To Nano not to Nan?

Posted on August 9, 2010 by

A long time ago (1994, I think) in an apartment just a few blocks away, I took it into my head to participate in the Three Day Novel contest. It was a great experience: over a long weekend, I wrote something like 65,000 words of dystopian, after-the-eco-apocalypse SF, and duly mailed it in to Arsenal Pulp Press. I didn’t win–nobody won that year–but I was a better writer at the end of the weekend, and I had a finished novel in hand and ready to revise.

The one flaw in my otherwise cunning plan was that I had chosen to write something based on one of my oft-started, utterly frustrating, would-not-gel-for-friggin-love-or-money novella starts. Over multiple failed attempts to make it come together, I’d come to heartily dislike the whole project. But, somehow, I decided the solution was to bust the thing out to novel length. Good plan, right?

As it turns out, no. At the end of three days, I had gone from having an unworkable thirty-page story to revise to having an unworkable 220 page book to fight with.

Oops. It’s trunked now, and good riddance.

In 2004 or thereabouts, I formed a pact to do National Novel Writing Month with a few of my beloveds. The goal this time around was to draft up a literary novel I’d proposed to the Canadian Grant Deities a few months earlier; I’d written that proposal while fully aware that I was hoping to have a contract for Blue Magic by then and I was a little scared of ending up on the hook for two books at once. I know, we should all have such problems, right? But I figured that if I had a draft of the grant novel in hand, I could revise one while drafting the other. (This worst-case-scenario, timingwise, never came about, as it happened.)

This time I picked a novel I was in love with, something I was excited about writing. Much better plan. The biggest concern I had with the whole scheme was that, for several years running, my writerbrain had stopped dead in its tracks each November. This was, actually, another reason for doing it. Losing a whole month out of one’s working year… it’s a lot. I could have usefully allocated the time to research, but I simply didn’t wanna.

For me, Nanowrimo worked out pretty well. I tried to write 2,000 words a day–that put me ahead of the game whenever I needed a day off. I took those days, and still finished a bit early. The month was exhausting, and the book pushed many other commitments to the wayside, but I got the book written as planned. That first draft of The Wintergirls was certainly messy, but my drafts are all messy; that didn’t scare me. The cameraderie and public accountability also worked for me. I posted word counts, was encouraged by blog readers as well as my nearest and dearest, encouraged other… Nanites? Nanners? Nannies? … in their turn, and came out of it with a draft that’s now very polished indeed. This is now my go-to strategy when I’m potentially double-booking myself: get one of the books well underway in November, and hope the rest falls together. I did it again in 2009, and am very pleased with the current state of the resulting book, which I’ve now revised about three times.

Unless other contracts start falling around here like hail, I’m planning to write The Rain Garden this coming November.

What about all of you? Yes? No? Why or why not? Your Nano tales would be very welcome.

Stargate Universe (and other small-screen stuff)

Posted on August 8, 2010 by

While I’m grousing about things that fall flat on the big screen, I should report that I was also disappointed in the Stargate Universe season finale, which I finally saw on Thursday night. I had heard so many raves that I was sure, as I went into viewing the last four episodes, that things were going to pick up. Plot would happen, and someone would finally figure out what to do with Eli and his big adorable brain.

But no. A stack of cliffhangers later, it was all sigh and no sauce. I won’t be tuning in when they start up again.

The other new thing I’ve been watching lately is a Toronto-based cop show called Rookie Blue, which is about a bunch of brand-new cops in their first year on the job. This is a show that combines all of the best qualities of hard-hitting, tough-talking, sexy crime drama with the big-eyed adorability of something like Baby Animals. I mean, really. They’re like these tiny little law enforcement creatures, barely out of nappies and straight into uniform, Oh, honey, you forgot to take bullets to the hostage crisis again? That is SO cute!

Seriously, though, the show has had a few good moments. The female lead (her name is Missy Peregrym, so again I have to say Awww!) has the same kind of appeal Jennifer Garner brought to the character of Sidney Bristow in Alias–she is, simply put, very likable. The show is popcorn: not compelling, but good enough to burn an hour on here and there.

Which is true of many of the things I am planning to watch this fall: Glee (in whose closer I was also a little disappointed), House, Castle, Blue Bloods, Criminal Minds and–when mid-season rolls around–Criminal Minds: Reboot, which will have all the Garcia, all the time, plus the smokin’ Janeane Garofalo. If anything can get me off the Lewis/Hathaway track… cough, never mind.

Do you know what you’re watching this fall?

Watching movies at home

Posted on August 7, 2010 by

I have had a membership (they’re the Canadian version of Netflix) for some years now, and its Send-Me-Stuff! queue tends to stand at just under a hundred movies. The top fifteen or so are the things I want right away–currently Inspector Lewis S2* is in the favored position. Everything after number twenty or so tends to have gone onto the list so long ago that when it arrives, kelly-yoyoKelly and I are left wondering which of us added it, and on whose recommendation.

We got Christmas in Connecticut not long ago, for example, and I remember putting that on the list in the spring of 2007, shortly before Kelly went to Taos Toolbox, because Connie Willis had said in an interview that it was wonderful.

Anyway, the corporate deities of random filmviewing sent us I Shot Andy Warhol and Atonement.

The former we’d queued because of Lili Taylor, and she was unforgettable: disturbed, brilliant and thoroughly unhinged as Valerie Solanas. It’s directed in a consciously arty way–very appropriate considering the subject matter–and it was about a little slice of Sixties history that was new to me. Good script, well shot, great performances–it all kept me riveted.

Atonement, on the other hand… well. It opens beautifully. It’s got that chewy, nuanced, ambiguous sort of storytelling that makes you argue about the meaning of every little thing. The first half made me want to go back, and watch again, and dissect. Meanwhile, Keira Knightly does a good job of looking like a Tamara de Lempicka painting, in her shimmering green ballgowns. She’s no Lili, maybe, but the aesthetic effect was far from painful.

Tragically, this film is all build and no payoff. I don’t buy much of anything after the big Atoneworthy sin, and it’s a biggie, is committed.

The cinematography in this movie is stunning–there’s a long shot set on the beaches of Dunkirk that took my breath away, and the things the camerahuman does with water and reflections… oh, they were gaspingly beautiful. But the end of the story falls flatter than a crepe; I was so disappointed. There will be no going back to examine the beginning in detail; the before was nearly brilliant, but the after entirely ruined it.

(*I am shipping Lewis/Hathaway bigtime, my friends, and poet and editor Clélie Rich is entirely to blame.)

Story Intro: “Five Good Things about Meghan Sheedy”

Posted on August 6, 2010 by

This story’s comparatively recent, which means I remember quite a few of the initial sparks for “Five Good Things about Meghan Sheedy” when I wrote it in 2004.

First, I was developing the (loosely) standardized critique style that I now I use for most of my UCLA Extension Writers’ Program classes. I had settled on a ‘rule’ for myself that no matter where a student was at, craftwise, I would find at least five positive things to say about every story submitted for workshop. Five things. It’s arbitrary, I know, but it ensures that everyone gets a comparable amount of encouraging feedback, and that I’ve identified a few good things they can build on. When your students never see you face to face, when you’re just keystrokes on teh Internets, the being positive up front component of critique is even more important than when you’re in the room together.

As teaching discipline, it has worked out well, and I still do it with Creating Universes, Building Worlds, Writing the Fantastic, and most other classes. (Novel Writing II has been a different kettle of fish.)

So… five good things. The fact that it was a fixed number snagged on something in my writerbrain. It occurred to me that there could be aliens with whom something like this was an actual custom. A lot of cultural things are arbitrary in some way or another; the answer to “Why?” is often “That’s just how we do it.”

Another second component of the story was Meghan’s temper. I’d had the opportunity to closely observe someone who was going through some really difficult things, and went through a stage of dealing with it by biting off the heads of everyone within hearing range. I’m more of a conflict avoider, so it was on my mind.

As for how this evolved into a squid story… well. I had been reading a good deal about the U.S. military intervention in Vietnam in the Sixties, and thinking about proxy wars, and how it might look if two offworld powers started kicking Earth around in some fashion. I thought of setting it in the same universe as the Slow Invasion stories, further on down the timeline, but that Earth has a dense offworlder population that considers our mudball home, and those individuals wouldn’t go anywhere just because a war busted out, and I didn’t want them added into this particular stew. They didn’t quite fit. So, despite the fact that the two universes have similarities (offworlders who are far more advanced than us, exploiting their supremacy) I decided they couldn’t be lumped together.

Later, as I wrote more squid stories, especially the ones about Ruthless, it became apparent to me that “Meghan Sheedy” probably takes place late in the Proxy War–the U.S. is the last country of any significance to fall to the Fiends, who work their way from the Mexican border to Canada. (We fold like the paper kitten we are, maybe five minutes after they get here. Ten if they stop for coffee.) Since this story takes place in Seattle and Seattle’s near the border, the geography makes that much apparent. But those were decisions I made later; in the meantime, I was imagining the Seattle I know, the familiar skyline pocked with Dust craters while ordinary twenty-first century peeps tried to cope with bombing and the destruction of their way of life, with occupation and collaborators and the danger of constant surveillance by both sides.

Newly minted babies…

Posted on August 5, 2010 by

My usual Wednesday walk takes me east along the Yaletown side of False Creek, past a casino at the Plaza of Nations, and along the seawall to the Telus World of Science. From there I either make my way uphill along First to Commercial or sometimes take the Skytrain one stop to get back to my neighborhood.

Starlings and crows are ubiquitous here, but the crows are oddly camera-shy unless you have peanuts. You can make a crow fly away just by holding up your hands as if you had a camera in them. I have gotten a few keepworthy shots, though, of a young crow out with its parent, begging for food on the seawall. And here we have a just-fledged starling, not yet iridescent, with the flashier adults.
False Creek Birds

Madonna and Child:
False Creek Birds

This is Vancouver in the high summer: newly grown birds everywhere, haranguing their parents.