Tag Archives: writing

Mayday! Mayday! We’re Going Down In Flames!

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hindenburg-wide

Unfortunately, that’s not a Led Zeppelin album cover, but a fairly close rendition of the state of my project.

I thought y’all might like a progress report on my project for NaNoWriMo. After all, I did make a big splashy announcement in my last post about how I was going to finally start that novel so many people have been pestering me about. Well, here is my report:

OH LORD! The HUMANITY! THE HORROR!

Truthfully, I don’t think Hemingway or Faulkner either one did it this way. Of course, they were most likely drunk during the entire time they were writing so they may not have noticed anyway. The short precise’ is, this has so far been an unmitigated disaster, heavy on the unmitigated-ness. Let me give a bit of a rundown.

First, for over a week before Friday, I would have trouble falling asleep because the characters and plot points were dancing like sugar plums in my feverish little mind. I practically had the entire first chapters ready to go, and I was just waiting on Friday to begin like the rules stated. Woke up Friday ready to start . . . nothing. The blank page with the accusing little blinking cursor at the top was a Xerox of my mind. Everything was gone as completely as degaussed hard drive. I had one page of notes I’d made and I started getting them somewhat organized, but everything else was, to quote Mortal Kombat, “Toasty!”

On top of my sudden loss of information, I started suffering from my first cold of the season. My head was completely stuffed and my chest — the real worry — was as tight as Dick’s hatband. I was wheezing and trying to cough, but the cough was nice and dry and hacky. Long experience with my doctor let me know it would be futile as resisting the Borg to bother scheduling an appointment. Dr. Lopez does not believe in antibiotics for “colds.” I agree, since colds are viral and antibiotics are useless against viruses, but I’ve also suffered from recurring bouts of walking pneumonia since I was in kindergarten so my chest being so tight bothers me. Oh, and there’s the little matter of the rasping and wheezing which didn’t do much for my nerves since it hasn’t been all that long that I watched Mama DIE rasping and wheezing. So, the cold triggered unwanted memories of Mama’s last days sending me into a nice depression that even now is spiraling downward as I write this.

Those little tidbits would be enough to put the quietus on the project but I’m not done recounting this Job-ian disaster just yet. I soldiered on through the weekend typing what I could remember into this amazing new word processing program I found that is JUST FOR NOVELISTS!! It outlines your novel and keeps up with your character biographies and lets you storyboard the plot points . . . using it early Saturday morning had me thinking I’d found a successor to sliced bread. I typed in several character biographies and outlined parts I couldn’t completely remember. I was slowly making headway even as I fought the black dog down from my throat. One of the greatest points of this program is it runs off a flash drive so I can move between computers as the mood to change scenery takes me.

Except . . . it doesn’t.

Nope. I moved from the desktop to my laptop just fine. I typed up a few hundred more words, saved and backed up everything, then took a break. I took the flash drive BACK to the desktop, and that’s where, to quote the band Citizen Kane, “The bottom dropped out.” Not only was my project gone . . . the entire PROGRAM was gone from the thumb drive! I didn’t panic, because I backed everything up on my laptop . . . except I didn’t. While sorting out this whole sordid debacle, I found in the “readme.txt” file on this program (you know the ONE thing people read LESS than the EULA for new software?) that running the program on a jump drive requires you to create an empty .ini file, which I did not. As a result, my project saved partly on the desktop in some strange location and partly on the laptop in an equally strange location. When I FOUND the two projects and tried opening them, Marilyn, my trusty desktop, told me they were corrupted. Well OF COURSE they were!

So, I’m back to square ZERO and if I choose to continue on this path of agony, I’m going back to OpenOffice or MS Word.

I say “if” because of the LAST piece de resistance I discovered last night reading some headlines on MSN. Harper Lee, author of my second favorite novel — To Kill A Mockingbird, is suing her hometown for copyright violations relating to her work and the museum the town erected years ago in her honor. Apparently, as she has gotten older and more infirm, Miss Lee — or someone representing her — has become quite litigious over her sole written work. This isn’t the only lawsuit she has in the works. So, why should I care? Well guess what MY NaNoWriMo project novel was to be based on? The events and some characters from To Kill A Mockingbird!! Well OF COURSE it is!

I had planned a continuation of sorts delving into the behind the scenes actions in the jury deliberation room and the eventual fates of some of the characters. It was all going to be derivative which is supposedly fair use under copyright law, BUT I’ve found the law to be what the judge SAYS it is and the judge SAYS what the person with the highest paid LAWYER wants him to say. I don’t have a lawyer, highly paid or otherwise, so I’m at an impasse. I don’t want to waste time writing unpublishable fan-fic BUT, I don’t want to get sued by a little old lady from south Alabama either.

So, I’m in the shadow of my own end zone and I’m punting. What’s coming next is anyone’s guess but y’all will be among the first to know!

TIl then, love y’all and keep those feet clean.

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Taking the Plunge

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Oh god what have I gotten myself into now?

Oh god what have I gotten myself into now?

“You should write a book!”

“I wish you’d write a novel!”

“I just LOVE your stories; why don’t you write a novel?”

“You are such a talented writer; you need to write a book.”

Okay, FINE. Y’all talked me into it, mostly because I’m tired of hearing it! So November is National Novel Writing Month or “NaNoWriMo” to the initiated and since all one has to do is sign up on their website, which I did, I suppose I’m one of the initiated.

I’m also one of the terrified. I’ve never been much on challenges. Someone would say, “I dare you to ____,” and I’d politely decline. My reasons ran the gamut from inability to fear to outright cowardice, but the results were the same. I’d be branded a chicken, but I managed to avoid broken bones, road rash, and grounding for my entire childhood and teenage years so I’m not complaining.

This challenge, however, has been a long time coming. I really have been pestered for years by people who seem to think I can produce a work of book length which people, besides them, will want to read. It was a common theme in college from my professors, especially my Southern Literature professor and my Writing Methods professor. Some of my colleagues (and a good many students) during my teaching career would goad me to turn the tales I’d spin for them of my childhood and adolescence into a book length narrative and even today, friends and family delight in saying, “I’m still waiting for that book!”

So, I’m taking on NaNoWriMo. The challenge is to turn out a rough draft of a NOVEL in thirty days, beginning November 1st and ending Midnight on November 30th. My biggest worry is the stories people love me to tell and write so much are not eligible for this contest. Under the rules, those constitute a “personal memoir” and that genre isn’t allowed. Instead, I’m supposed to produce “a work of fiction with a minimum of 50,000 words within the 30 days from 11-1-2013 to 11-30-2013.” Of course, it for memoirs to be disallowed since I’ve got a person or two still to pass away before I could write EXACTLY what I want to say and not catch hell from someone.

To give you a little perspective, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is 46,118 words, Kurt Vonnegut’s much-lauded and loved Slaughterhouse-5 is 49,459 words, and that bane of the existence of American Lit high school students everywhere — The Great Gatsby — weighs in at 47,094 words. By contrast, HP and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first and shortest of the Harry Potter series is 77,325 words, my favorite novel — To Kill a Mockingbird has 99,121 words, and Tolstoy’s Russian tome War and Peace tips the scales at a heartbreaking 587,287 words or 37,140 MORE words than the entire Lord of the Rings PLUS The Hobbit.

Looking at the word count next to those paragons of fiction, 50K doesn’t seem like anything nearly insurmountable, but I know when I sit down and look at that blinking cursor taunting me from the top of a blank screen, 50K words are going to be magnified. I figure it’s a lot like eating calamari, sure, that bite doesn’t look very big, but when you pop it in your mouth and start chewing, it grows exponentially! I look at it as 50 of my typical 1000 word blog posts set end to end. That works out to around 1.6 blog posts per day . . . EVERY DAY instead of my usual schedule of three or four posts a month. I’m not thinking this is going to be easy.

But, to quote Julius Caesar as he stood by the cold rushing River Rubicon on January 10, 49 BC, “Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος” or “Let the die be cast!” If I’m going to write a book, I may as well do it in November. I have a couple of ideas I’m going to be whittling down over the next few days, but if any of y’all have something you think I could knock out of the park, be sure to let me know in the comments or drop me an email.

In the meantime, love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

So Much for THAT Idea

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Tool #1 for writing the great American novel.

People have been asking me when I was going to write a book ever since I was in junior high school. Some of them claim I have a way with words perfectly suited to a novel while others who have heard me tell stories throughout the years say I need to get them written down.

Well, for various reasons, I haven’t spit out the Great American Novel yet. I primarily blame the fact that I no longer drink liquor to excess as the main cause of my creative dearth. As anyone who has studied American Literature — AFTER the Puritans, of course — can attest, to be a famous American author, one should be consistently somewhere between two sheets in the wind and completely knee-walking drunk to do any work of substantial literary merit. Myriads of American Novelists from Edgar Allan “the Raven” Poe all the way to Mr. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas himself, Hunter S. Thompson all sought their inspiration in the cups or other, even more potent doorways to alternate realities. Faulkner to Fitzgerald, Kerouac to Capote, with Tennessee Williams, Raymond Chandler, and my fellow South Carolina boy Pat Conroy thrown in for good measure — all red nosed lushes of the highest order and more than one dead of complications from alcohol well before their creative genius was fully spent. Yes, alcohol and drugs it seems are the keys to unlock creativity in American men of letters, and who am I to gainsay arguably the most famously alcoholic American novelist, Papa Hemingway, who gave the sagacious advice, “Write drunk; edit sober.”

and Tool 2 for writing the great American novel.

However, since I prefer a happy marriage to fame and fortune and walking upright hangover free to lying on the bathroom floor with an ice pack, a glass of ginger ale, and a heart full of the-morning-after regret, I have been a teetotaler for nearly twenty years. Understand please, I have no quarrel with the fruit of the vine, the clear nectar of the potato and agave, or the golden honey of the oaken barrels; in fact, once upon another lifetime, I made good acquaintance with Messrs. Jim Beam, Jose’ Cuervo, and the Lynchburg Legend himself, Jack Daniels. I’m afraid, however, that we all got along far too well and the good gentlemen simply didn’t know when to leave and I hadn’t the heart to throw them out. We have long since parted company, however and since I’ve no desire to tempt fate or further trash my liver, I willingly choose to forgo the traditional lubricant of the creative gears of the American novelist.

Of course, the other — and more reasonable reason — I have yet to grace the Amazon hot 100 (or some such list currently topped by the pornographic 50 Shades trilogy) is much simpler. Writing a book is hard — extremely hard. It takes great focus and discipline and I am woefully lacking in both. Still, riding down the road last week, a great idea for a novel struck me hard. I’d just watched the “Spear of Destiny” episode of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded the night before on the History Channel and the Lance of Longinus had been poking my mind ever since.

He’s the guy with the spear.

For those who don’t know, the nickel tour of the legend of Longinus goes something like this. According to church tradition, Longinus was the name of the Roman soldier who stabbed Christ in the side with a lance while Jesus was hanging on the Cross. From there, further traditions variously have Longinus’ blinded eye being healed by a drop of Christ’s blood or his being cursed by Christ to walk the earth (a la the Wandering Jew) until the Second Coming.

I adore history from all periods and I’m not picky. I enjoy social and political history just as much as military history. So I thought, “why not write a novel about the adventures of Longius after his contact with Christ on the Cross.” I would take the tradition of him being doomed to wander the world and walk him through time on a series of adventures. I even figured I could make a series out of the idea and have Longinus — usually going by some pseudonym — participate in wars and events from 33 AD all the way to the present day. I tell you truthfully, I was excited and pumped up about this project. It seemed like just the thing to keep my mind off the present difficulties I’m having in multiple areas and maybe, if someone besides Budge, liked the initial book enough, I could contribute a little more to the family income.

I was all ready to get the first novel going. I was going to have Longinus as a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan. He’d get what would be a mortal wound on any other man, but since he’s cursed, he’d recover in the body bag and cut his way out, terrifying the poor morgue worker in the process. Then Longinus would befriend the worker and start telling his story.

I was READY TO GO!

Then I sat down to do some research. With one Google search on Longinus, my entire project collapsed like an over-risen cake in a 7.5 earthquake. The very first entry on the search results page just wadded my whole idea up and tossed it in the wastebasket as if it were a piece of junk mail or a late credit card payment notice. Someone else had the same flash of insight I did and started a series called Casca: The Eternal Mercenary. In 1979. It’s up to 37 books now. So who, pray tell, was the author who crushed my dreams? This guy

Well, crap.

Yep, Mr. “100 men we’ll test today, Ballad of the Green Berets” himself — Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, Green Beret, Vietnam War hero, songwriter, top 40 artist, and — apparently — author of the first 22 books of the series I had just planned to write. I knew about SSgt. Sadler. His Ballad of the Green Berets is one of my favorite songs from the ’60s. I just had no idea he’d written a book — or 22 — about the character I wanted to bring to life. The series has continued, written by other authors chosen by his estate, since Sadler’s untimely and suspicious death in 1988. It’s up to 37 now. Number 38 is coming out in 2013.

Wellup, so much for THAT idea!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.