The Day I Slapped NaNoWriMo And Called It "Sarah"

So at 7:41 pm tonight, I beat National Novel Writing Month in the way that mattered to me; I completed Act II of my novel in progress.  57,286 words committed to paper; actually, it’s 61,396 words if you count the deleted scenes I always shove to the end of the manuscript, but still.
I’m proud and tired.
There are those who thought I was against National Novel Writing Month, which I’m not.  I’m for anything that gets people writing.  I think NaNo is often a great encouragement.  I think it’s equally often a discouragement after a week or so in, as potentially-competent-but-slow writers see that they’re not going to be able to churn out the requisite word count and give up on what might otherwise be promising novels.  Yes, it’s good at getting asses in chairs, but for every person I see going, “ZOMG I FINISHED!” I know two people who, come November 10th, have abandoned their work because the goal line is too far away.
Sadly, given the way many so-called writers bash NaNo, a lot of folks have a bunker mentality where “It’s nice to get people started, but the focus on production often intimidates people out of finishing” reads to them as “HE HATES THE NANO.”  I do not.  I think it’s like every writing exercise – useful for some, deadly for others.  The trick as a writer is to know what suits you.
…that’s neither here nor there.  I’m tired. The real news is that I wrote at a hectic pace, not letting my inner critic stifle me, and got through Act II.  I missed a lot of dates so I could do this, working ten-hour days and then writing for three more to ensure I stayed on topic.  I think that I’m going to probably continue this crazy pace through December, just to polish off Act III.  But it’s been a grueling process, and I feel exhausted.  I have no idea how Cassie Alexander does this three times a year.
Then comes the rewriting.  There’s a lot to fix.  It took me 50,000 words to figure out who my lead character was.  There are worldbuilding problems – hey, how common is magic? – that literally switch 20,000 words in.  I’ll need to slip back into scenes and quietly place Chekov’s guns on the mantle. And the prose is so flabby, I’ll probably cut 20% out of it before I’m done (that’s a lot of blubber to flense) and replace a metric fuckton of cliches with writing that’s actually fresh and new.
That’s all good, though.  It’s been an experience, writing at this clip; I’m usually a very sedate writer, lucky to hit 800 words a day.  Doubling that was an effort in letting go, and I honestly don’t know if this is any good or not.  I’ll take the weekend off, pondering what happens in Act III, and then start to furiously scribble to get to, say, 90,000 words by the time I’m done. When it’s done, we’ll see whether I write better at a furious gallop.
It may be a dribbling turd of a thing, or trapped lightning. No way of knowing until the end.
But for now, I did it.  Almost 60,000 words, almost 2,000 words a day.
I’m going to have a drink, and maybe cry a little.
(And no, I don’t know why I’m calling NaNoWriMo “Sarah.”  Could be “Steven,” I guess.  I’m punchy, allow an old tired man some oddness.)

A Beautiful Flame

While I do adore fireplay, it doesn’t photograph well.  For one thing, you actually need three people to capture fireplay on film; the person applying the flame, the flamee, and a third person, since you really can’t take pictures and set someone on fire.  At least not safely.
Then there’s the fact that while I find flame to be one of the most beautiful things in the world – I used to stare into my grandparents’ fireplace for hours – it doesn’t photograph well, if you’re an amateur like me.  Either you get this blob of blazing orange and no people, or a washed-out ghostly effect hovering above skin.  But apparently, thanks to a better photographer than me (that’d be Miranda), it turns out the trick is to keep the shutter speed low.
So then, you wind up with stunning little pictures like this.  My flame, not my tattoo.  But pretty nonetheless.  And an indication of why I do love to set women on fire; it’s adding beauty to beauty.
Fireplay, Captured

The Best Stories I've Never Written

Earlier this week, I perpetuated a meme, providing myself a fine transmitter for psychological conceptual wads: Tell me about a story I haven’t written, and I’ll give you the opening sentence from that story.
Some of the stuff I wrote was pretty neat.  You can take a look at the main thread (on LJ, which will of course be broken by the mere act of my linking to it), but here are some of the ones I’m prouder of.
Flavortext asked:

A story about a woman who discovers a bookbag that has two unusual properties:
1) Its contents show up as a few changes of clothes on airport scanners, no matter what those contents actually are.
2) There seems to be no upper limit to how much the bookbag can hold.
She does some massive-scale smuggling for a while before she’s brought in on an unrelated charge and the feds learn what her bookbag can do. She finds herself pressured into the US Army, and has to deal with the ramifications of being a human personnel carrier in an active warzone.

So I said:

Evelyn had taken a flashlight in with her, a compass, enough food to last for weeks, bringing a bag inside the bag. The compass had been useless once inside The Sack, its needle jittering nervously in every direction, but she’d been smart enough to bring several cans of spraypaint to draw jagged arrows on the wrinkled proplyene surface.
The fabric cavern around her was lightless, sagging, occasionally sighing as mysterious winds rippled the cloth. Nothing lived in here. There was no water. Just a cave that went on until she ran out of paint, and a never-ending line of rough arrows pointing back to to the unzipped entrance.
This was no ordinary book bag.

Stm4e ventured:

The Schoolhouse Rock song “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here” is about a 3-generation family who run an “adverb store”, selling adverbs and singing their praises. They gloat in the song that the adverbs are “absolutely free”. How do they pay their rent? (How do they eat?) What do the women in this family think, married to a bunch of zealots who don’t ever bring home any money, but run a family business giving stuff away for free?

My response:

Hrm. I’d have to do some serious worldbuilding on that one.
That said, the obvious opening is “We are absolutely, positively, unquestionably, horrifically, and grievously starving,” said Lolly, Lolly, and Lolly, speaking frankly.

Richlayers: “A story about a woman who can plant fairy tales on scraps of paper and grow a garden of variations.”

The mice in her garden tried to turn her pumpkins into carriages. She sprayed them with pesticides.

Pachamama: “In a world where first-person subjective experiences can be harvested and delivered for virtual experiencing by punters, there obviously grows a significant black market in the less palatable aspects of human experience (the virtual experience version of snuff films). ”

The girl was fourteen years old, dead, and laid in pieces upon china plates.
Graeme sharpened his knives, though the cooking – what there was of it – had been mostly done. She was bite-sized, mostly raw, bits of her shoulder laying edge-over-edge on a sashimi tray, her liver in a bowl, both her eyes nestled in ramekins. They had stewed and seared bits of her, and Graeme wondered what had driven her to this. He’d seen the film where she had been dissembled. She went voluntarily though not happily, surrendering herself to the butcher, and Graeme decided that she must have had a family who needed the money. A woman who would volunteer for such a thing as kink was too monstrous to contemplate, even for Graeme.
He adjusted the electrodes on his scalp, nibbled at a Saltine cracker. His technicians gave him the thumbs-up; the other guests, vomit bowls at the ready, also nodded, feeling the salt dryness in their mouth as clearly as if they’d chewed it themselves.
Graeme was ready. His audience, though they would never admit it in public, were hungry to see what human flesh tasted like. And he would bring them every sensation.

(Hey, they’re not all pleasant.)
And my favorite, which Tithenai thinks I should expand into a story, is this prompt: “How about a sentence from that story of yours where drums are a divinatory tool?”

Jules often wondered if John Bonham had known what he was doing.
It was hard for him to listen to Bonham’s extended suicide note in “Moby Dick,” but Julies applied himself to it with the scrutiny that any diviner uses when they pushed their finger through moist dregs of tea. To the rest of the world, “Moby Dick” was the part of the Led Zeppelin concert where you went and got another beer – four minutes of furious drum solo, a dense polyrhythmic stew of paraddidles and crashes, with Bonham arcing up and down the scale in frantic, galloping rolls.
To Jules, though, the beats spoke of darker things. If you listened with the right ears, you could hear Bonham charting his future in detail, his mania, his despair, the rise of Zeppelin and his addictions. And when that final, thunderous beat came, the culmination of everything, he could hear Bonham bringing down both the sticks and the end of his own life simultaneously.
Had he known? Had Bonham understood that he was casting a spell? Or had he just, inchoately, been attuned to something that was nothing but instinct to him?

That’s not really a story for me, as I don’t know what Jules wants or what he’d do in the story, but it’s a fun way to look at Zeppelin.
(If you want to add more requests, dunno when I’ll get to ’em, but I will.)

The Unexpected Benefits Of Premature Destruction

I’m fond of saying, “I don’t have one-night stands, I have three-day relationships.”  I’m also fond of saying, “I have slept with over a hundred women. This sounds good until you realize that it means over a hundred women have decided I was too much trouble.” When I was single, I’d burn through seven or eight girlfriends in a year.
And I do burn through relationships quickly, due to a bizarre combination of absolute self-worth and total utter confidence.  I’ve never thought much of myself, but I come from a family that was big on therapy, big on talking everything out, big on exposing your feelings.  So the moment I have any twinges about anything, I go straight to my lover and say, “This is bothering me.”
Note the lack of an intermediary step: is this worth bothering her for?
So I’d fall in love, and things would be decent, and I’d carp and create fights because this wasn’t a big problem now, but it would be in a few months, and it was better to hash this out now before it came to a head.  Except I was continually anticipating problems that might have worked themselves out, given time, and I was asking for large behavioral changes that may have been premature (after all, I was always willing to be mutable, and so must the rest of the world), and as such I’d be lucky if I lasted two months with anyone.  I’d fall deeply in love, then grind it to shreds.
And I always thought this was a failing.  I did, yes, eventually find True Love with my wife, but even that involved a two-year adjustment period that should by all rights have ended in a hostile divorce.  I should shut up more, be less protective of my own rights.
A friend of mine is having me rethink that.
My friend is recently quote-unquote single after having been kicked unceremoniously out on his ear by his ex.  He’d never discussed her problems much with her – all that emotional talk gives him hives – and so, month by month, over the course of a decade, his ex got increasingly sick of his shit until one day he woke up and found himself being ejected from her life.  He thought things were fine.
Why wouldn’t he?  Nobody had said anything.
Watching him date now, he’s re-committed quickly, and is now dating someone he dislikes.  We’re hanging out, and he goes, “Oh, fuck, that’s right, I have a date with her.”  When asked why he’s so reluctant, well, she doesn’t really like the same movies that he does, and they don’t have much to talk about so they have to go to movies or else there’s awkward silence, and they don’t have the same life’s plans.  Also, he’s pretty sure they’re both rebound-dating, though they’ve never discussed it.
They have a lot of sex, apparently.  At least there’s that.  And maybe my friend leaves all the bitching to me, and has more enjoyment than he lets on; I always allow for that possibility.
Yet when I ask why they don’t talk about it, well, turns out that he hates emotional discussions so much that once again, he’s hooked up with someone who also hates to have emotional discussions.  He keeps saying, “Yeah, this one’s doomed,” and talking (to me, not her) about how they have nothing in common, and expressing the concept that, since he’s busy, this is better than being single again.
This has been going on for, oh, three months.  I have a feeling that unless the new girlfriend does anything – which is doubtful, since she also appears to be of the “Wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful” persuasion – this could drag on for another six months, maybe a year.  And yes, there’s regular sex – always the consolation prize in your Relationship Despair Crackerjacks – but on the other hand, when this sputters to the inevitable conclusion, I don’t think there will be a lot of Lessons Learned.  The next relationship, I think, will be a lot like the past two relationships, because when questioning What’s Happening becomes anathema, you can’t really examine the wreckage to figure out what wrong.
I had wreckage.  Junkyards of wreckage.  But I did sift through them, trying to figure out why this plane had crashed.
I dunno.  Maybe my relentless conversations have been a boon to me, in the long run.  Yeah, I got caught in the quagmire a couple of times – but usually, if we were at all incompatible, we’d discover this quickly, chew our arms off in fights, and move on.  It was over in six, eight weeks tops, and I could find someone else I liked.  I thought of my relentless number of relationships as a bug, but perhaps on balance it’s more of a feature – things don’t drag on with me, usually, they often just crash. Which enabled me to a) learn a lesson, if I could, and b) eventually find the great loves who I’m currently involved with.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying my path is ideal; there’s a balance to be had, in terms of learning when to keep my mouth shut, and I’m always evolving with that.  But for years, all I saw was the down side of a rapidly fluctuating love life.  There was a subtle benefit of all those breakups, one I overlooked.
You shouldn’t choose either of these paths, obviously.  But I think, if you have to have one, hopefully you luck out and take the path of destruction.  Maybe.

Stolen From Various Sources, Since All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Tell me about a story I haven’t written, and I’ll give you the opening sentence from that story.
That one’s been going around, and I’m intrigued.  (The original meme says “I’ll give you a sentence from that story,” but I write all my stories in strict chronological order anyway, so it’d be the first sentence regardless.  Mise well be a challenge.)
Sufficiently silly responses won’t get a sentence; oh, I know many think it’s funny to ask me to write about the sentient whipped cream that ate Roger Ebert, but I AM SRS AUTHOR.  (Also, and more relevant, purposely ludicrous ideas usually don’t get my motor running.)  But if it’s an actual story idea, I’ll approach it with all seriousness.  FOR I AM SRS AUTHOR.
(So srs that I technically “won” NaNoWriMo last night, at 51,000+ words, but I’ll consider it my personal victory if I can finish Act II before the month is over.  More on that in a bit, though.  This morning is therapist and then unfucking my dev environment for work.)