NaNoWriMo 2019: Going Dark

This isn’t working, folks. Not the book, but blogging the process. I keep thinking about what I’m going to say here rather than there. I’ve barely begun and already it’s tanking my concentration.

The story is a bit more complicated, and it’s a new genre for me. So for now, I think I need to go dark on blogging about it. That does NOT mean I won’t pop in here to let you know how it’s going, or if I wrestle a writing-related bear and want to discuss it. Or if anything else happens.

It’s been a few days now since the big move. I feel much better than before. The brain fog was real, and the extra pressure of word counts did not help at all. I didn’t just move; I upheaved my entire life.

I don’t know if doing this will be very very good, or very very bad, but it had to be done. Trying something new is scary.

Kinda feels like this, with no net.

Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

So NaNoWriMo 2019 is done, and I’m just gonna write. See ya later.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 5: Crash and Burn

Y’all, I just feel terrible.

I know it’s from a commercial moving site, but this post describes exactly how I feel right now. Everything hurts. Everything. And I didn’t do the actual moving work.

Worst of all, I will have to do this all over again when I find a job and a place. I just can’t even think that far ahead right now. Selling the house put so much extra stress on me that I suspect it made things worse. Or maybe it’s because I’m not a kid anymore.

My mom and I went out to run errands today, and she was trying to show me where stuff was. Nothing she said made any sense. It’s doubtful I’ll be able to remember it without googling a map.

Hmm, I thought she said turn left but I don’t think this is quite right . . .

Anyway, I’ve been slowly getting back into the story mindset I had before the move, when I wrote the outline. There is no way I will make the NaNoWriMo 50K goal, but I might be able to finish the book by January.

I AM NOT GOING TO QUIT.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 4: Move Complete

First, let me say that the move went pretty smoothly. Dad engaged a couple of Mennonite dudes and they showed up at 7:00 am this morning with a trailer, loaded all my stuff, drove for three hours, and then dropped it off in two different places. Thanks, guys. Thanks, Dad.

I would post a pic of him but he would kill me, so please enjoy this picture of my former neighbor’s cat. His name is Charlie.

Photo by Elizabeth West

Second, I am totally dead. In order to be ready, I had to get up at stupid o’clock after not sleeping very well. It’s going to be a really long day for the Mennonite dudes; they probably aren’t even home yet and they started earlier than I did.

Third, there will be no NaNoWriMo’ing today; I am so tired I can barely type.

Fourth, I was not selected for Pitch Wars, so I guess that’s it for Tunerville currently. I have feelings about that; I spent so long with it, but I’m too tired to unpack them right now. At least now I can concentrate on the new book.

For the time being, I’m literally the nerd in her mother’s basement until I find a job in the nearby bigger city or somewhere else. Thankfully, I’m in my own comfy bed.

Sorta like this, only with no sunlight.

Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

I’m not going to miss Old City, but I will miss people, and I guess I’ll miss my house. It was kind of annoying, but it was home for quite a while. I cried a little about leaving it. But someone new will live there now, and he’ll probably fix it up. It needs someone to love it and improve it. I needed a new start, and a bigger job market.

So I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully with a word count.

NaNoWriMo 2019: Day 3 of the OMG I am Dead

Today’s word count: 0.

Spent all day packing and cleaning. Am too tired to breathe. Every part of my body hurts. My hair hurts.

This will never stop being cute.

Tomorrow, very early, I move. I’m not doing most of the work, so hopefully by the time I drive 200 miles, unpack some stuff, and rest a little, I’ll be able to crank out some pages. I’ve got a long drive to think about it.

This is my last night in this house. Though I won’t miss this city, I think I’ll miss the house a little. It was super annoying a lot of the time, but it was home for quite a while. 

If I could have made a life here, I might have stayed, but there was just no way. Obviously, I don’t belong here. Well, if I get everything I ever wanted, I’m not going to complain!

Come on, universe! I’m ready!

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 2: Slow Going

I think I wrote about 149 words today; I don’t think the next two days are going to be very productive.

I tried thinking about my story while packing, but then I ended up thinking about packing, sorting, and why I can’t seem to get rid of 87,000 t-shirts. Balls!

This song has been stuck in my head all day. You’re welcome. :)

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 1: Uh Oh

I’m behind already. Well, the same thing happened last year and I hit the target, although I did start with 15,000 words already written.

Today, I signed the closing paperwork on my house, a rather emotional event. Then I came home and did some packing. I only have two days before I move — most of it’s already done. All I have to do is:

  • pack my dishes and the things I’m actively using
  • put all the rubbish in the bin for one last pickup
  • take some stuff nobody wants to the thrift store
  • drink a gallon of milk (it won’t survive a three-hour drive)
  • clean
  • and do some large loads of laundry.

I’m also leaving a bunch of stuff for the buyer. He’s getting all the appliances, some furniture, and a few things I don’t need anymore or can easily replace later (cleaning stuff, snow shovel, etc.). None of it’s junk; it’s all stuff he can use.

The Catalyst is a working title. I don’t know if it will be the actual title. But! I did finish my outline last night, so I sort of know where this story is going, although I have no idea what will happen.

This Shiba in a swing seems unbothered about it.

I’m pretty tired, y’all.

NaNoWriMo 2019: And Here We Go

Happy Halloween and NaNoWriMo 2019 Eve!

I’ll post a word count, etc. every day during NaNoWriMo. Posts may be short, especially during the first week, since I’m moving and hopefully at least temping while I continue the job hunt in a bigger market.  

It bugs me that I didn’t make more progress on editing Book 2 this year. I got distracted by the conlang and life things. I decided to proceed as if nothing will happen with Pitch Wars and Tunerville. While I will be disappointed I’m not selected, writing New Book will undoubtedly take my mind off it for a bit.

The advice “Write what you want to read” has produced some really amazing works. I mostly read genre fiction. I’ve been struggling to land on a type in which to specialize. When I decided to get serious about my writing, I originally intended to do whatever I wanted, regardless of genre. No restrictive branding slots for me!

Of course, publishing and marketing don’t work that way. Bookstores have categories, and if you do well in one, you tend to get locked into it. Only huge success a la Stephen King allows you to break out and write whatever and still make money, and even then, you’ll have readers who eschew any non-conforming works.

More skeletons, please.

Image: Goodreads

For the record, I’m a die-hard SK fan who really liked Joyland.

While I enjoy literary fiction, I’m not sure it’s best for me as a writer. Secret Book, despite its ignominious end as a trunk novel, taught me how to elevate my writing. It contains some of the best prose I’ve ever produced, even if the premise was cringingly awful. My grad school writing professor, a Mark Twain scholar, told me that no time spent writing is wasted, and she is right.

Neither is time spent reading. Even as an unpublished writer, I get questions from non-writers about craft, and the two things I emphasize most are writing (butt-in-seat!) and reading. Although there really are no new stories, there are as many ways to write them as there are writers, and reading will fill your inspirational well. If you read widely, you’ll see what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re a screenwriter, you must watch movies (and read scripts). It does not matter what kind. Despite what certain directors have said recently, there is value in all cinema.

Speaking of that, I just want to disavow people of the notion that comic books, horror films, and comic book films can’t be recognized as fine art.

Some of the most beloved classics are fantasy. Peter Pan, The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland . . . I’m sure you can think of some. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus is arguably science fiction but I had it twice in college. 

Where’s the love for me? I’ve never been out of print since I was published in 1897!

Image: Wikipedia (public domain)

When Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Return of the King won 11 Oscars in 2004, including Best Picture, I cried. It was the penultimate film from a book that has set a nearly unsurpassed standard for the high fantasy genre, a film with elves and orcs and hobbits and dwarves and all manner of beasties, with a villain who is nothing more than an immense, ever-open eye. I cried because it was like the opening of the Black Gate in real life, behind which the books and movies we loved were dismissed and imprisoned.

And it’s given us movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Story arcs with iconic and beloved characters like Captain America and Iron Man, whose actors can play them with depth and nuance because the writers want us to see them that way and there’s room now to do it.

No longer are comic books a joke; now they’re winning Oscars for costume design and music (Black Panther, in 2019), and even acting. Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for playing the Joker might have seemed a nod toward the tragic cutoff of a promising career, but it absolutely was not. Anyone who saw The Dark Knight knew they were watching a darkly brilliant performance, and it didn’t matter that he played a comic book character.

To be fair, Martin Scorsese has a point in that Marvel’s dominated the movie house to the point where indie-style pictures can’t get greenlit easily or at all. Publishers have behaved similarly in blowing off new and midlist authors for fiction with mass-market appeal, because publishing is a business, after all.

Looking at my past works, I see speculative elements in every one of them (with the exception of Rose’s Hostage, another trunk novel). Very well then. Tunerville and Book 2 are urban fantasy, with ghosts and portals but set in the real world. It leads to you didn’t think I was actually going to tell you what happens, did you?

Now I shall try my hand at a full-on fantasy.

It may be a complete failure, but as my professor said, it won’t be a complete waste of time. Since these genres have become commercially viable, that gives me hope. Writers who enjoy fantastic fiction have a shot. But we still need to be true to ourselves, even while hoping it hits that sweet spot leading to publication and even moderate success.

We want to write it, and we want you to be able to read it. That’s a worthy reason to keep doing this. To everyone participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck!

NaNoWriMo 2019: Harry Potter and the Writer Who Tried to Do Too Much

It’s NaNoWriMo time again, campers!

Yes, I’m taking a stab at it. This year, it’s going to be a bit harder, as I have a LOT going on.

What’s Going On?

I’m moving

Hallelujah, I’m finally getting out of the town I’ve been stuck in for-fricking-ever. I’ve been job hunting forever, and there is no growth here. Plus, I’ve priced myself out of the small market. So what I need is a bigger market.

My crappy house has sold, and I’ll be able to move anywhere, though it will probably have to be within Nearby BiggerCity for now. I don’t really want to be there, either. However, the universe has been throwing favorable signs at me, and I’ve thrown a bucket of wishes at it, so we’ll see.

Since I won’t make enough profit to move somewhere cool and then get a job, I will be the literal nerd in her mother’s basement. It’s just temporary, however, until I find something. If I find work out of state, Oliver and I can just tootle away. I can come back for my stored stuff later.

Small silver four door car under a big tree
My little tootlin’ buddy. Hopefully not my future home.

Photo: Elizabeth West

Closing is November 7 and I have to move 200 miles and two locations away before then, so this is going to take some organization.

I’m packing

Since I’ve no clue where I’m going to end up or what I’ll need, the new homeowner, a younger person starting out whose grandparents are buying the house for him (aww), is purchasing some of my furniture. I’ve sold a lot of the rest on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Only a few things are going with me; the rest will be in storage.

Yes, I’ll have to move twice, unless something happens between now and then. The next two weeks will be key. It’s a little difficult to pack while you’re still actually using the things you need to pack.

I submitted Tunerville to Pitch Wars

This may not even happen, but if I’m chosen as a mentee, I will be revising one book at the same time I’m writing another. Gah!

There’s a new idea floating around in my head, though I might actually write Book 3 just to get it out and done. If nothing comes of Pitch Wars, then I can take my time with the conlang and revision of Books 2 and 3. It’s possible to publish earlier works later after you’ve broken through (please, universe, let me break through).  

I’m still job hunting

The less said about this, the better.

an iPad with a job application on it
Please let me give you all my private information so you can ignore me and send a rejection six months later! I love that!

Image by Gerd Altmann at Pixabay

NaNoWriMo Prep

Several tasks remain before I’m ready to dive into this year’s project.

An outline

Book 3 is already outlined in my head and has plenty of notes. New Idea is currently nothing but a blurb I wrote while practicing query letters. Regardless of which I choose, I should at least hit the high points to keep myself on track.

Music to write by

Last year’s Writing Music playlist will suffice. If I make a new one, I’ll share. I still have loads of albums to pick from.

A routine

I don’t mean a schedule, but the way I prepare and how I get into each session. Since I’m trying to cultivate a better writing habit, I’ve spent some time thinking about what works best for me.

  • Sitting in one place at basically the same time of day (usually evening, especially if I’m working)
  • Reading a little where I left off (this only works if I’m writing from start to finish, which, as you know, I don’t always do)
  • Throat-clearing

I want to talk about that last one. Sometimes, when you sit down to write, it’s hard to get started. Long ago, when I was stuck once, I did an email workshop called Daily Writes, created by Shery Arrieta Russ. I discovered that it helped to free-write for a few minutes about what I intended to accomplish that day. After finishing the workshop, I kept the habit as a way to unblock myself when I couldn’t seem to get started. All the blah-de-blah can be deleted later and doesn’t affect my word count.

I don’t expect to get all the way through Book 3 (or whatever) in November, but last year, I finished Book 2 the following month. Since I’ll be in a new city with no money (until I find a job) and no life, I reckon I’ll have lots of time.

Read more about NaNoWriMo:

A First Timer’s Guide to Prepping for NaNoWriMo | NY Book Editors

The Pitfalls of NaNoWriMo | LitReactor

NaNoWriMo 2019: How to FINALLY Write Your 30-Day Novel | reedsy blog

Facts about Conlangs, or What in Hell Am I Doing

Writers get stuck in creative ruts, just like any other artist. The best way to jump-start your brain is to do something new. You can experiment with form or a different point of view. You can try a new genre. Or you can make up a language!

So you know I’ve finished Book 2 in The Trilogy That No One Wants. The first book, Tunerville, is a contemporary fantasy that involves ghosts. I don’t want to spoil (just in case), but I’ve taken my character a little further than his backyard.

I mentioned in the marshmallow post (I need more of those) that I was creating a conlang. Did I confuse you? Do you have questions? I shall answer them.

Yes, please explain. I know nothing.

Image: gameofthrones.fandom.com

What the hell’s a conlang?

Conlang is short for constructed language, one in which phonology, grammar, and vocabulary have been created rather than developing naturally.

Famous examples include auxiliary conlangs (auxlangs) like Esperanto and Lingua Franca Nova. Most people consider artistic languages (artlangs) created for fictional universes, such as Dothraki and Valryian (Game of Thrones), Klingon (Star Trek), and the various languages J. R. R. Tolkien created, around which he wrote The Lord of the Rings, as the typical conlang.

A priori languages aren’t based on any others. Most artistic languages fall under this category, as do auxlangs. A posteriori languages, like mine, are borrowed from or based on existing tongues.

How in hell do you do this?

I started with some typos from my music friends chat room that weirdly resembled Scottish Gaelic (no, really) and based the structure on Welsh. The latter has very little in the way of exceptions to its pronunciation and grammar rules, unlike English. I don’t speak it, but I looked into it before a trip to Wales, and it’s not that difficult.

Despite what you might think.

Image: Wikipedia / Chris McKenna (Thryduulf)

The double-l in Welsh does not have an equivalent sound in English. It’s hissed a little bit — put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and say “L”. Similarly, a conlang that isn’t based on your native language can lack sounds common to yours or contain some yours doesn’t. If you decide that your fictional speakers aren’t human, it definitely will.

My conlang doesn’t have a name currently because I’m still trying to think up place names for its setting. All the phonemes are in place (unless I change them later), and I’ve left out a couple of letters, so it’s not a carbon copy of either Welsh or English. As for syntax, it’s still a bit iffy yet.

Writer Kristin Kieffer points out in this blog post (see Tip #2) that all the things you think about when worldbuilding will apply to your conlang. A future civilization that grows food exclusively via hydroponics probably wouldn’t have a word for plow. A culture who loves elaborate ritual will have long phrases and lots of modifiers.

David J. Peterson has a great book for conlangers called The Art of Language Invention. Another fantastic resource is Mark Rosenfelder’s The Language Construction Kit. I’ve dropped a companion web page below in links. Both are available at Amazon; the Kindle edition of Mark’s book is the full text.

There’s a program called Vulgar that will create a language for you; I’ve held off, but I might end up using it as an assist because making up root words and all their derivations is harrrrrrd.

Why in hell would you do this?

Tons of reasons. Creators of auxlangs generally intend them to be used by real-world speakers. For example, Esperanto was developed to facilitate international communication. Codes are also conlangs; they provide ways of shortening or encrypting language to obscure communication (cryptography), make it faster (shorthand) or make it understandable when speaking isn’t possible (semaphore). They also let people tell machines what to do (computer languages).

Talk BASIC to me, baby.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Artlangs can lend depth to fictional worlds. For the television adaptation of Game of Thrones, David J. Peterson created the Dothraki and Valyrian languages off the basics in George R.R. Martin’s books.

And for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, they wanted the antagonists to have a full-blown language, so Klingon was developed by Marc Okrand from a few words James Doohan (Scotty) improvised during the original series. It’s comprehensive enough for Treknerds to actually speak it.

As with any kind of research or backstory, you’re better off using it judiciously rather than doing huge expository dumps and risking what I sometimes call the Jean Auel effect (bless her!). Her Earth’s Children series, which began with the Clan of the Cave Bear, had page upon page upon page of explanation of the food, clothing, toolmaking, etc. in the daily life of her prehistoric characters. I personally enjoyed it, but it can bog a story down.

If you bore your readers, you’ll probably lose them on a mountain somewhere.

Interestingly, Auel managed to come up with a highly developed sign language for her Neanderthal characters, which authenticated them according to the known research at the time of writing. Novelist Anthony Burgess and anthropologist Desmond Morris collaborated similarly for the largely non-verbal 1981 pre-historic film Quest for Fire.

While this performed splendidly for those works, some writers and critics don’t find a comprehensive conlang necessary for immersion in a fantasy world and claim it can even be distracting. Perhaps, but if you do decide to include it, it should have more consistency than just random gibberish. A smattering of words and phrases can be enough, although that doesn’t count as a true conlang.

Stephen King’s characters in The Dark Tower spoke a dual dialect known as Low Speech, Mid-World’s common tongue, and High Speech, a ritualized and formal language only used by gunslingers. While King didn’t take the trouble to create a whole language, the lexicon enhances the setting quite well. We know we’re not in Keystone Earth (our world) when people are talking both in the ka-tet’s present and Roland’s past.

High Speech also has an alphabet, in a font called Hoefler Text Ornaments Regular, which you can download. If I were to write “Hello my name is Elizabeth” in High Speech, it would look like this:

You don’t have to go this far, although I might because, while complicated, worldbuilding is also FUN.

———-

Will my conlang become a full-blown, usable tongue? Eh, who knows? I’ve never done this before, so it’s a challenge. I’m proud of myself for getting this far. I even invented words for cardinal and ordinal numbers that actually build on themselves and make sense. If nothing else, it forces me to think about setting in a new way, an excellent writing exercise regardless.

If you’re interested in reading more about conlanging, here are a few links.

The Language Creation Society

Web resources for The Language Construction Kit

Conlang: TV Tropes

An Update and Look at These Delicious Candies, Y’all

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for neglecting you. I’ve been busy, people.

Since I seem to have priced myself out of this job market and I’m sick of it here anyway, I put my house up for sale. I’ll be moving soon and staying with family in their city until I either find a job there or elsewhere (preferably elsewhere).

A big backyard is nice, but mowing is a bitch.

Photo: Elizabeth West

In other news, I started working on a conlang for Book 2 (more on that in a future post). I applied for a Hollywood development program with Tunerville. They didn’t select me, sadly. Oh well, there are other opportunities, no doubt. I haven’t given up on this story, although I’m working on new ideas.

Remember the Invasion project I ditched at the beginning of NaNoWriMo last autumn? It’s still kicking, and I’ve decided to see if I can develop it into a screenplay. I’ve got a lot to learn, but that’s okay. Learning new things is good for your brain.

Speaking of new things, my online friends Charles Winthrop and his partner, whom I met through the now-defunct Consumerist website, have created a candy business called Winthrop’s Whimsies. It’s very small and just starting out, but let me tell you, these folks work hard to bring a little sweetness to your day.

This is reflected in the product. They make their candies to order, by hand. As you can see, these are REAL marshmallows, handmade, and don’t conform to the industrial mass-produced shape you’re probably used to. They’re a little irregular, a little special, and tasty as all-get-out.

Disclosure: I did receive a free package of handmade marshmallows in my flavor choice to check out, and I’m happily leaving a review.

My pick, Black Raspberry, arrived in a sturdy cardboard box with “Keep me cool; I contain marshmallows!” written on the shipping label and fortunately delivered late yesterday, before today’s projected excessive heat could roast them. I got distracted by other things and didn’t open the package until this morning.

Inside, I found a plastic-lined paper envelope, which I ripped into eagerly.

Look at that pretty purple color. Just look at it.

Photo: Elizabeth West

I selected a piece and shoved it into my gob. Oh mah gaw.

It plunged me into a cloud of pillowy sweetness and an explosion of fruity, raspberry flavor. These are really, really good, y’all. I had to stop myself from gobbling the whole package.

Other flavors Winthrop’s Whimsies offer include Popcorn, Apple, Coffee, and a nod to their home state of Kentucky, Bourbon flavor (non-alcoholic). I haven’t tried those yet but I’ve heard they’re pretty good. I think the Vanilla marshmallow would be really good melting in a cup of cocoa. I want that one next.

The candies are made with natural extracts, so if you’re allergic to anything, you’ll need to take that into consideration. I am not, which means I can indulge across the board.

Though Winthrop’s Whimsies is not officially open yet, you can get the marshmallows online. This is a small business, just getting off the ground, and it’s just two people at the moment, so the website may seem a little sparse. They’re working on gummies and other kinds of candies. Expect more deliciousness in future.

If you have questions, see their FAQ here.

I’ll be back soon to talk about my conlang. I’ve never done anything like this before. Thank goodness I saved my college linguistics and grammar texts. A lot goes into constructing a language; I have new respect for the folks who worked on Game of Thrones and Star Trek, and of course, the granddaddy of conlangs, J. R. R.Tolkien.

I made it look easy.

It’s not. It’s really not.