The NaNoWriMo logo/coat of arms.

Well, it’s December 1st. That means a couple of things: start of the holiday season and prep for the new year, the days get to their shortest point, I try to push a tag with the hope that it will become a trend (so far, it’s been hit and miss with those I’ve tagged). For writers around the world, however, it means National Novel Writing Month, and assessing how each person did and how their manuscripts turned out.

I’ve actually always found National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, full of strange contradictions. For one thing, it takes place around the world, but it’s kept “national.” Heck, even the month’s official website puts you in touch with participants from all over the world! Why don”t we change the name?

For another thing, it’s amazing how many authors take this challenge seriously. For those of you who don’t know, during the month of November, many writers try to write a fifty-thousand word novel within 30 days (that’s about 1667 words per day if you want the math). And I’ve seen so many author friends on Facebook and in blogs lament how they only got so many words down. “I only got eight-thousand words.” “I was so close to 50K!” “This NaNoWriMo sucked! I hardly got any work done.” I don’t even want to know what they thought of the material they wrote.

Just for clarification, there’s no actual prize if you write a 50K novel in 30 days. You just get bragging rights. But plenty of authors see it as a reflection of themselves if they can’t get the words down. And I actually kind of understand this: on nights when I didn’t write anything down (and those nights occurred quite often, sadly), I felt like it was some sort of reflection on my skills or on myself as a writer. It didn’t matter if there just wasn’t enough time before bed, or if I had a book I really wanted to read, or if I just didn’t feel like writing that night. I felt bad. Maybe not as bad as I could have felt, I have a day job that takes up a good chunk of time, so I at least have an excuse for why I’m not writing more. But I bet for those who write full-time, it could be very frustrating when they didn’t reach their goals.

So how did I do, now that we’re on the subject? Well, I knew that with a job and that unfortunate habit of sleeping seven hours a night, plus eating and bill-paying and grocery shopping and everything else that goes on in my life, I had only so much time to do any work. Therefore, I decided that I would keep my expectations reasonable. I decided that I would aim to get ten-thousand words done, and if I got past that, I would aim for another five-thousand afterwards. If I somehow managed to get past that, I’d aim for five-thousand more, and so on and so forth. The result was I probably felt less stress than my colleagues, and I consequently met my first goal, and got more than halfway to my second goal.

To be exact, I got 13,821 words down by the end of the month, about four-and-a-half chapters worth of story. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to do it. How did it turn out? Well, I guess as well as a first draft can turn out. I mean, it’s only in the subsequent drafts that novels actually become the brilliant stories we all hold so dear. During the first drafts, they’re like pre-Fairy Godmother Cinderella: full of beauty and potential but in need of some serious clean up. My own NaNoWriMo project, Full Circle, has a lot of good stuff in it so far. It’s the third book in my Reborn City series, and considering that I started this series about eight years ago, this novel is already showing my growth over that time the most more than any recent story I’ve written.

Still, I think Chapter 1 could use a lot of clean-up. There’s a lot of exposition there, so making it work with the real storytelling moments is important. And possibly the prologue could use some polish as well. Yeah, I included a prologue with this book. New thing for this series, but I think it’s good for this book. Just needs some edits.

In the meantime though, I still have an entire novel to finish, and it’ll probably be a lot longer than 50K. I’m hoping that I can finish it by mid-spring 2017, and have it out early 2018 at the latest. We’ll see what happens.

Well, that’s all for now. Unless there’s something worth posting about, I’ll try to put out a Writing/Reflections-themed post out at some point during that month. In the meantime, it’s writing, writing, writing, and hopefully a lot of it.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear!

first-day-first-paragraph-tag

It’s that time again. Time for the “First Day, First Paragraph” Tag. This is a tag I created myself, and I’m still trying to see if I can make it take off. And who knows? Perhaps this month I’ll see this tag take off on other blogs.

So once again, let’s go over the rules. Once tagged for “First Day, First Paragraph,” you have to do the following:

  1. Publish your own post on the first day of the month.
  2. Use the graphic above
  3. Thank and link back to the person who tagged you.
  4. Explain the rules like I’m doing now.
  5. Post the first paragraph of a story you’ve written, are writing, or plan to write someday.
  6. Ask your readers for feedback.
  7. Finally, tag someone to do the post next month (for example, if you do the tag on the first of August, the person you tag has to do it on the first of September), and comment on one of their posts to let them know the good news.

As you can see, this came out on December 1st. I’ve used the graphic above, which is of my own design. I won’t thank myself, as I talk to myself too often, and I don’t need to start talking back. Explained the rules. And now to post a paragraph. Last month I did the first paragraph of Reborn City, in honor of the three-year anniversary of that novel coming out. I think this month I’ll do Video Rage, RC‘s sequel, which came out back in June. If you would like to check out either novel, make sure to head to the series page above this post for descriptions and links. Enjoy.

The sunbaked concrete and metal in the hundred-plus degree heat, the many cars and trucks reflected light off their chrome bodies like blinding beasts zooming down the highway. As truckers listened to country and rock music and children played video games on the backs of their parents’ car seats, some occasionally looked out to see a marvel of the modern world on the road. Five black hoverbikes, each with two people straddling the seats, zoomed between vehicles as they floated a few feet above the ground. Those who saw them marveled, paying no attention to the riders, who would’ve warranted their own attention if the drivers knew who they were.

Thoughts? Comments? Let’s discuss.

Okay, now I have to tag someone. This month, I’m going with a good friend who enjoys reading my books when she has the time. Ruth Ann Nordin, you’ve been tagged. You’ve got to do this on January 1st. Better schedule this post to come out ahead of time!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I plan to have another post out later today with a wrap-up of NaNoWriMo, so keep an eye out for that. Until next time!

Today has been one of the scariest days of my life.

A little before ten this morning, a man named Abdul Artan rammed his car into Ohio State students as they evacuated Watts Hall, a material engineering and science building. The students had evacuated because someone had pulled an alarm in the building over a gas leak (no word on if this leak was a coincidence or planned). Artan then stepped out of his car with a butcher knife and started slashing students. A police officer nearby responded immediately, shooting Artan and killing him. The gunshots triggered a campus-wide lockdown and reaction from law enforcement throughout and outside Central Ohio. Somewhere between 7 and 10 people (reports still vary) were rushed to hospitals in the area, with one person in critical condition.

I was notified by a friend while at work. Immediately a coworker who had been in my graduating class at Ohio State with me and I were glued to my phone as we checked for updates through Twitter. We both knew that Twitter news can be very inaccurate sometimes, but we were scared and we didn’t care. We’re not just alumni of the university, we still have friends and family there. My old roommate is still a student there. My sister works at a bakery near campus. I still have former coworkers from the Student Financial Aid office whom I consider very good friends. Not to mention the number of fellow students and professors whom I still care for and was worried sick about.

For the best part of an hour, my coworker and I devoured updates, my fingers refreshing the feed every three seconds or so. Rumors were flying throughout that hour. There was a shooter at Watts Hall. There were two shooters at Watts Hall. Someone got slashed by a machete. There was another assailant in the garage at Lane and Tuttle Ave, connected to the building I used to work part-time in. There was a body on campus. There were five injured students. Seven injured students. Nine. Ten. One assailant had a machete, the other a gun. An assailant had been caught. An assailant had been killed. Two people had been arrested and were being escorted off campus for interrogation.  Watts had been cleared, and the surrounding buildings were being searched.

It wasn’t until around one o’clock, where I caught a news conference on the TV in the breakroom, that I started getting facts. And even then it didn’t reduce my fear. It just left me exhausted and anxious.

Understand, none of my friends or family were hurt. In the case of a few, including my sister, they weren’t even near campus when they happened. And I was a few miles southeast of campus, so I was in no danger whatsoever But it was still terrifying. For all I knew, a Columbine-style attack was happening at my alma mater, and no one was safe. I thought for sure that there was a definite chance someone I knew was going to get hurt or even killed.

And unlike when I want to get scared, where there’s a bit of a thrill, this fear was all-consuming. It filled me like a balloon with air, only instead the air within the balloon was dark and corrosive and wanted me to panic and feel that the worst was inevitable. And it left me cold and empty and with the promise that the moment there was more bad news, my fear would come back in full force.

Even now, I’m still a little shaky just writing this. I’m hoping that writing it out helps me process this, and maybe helps others process what happened today. I know quite a few people are going to be coming back to classes or work tomorrow wondering if the normally-safe campus will be attacked again by someone with a knife, or even an actual gun. They’re not alone. Everyone is scared and hoping that nothing like this happens again.

I hope you’ll join me in praying that the injured students and staff come out of today stronger than what they were before, that nothing like this ever happens again, and that we can stand up to fear and walk on proudly.

An author’s career is never a linear progression. It will often twist and turn and even take detours on occasion. It’s like driving through the American Appalachian mountains from Ohio to New York that way.

Similarly, my own writing career has not been linear in its progression. Back in college, as some of you may remember, I had trouble breaking into the traditional publishing scene. I couldn’t find an agent, and I was getting frustrated. Some friends of mine online had found some success self-publishing, so I went that route. And that’s kind of been my route since 2012 or so.

The problem is, self-publishing hasn’t gone the way I expected. I did it in the first place so that I could reach readers faster. And four books later, while I have reached readers, I haven’t reached as many readers as I would like. And while writers write to get stories out of our heads and onto the pages, and as a labor of love, writers publish because they want to share their stories with as many people as possible.

Now, one could argue that I just have to give it time, and the cosmos will make things work out. But if I’ve learned one thing in this business (and I’ve learned many things over the many years of writing), it’s that you have to try new things. And if one thing doesn’t work out, then to keep going at it just isn’t an option. In fact, that’s one definition of insanity. So, I have to try doing something different.

And I think that now is a really great time for me to try the traditional route again. Over four years, several college courses, reading works by a variety of excellent authors (and a few bad ones), and tons and tons of practice, I’m a much better novelist than I was. I think it could go well for me.

At the moment I’ve sent a few query letters out for Reborn City, which is my strongest work, and which I think, in the wake of the American presidential election, might go over well with agents. It’s a story set in a world very similar to what ours seems to be coming to, but with a bit more hope mixed in. If that doesn’t go well, I’ve got a million ideas, plenty of time to write, and a paying job to tide me over until I hit something that works.

Hey, if I can survive a nearly year-long job search and land a great job with an excellent organization, I can surely do this, maybe even over several years.

And if I’m lucky enough to get a contract with an agent and a publishing company, I might still self-publish from time to time. There are plenty of authors who do that. They’re called hybrid authors, and they usually self-publish when a story they wrote and really liked isn’t really what the publisher tends to go for. Heck, I think His Royal Scariness, Stephen King does this from time to time. Or maybe just the once.

In the meantime, I hope you continue to support me as a person and as a writer. And if you want to read one of my books, I’d be so happy if you did. It would certainly make my day.

Wish me luck, my Followers of Fear, as I set out on this latest fork in the road that is my writing career.

NaNoWriMo update: As of this weekend, I’m over ten-thousand words on Full Circle. And my God, it’s coming along great. True, it’s the usual quality of first drafts,  but I think FC really shows how much I’ve progressed as a writer from Reborn City. I can’t wait to see what people think of it when they read it.

 

Well, I finally watched the season finale of American Horror Story: Roanoke (the horrors of having no TV, right?), and I’m keeping up my tradition of reviewing the season as a whole. And I have to say, this is probably AHS‘s best season yet (though it probably won’t replace Hotel as my favorite season).

So if you didn’t know, Roanoke is about a young couple who move into a colonial house that is actually haunted by the ghosts of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. It’s told in the form of reality TV shows, with the last episode being mostly a compilation of news reports, crime specials, and interviews. I said in my review of the first episode that I thought the season had an eerie beginning, and that it was an interesting hook for the season that’s supposed to begin tying up all the connections between seasons.

Well, interesting quickly evolved into awesome. There is not a moment in Roanoke where it gets boring or you want to look away. It keeps you guessing, with twists in the plot, a constantly creepy and strange atmosphere, and characters that keep revealing hidden depths. I also really enjoyed how the majority of the season was told in the form of reality shows. It’s often said that reality shows are more show than reality, and you really feel that in this season, with the truth being up for debate throughout most of the show (I think we can say it’s the main theme for this season). Not only that, but it’s taking genres that feel tired and done to death, like found footage and crime reality, and puts a new spin on them through the strange world of AHS. And there’s a lot more I loved about this season, but I don’t want to spoil it for people who are still catching up (hit me up in the comments for in-depth discussions).

And while we’re on the subject of faorite things, I think my favorite episode was the last episode, which focuses on Lee Harris, my favorite character. The episode was just so much more than wrapping up loose ends, and it had such a twist in the last ten minutes that I truly loved. And Lee was such a complex character. She was trying so desperately to hang onto the only good thing left in her life, and

There were a couple of things that could’ve been improved upon, of course. This was the season that was supposed to tie things up, but it only offered a few explanations on the origins of a few characters and ideas. We didn’t get that full explanation of how the interconnected world of AHS we’d been hoping for, though maybe that’s for later seasons. Then again, it’s the speculating that’s the most fun, so maybe there’s wisdom in keeping things hidden for a while longer. I also thought that the character played by Taissa Farmiga, everybody’s favorite character from seasons one and three, and the two characters with her during the ninth episode, was shoehorned in. They were almost unnecessary. You could’ve told the rest of that episode without those characters, I’m sure.

But all in all, I truly enjoyed this season, which earns a solid 4.4 out of 5. It’s creepy, inventive, and you’ll want to see it from start to finish all in one go. I’m looking forward to Season 7.

And speaking of Season 7, we’ve already been given a teaser from Twitter about what we can expect next year:

What could it mean? I’ve heard some discussion that it might be cruise themed, as there was a model ship in the season finale that the camera spent quite a bit of time on. It’s possible that they may do a season inspired by that nightmare cruise ship fiasco from a few years ago, which would be cool. Still, I wouldn’t take this teaser too seriously. Roanoke was given a ton of false teasers before the first episode, so it could be a red herring. Which means I can still hope for an Orphanage or Academy season. Maybe with Adina Porter, Lee Harris’s actress, and Lady Gaga as teachers with tons of secrets? PLEEEEEEASE!!!!

What did you think of AHS: Roanoke? What was your favorite part of the season?

What are you hoping for Season 7? Who would you like to see come back?

NaNoWriMo update: At the moment, I’m just under eight-thousand words. Yeah, not good for sixteen days in, but what can I say? I only have so much time to write! Still, I like how Full Circle is coming along so far. It’s the normal quality of a first draft, but it’s a good basis for a great final novel in a trilogy. So even if I’m going very slowly through the draft, I think it’ll be a great story when I finally do finish it. Wish me luck!

This was the horror movie I really wanted to see this summer but totally missed due to how far I live from the nearest movie theater and how much moving costs. I was delighted when my copy from the library came in this past week, I had to get it and watch it. So, over dinner, I watched. And I had to say, this was a fun horror movie. Definitely deserves the good reviews it’s getting.

Lights Out is about a young woman who returns to her childhood home after she gets a call about her half-brother falling asleep in class, and their mother can’t be reached. At first the young woman thinks it’s her mother’s mental illness resurfacing, but it soon becomes apparent that the family is being haunted by Diana, a vengeful apparition who met the mother while alive and who draws her power from the darkness. And she’s not about to let any of them go.

This movie definitely has a lot going for it. Filmed on less than five million dollars, the film uses almost entirely practical effects, which I love. I especially love the villain Diana, who is scariest when you only see her as a dark silhouette with two glowing blue eyes. The filmmakers knew this too, only showing Diana once out of silhouette, which actually wasn’t that scary. Weirdly enough, I actually felt a lot of sympathy for Diana. I don’t do well in sunlight either, so I understand her aversion to life. I wonder what a character like her would be like as a protagonist.

Hey, story idea forming…

As for the actors, they all give very good performances. The characters are all pretty basic, but the actors take what they’re given and give it their all, making the characters believable and sympathetic. The one exception to this would be the mother character Sophie, but not for the reasons you might think. Of all the characters, Sophie has the best character arc. I won’t give away spoilers, but you do see her go through a transformation as she comes to realize the truth of her ghostly friend. It’s also refreshing to see a character with mental illness shown not as evil or murderous, but as an actual person dealing with an illness and a very tough situation.

Obviously, the use of shadow and light in this film is phenomenal, making you feel the dark as menacing and wishing for the light. I also liked the writing, which culminated in an ending that honestly surprised me. Usually I can predict how a story ends, but this time, I was unable to. Very nicely done on the part of the writers.

If there are things that could have been improved upon with this film, I would’ve liked to see the protagonist’s earlier experiences with Diana, which are only shown once and never picked up on again (and we get hints that there’s more to that part of the story that we never see, so that makes me mad). There’s also a moment when you can clearly see the actress playing Diana in a black bodysuit, which takes away from the horror of the moment. But that’s about it in terms of complaints.

I really wish I could’ve watched this film in the dark of a movie theater, like it was meant to, but unfortunately I watched it in my living room with the lights on, and that really affected my experience with the film. I’m pretty sure I would’ve been more scared if I’d seen it in the dark. Well, hindsight’s 20/20 after all.

All in all, I’m giving Lights Out a 4.3 out of 5. It’s scary, fun, and definitely worth a watch in the dark. Just make sure to have a flashlight nearby when you watch, okay?

NaNoWriMo update: As of last writing session, I am a little under five-thousand words. Still not very far into Full Circle, but I’m making progress. I don’t think I’ll make fifty-thousand words by the end of the month, but I think fifteen-thousand is a pretty achievable goal.

Last night, I went to a dinner for young Jewish professionals in Columbus, the kind where one can socialize with other members of the tribe in the same age group while enjoying a kosher meal and an open bar. I love these dinners when they’re held: you can see people you know or have never met before, have conversations with similar threads about a thousand times over, forget most of what’s said, and still have a good time, all while enjoying a kosher meal. And, on occasion, I meet people who are interested in reading my books, so I make sure to have the latest business card with me when I do go to these things.

At last night’s dinner though, I had an interesting encounter that I feel like blogging about, if only to get it out of my system. While walking around between conversations, I ran into a guy I was acquainted with, who we’ll call “Eric,” a friend of a friend I knew in high school. The first time I’d met Eric had been at one of these dinners, and he’d seemed pretty impressed when I’d mentioned I was a published author I ‘d given him my card then, and had hoped that he would maybe check out one of my books and let me know what he thought.

To my surprise, pretty quickly Eric told me he read my books, and enjoyed them, had said I was talented and had an amazing style. I was flattered…for a second. But there was just something that felt…a little off. The amount of enthusiasm, the look in his eyes, the body language. I asked if he would consider writing a review for one of my books online, and he said he would, he totally would. Again, the way Eric said “totally” and the way he moved his body while he said it, like he was trying to distract me with the movement of his arms, just seemed off. Finally I asked him to name one of the books he’d read and enjoyed. As I half-expected, he couldn’t name a single one. At that point, I just gave him a card and moved on.

There are a lot of reasons why people don’t read my books. I’m not still very well-known, my books cost money and aren’t available at a lot of libraries, some people don”t like to read, some people don’t care for the genres I tend to write in, busy lives, they lose my card, or a number of other reasons. If Eric had said any of those from the beginning, I would’ve been cool with it. I’ve dealt with close family and friends who haven’t read Video Rage yet. I’m not happy about it, but I accept it because I know that I can’t control other people’s lives or what they do in their lives. But outright lying? I’m just not cool with that.

I put a lot of work into the stories I write. Yes, they’re mostly a labor of love (or a reason to get them out of my head and onto the page so it’s a bit less cluttered up there), but I want others to enjoy them as well. And Eric may have felt guilty that he said he’d check them out the last time we’d spoke and that he hadn’t, but lying about it, especially when it’s so obvious, doesn’t help. For one thing, it gets my hopes up needlessly that I’ve touched another person with my work before causing those hopes to plummet into my shoes. For another, lying about reading a book (let alone four) is one of the easiest to debunk. I debunked it in a single sentence! And that just make things awkward.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, if you haven’t read a book, just say so. Don’t try to lie about it. We authors are used to it, and most of us aren’t sensitive enough that we throw hissy fits when we find out you didn’t read our books. And if you do read our books, thank you. We hope you enjoy them, and let us know if you did.

NaNoWriMo update: Five days in, and I’m a bit over twenty-four hundred words into Full Circle. I haven’t had that much time to write since Thursday, so this is the most I’ve been able to get. Still, the fact that I made it this far in the first week is still pretty nice. Hopefully I’ll get a bit farther along tonight. Wish me luck!