. On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed by the kitchen sink approach to this entry in the series. Especially toward the end, there were callbacks to characters and situations from previous books that felt a bit forced and rushed. Sort of, 'Hi there. Remember me?', over and over to wrap things up in a neat package. Some of the connections could have used more elaboration (but without belaboring them).

The bottom line is that I enjoyed the ride and am sad that it's over (for now, at least). I'm looking forward to future offerings from Cherie.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

read: Still Foolin' 'Em: Billy Crystal (5 stars)

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My KeysStill Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys by Billy Crystal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very entertaining survey of the comedian's life. I recommend listening to the audiobook version to get the extra inflection of Billy Crystal's voice.

The reader/listener will be shocked (shocked! I say) to learn that Billy grew up in a happy home, has always been pretty funny, and didn't go into comedy right away. I should have recalled, but learned more deeply here, that Billy has a love of baseball, especially the New York Yankees, that is long and deep and is rooted in the limited time he had with his father.

This is a love story between Billy and life, with a little death thrown in for added poignancy and drama. Recommended for any fan and even non-fans.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

read: October Fest (4 stars)

October FestOctober Fest by Jess Lourey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoroughly enjoyable mystery set in small town Minnesota. This is the sixth book in the series, but the first one I've read. Fans of Lake Wobegon and residents of the Midwest will recognize the cozy setting immediately.

The author does a fine job of getting new readers up-to-speed and into the story world without belaboring the point. This sort of story needs plenty of quirky characters, interesting settings, and seemingly mundane activity surrounding a viable mystery-to-be-solved with multiple suspects. October Fest provides all of these in a highly readable, fast moving volume.

I did find myself wanting a bit more Oktoberfest activity, though, since that is the title of the book. But beyond the immediate context of the murder, much of the story delved into other happenings in town.

I am looking forward to many happy returns to Battle Lake, Minnesota.

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