Wednesday, 29 October 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 38: “Never forget your first NaNo.”

In less than 72 hours I will begin work on this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge.

I’m currently filled with equal measure dread and excitement. I’ve done enough of these to know exactly what I’m letting myself in for but I’m also fully aware that anything can happen over the next month.

For my last post before NaNoWriMo I’ve decided to take a look back over the last seven years’ worth of attempts and look at what went right and, more importantly, what went wrong.



2007
DEATH IS JUST A DAY JOB


Back in the summer of 2007 I had a short term fling with my first online writing group and was taking part in my first SFX Pulp Idol competition when someone pointed me in the direction of www.nanowrimo.org. I was told that it might just hold the key to dealing with my inner editor.

It seemed simple enough. Sure, 50,000 words looked like a large figure but I didn’t, at the time, have any concept of how much writing that was. I’d never written that much before and I had no idea what the word counts were of books I read.

As I passed through October of that year I signed up to the site (under the now deleted Briman79) and started looking at my ideas folder (my ‘ideas’ for stories greatly outweighed actual written product). I settled on something I’d been toying with for a few months that involved a down on his luck guy who becomes friends with the Grim Reaper. All I had was a pub scene I'd written while bored in the office one weekend and decided to take it from there. No other characters, no setting and no plot.

And then November 1st hit.

It started well. I’d spend the work time just daydreaming ideas and then get home, boot up the PC and start writing whatever my brain felt like ejecting; a little before dinner and a lot after. My wife loved it because she owned the TV for those first few weeks.

I did hit some road blocks along the way but, instead of stopping, I thought about where I was heading next and just started from there, knowing I could go back later. This in turn led to some strange happenings especially when a character was killed off and then returned five chapters later with no explanation. I guess that’s what editing’s for.

And so I ploughed on until I hit a much bigger road block in the form of an Xbox 360. It was a stupid time to get one and my word count took a massive hit because of it. As I neared the end of the month it looked like I wouldn’t cross that finish line on my first attempt.

And that made me mad. So the video games stopped and I knuckled down. Three very late nights later and I crossed the finish line on November 29th.

Of all the things I have written or will write, DEATH IS JUST A DAY JOB will always be the piece I’m most proud of. While it still lingers in first draft limbo I always have an eye on it and am determined to dust it off one day and release it into the wild.



2008
THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL COOPER

With something now complete I moved straight onto my next project and began planning a superhero novel. I’d just finished reading Austin Grossman’s ‘Soon, I Will Be Invincible’ and had an urge to novelise a comic book I’d written in college.

Unfortunately when November came around I wasn’t feeling it and instead started a project I felt was more manageable; THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL COOPER. This was a YA fantasy that was designed to be built of five different adventures across one single quest. I thought I could write it bite sized and get through it a little easier.

Wrong.

I didn’t make it past day one and have never really counted it as taking part that year.



2009
JUSTICE


I was determined to not miss another year and so I went back to my super hero novel called JUSTICE. This went smoother than my previous two attempts with only three days of non-writing across the month. Unlike 2007, I never found myself stumped and went straight from beginning to end in a nice, cohesive manner.



2010
I AM BROKEN


By the time this NaNo rolled around I had received some bad news that inadvertently lead to a very nice silver lining. In September of 2010 I was made redundant and put on Garden Leave. This meant that for four months I was still getting paid but was not allowed to look for another job. With November approaching I found myself with a lot of time on my hands and was determined not to waste it.

With thirty whole days and nothing else much to do I got on with I AM BROKEN, another of the many, many stories I started years before. This was the first NaNo that I began with anything close to a full cast and not much more was added. The plot however exploded thanks in part to the music I was listening to. I’d been using movie soundtracks as the background to a lot of my writing including all the previous NaNo’s. But 2010 was the first time I picked one specific soundtrack and played it on a loop as I wrote. I think this helped keep things coherent theme wise.

Thirty day later I was done. At 57149 this was the most I’d managed to date and I only had one lull around the two thirds mark. I crossed 50,000 on the 24th and just kept going. Despite the free time I had though, I AM BROKEN still doesn’t have an ending.



2011
THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL COOPER


After 2010 I went into the following NaNo with a lot more confidence. Other than a new job I’d started a few months earlier I had no other commitments.

I decided to take another stab at my failed 2008 attempt. I planned a lot more this time with character sketches and chapter plans, something I hadn’t done in previous years. There was a hell of a lot of ‘Pansting’ in the first few but I decided to give ‘Planning’ a try.

Once again this story beat me although I managed to get further. Still, I knew it wasn’t working and, two weeks and 15,000 words later I gave up.

One day I will finish Maxwell’s story.



2012
DEAD DOLLARS


If the last year was bad, this one was much worse. I don’t like excuses but for this one time, I think you’ll agree that failing wasn’t much of a choice.

With another idea from the vault I dived into DEAD DOLLARS, a zombie western inspired by the scene in ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’ where Eastwood is shot several times but just won’t die.

I say dived in but, due to the circumstances surrounding November 2012, I’m surprised I even thought about trying to write anything at all.

The wife and I had chosen to move in with her father while she was pregnant and we looked for a bigger place to live. The space we had in my father-in-laws bungalow was limited as was TalkTalk’s excuse for Broadband. This is in itself would have been a challenge for most NaNoWriMo participants but for me it was just the tip of the iceberg.

Another redundancy loomed and suddenly writing a zombie western didn’t seem like a priority in life. During the last week of October I decided to skip it and focus on other things but, fickle as I am, I changed my mind back by Hallowe’en. Why not, I thought. It will give me something to focus on during all the crap.

So I began. It was as tough as I thought with limited internet access and nowhere to sit down and write comfortably. But none of that mattered by the middle of the month. Our son was due at Christmas of that year but he decided that that was too far off and wanted out sooner. Right in the middle of November.

Needless to say, DEAD DOLLARS didn’t get much further.



2013
MIGHTY GRAY: SEASON ONE


A year into a new job, still stuck in a bungalow with no room to move and now I had a one year old son.

I should have failed.

Instead, my episodic ode to Buffy became my most successful NaNo project to date, breaking all kinds of personal NaNo records on the way.

Somehow, by taking my crappy Netbook to work and writing a little before shift and a lot during lunch meant I hit the daily target of 1667 before I got home in the evenings. Sometimes I was managing 3000-4000 words a day which for me is impressive.

I powered on with each ‘episode’ hitting around 17,000 words and finishing on a climax before moving onto the next and the next. These mini endings made it easier to move on instead of aiming for that one finale that was miles off in the distance.

Even now I don’t know how I managed to accomplish what I did last year, not with so much against me when I struggled on much easier years. The main thing is it became another project under the belt and another NaNoWriMo certificate on the wall.



2014
FALLEN SWORDS


And that leads us into this year.

During the summer, while working on my CampNaNoWriMo project, I looked at projects I might want to pick up when November rolled around. Was it worth taking another stab at my 2011 or 2012 failures? What about the planned sequels to my 2007 or 2009 projects? Or there was that second season to 2013’s MIGHTY GRAY that was begging to be written?

No, no and no.

I decided to take on my most recent idea, FALLEN SWORDS. More episodic than MIGHTY GRAY and taking a leaf out of Betsy Streeter’s excellent ‘Neptune Road’ project I have a plan to write as much of FALLEN SWORDS as I can during November to give myself a nice head start. I’ll edit what I have and then release a chapter at a time starting early next year as I continue to edit and write.



DEEP BREATH

And that’s my history with NaNoWriMo. It’s been pretty awesome. Whether any of my drafts get any further I can’t say. I’m proud that they exist though. Some people always talk of writing something and never do. I have four first drafts that are just waiting for me to get the courage to edit them. I hope I don’t let them down.

Good luck to everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. Feel free to buddy up. I’m under Brian S Creek.

I’ll be back this time next week with an update to my first few days’ progress.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 37: “It came from SAN FRANCISCO!”

November is nearly upon us.

For some that means growing a porn style moustache. For others it’s counting down to the opening of that first advent calendar window.

For nearly half a million people across the globe it is all about one thing; 50,000 words in 30 days.





HOW, WHAT, WHERE, WHY and WHEN

It’s weird for writers to think of a world without NaNoWriMo. It’s become something truly massive in its 15 year history. Thousands and thousands of writers from across the globe are brought together and for one month they all type away in an attempt to hit that magic target, shunning anything that could get in their way like friends, family, television and sleep.

It started deep within San Francisco when 21 wannabe authors got together and decided that it’s better to shoot first and ask questions later. And they were right. Why waste time editing chapter two if you’ve only got two chapters? Do you go for a ten mile run but re-tread your steps every hundred meters in case you’ve missed something? Of course not.

And so during the July of 1999 the pioneers of this crazy ethic got to it and, tapped up on caffeine, got to novelling.





IT’S GROWING

And that could have been it; just a group of friends that got together each year and sat down for a few weeks to write, drink and be merry. But, like most things that are successful, the people behind it had ideas . . . big ideas.

With a website built for the following year, the invites we sent out to friends. As with a lot of things in this fast moving world sometimes new things are hard to control. You see their friends received the invites and passed them on to their friends who probably passed it on to their friends. By November 2000 the original 21 had become 140.

Of course if you know anything about the current state of NaNoWriMo you’ll know that that’s nothing.





THE FIRST DRAFT HEARD AROUND THE WORLD

It grew.

1999 – 21 participants

2000 – 140 participants

2001 – 3000 participants

2002 – 14,000 participants

The website buckled and was then made bigger and better as more and more people joined each year. More staff were employed. Merchandise was sold from posters and mugs to pens and stickers.

The group formed a non-profit organisation (The Office of Letters and Light) and set up lots of other writing programs to spread out across the year. There was Script Frenzy (now deceased I believe) which was NaNo for screenplays. There’s the Young Writers Program which is focused on kids and helping to supply librarians and school teachers with lesson plans. And of course there’s CampNaNoWriMo, a more relaxed writing month (April and July) which gives the author more control and freedom over their projects for a month; anything from Novellas and novels to scripts and graphic novels. At Camp it’s all good.

But November is what it’s all about for most. Writers find their projects sometimes months in advance and they plan their plot and characters (or not if you read last week’s post) ready for when midnight strikes and October becomes November.

It’s all about getting those words on the page, about discovering things you didn’t know about you characters and creating something that most people will be too scared to ever attempt in their lives; a first draft.

Once November is over that’s when you look back and begin the next stage.

And it’s not just people who mess around in their spare time and write a little fan fiction for a month before then post their self-staring Buffy / Transformers crossover on Wattpad. Some real success by what the rest of the world would call ‘real writers’ has been born from the craziness that is NaNoWriMo. So now participants can point out to non-believers who won’t give them the peace and quiet that they require to accomplish this mammoth of tasks and shout “LEAVE ME ALONE OR MY AWESOME NOVEL WILL NEVER GET MADE INTO A MOVIE!”.



TO BE CONTINUED . . .

Next week I’ll delve into my own history with NaNoWriMo. I’ll discuss the highs and the lows, the successful attempts and the failures, from 2007 to the present. And after that let the mayhem begin.

I already have a couple of buddies join me on the NaNoWriMo site, ready to go in just 10 days’ time. Feel free to join us (I’m under Brian S Creek). The more the merrier.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 36: “Pants plan”



Planner: An author who knows exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen and where it will happen.

Panster: An author that knows nothing but the absolute basics before starting a novel.


It is said that there are two kinds of writers; the Planner and the Panster.




The Planner likes to delve into their masterpiece with every outcome and idea thought through to its logical conclusion. They have the chapters laid out on notecards. They have character outlines that go into so much detail that their MNA has their own passport and drivers licence. They may even have the next two of three books planned out and ready to be foreshadowed.




The Panster, on the other hand, comes up with a single, basic idea or maybe just a single character they want to write about and just goes with it. Each page leads blindly onto the next. New characters come as a surprise and may become the main character in later drafts. The end of the story is never in sight because there’s a good chance it doesn’t exist yet.

Mario or Sonic?

Coke or Pepsi?

Marvel or DC?

Planner or Panster?

It’s put down as one or the other and in the build up to NaNoWriMo, most participants know what they are by now. Planners will have spent October (and probably September) creating worlds, characters and plot twists that all intricately link into one another. Come November 1st it will just be a case of converting all the information from that well organised ring binder (deny it) into a novel.

Pansters will probably be doing everything but thinking about their story. They’re probably working on something else entirely that just popped into their heads that very morning.

But are these the only two types? Can there be some kind of hybrid that sits right in the middle of these two extremes?

You see I don’t just wing it. In the build-up I’m constantly thinking about the first ten percent of the story; the intro, the build-up. I come up with that quick idea like a Panster would but I unfold it, build on it and see what else could happen.

But that planning I do is real basic. I’ll draw a map if required (this year that’s a yes). I put together a list of characters like a planner would but they don’t have much detail beyond a name and a one line description. I may even outline the first couple of chapters but, because I’m so fickle, I know that if I plan too far ahead that it will cage me in as I’ll be coming up with more ideas throughout the month. Sure I know the big, big, big picture, I know I’m departing point A and heading across to point Z but there’s that massive expanse in-between that I don’t normally think about and look forward to exploring.

Mario or Sonic? Kids’ stuff.

Coke or Pepsi? I prefer Dr Pepper.

Marvel or DC? Put your hands together.

Planner or Panster? I’m a Planster.





Are any of you out there planning on joining NaNoWriMo this year? If so, what category do you put yourself in? Are you going to see what falls out of you imagination in two weeks’ time or do you have a ring binder that looks like it contains thousands of Wikipedia entries about a fictional world? Let me know in the comments below.

If you are joining in then let me know; let’s get a good group of writing buddies together for this as, God knows, support can be a wonderful thing.

I guess I’d better let you Planners get back to world building.

See you in seven.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Interlude 008

Deeply Odd – Dean Koontz

Published 2013

2 stars



Odd Thomas is a young fry cook with an extraordinary paranormal gift: he sees the dead, and the soon-to-be dead. Encountering a truck driver, he is suddenly visited by the disturbing vision of three innocent children who will be horribly slaughtered by this man.

Realizing that his outrageous intent is now known, the trucker – a sociopath of singular boldness and cunning – tries to kill Odd, but fails and flees. Odd gives pursuit, and then is himself pursued. And it is on this journey that Odd will discover that he is up against not a single twisted murderer, but a network of evil men whose identities and motivations are mysterious and whose resources seem almost supernatural.

Luckily, in this world that Odd finds so beautiful and full of wonders, and deeply odd as well, he will meet a collection of like-minded dreamers and eccentrics who will help him to take the next giant step towards his destiny.


I’ve mentioned before about the great deals on books at Tesco. One of the first I ever picked up was Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. I’d never read Koontz before so I didn’t know what to expect but it was cheap enough for me to take a chance.

Until then I assumed Koontz was a second rate Stephen King as I often saw there oversized libraries competing for shelf space within spitting distance of one another.

I was impressed with the story of the small time fry cook who sees ghosts. Its supernaturally gifted main character and real world threats mixed well and the ending was a real, unexpected gut punch.
That book is one of my all-time favourites; a guilty pleasure on my top ten.

Now, six books on, I wish Mr Koontz would just give up.

Odd’s story seems to just be dragging on now. Since book one he has gained new compatriots and faced some pretty boring evil in some really OTT situations. And no answers are forth coming. The character of Odd just repeats himself to each new person he meets and he has, in this book, meet some really mysterious people that, I’m guessing, will be explained in about three or four books time despite appearing in all the books between now and then.

The story itself has Odd on the tail of a murderous trucker; a man who Odd has foreseen will murder three children in a pretty horrific way. This set up comes nice and early (as in immediately) but, just a couple of chapters in the pace drops; dramatically.

Fortunately it picks up at the end with a really good climax that, while adding another thing to the world of Odd Thomas without a real explanation, does start showing the bigger picture of things beyond just Odd and the ghosts he sees.

Part of me wishes that I could stick with it, just like a lot of us held out hope for Attack of the Clones even after Phantom Menace. But I’m tired of waiting for things to kick off. I’m worried that there is no ending in mind for Odd and, like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap, he is destined to just carry on and on and on and (you get the picture).

And speaking of Star Wars; there is one reason beyond all others that will prevent me from going back. Mr Koontz’s writing style has slowly started to grate on me over the course of the last few years. So much so that I dropped all his other releases (I’d been reading all the books since Odd Thomas and even some back catalogue) and only kept up with Odd’s adventures out of sympathy for the character.

But, of all the awfully written passages in this book there was one that stood out and made me realise I was ‘breaking up’ with this author.

I don’t want to sound egotistical or all high and mighty but when authors do this it really, really ticks me off.

Odd makes a comment about half through the book and says he’s not trying to compare himself to Yoda. That is fine. Unfortunately Mr Koontz clearly thinks he is writing for movie deprived two year olds because what he does here, and indeed what he does for all cultural references in this novel, is 
explain the reference further; Yoda; the little green Jedi master from the Star Wars movie.

If someone doesn’t know who Yoda is by name alone then describing him further is pointless. Cultural references in stories shouldn’t be mistaken for Wikipedia entries.

Because of this, I’m out (note to Dean Koontz – that quote is from Dragons Den, a show where ordinary people ask to borrow money from established millionaires to help their fledgling business ideas. Just in case you didn’t know).



Note: As I posted this I found out that the last book in the series is coming out December 2014.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 35: “This just in!”

Just when you make a conscious decision to utilise more of your time to write, the universe says “I DON’T THINK SO” and slaps overtime in your face. Sure the money’s great but I’m tired, stressed, missing my wife and son, and just want to write.

So, no writing lunch breaks this week and several late finishes mean I haven’t done anywhere near to what I’d hoped. And NaNoWriMo is just over three weeks away.

Still, the weekend was good and, despite forgetting to put up two reviews (incoming this weekend) at least I did well Flash Fiction wise.

First I received a Special Mention for one of my two Friday entries, the dialogue-only NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK.




The tale of a bickering married couple, this one was born from something my wife said with regards to the prompt. I won’t spoil it in case you fancy reading the stories, but I will say that I’m glad she pointed me in a direction far outside the box.

I also received a lot of great comments for this piece as well as my much darker tale WITH THE FISHES. This took the Politician theme and mixed a little Mafia in with it. There was a lot of really good competition this week and I’m chuffed to have got my name up there. Thank you to everyone who left comments. Glad you enjoyed.

Straight off the back of one flash fiction contest I dived straight into Flash Frenzy and produced the comedic APOCALYPSE. This had started out as a tough one due to a photo prompt that challenged more than any other I had tackled to date. But, as with many of my flash fiction ideas, I was about to concede when the idea hit me.

I may not have won but I did learn something valuable while working on this piece; don’t get up at 5am, write something in less than one hour and then post it online before you’ve had the chance to let another, more responsible and awake human being view it.

With panics attacks over spelling errors (the title among them) it was stressful and I ended up having a conversation with myself in the stories comments section long before any other writers were even awake to read it. Fortunately, one fellow author seemed to enjoy my published brain fart as much as the story itself. Hey, if anything I write puts a smile on a person’s face then that’s good enough for me.

But as I said 348 words ago, I just haven’t had time to do much else. Even this post is bare bones and merely an update.

Still, there’s plenty to come over the next week and damn the universe if it thinks it can stand in my way much longer.

So look forward to two more Flash! Friday entries in just two days’ time. Coming off the back of recent twitter conversations I seem to have made a name for myself with double entries in four of the last five weeks and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.

Then, over the weekend I’ll be posting my reviews for Dean Koontz’s ‘Deeply Odd’ and Adam Christopher’s ‘Brisk Money’. One I loved and one I didn’t but you’ll have to tune in to find out which was which.

I’ll also be diving back into Flash Frenzy with another 360 word piece that I think I’ll take a little more time over and get someone to check first. Yes, that sounds like a much better plan.

But before all of that I will be entering another, brand new flash writing contest tomorrow. Over at David Borrowdale’s Microbookends.com he is starting a new contest where authors are provided with a first and last word and must use a photo prompt to fill in the ninety eight between the two. Looking forward to this.

And that’s about all.

Fingers crossed that normal service will resume next week.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 34: “Strong week”

First off I’d like to thank folks for their responses to last week’s blog post. I never once suspected that I was the only writer in the world to feel like I did but, having fellow authors tell me that they have experienced or are experiencing the same lows felt like a little, virtual group hug.

Cheers guys.



NO FLASH IN THE PAN



That wasn’t the only thing to put a smile on my face. Flash fiction wise it’s been a good week. First off I managed to once again enter two stories for Flash! Friday. Despite doing this a couple of times before, I don’t think I ever managed to put up two entries that were as strong as each other.

That’s not to say that I’ve ever put forward a piece of crap just for the hell of it. What happens comes from the afterthought, the days following the entry being posted when you re-read the story and think, maybe that could have been better or that the idea was weak or forced. It’s that taking a step back and getting perspective.

This weekend I really felt that WASHED AWAY and MOST VALUABLE could both go the distance and was excited to discover, on the Monday afternoon, that MOST VALUABLE pulled off an Honourable Mention, my third since joining.



But that’s not all I wrote at the weekend. I dipped my toes into the waters of Flash Frenzy, a similar contest hosted on The Angry Hourglass blog. A slightly higher word count and time limit gave me a chance to mix it up a little. I was quite proud of my entry, THE VIEW, and look forward to this weekend to do it all again.

Before I move on, a big shout out to Michael Seese for his winning piece on Flash! Friday. He now has three wins under his belt and has become something of a legend.

And also congratulations and big thanks to Jacki Donnellan who not only won Flash Frenzy this weekend but was also the person who convinced me to pick myself up after last week’s downer and give another contest a go. As with all the Flash fiction writers I’ve conversed with over the last few months, she is an example of a wonderful human being.



UNDER CONSTRUCTION



Planning for this year’s NaNoWriMo is going well. I’ve been spending quite a few lunch breaks and a couple of free evenings working on the history, characters and, if you look at the FALLEN SWORDS tab, the world building. Yep, that’s right, I have a world map.

I plan to work on a more detailed version over the next week or two and I will be posting updates regarding the project under the FALLEN SWORDS tab as we near the wonderful month that is November. I will be writing 50,000+ plus words towards the project which will hopefully give me a nice head start once I begin posting them from January.



NOVEMBER



And talking of NaNoWriMo, I can’t believe that it is almost here already. Feels like only yesterday that I was grabbing every free second I could with my dying Netbook as I smashed all of my previous records.

It’s going to be weird after several months of flash fiction, short stories and that novella to suddenly go back to something big like a novel. Hopefully the episodic nature of the project will blind me to the true scale of the piece. Sometimes it can be daunting when you know the ending is still so far away but this time round I could end up with an ending each day.

Let me know either in the comments or on twitter (@BrianSCreek) if you have a history with NaNoWriMo, what you like or dislike about it, and if you’ll be joining in this year.

Writing buddies in November can be a God send.

See you in seven.