To NaNo or Not to NaNo?

…that is the hypothetical question posed to you all. Hey, at least I think of you as more than a skull, m’kay?

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past three years now and I’ve never once NOT finished. 2010 was a sci-fi novel, 2011 a short story extravaganza, and 2012 a fantasy novel.

2013 might be…a nothing novel.

Listen, kids, I’m getting married on Halloween and then I’m going to be in Cabo (as in Mexico) for a good chunk of that November on my honeymoon. I can’t just, you know, IGNORE MY HUSBAND, and be all, “one sec, hon, I’m writing when we should be honeymooning. Pool time? How’s about plot time? Sitting on the beach? Only if it’s raining, and I’m imagining a car crash.”

Can I?

In years past, I have slacked off for various reasons — Thanksgiving, my birthday is on the 18th — and have gotten it done. What’s one more? I oftentimes leave it until the last two weeks anyway and write in 10,000 words a day spurts until I sprint toward the finish line.

But on the other hand, I should enjoy myself as a new wife and relax this November, my honeymoon/birthday/Thanksgiving month. In years past, I’ve gotten a little, um, touchy when the deadline approaches. I know, my accent through the computer makes cantankerous sound like touchy.

But then again, I already have an idea!

But then there are the detractors of NaNo, and sometimes I’m really influenced by the random commentators in the intertubes.

But it’s time to write! And November makes me ridiculously productive!

What’s a girl to do? Listen to music, apparently. Or, ride my bike.

UPDATE: I write these things a few days in advance and just this morning (October 16th), I asked Adam what I should do about NaNo and he FULLY INTENDS ON PARTICIPATING. “What else are we gonna do?” I paraphrase for him.

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The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

TL:DR version: If you like actual sci-fi, you’re a woman, or you dislike meta books, avoid this.

I was super excited to read this book. The back promised me time travel and Dracula and genre-bending madness!

Well, two out of three were wrong. And two outta three…ain’t…bad?

I blame my dislike of this book on three reasons:

1.) Marketing

It was marketed to make it more exciting. So is everything else. I understand this. What I don’t understand, however, is how a nice novel like The Map of Time ends up with a completely misleading and trashy false blurb in a place like the back of the book. I’ve come to expect this from movie trailers, and I always take the back of a book with a grain of salt, but if they had just marketed it as it was: a Victorian thriller true to the time in both style and plot, I would have enjoyed it so much more. But instead they made it seem steeped in science fiction and fantasy and that doesn’t really come into play for more than two thirds of the novel.

But, because they wanted to add some spice, they lost me. I kept on expecting things to jump out at me and wave their wordy fingers and say, “Ooh, look, I’m Dracula popping into a book otherwise about H. G. Wells and look how much I bend genres!” like the wonderful Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novels. Instead, I got a bogged down, “Oh, hey. Yeah, I’m Bram Stoker, the dude who wrote Dracula . I barely fit into this novel at all. All I can bend are my fingers. To type things. Because I’m Mr. Stoker. NOT MY FICTIONAL CHARACTER WHICH DOESN’T EVEN MAKE AN APPEARANCE AND WAS ONLY TALKED ABOUT ON THE BACK OF THE NOVEL TO SPECIFICALLY INTEREST MELISSA.”

Because I like vampires, okay?

It was like expecting to drink some water and getting a mouthful of vodka instead. They’re as different as an elephant and an elephant seal, m’kay?

And I’m totally fine with the Victorianess of it and the lengthy wordiness of it and even the unreliable narrator-y-ness of it too. I love those things. I write those things. But don’t tell me it’s going to be something completely different — DOCTOR WHO MIXED WITH DICKENS is what the back basically said to me — because then I won’t like those things. Those things will just piss me off. Give me the truth. The truth sets everyone free. Just not Tom Cruise in real life A Few Good Men.

2.) Feminist hackles.

Look. I understand that most novels are written by dudes and for dudes — wait, what? That’s comic books? The majority of readers are women? Well, THEN YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES.

The only main lady character (not that I need all of my characters to be ladies) tells me how non-matronly she is. How she doesn’t want to get married and have children solely because that is what she is supposed to do and that she feels as confined and restricted as the very corset wrapped around her body (ooh, symbolism!). Cool! I like this! Defying stereotypes and being more than just what others expect of her. I respect this!

But oh, a man from the future! Wow! She hasn’t even seen his face and she falls in love with him. Because he must — he simply must! — be different than the cads around her. And *spoiler alert* HE MANIPULATES HER INTO SLEEPING WITH HIM. And, another alert, he continues to manipulate her because otherwise, she will commit suicide because of his brutish actions.

I just…I can’t…

NO ONE ACTS LIKE THIS. Yes, it’s a Victorian setting, and I have a different viewpoint about women and their roles in society than say, H. G. Wells and Stoker do, but that doesn’t mean that Palma has to continue this legacy either. I’ve read plenty of Victorian novels involving women and NONE OF THEM ACT LIKE THIS EITHER. Even Lucy in Dracula is stronger than her husband in many ways and when she stops getting his letters (because he’s skrawnking some vampire chicks and stuff) she doesn’t just off herself because she can’t survive without a man. This is unrealistic and insulting.

I don’t demand that things appeal to my sense of how women should act. There is no right way to portray women because all women are different. JUST DO NOT ACTIVELY OFFEND ME AND WE’LL BE OKAY.

The idea that a woman would commit suicide simply because someone she’s barely met doesn’t reply to her letters is outlandish at best and rather offensive to those with any sense of self-respect. It’s not just plot holes and bad (or lack of) editing at this point, it’s just plain lazy writing. A lack of talent in the field of character development is no excuse for a poorly conceived and executed second half and cannot be made up for by Palma’s otherwise intricate and well-designed plots and graceful way with words. Write your women the same way you do your men — with a well-rounded psyches, with realistic expectations and desires, with a sense of independence that doesn’t rely upon a man — and leave your stereotypes at the door.

3.) Meta-ness.

I enjoy a bit of the ol’ genre-savviness meself. I really do. But there is a point when it becomes too much.

The next paragraph will spoil the ending, so don’t read it if you want to keep the surprise, but do know that the ending is so self-referential, I almost stopped to check if it was written by the same guys who write Supernatural.

H.G. Wells gets a letter from his future self saying that if he gives his unpublished manuscript of The Invisible Man to a time-traveler who wants purportedly to help him, the (actually) evil time-traveler will attempt to kill him and the stress of almost being killed will reveal his previously unknown powers of mind time travel. (The only way people can ACTUALLY time travel in the novel is with their minds, a la The Time Traveler’s Wife. In fact, that’s not the only thing that is lifted directly from the Niffenegger [spell that five times fast] novel, but that’s another quip for later.) The letter goes on to explain that he has a choice: go through events and become the very man writing him that letter (meaning he will disappear from history only after his second novel) or change history and make things different (or what we known to be true in this timeline, i.e. he goes on to write many more novels like The War of the Worlds and so forth.)

Blah, blah, blah, he chooses to make his own path, as scary and unknown it is and bam! H.G. Wells is saved and history as we known it is kept sacrosanct and the world is all right. But, if he could write a novel about his experiences, it would be a lot like a novel that I just read and it would start the same way that the very one I was reading would and oh, my, fracking God, are you serious? You are referencing the very novel you are writing!

That’s not clever, that’s egoism. And unacceptable. Any suspension of disbelief on my part was then puked upon and put back onto a shelf never to be read again and kind of to be looked at in pity as a couple of dollars wasted. Which no book should ever make me feel like I wasted money on it, and yet, the previous good yet feminist-hackle-raising 600 pages almost doesn’t make up for the last mind bogglingly vainglorious two.

Three stars out of five. Infuriating, but I couldn’t help but sense that with a better editor (and a real-life knowledge about women and how they act) it could have been spectacular.

The Jade Skull

Speaking of my car, Sir Blimey, not only is he the inspiration for a great many character quirks, but he has even inspired my own superhero comic. Prepare yourself for:

THE GREEN SKULL!

What, I can’t use that? That’s already a Captain America villain?

Yeah, but he’s kind of a crossover special. Surely no one will mind if I use it?

They will? But…but*…Cap can’t have a monopoly on all colored skull villains, can he?

Fine. Fine! Prepare yourself for:

THE GREEN JADE SKULL!

I switched out the gear shifter in my Jeep for a green skull and then got to thinking that my car had an alter ego and went out and became a vigilante at night, all Christine style. Then, BAM. Inspiration.

Story goes that a witch lady who used to possess people a while ago got tricked into possessing a green jade skull figurine and couldn’t get out until she redeemed herself by doing deeds of good. She takes this to mean kill evil doers and proceeds to possess whatever the green jade skull is attached to. Sometimes it’s a necklace, sometimes it’s a 1986 Jeep Wrangler YJ.

Backstory!**

The Green Jade Skull, back in the 70s, was attached to a walking cane of one Sir Reginald Blahblahblah (official surname in the delicate planning process) and she took care of business. This, of course, attracted the notice of the local law enforcement, who couldn’t find a link between all of the victims, other than the fact that their bodies were charred, LEAVING ONLY THEIR SKULLS, WHICH HAVE BEEN TURNED THE COLOR GREEN JADE.

Sir Reginald Blahblahblah dies and his beloved walking cane is put into a safe with the rest of his items until…

Actual story!

…it’s sold in an estate sale to one, LUCY SWEETFACE. (All I know about her is that she’s just gotten out of a divorce and is sweet. Kind of like Diane Wiest’s character in the greatest movie known to mankind, The Lost Boys.)

She takes the green jade skull off of the walking cane and puts it on her 1986 Jeep Wrangler YJ because it looks cool and the Green Jade Skull comes back to life to accomplish her mission of justice! (Or maybe vengeance!)

Lucy has no idea that her car is going out at night and killing people, but again, the local law enforcement starts a-sniffing’. Enter one SGT. STEWART. (Only so named because I think of the Green Lantern Jon Stewart when picturing my cop character.) He links Lucy to the crimes and is about to arrest her, but feels there’s something missing.

What we don’t know — until we do know — is that Stewart had a run-in with the paranormal when he was a child! Oooh. Which makes him want to understand that world, which brings him to the case files of the 70s and to the shocking conclusion that it’s not a WHO, but, rather, a WHAT that has been cleaning the streets of San Francisco for him!

I mean, it’s still kinda in it’s early stages, and I really need someone to draw because my skills stopped progressing somewhere around age six, but the story is there, waiting.

*…but WE used to use soap!

**My friends and I play the Settlers of Catan card game and there’s a destiny card that gets flipped over when certain actions happen. It’s a house rule that when you flip the destiny card, you whisper the word, “dessssssstiny,” in a suitable, movie-trailer voice, way.

Quirks

Quirks are to fictional characters what favorite ice cream flavors are to regular folk: humanizing. Sure, you may hate your next door neighboor (I did that on purpose) because of all of the loud music they play at three AM when you’re trying to sleep for a morning shift at a coffee shop, but you find out that his favorite flavor is also Rocky Road and the two of you will bond like a wounded war vet and an eccentric crime-solver.

A fictional character has quirks in order to make them seem more real. Will Ferrell’s character Harold in Stranger than Fiction brushes his teeth thirty-two times in each direction. One of the Brothers Grossbart in Jesse Bullington’s book The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart hates anything that has more than two legs. Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer always dates demon women. These things make them seem warmer to us and allow us to identify with them.

A good example of a quirk, because, just like lies, the best ones are based in the truth: a car stereo that doesn’t work when the character’s car takes a right turn, but immediately gets fixed as soon as the character turns left. (My car does this. Sir Blimey has many issues, the least of which being his propensity for trickery.) Or, because this happens to me too: the radio doesn’t work in first gear but is marvelous in all others. (In Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens the character Crowley drives a car that turns any tape into Freddy Mercury once it’s been inserted into the tape deck for more than a fortnight.)

A bad example: anyone from The Big Bang Theory which takes stereotypes about nerds and hot chicks and then … does nothing with them. Yes, I understand it’s a show that has nerds as main characters and not just the goofy sidekicks, but comedy is only funny if it takes stereotypes and subverts them. Continually having every character wave their nerd flag is tiring and not funny at all. AND I’M A HUGE NERD.

SIDETRACKSTORY in case you don’t believe me about the nerd thing:

I walked into a comic store and was immediately ignored by the male members of staff — which were all of them — until I was ready to check out. I bought the hardcover edition of the third volume of the excellent American Vampire and was snidely asked if I even understood what they had been talking about. (They had been talking about Magic: The Gathering, which is not my cup of tea. D&D and World of Darkness — especially Mage — are my cups of delicious RPG tea.) I hatched a plot so that the next time I was there, a friend would call me and we would discuss Romulan battle techniques for a Star Trek themed RPG campaign in which we happened to be ensconced, loud enough so as to put them in their place. Now I realize the ridiculousness of it, but I wanted my nerd-cred card.

Doom comes when a quirk turns into a flaw. The Big Bang guys are hampered by their quirks and rely on them instead of using them to propel interesting plot and character development. Basically it’s like the Manchurian Candidate flaw from the World of Darkness. (Think Wolverine, who randomly forgets the things he’s done and the people he’s killed, only without the cool healing powers and the adamantium skeleton. You lose control over your character and the storyteller assumes the mantle instead.) Yeah, it sounds fun, and it may get you extra XP, but it’s no fun if someone else makes the character for you. Relying on quirks is making the audience fill in the characterization gaps. And that’s just lazy.

(There’s a meme out there of a cute kid saying THAT’S RACIST! I need one that says THAT’S LAZY! and then post it like crazy over the internet.)

The Art of Seduction Querying

Once, in a D&D campaign, when I was playing a Wilden rogue, I, along with a few other adventurers, brutally killed a dragon. I — and this I did alone — took his teeth and then displayed them on a necklace that also held other little mementos from earlier vanquished enemies. Little did I know (but very well known to our DM), I would later encounter said dragon’s mother and she, seeing my necklace, decided to poison me with her barbed spiky tail, directing most of her attacks toward me, and, instead of fighting her (I was a rogue!), I tried to seduce* her. After failing my charisma rolls and not knowing how to speak Draconic (don’t all dragons speak Common?), I was unable to woo her successfully and died in the ensuing combat, only to be revived later because my friends cut off a piece of my tail and were able to bring me back.

This is somewhat the same relationship I have to querying agents.

I labor and labor, finding out exactly what they want and how they want it, only to be bludgeoned over the head with a poisoned barbed tail.

Now, you can read websites and books and blogs and seminars galore about how to query, and these may help (this one, I found especially insightful), but ultimately, it’s a gut feeling thing. You craft a letter that you think is enticing to said agent and sometimes you win and sometimes you get eaten by a dragon.

I thought I had an in. A published author friend of mine gave me his agent’s information and I queried and waited with baited breath and trembling hands and all of the characteristic unsettllings of a Victorian gothic novel heroine, only to be rejected by what I believed to be my best chance. A REFERRAL, DEAR GOD, THAT’S LIKE THE HOLY GRAIL OF QUERYING. (Or, to continue the D&D metaphor, like the giant pile of gleaming treasure underneath a dragon’s leathery yet still quite deadly wing.)

But I was rejected. And not all of the gold nor any small piece of me cut off by my adventurer friends from my dead corpse can help bring me back from the sadness that brings.

Just like D&D, however, the story continues and you can either get back on that direboar (we saved a direboar from the evil, evil clutches of Veckna, and he — his name was Tusky — will soon become a battlemount for me to ride on into the throes of war once I get enough XP), or you can go back to your goddess or god and give up and sit in the corner and pout while everyone else gets treasure and experience points.

IN THE END, WRITING QUERY LETTERS IS LIKE GETTING EXPERIENCE POINTS. Each one makes you a little bit better and you learn valuable lessons. Like don’t kill the quest-giver until AFTER he’s given you all of his quests.

As of this writing, I have seven query letters out there. I’ve been rejected four times. I’m sure those numbers — both of them — will grow. Maybe I’ll start thinking of rejection letters as gold instead of what they are. All adventurers — especially rogues — love gold.

*On a somewhat related note: when reading a book on volcanology (hey, I felt I was becoming stupid after I graduated college and thusly consoled myself by checking out books from the library and reading them — and even taking notes — so as to slow the inevitable progression of my own stupidity) I kept on reading subduction zone as seduction zone. Changed the connotation of that book entirely. I can’t even look at a volcano anymore without thinking about that one picture of George Costanza. You know the one I mean.

A Brief Summary of the Last Three Years

Hello, internet.

It’s been a while, huh?

I’ve been doing a lot of things in the last three years. Here’s a brief summary of them:

THE WRITERLY ONES:

  • Published a short story (remember how three years ago I talked about writing them?) in the third volume of Devilfish Review.
  • Won a contest to be a guinea pig for Apparatus Publishing.
  • Wrote a novel entitled STAR-CROSSED OR: THE CONFOUNDING CALAMITIES OF BYRON THE CAD AND MARIETTA THE ZOMBIE. It’s 120,000 words of absurd speculative fantasy horror.
  • Massive amounts of queries to agents to represent said novel have gone out.

THE NON-WRITERLY ONES:

  • Bought the coffee shop where I worked for seven years about a year ago in August of 2012. (This is mostly the reason for my recent disappearance, but I can’t blame it for everything.)
  • Found a great guy and we’re getting married in T-MINUS 17 DAYS. Yep. Halloween. It’s steampunk themed.
  • My hair color has been, since you’ve last been updated, blue, then purple, then blue again, then green and now it’s both green and yellow.

Whew. I think that’s it. More to come about the bulleted points later. But for now, it’s good to be back. (And Darth Highlighter is making sure I’m going to post a MINIMUM of daily. We’ll see how that holds up.)

To Sleep Perchance to Dream

I can’t sleep. And this time, amazingly, it’s not because of insomnia, but rather, good books and construction workers. Now, if those two were somehow mysteriously combined, well, then I’d be calling myself Melinda de Winter and writing romance novels — a profession that has been suggested to me by my own mother on occasion.

(“Why don’t you write romance novels, Melissa? I hear they make such good money and it’s a way into the publishing houses. Then after that, you can publish whatever you want.”

“Ma” — because I sound like Murphy and Connor when their mom calls when I talk to my own progenitor — “I won’t do that. I have standards. You know what happens to people when their go against their own moral codes of creative ingenuity?”

“What?” — she already knows that an obscure Russian writer is somehow going to be involved in the next few sentences, so she braces herself accordingly.

“They get calls from Stalin and die from kidney disease. Well, they can fictitiously get their heads cut off and have a bunch of petty tricksters run rampant around them too, but that’s only if living under a repressive totalitarian dictatorship.”* True story.

“Well, how about screenplay writing?”

“Ma” — I told her, I says, “Ma, I will not, under any circumstance, barring wild hot monkey sex with Nathan Fillion, or ridiculous amounts of money, ever allow my vision to be bastardized by a so-called ‘director.’ Do you even know what happens to screenplay writers? They oftentimes commit suicide, and aren’t you always warning me not to move to Seattle because that’s the ‘suicide capital of the world?'”)

So, this word-and-power-tool-based sleep deprivation has caused a few random thoughts to enter my head, so I shall share them with you.

Bruce Campbell is the poor man’s Chuck Norris.

At my place of employment we give out samples of one of our most popular frozen coffee drinks called the Ice Cap. (In reality, we named it that solely so we could make the joke of calling it a Global Warming when someone gets an extra shot of espresso added, causing the slushy goodness to melt.) We give out samples of these in, what I consider to be, little plastic cups that look like the things pills come in when you’re confined to a mental asylum and the nurses are distributing medication. Thus, I have become the Nurse Ratched of my coffee shop, giving caffeinated junkies their fix. I affectionately call the rather addicted ones Cuckoo Nesters.

Attila and the Puns would be a great band name.

I really want to use this line one day in an appropriate situation: “You’re just mad because you can’t turn into golden dust and impregnate me.” I have thus started trying to get myself into rather awkward scenarios in order to use said line.

I want to grow strawberries outside on my deck. When my parents grew strawberries in their backyard, they popped up like little Greek city states. I would refer to one patch as the Spartans, another as the Athenians, the Thebans, the Corinthians, etc. The Persian War started when onions tried to move in. Later, the Spartan and the Athenian patches started to merge and I called it the Peloponnesian War.

In the Russian language, there are two aspects to verbs: the imperfective and the perfective. The former indicates an on-going process and the latter to an already-accomplished task. I added a third aspect: superfective. Otherwise known as what happens when you’re dead.

The Russian language also has no articles, so that leaves no convenient excuse for Russian males reading Playboy.

*My mother has by now gotten used to the fact that I basically have conversations with myself, which is something all of you should become aware and as accepting of as she is. My two-year-old-niece, however, may still need some adjusting. We were going through the colors of her barrettes and she asks, “What’s this?” “Orange,” I responded. “What’s this?” “Well, it’s technically salmon-colored, but that may be a little advanced for you. We’ll go for pink.”

On another occasion, whenever you call her a name — “You’re a stinky-butt” — my mother’s favorite epithet — she’ll respond with an adamant, “I’m not…stinky butt.”
“You’re a goof-ball!”
“I’m not….goof-ball.”
“You’re a pretty girl.”
“I’m not….pretty girl.”
Me: “You’re an antediluvian troglodyte.”
“I’m not….” *blank stare*