National Novel Writing Month registration opened this week. After some delays on their end and hassles on my end, I logged back into my old account and began making preparations for the marathon. Fifty thousand words doesn’t seem as daunting a goal as it did last year; I wrote two thousand yesterday without breaking a sweat. No, my problem lies in getting a simple majority of those words to make sense. Also, it would be rather nice if the animated banner I made for my signature would show up properly. Let’s see:
A Year of Toast September 16, 2007
Been a while, hasn’t it? I think I mentioned before, when things get complicated in my offline life– when personal, professional, or social issues intervene– to the point where something has to give, the blog is that something. And so I’ve left you in the lurch while I jetted off to Nassau for a week (and why it was Nassau rather than Jamaica is a story all to itself), and neglected you all through my abortive first attempt at screenwriting, and forgotten you completely while Tahoe burned around me (though that is a story that must be told, and if it’s not in this space, I’ll at least link to it), and let you be mercifully oblivious while my heart broke twice in a single month. In July I signed up for Gaia Online and got a journal there, and I’m more comfortable using that space to write about writing– I manage to post there at least once a week.
And what of Toast? I’ve already invested too much time and effort to abandon it, but not enough interest to update and promote it as much as a good blogger should. So it stays, with changes.
I’m giving up on all pretenses of regularity. You may see new posts twice a day, once a month or every other year, but I’m going to focus on quality and ignore quantity outright. I’m also officially giving up on the idea of focusing on a particular subject (writing, knitting, etc.), though you may have noticed I abandoned that kind of focus in practice long ago. When it feels right, I’ll make a post on whatever I feel I need to say, and if I end up with thousands of categories each containing only a few posts, so be it. And if someday I’ve compiled enough good material here to make the blog as a body a worthwhile read, then perhaps it will be time for me to make a real website, with a domain name and everything. But now we’re talking ifs and whens, and in this life those two things are the least certain.
I Whine About the Creative Process April 6, 2007
My post with the suggestions for recurring blog features elicited one (verbal) vote for movie reviews and one (electronic) vote for a webcomic, so I started focusing my attention on the disparate shreds of my novel, just to be perverse. This isn’t working out so well.
Some writers cannot be creative when their lives are stressful; some can’t write at all when they are the least bit uncomfortable. I have this pattern of becoming creative under duress, then losing interest in my projects when the pressure is off. My mostly unwritten novel is a prime example.
How It Started
I worked for the Wal-Mart Portrait Studio (managed at that time by Portrait Corporation of America, International, which has since gone bankrupt) for almost a year. I lasted longer than all of my co-workers and several of my superiors. I tolerated insane scheduling, inconsistent standards of conduct, squealing squirming brats and their children, the debris left in the wake of the single least competent human being I have ever known, pointless day-long excursions to the armpit of California, the holiday rush, unwanted attention from men older than my father, low wages, every strain of cold and flu that a drafty grungy public environment can foster, and Wal-Mart management. Then my new manager introduced herself by grabbing my shoulders and shaking me, calling me “Honey” and saying, “We’re going to be such good friends!” Time to go. I found greener pastures fairly easily (most common groundcover options are greener than straight manure) and informed my manager. PCA didn’t acknowledge my resignation until I’d been at my new job for two months, but they did make my final work week eight days long, including the weekend before the first Monday at my new job.
In the midst of all of this I, a lucid dreamer for most of my life, lost the ability to remember my dreams. I’d wake up with the idea that I’d imagined something strange and wonderful, and only the vaguest idea of what it might have been. Lying awake in the morning (work didn’t start until 10 AM and I was going to bed early and not sleeping well), I would try to reconstruct these forgotten ideas. And somehow this process generated a plot.
From my creative writing journal*
The main character is an undergraduate assisting a quantum physicist of dubious talent. The physicist has a time machine which he did not build (though everyone takes it for granted that he did, until later). As with any marvel of technology, after he’s worked out the kinks (mostly), secured the patents and considered all of the obvious possibilities (find out for certain what really killed the dinosaurs, assassinate Hitler, stop yourself from assassinating Hitler because the alternative is even worse, etc.), he uses it to pick up chicks. Mr. Undergraduate has the same idea, but because he’s young and clumsy and hopelessly infatuated with his matronly lesbian English professor, it doesn’t work for him. That, and he encounters something unfathomably scary lurking in the creamy center that bonds the two cookie-halves of Space and Time. His uncontrolled experiments have a devastating effect on the fabric of the universe, but centuries will pass before it becomes noticeable. Meantime, Undergrad is quietly disturbed and loudly frustrated, and seeks to drown his troubles in watery booze and pounding music. He encounters to women at the club. One is vaguely familiar, highly elusive and somewhat menacing. The other plays the damsel in distress and then the grateful young nymph in a way that could only convince someone in Undergrad’s state of mind. She lures him toward a whirlwind romance (he thinks) or a rendezvous with destiny (she thinks), but then Undergrad hits something (or someone) with his car. Barbie drops her facade and coldly, warningly tells him to just keep driving. Undergrad’s natural curiosity, kindness and recent reaffirmation of his ability as a fighter prompt him to go out and investigate. He finds only a dent in his front bumper and some gouges in the asphalt, and when he returns to the car, Barbie is gone. Nothing much happens for a while after that, except that uniform vacuous spherical anomalies– bubbles– begin to appear in walls, boulders, cattle, trucks, trees, people; and Undergrad can’t shake the feeling that he’s being followed. The shadow lady from the club keeps turning up in his peripheral vision, parked in the alley behind the cafe where he works, in the hallways between classes, in the bushes outside his bedroom window, interrogating him at knife-point in his dreams. One night she is really there, not threatening but frightened and demanding to know why he is being targeted. He’d like to ask her the same thing. Under questioning, he admits to using the time machine, just a little bit, once. Shadow is satisfied that this is the answer but disappointed by its implications. Barbie returns just about then, with a few friends and some diabolical machinery, to retrieve Undergrad by tearing apart the dorm or the Earth if necessary. Shadow comes to the rescue with a device that can freeze time for a couple of minutes (longer than that and the user overheats), enough time to get to Undergrad’s car. They start driving toward the lab as soon as the freeze ends. Shadow is from a future dominated by a malevolent five-dimensional creature that got its start in Undergrad’s time. Barbie and co. are minions of that creature, tasked with finding a person from Undergrad’s time who has access to a time machine and would not cause any earth-shattering reactions by vanishing, to act as a conduit allowing the creature to participate in the physical universe. Shadow intends to prevent all of this by stopping the invention of the time machine. To this ind, Shadow and Undergrad backtrack to just before Dubious Quantum Physicist’s historic first launch. They find, not a rough prototype, but a finished machine, ergo, DQP didn’t invent time travel so much as discover it, in the lab of a colleague who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Specifically, DQP sabotaged the machine to make Colleague disappear. Colleague was deposited, alive but not at all well, into the space between dimensions. Her attempts to re-assert herself in the physical realm have resulted in unexplained bubbles, disturbing apparitions to careless time-travelers, and religious devotion from the likes of Barbie. Undergrad pieces this together just as Colleague reaches out, gets a grip on reality, and flips Undergrad, Shadow, DQP and Barbie into the unknown, a dimension of time and space, but also of mind. The surreal landscape is Barbie’s heaven, Shadow’s hell, Undergrad’s purgatory and DQP’s undoing. Undergrad finds and exit and drags Shadow through it. They land some distance apart. Undergrad is near a familiar road and tries to flag down a car– his car– but in the moments before the crash, he can’t see himself in the driver’s seat and the driver can’t see him. Shadow grapples with Barbie and comes out on top, but can’t stop Undergrad from making contact with his own dying self. To her surprise this does not result in a universe-shattering paradox, but Undergrad-1 absorbs Undergrad-2, including some of his memories. Shadow can’t explain this, but it gives her an idea as to how to defeat Colleague. They head back to the lab and, after a final multi-sided confrontation with Barbie and DQP in which some loose ends are tied, extraneous characters slaughtered and hidden motives revealed, Shadow and Undergrad travel a rough road to the time just before Colleague’s fateful journey. Their appearance only serves to convince Colleague that the time machine is a success, but then human-Colleague locks eyes with monster-Colleague. They come together in a way that demands a roaring subliminal light show in the film adaptation, and then Undergrad and Shadow are catapulted into Undergrad’s proper time. Only Shadow and Colleague can remember any of it. Knowing what she does, Colleague has kept the time machine a total secret and worked on it with extreme caution. As a result, DQP is just an obscure state university professor considering a career change, and Undergrad is an ordinary student. Shadow is apparently stuck in this time period because she had more of an impact here than in her own time. She is uneasy about the prospect of spending the rest of her life in this uncharted territory, but then she bumps into Undergrad and they get along famously. The end. Yeah.
I scrawled that out over the course of two nights in June, and thought, “Hey, NaNoWriMo is just a few months away– this would be perfect.” I started writing character bios, mulling over the finer points of the plot and setting, and thinking of what kind of research I would need to do to make the central conceit seem anything but ridiculous. And I had every intention of doing that research, but…
Life Refuses To Get In the Way
But then I started settling into this new job with reasonable hours, good pay and a relaxed environment, and I made a friend with whom I could talk for hours at a time, and suddenly my knitting and my new guitar seemed infinitely more interesting than the curious adventures of Undergrad and his motley crew. By the time the reminder e-mail from the NaNoWriMo team arrived (mid-October), I had all but forgotten my rough plans. At the reminder, I sidled on up to the NaNoWriMo forums and casually asked a few basic research questions. And the veteran Wrimos, with the utmost tact and clarity, explained why parts of the story having nothing to do with time travel/new-agey claptrap, would not work the way I imagined them. And with a week to spare, I couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm for the old plot to even try to save it; instead I tried to make up a new plot.
In Misery, Stephen King includes a discussion of the difference between having an idea and getting an idea– one is practically effortless, a gift from the writer’s subconscious; the other is a long hard slog through the mud in pursuit of a dubious prize. I had ideas for the old plot; I had got ideas for the new plot. I came up with a young adult crime story, with a few characters reminiscent of those from the old plot, and a riff on the hero’s journey motif (a la Bless the Beasts and Children) thrown in for good measure. I did my preparation by the numbers: standardized character sheets, plot divided into thirty neat points so that I’d have something to write about each day. Despite multiple admonitions, I figured I wouldn’t need to plan my setting extensively, since the story concerned modern people in a place similar to my own home. And so November arrived.
Pressure! Panic! What have I done?
Here is a sampling of what I did that month. I tried to write what I had set out to write; really I did. Unfortunately I was bored with these consciously manufactured ideas before I even started writing about them. Only when I wrote outside the parameters I had set for my novel– a short story about my battle with my personified internal editor, several scenes which I had not originally put into my plot outline, elucidations on a new and completely unrelated plot– did I feel inspired by my writing. I wrote 50,000 words that November. In mid-December, I made a copy of the document and edited out everything that was not related to my main plot. That left 13,000 words. I haven’t added to it. I have tucked those surplus ideas away for future use.
And So On
Weeks passed, and with them the exhilaration and exhaustion of November. Life was decent and I didn’t feel like writing.
On December 29th, my best friend sent me an e-mail to say that we shouldn’t hang out anymore. A week after that, Uncle Mike (my first cousin once removed, whose first name was David) was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He died while I was house-sitting in a blizzard. My great aunt died a week after his funeral, and my least offensive uncle’s mother passed the week after that. Old family wounds re-opened. My company almost went under. I dreaded coming home. I lost sleep.
I came up with several more plots.
It’s true spring now. The sun is out and life is level. I made new friends and I’ll be vacationing in Jamaica next month– which happens to be the month before Script Frenzy. I have half a dozen plots waiting in the wings. I hope I don’t spontaneously come up with any new ones for a while yet.
* I have a diary for intense personal stuff that I need to hash out but don’t want to share, a creative writing journal for hastily written plot summaries and poetry, a dream journal for assistance with the occasional aforementioned memory lapses, and this blog for stuff that I want to share but can’t really work into casual conversation. They all get updated at about the same rate.
Out-of-context quote of the moment:
“I wonder why they call it ‘popcorn.’” – - my brother
Eureka! March 17, 2007
After an interminable period of educated guesses, tortuous reasoning and outright speculation, we the faithful have at last been gifted with the definitive answer: Shakespug’s pants are made from a rubber glove. I’m inordinately pleased to have finally acquired this information; inordinately because
- I didn’t have to work for it,
- we’re talking about the apparel choices of a daily newspaper comic character
- and this is the first clear indication of five fingers on the garment in question (all five are visible here, but I assumed the middle three represented a rapidly wagging tail), making this denouement a bit of a cheat.
In any case, now I can devote my full attention (out of the attention that I set aside specifically for deconstructing Get Fuzzy) to figuring out why Mr. Conley has spent the past month gradually filling the apartment with colorful one-joke characters. I think he’s building toward (in a year or so) a domesticated furry animal interpretation of the Stateroom Scene. Time will tell.
Still thinking about it February 14, 2007
I’ve spent a considerable portion of the last couple of days perusing the archives of the Comics Curmudgeon, and two things have become apparent to me:
- Johnny Hart is nuts.
- This blog could use some regular features.
There isn’t much I can do about Thing #1, but I have some ideas where Thing #2 is concerned. So, here’s a list of possible regular features for Sieze the Toast:
- Webcomic: I’m thinking of something in a format similar to Absurd Notions (sporadically updated humor comic with continuous plots and occasional bonus diary comics), with a scifi setting. Pro: I already have a pretty good idea of my characters and main plot and even how I want certain panels to look, which puts me ahead of about 80% of all novice webcomic artists. Con: I don’t draw so good… which puts me ahead of about 80% of all comic artists.
- Serialized Novel: Horrifying though the results of my NaNoWriMo experiment proved to be, I’ve salvaged all of my principal characters and a significant portion of the plot (the setting was nonexistent) and created a mind map. When complete, said graphic organizer will form the basis of a modern cross-genre whodunit. It starts out at a funeral. It is hilarious. Pro: The inclusion of a serialized novel ties into my original purpose for this blog, and knowing that reader(s) await the next installment might be the motivation I need to finished the accursed thing. Con: If it’s any good, and I can convince a real paying publisher of this fact, then I’m selling myself way short on first publication rights.
- Movie Reviews: I used to be (technically I still am; I just need to remember my password) a member of a site that specializes in exhaustive reviews of awful and obscure movies and TV shows; I even got a positive (if limited) reaction to my reviews of Kangaroo Jack and its sequel. The bad movie recap scene lost its appeal to me for a while, but lately… lately the muse has beckoned to me from the TV Guide Channel and Lifetime’s movie-of-the-week ads (they’re doing Nora Roberts adaptations throughout February, presumably in observance of Black History Month). Pro: Dissecting hastily made basic cable chick flicks is easy and fun, and women who write snarky reviews of such films are significantly underrepresented in the b-movie community. Con: It’s also time-consuming, and my mother might take my criticism of her favorite genre as a personal affront..
So, what’s it going to be? I eagerly await the response of my loyal readers (all one of them).
Intoverted iNtuitive/Sensing Thinking Judging/Perceiving January 27, 2007
As you may or may not have gathered from previous posts, I am somewhat addicted to BlogThings. I have their listing of new quizzes bookmarked, and I tend to drift on over there whenever I’m in the mood for a little pop psychology or other mindless fun. New this week:
Your Love Type: INTJ
The ScientistIn love, you tend to be very private and withdrawn – even when things are going well.For you, sex is important in a happy relationship. Less important when things aren’t going well.Overall, you are confident, intelligent, and serious about commitment.However, you tend to hold back and not show your emotions.Best matches: ENFP and ENTP
(“Pardon me,” says the reader who also knows a bit about my personal life, “but why did you take the love type test?” It was there and I was bored. Shut up.)
With the exception of the sex bit (which is outside of my experience) and the assertion that I am “confident,” the results seemed pretty accurate. To those unfamiliar with the four-letter designations used in the results, the quiz is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the most popular test of its kind historically and today.
The questions and format of this particular quiz seemed familiar; I had taken a BlogThings quiz based on the MBTI on a previous occasion. After a brief search, I found that other quiz and re-took it. The same person assembled both of the quizzes, I took them within a few minutes of each other, and…
You Are An ISTJ
The Duty FulfillerYou are responsible, reliable, and hardworking – you get the job done.You prefer productive hobbies, like woodworking or knittings.Quiet and serious, you are well prepared for whatever life hands you.Conservative and down-to-earth, you hardly ever do anything crazy.
You would make a great business executive, accountant, or lawyer.
…I got a different result, which was also fairly accurate, if only by dint of being superficial. But why the difference? What exactly do sense and intuition mean to these people, anyway? I googled INTJ and ISTJ and compared notes.
- “idea people”
- “grim determination”
- strong sense of propriety
Working backwards from these lists of traits, I could conclude that I am ISTJ in those hours between midnight and my first cup of coffee, INTJ the rest of the time. Yet the MBTI is supposed to classify one’s psychological makeup in stark, rigid terms. Clearly, I needed a bigger sample.
A little more googling turned up at least a dozen sites offering free online versions of the MBTI (told you the thing was popular), most of which I took. The first two pasted me neatly within the INTJ category– so neatly that I thought of stopping there. Fortunately for the cause of science, I kept going, and the next such test declared that I was, not INTJ nor ISTJ, but ISTP. So not only had I confounded the Intuitive/Sensing dichotomy, but the Judging/Perceiving one as well.
All the tests I had taken thusfar consisted of a series of questions with two answers each, and displayed the results in the cut-and-dried four-letter format which I had come to think of as the standard. Standard or not, I thought this test displayed the results in a much more satisfying way, showing how many points went to each trait and indicating evenly split scores with an X (I came out IXTJ). This other test has a similar, even more detailed way of displaying the results, and the questions are presented as statements with which the test taker may agree or disagree on a five-point scale. Taking the results of these tests and others as an aggregate, I’ve found that I am
- 100% Introverted/0% Extraverted
- 50% iNtuitive/50% Sensing
- 75% Thinking/25% Feeling
- 50% Judging/50% Perceiving.
Depending on the test, I could be classified INTJ just as easily as INTP, ISTP or ISTJ.
- I’m very introverted and I tend to operate on ideas more than emotions. Anybody could have told you that.
- Sometimes I obtain information/draw conclusions via conscious processes, and sometimes things just click. Call it inconsistancy or flexibility; it works for me even if it doesn’t work for Jung.
- When you’re a world-famous psychologist, you can spell “extrovert” any way you want.
- MBTI provides a fun way to spend an afternoon and an interesting angle on your self-image, but you probably shouldn’t use it to plot your career path or choose your spouse.
The Joy of Filling Pages December 16, 2006
November is over; the madness has barely begun.
Excerpt from Afterthought:
Prologue the First: The Monster in the Closet
In which my internal Editor decides that she has had enough of my Foolishness and attempts to stage a Coup, but is Thwarted by a Deus Ex Machina which I keep on Hand for just such an Occasion.
I was doing so well. Not great, mind you, but I did manage to get some writing time in between moving furniture, putting out my family’s interpersonal fires and installing new software at my non-WriMo best friend’s insistence.
I typed for ten minutes continously before I heard a small pleading voice.
“Let me out,” it said. It was my internal editor. I’d coaxed her into the closet with a trail of m&m’s and locked the door.
“You can come out in twenty-nine days. Take a nap. Have some candy.” I went on typing for another five minutes.
“Please let me out. It’s dark in here!”
“There’s a flashlight on the top shelf, next to the Balderdash set. I’m pretty sure it has fresh batteries. Now shut up.”
She did, for about thirty seconds. When she spoke again, her voice had dropped and octave or two.
“I hate you.”
“Now, that’s just uncalled-for.”
“Your voice is indistinctive and your antagonist is weak.”
“I haven’t even introduced my antagonist.”
“Exactly. You should start over.”
“Dude, for the last time. Shut. Up.”
The closet door rattled. I could hear her scratching at the deadbolt.
“Stop that, right now.”
“Har-de-har-har.” I went back to writing.
Gradually, I noticed the sounds from the closet growing louder and louder. I lost my train of thought as a series of ever-growing thumps and bangs issued from the closet door. I finally looked away from the screen and saw her shadow creeping over the threshold. It was seething.
I decided it was time to put my writing aside for the night. Eight hundred words was not a bad start.
Half an hour ago, I returned to my computer and opened the file where my novel resides. I briefly scanned what I’d written. As I did so, my internal editor renewed her attack on the door.
“That’s quite enough of that!” I said. I glanced at the closet door and did a double-take. Its splintered whitewashed surface pulsed outward with each thump from within.
“Awkward construction,” my editor hissed.
With a primal scream and one last fearsome thrust at the closet door, my internal editor burst forth from her prison. She lingered momentarily in the unexpected glare of my desk lamp. Lightning flashed
(“YOU NEVER MENTIONED IT WAS RAINING!”)
as she bounded across the room, flung me from my ergonomic chair and proceeded to backspace mercilessly over the eight hundred words I’d written in the last forty hours.
“Hey, don’t–” I began. She spun around, eyes flaring, mouth foaming, massive pink eraser vibrating thoughtlessly in her hand.
“Right,” said I.
I picked myself up and dashed into the hallway, past the bathroom and the collage of dog pictures on the wall, to a red-painted stainless steel case with a glass front.
“Do not open until November,” it said in bright red letters. I pulled my sleeve over my hand and punched the glass, which fragmented with a very satisfactory crunch-tinkle. Reaching through the spiderwebbed fragments, I retrieved Old Reliable and a full clip of tranquilizer darts. I locked and loaded and returned to my room.
My internal editor had erased my entire story. Grinning and drooling, she proceeded to open the spreadsheet where I’d stashed my character profiles.
“Freeze, Baby,” I said.
She spun around to face me. Fever sweat trickled over the laugh lines by her blazing eyes.
“You won’t,” she crooned. “You can’t and you won’t. Deep down, m’dear, you know you need me. You know you–”
She cocked her head and peered at the tranquilizer dart buried in her shoulder.
It took me a few tries to lift her unconscious form from my chair and drag her away. I’ve stashed her in my brother’s closet for the time being. Let her bother him about his science project for a while, I say. She’s going to the basement tomorrow.
But in the meantime, there is this story.
I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. The event is a sort of contest, not against other writers, but against each individual’s own inhibitions– collectively known among participants as the Internal Editor– as each participant attempts to write a work of fiction consisting of at least fifty thousand words between 12:00AM on November 1st and 11:59PM on November 30th. My novel was called Afterthought.
Excerpt from Afterthought:
She found the tuna.
I would like to take this opportunity to pause and count to one thousand while writing out each number as I come to it. I shall do it like so:
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, forty-four, forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three, sixty-four, sixty-five, sixty-six, sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine, seventy, seventy-one, seventy-two, seventy-three,
Now, there is a very good reason why I decided to count to one thousand and write out each number in long form at that particular time, but I can’t remember it just now. Perhaps I’ll elaborate upon it later. In any case, as I was saying just before I started counting to one thousand in long form for the past few pages, Iris finally found the can of tuna that she had been looking for. The supermarket actually had many different varieties of canned tuna available, including chunk light tuna in spring water, chunk light tuna in tuna oil, lemon flavored tuna in a pouch, garlic flavored tuna in a pouch, a small lunch kit including a can of tuna, a packet of spicy mustard and some crackers, and several other varieties which escape my mind at the moment. Iris picked out the regular chunk light tuna in spring water, and from the brands available, including the generic store brand, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea, she settled upon the store brand at last and put the single can of generic store brand chunk light tuna in spring water in her basket with the bunch of bananas and her purse and the shopping list, from which she had now found two items but did not plan on crossing anything off of the list at any time in the forseeable future, meaning that the word “bananas” remained unaltered on the list precisely as did the word “tuna” and the word mayonnaise. Iris had been in the supermarket for a little less than three minutes and had already located and obtained two of the three items on her shopping list. Now she only needed to find the mayonnaise and she could proceed to the front of the store, pay for her groceries and leave. She truly looked forward to leaving the store, for she had decided that once she finished her shopping, which is to say, once I had caught up to my desired word count for the day, she could go to the library and surf the Internet and try to pick out names for the characters she wanted to include in her upcoming epic science fiction story which she continued to plan even as she shopped. She carried her basket with the can of tuna and the bunch of bananas and her purse and the shopping list along the aisle of canned goods to the end of the aisle near the front of the store, where the aisle intersected with a wide lane that separated the shelves and their endcaps, some of which were refrigerated, from the cash registers. She followed this lane past a tall display of snack crackers, most of them cheese-flavored, some with sour cream and onion flavoring, but all of them on the savory side of the flavor spectrum and loaded with saturated fat, sodium and other preservatives. Having passed the display without being tempted by the crispy crackery goodness she beheld, she turned right and entered an aisle of basic condiments. She passed ketchup and mustard of many many different types, everything from dijon to brown to stone-ground to yellow blended, and she found the mayonnaise situated between the mustard and a small selection of horseradish, across from a shelf of sesame seed oil, soy sauce and a few other condiments which were probably of Asian origin but which she could not readily identify, although she thought one of them might be peanut sauce and another wore the overly innocuous look of something intensely spicy that derived its greatest joy in life from tempting people who could not fathom its spiciness to pour it onto their food in copious amounts and expect it to be sweet or salty or at the very most mildly spicy, and then, on trying a bite of their thoroughly sauced meal, discover that the sauce was indeed the gastric equivalent of drain cleaner and suffer the aftereffects for hours or days after that single badly-planned experiment. Iris believed that the sauces had a conspiracy, and she approved heartily. After all, what else can a sauce do to amuse itself? But in any event, Iris had found the mayonnaise, and the market only had four kinds available, low fat and regular, store brand and leading national brand, and she picked out her jar of mayonnaise, regular, leading national brand (which was called “Best Foods” in her part of the country but sometimes went by the name of “Hellman’s” in other places) just as I noticed that I had passed the forty thousand word mark and furthermore that I had reached the ninety-ninth page of my book. I wondered whether I should pause now that I had achieved forty thousand words, or if I should keep going and withold celebrations until I had reached or filled the one hundredth page of text in this book which I had started writing twenty-eight days ago and now believed that I was within sight of finishing, even if the finished product made very little actual sense and was full of ramblings about pens and sauces and stories that appear in junior high school literature anthologies and instances where I gave up all pretense of writing creatively and simply counted to one thousand in long form. This became a moot point as I reached the one hundredth page.
It was the story of six people, all of them young, three male, three female, two of them siblings, two half siblings, three demonstrably psychotic. I had a plan, oh yes I did. I wrote out a plot synopsis, a series of points which I wanted to include in my writing each day, character descriptions, a chart of how all of these people related to each other. And do you know what happened?
Excerpt from Afterthought:
“I was going to go home and start working on this thing I was thinking of,” she said.
“Ooh,” Ian said, “a thing! What kind of thing?”
“A book,” she said offhandedly, if that’s the right word, which it probably isn’t, but I think I do need an adverb there because I need to fill out my word count as much as possible tonight so that I won’t have so much pressure tomorrow which is the last day of National Novel Writing Month and I really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really REALLY want to finish writing these fifty thousand words on time so that I can collect my certificate and tell people that I did in fact write novel of sorts in November, a novel which I guess I would categorize under literary fiction because it’s esoteric and has no plot whatsoever as it stands. I mean, I just spent something like twenty pages describing a trip to the grocery store, and that was before I even got to the point of the chapter, which is this conversation between Iris and Ian where they have an open exchange of ideas and it becomes clear that they have a lot in common but still retain enough differences to keep their relationship interesting and to create extra tension when conflict arises even if that conflict does not necessarily involve them directly. See the plot synopsis about twenty five thousand words ago for a brief explanation of what I mean.
“Oh yeah, you write?” Ian asked.
Well, I got bored. Boredom leads to distraction. Distraction leads to ignoring deadlines. Ignoring deadlines leads to fear. Fear is the path to the Dark Side. On whatever crap came to mind, ramble aimlessly I did.
Excerpt from Afterthought:
Chapter after Chapter the Next
In which I had intended to construct an account of Jordan’s most recent date with Carey, perhaps through Carey’s recollections in the presence of his gang, but I think I just might digress to a continued discussion of the novel that Iris and I are planning; I suppose we’ll have to see how it goes. See, here’s the thing: Carey is just really unsavory and kind of stupid in this draft and I really just don’t like to write about him, especially when I could be writing about the characters whom I do like such as Ian and to some degree Nydia, but their big scene comes later in the novel, and now that I think about it, there’s no rule that says that I have to write this thing chronologically or even in the order in which I plan on placing the material in the finished book, so maybe I’ll just skip straight to that scene with Ian and Nydia in the car that it turns out Nydia stole and Ian doesn’t know it yet, and I’ll reserve this bit about Carey and his horrible friends for a time when I feel more like writing that kind of scene, but for now I’d like to write something exciting and offbeat about two kids trying to play grownups in a car that one of them stole so that they could rush to the rescue of a third kid who needs to be saved from herself although it may already be too late for that and it will certainly be too late by the time these kids get there. Or, the other thing I could do is stall for about a dozen words more because I just found out that I’m close to forty four thousand words now and that means I don’t have to write that much more before I can honestly say that I’ve written as much as I need to for the night because I can still finish this thing tomorrow and might I add that it is a wondeful and exillarating feeling to know that I just might actually manage to write fifty thousand words in the month of November and some of those words were actually good but the most important thing is that all of those words are mine and they came from my brain and I typed them with my fingers and the copyright belongs to me although why anybody would want to copy this dreck is anyone’s guess.
Chapter That Comes Somewhat Later in the Book
In which Ian makes an unusual discovery in Nydia’s car, as hinted at in various other parts of the novel.
I did things about which I am not proud. I padded extravagantly. I turned off my spelling checker after the fourth or fifth typo and never looked back. I created a character who was nothing more than a thinly disguised clone of myself and had a dialog with her, regarding a novel which she/I wanted to write.
I also wrote a few daring passages that would be breathtaking in context, if the context was not so full of senseless blathering.
Excerpt from Afterthought:
And that’s all I have, with about seven hundred words remaining. And how will I fill those seven hundred words, you ask? Why, the same way I filled most of this novel, with long rampling patches of execrable prose (and I think I might have misspelled that word also, alghouth I can’t be sure because I turned my spelling checker off at the beginning of this adventure and I never looked back. Let’s see, only about six hundred words left now. I’d like to thank the academy, ha ha ha. Seriously, though, I’d like to thank the following people for their contributions.
First I’d like to thank my parents, [three name blank] and [three name blank] for life and food and shelter and moral support and all of that stuff. I’d like to thank my little brother, [protecting the privacy of a minor blank], for endless filler material drawn from the stuff he does in his room while I’m busy typing away next door. I want to thank Mister [blank of four names] for advice, encouragement, welcome distractions and just being beautiful.
Who else? Let’s see. I’d like to thank Doctor [fifty-year-old Harry Potter fan blank] for removing two benign lumps from my breasts and thereby providing me with the kind of physical and psychological trauma that makes a good novellist into a great one, and while we’re on that subject, I’d also like to thank Spencer, Brandy, Elva, and that kid who gave me an object lesson in the meaning of the phrase “out of breath.” I’d like to thank my dog, Chloe [blank], for being pretty and fuzzy and totally non-judgemental throughout this entire novel writing ordeal. I’d also like to thank the team at National Novel Writing Month headquarters for all of the software and support forums and of course for having this idea in the first place.
Furthermore, I want to thank Chef Boyardee for making one damned fine can of Spaghetti-O’s Brand canned pasta in tomato sauce. This is a food staple that has seen me through some rough times and perhaps permanently damaged my palette in such a way that I can manage to eat just about anything so long as it mostly tastes like tomatoes. I also want to thank all of the little people, and not just the ones who are no more than four feet and eleven inches tall, but also the ones who are only more little than the people around them, or who have little hands or little minds or some combination of the above. Really, where would we be without all of the little people in this world supporting the rest of us giants? Does this make me a literary giant? Of course not. It just makes me the proud owner of a manuscript that comprises ever so nearly fifty thousand words spread over one hundred and twenty-three pages– and not just the owner of that manuscript, but the author thereof, and the proud writer of some of its better passages and the humble scribbler of all of its unreadable junky bits.
Okay, less than two hundred words left now. I can’t run out of things to say just yet. I need to have a bit more than fifty thousand according to the word count feature here in Microsoft Word 2003 (Office Edition) because the word counter here in Microsoft Word Office Edition 2003 is just a little more optimistic than the one on the National Novel Writing Month website and it tends to put my word count about twenty words higher than the one on the website does. Therefore, as I had stated previously, I will need to have about fifty thousand and twenty-three words in this document in order to make the exercise worthwhile. And what a lot of words it’s been! I hate most of these words now, to be brutally honest, but that’s okay because, love them or hate them, they are all my words that stemmed from my brain and were typed by my fingers, even the words that I had pictured Iris typing because Iris is just a fictional character, as is every other character in this story, and while all resemblances that these characters may have to other persons living or dead is purely coincidental, I must admit that I did start out in the very beginning by basing most of these characters on people whom I had met previously, including a few people whom I know fairly well, although of course I changed them enough to prevent these real people from bringing me a real lawsuit. But now I can see, as I write these last words upon this one hundred and twenty fourth page, that I have in fact written well over fifty thousand words, and therefor it is time to save this novel as a .txt or “plaintext” document and submit it for validation– validation of the word count, validation of myself as a novellist. And here we go.