Tuesday, May 31, 2016

All About The Books

It's been an interesting writing week. I'm not sure if I should consider it a success, though, since I didn't actually write anything to share. I did warn you about that, though. This week was mostly dedicated to reading and structuring the next session for D&D. There was some creativity in the later part, so that counts, right?

Tuesday went more-or-less the way it always does at Writing Group. I went, I socialized, I gently critiqued others so that they might improve, and then I read my writing. As per usual, I had a pleasant response to my sibling dialogue piece. People enjoyed it. You could tell which sibling was talking because their voices were well defined. They were believably twelve and seven. You could tell what actions were being taken based on their dialogue, and even the passage of time didn't seem awkward while each sibling waited for the other. Good notes. Yay, me! Still, we spend so much time with everyone else, and then when it comes to me it's almost like they're patting me on the head. "Good, good. Well, done. Scurry along now..." Perhaps it's because they legitimately can't find anything to critique. Maybe they want to focus more on people's ongoing manuscripts than improving generic writing skills via oneshots. Maybe they're pandering to me. It's hard for me to tell which it is.

After the meeting, our newest member Brooklyn stopped me to chat. He commented about how he enjoyed my writing, mostly because it reminded him of his own. I stated that I felt the same way about other authors; mainly Rick Riordan. It was flattering to hear Brooklyn speak so highly of my writing, especially since he introduced himself at the meeting by stating that he has never been published, but he does have four completed manuscripts waiting to be picked up by someone. He also stated that he has tons of published-author friends back in New York City that have been trying to find him an agent. Encouraging stuff for this man's writing career, and yet he was impressed with my writing? Now my ego got a bit stroked, not even gonna lie. He trusted my writing eye well enough that he asked if I would mind beta reading a small chunk of his most recent story. I agreed - why not, I seem to be everyone's beta reader - and he handed me twelve random pages: presumably most of his third chapter, and the first two pages of his fourth.

Work again being as slow as commissions sales tend to be, I had plenty of time to read through Brooklyn's writing. I'm not entirely sure if he wrote the story the way he did because his main character, who is also the story narrator, has the mentality of a twelve-year-old, much like the writing style in Flowers for Algernon, or if the narration is simple because it's intended to be an elementary/middle-grade chapter book. I'm leaning towards the later, if no other reason than the subject of his story. Brooklyn's book is about Spike the Christmas Elf. Spike decides that he's tired of only knowing of the North Pole, and wishes to be more Worldly. So, Spike sets off on a journey, and finds himself in the United States. He's befriended by a traveling lounge musician named Ian, and a waitress named Jill. Where I last left Spike's wanderings, the trio left wherever Ian was originally performing - it was probably addressed in the first 34 pages that I didn't have - and went on what seemed to be a two-day drive to Las Vegas, Nevada for Ian's next big gig.

I have to say, that's one of the things I enjoy about my new job. Since it's commission sales, I could have a day like yesterday, where I'm twiddling my thumbs for about six out of the eight hours I'm working, have a fantastic sale by the end of the day, and still average out as making about $50 per hour! Not too shabby! Especially when I can spend those boring six hours of waiting doing things for my writing career. I could beta read. I could world build. I could actually write. I could focus on the pillar of writing I tend to neglect: reading published novels.

Which is precisely what I also did last week. I plowed through the last of Speaker for the Dead. For the three women that I am doing this reading challenge with, you've already read my thoughts on the matter, so excuse my repeating myself.

In all honesty, reading "Speaker for the Dead" was a trying race, and I thought I wasn't going to make it to the finish, just as I was concerned last month when I hadn't even picked up a book the first 20-some days of April. My biggest concern was that I didn't even really get into reading SftD until the fifteenth or so. Nearly 400 pages in fifteen days felt like too much of an undertaking. Especially when I still had about 100 pages left this past Wednesday, and then I forget to bring the book home while I had Thursday off.... Thankfully, even with the store having a Memorial Day special, it was almost painfully slow. Thanks to road work outside the store, I had enough down-time to charge through about 72% of the novel in a little over one week!

So, what was my reaction to "Speaker for the Dead"? Well.... it's a VERY grinding read. Orson Scott Card wanted to deviate from Europeans as main characters, and English as the primary language for this book. Breaking up the monotonous White Washing of Sci-Fi - at least, at the time it was written - Card had the residents of the new-found planet of Lusitania be decedents from Brazil. Which meant a LOT of Portuguese that I struggled to mentally pronounce, and a great deal of it was not actually translated. The meaning was supposed to be interpreted by the other character's reactions and responses.

There was also a lot of scientific jargon thrown in, most of which was probably created by Card for this novel. I mean, Speaker was set around 5270AD - it spans nearly thirty years throughout the course of the novel - that's a lot of technological advancements to think up....

The beginning of each chapter had a semi-unrelated text that, together, created the subplot backstory of an impending war, and why it was coming about. My issue here, however, is that while they made sense the further into the book you got, they seemed disruptive in the starting chapters, especially since you couldn't tell which bit of information came when since it was all essentially written in different stardate forms. To be fair, this may be something that would only irritate me.

Now, as I started off saying, the story was indeed very grindy. Even when I was completely immersed into the story, enjoying every page I read, I still found myself stopping to count how many pages I had left, and moaning about how long-winded the book was. And that's saying something, coming from me. Since I enjoyed it so much, I honestly couldn't tell where Card could cut. It was all very well done, and all needed material. It was just So. Slow. Paced. You'd enjoy the twenty-page chapter, only to realize that in the grand scheme of things, twenty-pages barely puts a dent in the book. I felt like I wasn't making any ground at all. The fact that the end of May was fast approaching probably didn't help the slow-paced nature of the story.... All in all though, I did, I truly did, greatly enjoy the novel. I completely understand why Hubby has tried for so many years to get me to read it, even if he himself isn't up to the task of REreading it. Again: slow read.

While "Ender's Game" was more fast-paced and gripping due to its action and concern for Ender, "Speaker for the Dead" presented a whole family - about a dozen characters, at least - that I fell in love with. To me, that more than makes up for the slow pacing. There were a few characters that only made relatively short appearances in the book - only about two chapters out of eighteen - and yet I still yearned for more about them; mourned for them. Each time another character's heart is ripped open, mine did too. Ender's great gift/terrible curse of empathy translates so well that I had the same love for these people in just as short a time with them. I yearned to know them just as he did.

The real, kicker, though, was the underlining mystery of it all: Why did the Piggies - the book's alien species - do what they did? The mystery called out to me, and I just NEEDED to know the answer. I won't speak more on that topic since it would create spoilers, but I was proud to know that my semi-analytical mind was able to figure it out after only a few chapters. I just needed to get to the ending to confirm my deduction. Go, me!

Speaking of spoilers and my ability to figure the Great Mystery out, Hubby's copy is the "Author's Definitive Edition." Probably part of my problem with making my way through this book was that, before even page 1 of the story, there are thirteen pages of introduction by Card, two pages listing the key players on the new planet of Lusitania, one page listing the family trees of the two main families in the book, and two pages explaining how to pronounce Portuguese names. Since Brazilian - and perhaps all Portuguese? - names are usually about five long, Card thankfully abbreviated everyone's name, even their given names which were typically at least three syllables long, to a short, generally two syllable nickname. The trick was when these characters would use or were addressed by their proper names; that was when I was grateful for the listing of players at the front of the book. My mistake, however, was attempting to read the introduction before reading the book for the first time, as well as checking out the family trees while wondering why I cared about the family histories. Was I about to embark on some Sci-Fi version of Lord of the Rings, where every character is introduced by whose child, and grandchild, and great-grandchild they are?

In both cases, there were MAJOR spoilers for the story. The introduction was Card explaining how he went from inspiration to publication of Speaker, in which he essentially gave away the "Why" of what the Piggies do. The family trees gave me a heads up of who would die when, and who would be paired up. That knowledge softened the blow a couple of times, but ruined the real impact. While I did frequent the family trees page multiple times to keep track of who was whose kid, and how old everyone was - space travel and Catholic families are tricky things - I would have much rather it be buried in the back as an appendixed reference point. That way clueless readers like myself wouldn't accidentally stumble into spoilers. That all being said, I caution you, if you're gonna give this book a try, and also have the Author's Definitive Edition, do yourself a favor and ignore everything before the official first Prologue page, at least, until you get about 100pgs in, then you're safe to refer to the family trees if need be.

All-in-all, I really did enjoy this story. It really made me love these characters, drew me in to their secrets and pain, and made me just as curious about the Piggies as the characters were. Also, while I loved Ender in the first book, he was a scared, isolated little boy who got me to RAGE at "Ender's Game" for being "so mean to him." The way that Ender grew into such a kind, loving, but still bluntly honest man made me love his character more. It IS a slow read, and I DID groan about the length, but, as I already stated, I honestly don't really know where Card could have cut. Besides, the story nags at the back of your mind when you put it down. A soft, slow nag, until you end up spending hours reading to quiet the hunger. So it definitely has THAT going for it. Even now, it still lingers, almost daring me to give it another read. Part of me wants to see if I could do justice to the characters if I wrote out a fanfic of the jumped-over twenty-two years that played in the background of the main story.

My final thoughts on the book? Even if you aren't into Sci-Fi, I'd recommend "Speaker for the Dead". It's more about interspecies/racial interaction and understanding, as well as religious vs humanitarian vs citizen loyalties and morals. The science jargon or Portuguese may weigh some people down, but overall it is such a good read. In fact, it's an almost inspirational read about the necessity to be empathetic towards everyone, and trying to see everything from everyone's point of view. Most things are not what they seem from your vantage point, and sometimes we aren't the heroes we perceive ourselves as, nor are we the villains, contrary to the guilt we feel.

Anyway, go out, and read! Read this book! Do it!

Okay, so I'm now back to trying to decide what I'm going to do for my next book in this reading challenge. Let's go to the chart again, shall we?
Reading Challenge created by Modern Mrs. Darcy
Now, keep in mind, that I can still slide "Life, the Universe, and Everything" to the "published before birth" category in order to open up the "already read at least once" for another book. I could also shift "Coraline" to either "owned but never read" or "meaning to read" in order to fit another book in the "can finish in one day" spot. I'm intending on saving the "published this year" for Riordan's next book in the Magnus Chase Norse Mythology series, or the Apollo series, whichever book we get first. Which means, I should probably also save either "owned but never read" or "meaning to read" for the first Magnus Chase book, since Hubby got it for his birthday or Christmas - one of those two; it was in December - and I didn't want to read his book before he did. He's been slacking, though, so I told him he has until September before I swipe the book and read it regardless of whether or not he's finished it.

So, September and October's categories are already figured out. I still need to TALK to my local librarian for the one category, since I CLEARLY don't need to talk to a book seller; have more than enough books already piled high in my spare room. I'm also still trying to interpret what "should have read in school" could mean for me. Dare I give books like "The Old Man and the Sea" or "Red Badge of Courage" another try now that I'm older, more mature, and more likely to appreciate such works? Or do I trust my high school self that these stories are just NOT my cup of tea, and find something like "The Giver" that is generally in school reading lists, but it wasn't for my school?

Speaking of "The Giver," I was leaning towards a banned book for June, but I can't put my finger on which one I want to read, especially since the ones I own I've already read. I'd prefer to read one I haven't tackled yet, such as "Catch-22" or "1984." I might have to forego my own expansive book collection, and finally set up a library card so that I can track down one of these banned books.

The last category I more-or-less know what I want to do is the "book that intimidates you," in which case, I want to read Dante's Divine Trilogy, or at least Inferno, since it's referenced so much in pop-culture - I even own a computer game called Daria's Inferno where the 90s MTV cartoon character runs through her own version of Dante's hell - plus, Dante's Inferno is just such a classic tale to have read. Thing there, though, is my copy is part of a leather-bound collection my father bought when I was born, and I don't know how I feel about bringing it outside the house to work every day. However, I don't know if I'll have time to read outside of work anymore, except for maybe when Hubby hops on World of Warcraft now that Quarthix talked him into playing.

There is also the possibility of using the "owned but haven't read" category in order to continue the Ender Saga by diving right into "Xenocide." The story conquers the tale of the impending war hinted at throughout "Speaker for the Dead," and reading this book right after Speaker will help me really remember the previous novel; as opposed to reading Speaker about a decade after "Ender's Game." Although, Card did do a fantastic job of reminding the reader - or informing the reader, if the reader didn't read "Ender's Game" - of the key pieces from "Ender's Game," making "Speaker for the Dead" completely capable of standing on its own. In theory, "Xenocide" could have been written the same way, and so waiting a few months, or even a year - if I wait until I'm done with this challenge - may not be that large of a hindrance. Even so, "Xenocide" might be another choice for June's read...

Trying to mentally calculate the second half of the year in regards to reading is hard! Still, I'm fairly bored at work now that I'm not reading for at least a few hours of it, so I'll be sure to find something for June by tomorrow in order to stave off mindless counting of my watch's ticking. I'll let you know what I decided on next week. For now, I'm off to catch up on chores and prepping for D&D this Sunday.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reading, Always Reading (and Some Writing...)

Sorry about being so late today. My internet has been really wonky lately. It kept me nearly five minutes just to load the page to type this.
Knives from the Scott Pilgrim comic books
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
On top of everything else, I've had a lot of personal drama again, of course. The long and the short of it is that I'm kinda hating people right now.

That doesn't matter, though. What matters is writing, and writing I have done!

Work was painfully slow, and so I used that time to do more writing. I've developed a bit more of my X-Future reboot world, but the big thing was to work on the challenge Phfylburt gave me a couple weeks ago.

As a refresher, the challenge, in a nutshell, was to write a scene in ONLY dialogue. I did this once before last year for my James Patterson MasterClass webinars. Just like with that try, I feel like I'm again a bit long-winded with four pages of dialogue, but I hope it's worth it to see the characterization. Plus, stealing from a parent may not always be as cut and dry as grabbing money from a sock drawer.

"The Great Heist"

Feel free to let me know what you think, as I hope you'd feel inclined to do with everything I write. Remember, I can't improve if no one points me in the direction I need to head.

I'm actually impressed with how much I actually like my characters of Caleb and Rebecca. I hope you guys fall at least a little in love with them too. It's been a while since I created characters I cared for like this. So, thanks, Phfyl, for having me meet them.

The rest of my week - when I wasn't writing or actually doing work - I was back to reading "Speaker for the Dead" for this month's book. I have 8 more days to finish, and I still have over 100 pages to read! I've been reading nearly non-stop for four days straight! Geez!

Although, I do have to say that Hubby was right, the book does take a bit, but it then sucks you in. You grow to love characters, and you wonder about the mystery undertone of the book. Why do the Piggies do what they do? What did Novinha discover? How are things going to end with Miro and Ouanda? Who is the Hive Queen talking to? There are more, but it would bring about spoilers, I think, if I were to list them.

So, I'm frantically bouncing between writing, my personal drama, and finishing this book in time! I don't know if I'll have anything to showcase next week due to this, but hopefully I'll at least be able to talk about the book.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Questions Plague My Life

A full week of just the new job is under my belt. It turned out to be a weird scenario in which it's equal parts great and horrible for my writing. I've become lazy, and instead of still getting up at about 7am in order to write and have ample time to get ready before work, I've opted to just stay in bed and snuggle my husband for that extra hour before whining about having to climb out of the covers in order to start my day. I need to work on this. Otherwise, the "write first thing in the morning" concept is a complete wash.

Work is either Feast or Famine; Flood or Drought. While it could also arguably reflect on the basic concept of a Commissions worker, I mean customer flow in this case. I hope that's ALL it refers to, actually, for obvious reasons, because even with just one or two customers a day my coworkers are still bringing home at least $400 paychecks. Not much more than minimum-wage, but still more than what I was making at the retail job.

Anyway, my point is that we'll go about five out of our eight-hour day with no one in the store and virtually nothing to do but sit and wait. The other three-hours, while sprinkled throughout the day, could then have about seven people show up at once. It's a bit insane.

While it's a bit jarring to have a writing flow - or reading, since it seems to be the only way I'm getting my books read from now on - interrupted abruptly by a customer, the fact that I have so much time to think and write is pretty cool.

The other downside is that, aside from dialogue that I can quickly scribble down more-or-less the way the conversation flow would be, I'm not a fan of writing out prose by hand anymore. There's something textual about writing on a computer. I know most writers probably think in the reverse, that there's something special about writing by hand. However, for me, when I get into something I type with fury, and I can get my ideas down fairly quickly. I can't write as fast as I can type, at least, not if I want to be able to understand my handwriting when I'm done. Plus, when I'm in my writing furies I tend to grip my pen or pencil super tight with my excitement. It literally pains me to write something I'm excited about if I'm doing so on paper. The pen/pencil digs into my finger, my knuckles and wrist cramp up, my shoulder tightens, it's not a fun experience.

So, when my Handy Dandy Netbook isn't available, I tend to stick to bulleted lists and Q&A. By that, I mean I write out all the questions I have about a project, and slowly try to tick away at a possible answer. It may lead to more questions with more answers and so on and so forth, but it help build the story.

At the end of my week, I had a pile of bulleted lists and Q&A sheets, but no actual writing. I truly don't know if I should call the week successful or a dud. Especially since a lot of my scribbles were for a D&D plot that was again derailed by my darling husband this past Sunday's game, and the rest of said scribbles were me just remembering where I was in creating the X-Future reboot.

Yup, back on that again. I was actually a bit embarrassed with how the Contessa story turned out. While Phfylburt ended up enjoying it, he had the same concerns I did with the story, and nothing else. What was the point in reading it to my writing group if they, like Phfyl, were simply going to critique the same issues I already had with the piece? Even if they had advice on how to fix it, I'm really not planning on ever going back to it.

So, when all was said and done, I ended up whipping out an old X-Future Snippet to read: It Is So On!

It received mostly good reviews. There were also some valid critiques that I never thought of before, so thanks to the group on those. There was also one main thought among the group: I do really well with mostly dialogue writing. I have to admit, it is my strong-suit.

One of the newer members - she actually signed up last year and disappeared over the winter; kind of like me over at Writers’ Huddle - even asked if I thought about writing screenplays. I admitted that it was one of the things I went to school for, unofficially. She also commented on the fact that I talked about wanting to do a graphic novel when the meeting first started. She stressed that maybe that's the path I should stick with, since, while the prose is still good, it felt like it really wanted to be more visual. I was also informed that if the script is written well enough, a publicist would pair me with an artist, so there's that. Kind of makes me want to try my hand at the X-Future script again...

In truth, it REALLY wanted me to try my hand at the X-Future script again. If I wasn't working on the now-moot plot for my D&D campaign, or doing ACTUAL work, I was trying to hash out more of the world-build for X-Future's reboot. One of the other responses that I got to "It Is So On!" was that I didn't necessarily need to give the group the verbal lead-in of "these are the children of X-Men/Brotherhood mutants living at the Xavier Mansion, these are their powers, and this is the plot lead-in as to who these people are and why they're at each others' throats." They felt it was fairly stand-alone, and that it didn't automatically scream out "X-Men Rip-off." Then again, most, if not all, of those in attendance don't really know comic books, and if they do the knowledge is from the Marvel movies....

Point is, it was encouraging to hear them all tell me to stick with these characters, and to try my hand at scriptwriting some more. True, most of them are novelists, but there are a few poets in the group, and it would be exciting to everyone to have a screenwriter added to the mix. I just need to figure out how to read a script aloud for critiquing.... seems awkward.

Now, the downside to these critiques is that I've come to realize that I'm not exactly the best at prose. I mean, I've always known I wasn't the BEST, but how much I need to improve is a lot more than I originally thought.

I don't like big blocks of text. You probably picked up on that since most of my paragraphs, while probably capable of being grouped together more than they are, are only about five sentences long. My dislike of large blocks of text, which, to me, seem daunting, boring, and slow down the read, leads me to also break up dialogue. I may write mostly in it, but I can't have a monologue go on. How often does that happen in real life? I mean, come on.

The issue, however, is that I don't just have other characters interject to keep the dialogue short and quick, I also have the character put in physical pauses. She'll say something, pause, and then continue her thought, but in that pause she moves. People do this all the time. Who stays still? Ninety-percent of communication is non-verbal. People give facial reactions, shift their weight or position, fall into a physical tick like playing with a ring or tapping a foot, or they gesture with their hands or even their whole body. We are constantly in motion, and I showcase this in my writing.

To my writing group, and perhaps every reader I've had, it's a bit excessive. While they admitted it may move smoother on paper than it did verbally, they were beginning to lose track of where people were in the story. Willow was sitting, then standing, then sitting again. Then she wrestled with Nys a bit, and so Nys was now sitting. And they get up into each others' faces before pushing the other down into a sitting position. I can understand how this can be a bit overwhelming to mentally keep track of if there aren't any actual visual cues to follow.

I think in images, and so I'm constantly blocking out my characters' movements; keeping mental track of who's moving, and how long it's been since a character last moved. Constant flow. Constant movements. It may make sense in visual media such as comics, movies, TV, or plays. Probably doesn't make sense in things like prose.

Writers are supposed to find some happy medium where their dialogue SEEMS realistic, but edits the realism down so it's a bit easier to read and follow. For instance, count how many times you say "um" or "like" or "uh" or anything along those lines. I'm sure you do so more frequently than you think. What about misspeaking? Using the wrong word? Being repetitive in your speech? Losing track of where you were, or being interrupted, and so you start the sentence over again? How about stuttering?

Now think of how many times you witness any of that honest-to-God, true-to-life speech in novels. Not much, right? Unless it's crucial to the characterization or plot, or in some cases, joke, all of that extra stuff that we naturally mentally weed out of conversations writers have to consciously weed out of their dialogue. I tend to leave a bit more in than most to give it a sense of realism other writers don't have, but apparently that's not the best writing option....

Point is, while most writers just have to edit down reality to make their dialogue SEEM real without the mundane and convolution of actual speech, I need to do the same thing with the non-verbal. True, people may move a lot while talking, but it's probably best if I just let the characters talk and let the reader picture whatever movement they want.

It's going to be tough for me, though, because if a writer doesn't specifically state that a character moves, I barely picture movement, and so limiting myself will be tricky.

Coincidental to my decision to try my hand at scripting again, Phfylburt gave me a challenge - due this upcoming Saturday - that seems right up this alley. Namely, an All Dialogue challenge.
Phfylburt: You have to write a scene in which two siblings steal money from their parent's wallet....The entire thing must be done using only dialog...The scene should show them setting up for the miniature heist, performing the act, and the getaway. It is entirely up to you if they get away successful or if they crash and burn. No limitations on the length, so you don't need to worry about that.
It definitely feels like a fun project, but, as per usual, I haven't started because I'm stuck in my own head. Ask most writers and they'll tell you that the ideas are the easy part, it's the execution that's hard. The actual writing of the thing. While my numerous incomplete projects can attest to that, at the same time, I feel like I may be meant to be a ghost writer, because for me the execution is the fun, exciting, easy part. It's those damn ideas that keep me blocked.

This challenge for instance. I haven't started because I need to figure out more information:
  • What age are the children?
    • Are they even children in the colloquial sense? Or are they already adults, such as in their early 20s?
  • What sex are the siblings? Both girls? Both boys? One of each?
    • Will their sex affect how they perform the theft, or why they need the money?
  • Which parent are they stealing from?
  • Why are they stealing?
    • Are both siblings willing parties?
    • Is one manipulating the other? Are both being blackmailed/hazed into the stunt? Is this a dare?
  • How much are they stealing?
  • What makes them think they'll get away with it?
  • WILL they get away with it?
  • What danger(s) might they come across on this mini-heist?
  • How do I portray that via only dialogue?
I think I get too far into my own head. I did the same thing with Phfyl's "Link breaks the silence..." prompt and the "Write [a]...backstory for a random person you saw..." prompt. Backtrack further and you have the Writers' Group prompt of "Salesman/saleswoman, New York City, and Where is the time capsule?" Generic ideas that let my mind wander are actually really tough for me. If I were instead given something specific like "A Vietnam Vet is startled awake by his wife he nearly choked to death via PTSD-induced sleepwalking" and asked me to write the scene, I could do so fairly easily. My only questions would be "what triggered the act?" and "Has this happened before?" but I could more-or-less figure those out quickly.

Maybe that's why I stay with my crutch of fanfiction writing. Everything is more-or-less spelled out for me already. The environment, the characters, the personalities of the characters, and the basic idea of the antics they get into; the way that world works. It involves very few questions that I need to answer, and so my mind can just focus on the writing.

Honestly? I have no clue how to work on this tripping block so that my mind doesn't go into overload when I'm forced to do something original with little to no direction. Hell, even my main writing question proves how much guidance I need: How Do You Figure Out What To Write About For Your Manuscript?

I can't get anywhere in my writing because I don't even have an idea for a manuscript. One college friend has a basic story idea about young adult twins that just went off on their own in New York City. Keeton in Writers' Group obviously has her story concept of "Buster Keeton" and working around that. DFL in the same group has her pre-historical, "age of Babylon" story. Red stumbled upon her murder-revenge psycho story via a writing prompt that stuck with her. And the man that now comes to the meetings - let's call him PI since that's his profession - has his spy mystery novel.

It's weird to go to group meetings and have everyone else read a new part of their manuscript, asking for help on it, and I'm just reading random stuff that I wrote. None of it connects to each other. None of it - like Contessa last week - really, truly matters to me. They're just exercises to work my muscles, not the actual marathon I'm training for. It's rough not really getting much feedback on what I read in group, and even less helpful when the critiques I do get are on things I'm either never going to continue, or never attempting again.

The concept of me being a natural script-writer though.... that was a good bit to point out....

Joy. Look at me, finding yet another writing hurdle, and no clue how to overcome it. I don't even know if it's worth going to Writers' Group or jumping back on to the long-abandoned Writers’ Huddle and commenting about this roadblock. This realization that I can write with ease, as long as I have a very specific guideline handed to me, whereas actually coming up with plots stumps me for years on end.

Maybe I could become a James Patterson co-author...

In all seriousness, though, what could anyone possibly say for advice if I did decide to ask them? Aside from "keep practicing" or "Yeah, I've been there" or "Which is why writing is tougher than people think" what on earth could anyone say about my issue? If/when I figure this out on my own, what could I possibly say to the next struggling writer?

I know part of it is "Wait for a story to grab you so tight it won't let go and you HAVE to write it," but how much longer do I wait? I've wanted to be a writer since I was, like, nine or something. I went to college to become a writer. I had set out to have my first piece published by the time I was about thirty. Fast forward almost two years, and I still don't even have that Grand Manuscript Concept to work on. If I just passively wait for a story to hit me, when will I get that inspiration? This year? Next year? Five years from now? As I'm telling my kid a bedtime story? When I retire and can spend all day just thinking about stories?

I can't wait for inspiration to strike, because every day that passes I fear a bit more that I'm not supposed to be doing this. Which is a painful paradox, because the only reason it pains me to think that I'm not a writer is because I'm obviously a writer! It doesn't keep me up at night to know that maybe I'm not some great athlete. I KNOW I'm not some great athlete. I came to terms with that when I was in elementary school. I KNOW I'm not a great artist, and so, while I lament not being able to draw what I see in my head - would make things a lot easier for me - I also don't fret over my pathetic stick figures. My heart ACHES at the concept of dying without ever publishing anything, which PROVES that I'm supposed to be doing this!

Yet, that paradox continues. My perpetual struggle of days passing me, making me think that I should give up because I'm not cut out for this, quickly followed by an ache and welled up eyes at that prospect; proving to me that I HAVE to write. I just need to figure out what.

The eternal struggle: What

What am I good at writing? What genre pulls me in the most? What characters in the ether are calling for me to bring them to life? What story will both be fun for me to write, and for someone to read? What story do I have inside me that hasn't been told already? What in/about the world do I see differently than others?

I'll add these questions to the ones above about Phfyl's challenge, I guess. Suppose I should try to see if I can answer some of them, at least, the ones for the challenge due on Saturday....

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Job Exchange Complete

Alright. My first official Tuesday Update Day. Let's see how long this sticks, huh? It does feel weird doing this on a Tuesday, since this is just about the first one I've had off since 2012... Anyway....

I finished up at my old job on Saturday, so Sunday was my first day of my first full week at full time at my new job. I'm excited! I'll still have less free time now that I'm working 40hrs, but I don't need to be at work until 9:30 most days, and so I have a little bit more time in the morning; assuming I don't just allow myself to sleep in....

Since I've noticed that I tend to be most creative first thing in the morning, I'm hoping this little extra time before work will mean I can change my writing hour to right after waking up. Right now it's at the start of my evening; transitioning between work, and catching up on Facebook, and spending time with Hubby, all before our evening get-togethers or shows. More often than not, I ignore the alarm in order to steal a few more minutes in this "unwinding" time. If I set it up to write as soon as I wake up, I'll be more likely to actually do it. In theory. We'll see.

I'll also have a lot of down-time at work. It's either Feast or Famine there; Drought or Flood. While I'll still be using a lot of that time to learn my new job, I am probably going to steal some of that time for reading or writing. We'll see how this job change affects my overall writing productivity.

In the meantime, I did actually steal some time to write throughout the day yesterday. It's not much, and I'm not terribly happy with it, but it's something. Not everything is going to be gold and diamonds, but it's still keeping me practicing. So, that's something, right?

I worked on another Phfylburt challenge, one that I once again forgot about. This is a bit of a sad theme, but I'm hoping that now that I'm settling in to my new job I'll be a bit more focused. My memory will return with any luck. Anyway, after a poke from Phfyl that I was again late, I spent yesterday's down time focusing on how to complete the challenge. It would also mean that I would have SOMETHING to read at Writer's Group tonight. I have something else sort of mentally planned since I want it for Sunday's D&D session as well, but in case I run out of time tonight, I at least have this.

Phfyl's challenge was to imagine an extravagant backstory for a random person I saw throughout the course of the week. Yesterday a woman came into the store to finish paying off her purchase. I've seen her a few times at my old job, and I was around for her sale earlier in the week. She always intrigued me a bit, and so I figured "who better for this challenge?"

Sad to say, it seemed a bit disjointed when I was done. There are two things about this woman that intrigue me, and I couldn't seem to either focus on one or tie them neatly together. I think I have a semi-good base, though. Maybe if I get stumped in the future I can come back to this and try to develop it more.

That's what's really killing me, I think. Phfyl put a cap on how long this character backstory can be, and I can't get as in depth with it as I normally do. I couldn't really make her as complex as I like to build my characters. I couldn't psychologically develop her to sort of explain her contradictions. I couldn't even develop her enough to think of a decent title, so I just went with her name.

"Contessa Germaine"

I get every third Sunday off - for the foreseeable future, at least - and so I decided that these Sundays will be D&D Day. Makes it easier than trying to struggle through prepping every week, and then squeeze a game in between when I get off at 4 and when Quarthix's fiance starts work at 10. Thing is, it's been about a month since we last played, and I still don't really know what I'll be doing. I've been struggling so much with transitioning out of my old job that I just didn't have time, as evidenced by my April blog posts. Well, this Sunday is D&D Day, so I need to really crack down on what I'm doing.

I've got an idea, as I mentioned a few paragraphs up, and I'm hoping to be able to develop it a bit over the week. I'm not sure if Phfyl will give me a new challenge now that I sent him my answer to his last one. I also don't know if Writer's Group is going to give me a prompt to work with. Either way, along with the broad strokes I'm painting in order to get prepped for D&D Day, I have one or two "behind the scenes"...er.... scenes that I have in mind. I kind of want to write them out, in part to have more writing practice, in part so that I have more of the world around the player characters developed. With any discipline I should have at least one of those scenes ready for next Tuesday's update.

Alright, so everybody send me some good juju or something, I'm hoping this job switch will help me out with stress relief, better income, and more writing opportunities.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

And Another One Gone... Another One Bites The Dust

Goodness, it's been a little while, huh? Sorry about missing last week. Working two jobs has left me a bit winded and scatter-brained. I even had to ask a co-worker one day what the date was. It kept me a good ten minutes after she told me for it to register that it was also my mother's birthday! I was going to say something in last week's post, but... well... there wasn't one...

So here's a belated for my mom:

And Mother's Day is this upcoming Sunday, so here's a preemptive for that:
And for good measure, May 3rd happens to be Teacher Appreciation Day:
Mom teaches toddlers, so I think she should get some extra kudos...
I could keep going because today also marks me and Hubby being a couple for 13yrs! Married for 5 in October, but still... TOGETHER for 13yrs! Woah.
Hacker Girl Facebook Sticker
by Birdman Inc
Alright, back on topic here.....

So, yeah, the days sort of folded in onto each other until I completely lost track. Also, as I think I mentioned before, Thursdays aren't going to work for me anymore for updating. I'll be in at work by 9:30 in the morning, and stay there until 8 at night.

HOWEVER, there is a silver lining. Unlike my old/current job where I GENERALLY got the same days off, but it wasn't guaranteed, at my new/current job I will ALWAYS have at least Tuesdays off - except for situations in which someone calls out or requests a Tuesday off.....

The second day a week that I'll have off is sort of randomized, but at least I'll ALWAYS have Tuesdays off - barring the above exception. So, guess what day will now be my normal update days!

Granted, I'm wicked late today - almost didn't make it - and I did say I'd give you a heads up before the official switch, but I did have to work the old/current job today, and deal with some other things that were sort of thrown along the wayside over the chaos-week. Everything should be settling down after Saturday, though, when I'll ONLY be working the new job.

In the meantime, last Monday I was in a minor-panic because I didn't have anything new to read at Writing Group. Phfylburt had given me a challenge that I had until the 1st to work on, but I was desperate for inspiration, and so I ran with it.

The challenge was to write "the next" paragraph for the last story I read. In other words, extend the book by one more paragraph. It was odd to complete something that the author already said was at the perfect stopping point, and so I'm not entirely sure how well I did with this. Not many at the writing group have read any of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," much less the fourth installment: "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish." Because of that, no one - not even Phfyl who also never read the series - could really critique what I wrote. I did get some feedback along the lines of "this sounds really good" and "I love the imagery" and "it seems like a great stopping point." So there's that.

Also, me being me, I couldn't conclude my continuation in just one paragraph; not neatly anyway. Which means I went on for a couple of brief paragraphs. I also read the last two or three paragraphs of the actual book to create a good lead-in. My group couldn't quite tell where Douglas Adams stopped and where I picked up, so I guess that's saying something too, right?

As can be expected, given the nature of the challenge, the prompt is very brief and contains spoilers. However, if you already know how SL&TFATF ends - or the previous book "Life, the Universe, and Everything" - or don't care about spoilers, feel free to read my continuation here:

"So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: Extended Edition"

Chaos ensued this week as I struggled to work two jobs for the first time in my life. Thank God it's only for two weeks; I have no clue how people do this for a living! Without the added panicky push of needing something to read during writing group, I didn't bother with writing. I just wanted to curl up on the couch with Hubby when we had our few precious hours together.

Not only did this result in me not writing much more than six short paragraphs for the above prompt, but I didn't bother with the Hey Arnold script with ChibiSunnie, nor did I read anything.

It was closing in on the last day of April, and I never even picked out a book for the reading challenge. Eventually, Hubby sensed my stress on the subject and ran into our library for a book. At this point I was pretty much just left with "Can read in one day" and so I picked "Coraline."

I LOVED the movie when it came out in 2009. I never heard of the book it was based on; I just saw a teaser trailer, loved the animation, already was a fan of both Focus Features and Laika Entertainment, and was excited that the director of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" Henry Selick was directing his adaptation of the book. So, I was following it before it was released, and obsessively sat on its website playing the games and bonus features. I was even a member of GaiaOnline at the time, and loved the special games they created on the site to promote the movie.

So, YA novel be damned, I wanted to eventually read this book. I've actually owned it for so long that I don't recall where I got it from. I think it was a hand-me-down from celestialTyrant.... Seems like a book he'd be interested in too. Well, Hubby thought it was about time I finally made good on my self-promise. I sat myself down on Saturday, and made sure I had that darn book read before midnight!

It seemed an easy enough read. About 160 pages, thirteen chapters, one full-page illustration each chapter, large font, 1.5 line spacing, and simple language intended for children as young as eight. Didn't help, though, that Cyhyr and Ronoxym had their baby shower the same day, and I also had to work, and Ron came by to hang a bit after the shower..... Still, I was determined. So, as much as I would have loved to hang out with Ron, or seen his and Cyhyr's place for the first time to help her put all her new goodies away, I locked myself in my room and read.

I have to say, this is one of those rare times where I believe the movie improved upon the source material. The novel was good, and I agree with the reviews that it can be super creepy for kids. Heck, the illustrations by Dave McKean are the stuff of nightmares even as an adult. I found myself flipping past them as fast as I could.

However, maybe due to more allotted length to spend with Coraline in the movie, I felt her character - and the other characters, for that matter - were underdeveloped in the book. Plus, I missed the characters Wybie and his grandma, who were both apparently written for the movie. I think those added characters really added a nice depth to the story. On top of that, you could really sense Coraline's temptation to stay in the Other World when you watched the movie. In the book, on the other hand, she didn't seem all that impressed or tempted right from the get-go. The Other Mother cooked dinners Coraline actually enjoyed. That was pretty much it for the book version.

I liked what the Beldam did to the Others in the movie; it fit fairly well. However, I do say that the creatures at the end of the book did seem a lot creepier. Part of me is glad that the movie versions were still creepy, but tamer. Another part of me is sort of curious about how they would have looked in a visual media, that wasn't McKean's drawings. *Shudder*

The Exploration Game seemed better developed in the movie, but I liked what Coraline was searching for better from the book. The ending in the movie felt more intense, suspenseful, and dangerous. A fairly similar ending in the book, on the other hand, seemed a bit lack-luster and anti-climactic.

Now, all this said, I still very-much enjoyed the book. It is a good read that I would recommend to anyone who wanted a creepy tale to flip through. I just feel that the movie was a touch more skillful at telling the story, especially when it keeps fairly close to the book, and the parts where it deviates are - in my opinion - improvements. Each page I read just made me want to the watch the movie all the more. In the end, that's exactly what I did: snuggled up with some tea and watched me some Coraline in a blackened house.

Alright, so let's see my progress in this reading challenge, shall we?
Challenge created by Modern Mrs. Darcy
Now, let's remember that all of those books are flexible.

"Life, the Universe, and Everything" is currently checked off as "read at least once before" but could also be shifted to "published before born" if I end up re-reading something else, and don't have another book for the latter category.

Same can be said about "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish" which is currently marked as the "abandoned" book.

"Coraline" is currently in the "Read in one day" slot, which takes out the self-help 15pg mini-ebook I read in January. However, I could, if I so chose, shift it to "Meaning to read" or even "Owned but never read."

My May book is going to be "Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card. It's a continuation of the "Ender's Game" series, and also my book - in theory - for the "picked by spouse" category. Hubby loves Orson Scott Card and the Ender Saga. Technically, if I wanted to shift SL&TFATF, I did once read the first chapter of "Speaker for the Dead" and got bored. This could be another "abandoned" book, however, I'm older and more mature now. My tastes have broadened, and so I'm hoping to enjoy this book as much as Hubby does. I'll have to let you know at the end of the month.