The Walk Between Bonfires

Here we are:  sixteen hours and thirty-eight minutes, and we get the NaNo Party started.  I went to my kick off party last night, said hello, got my goody bag, spoke with some of the people who are going to try this.  Everyone there was new:  I was the only hold over, save for our area leader, from last year.  Is this good or bad?  Yes.  Go with it.

The time to write is approaching, as are The Witching Hours.  Time to run the kidlettes around for trick-or-treat, then find something to play at 12:01 AM, when NaNo kicks in and makes life crazy for the next thirty days.

This post isn’t so much about NaNoWriMo as it is about the person writing the NaNo Novel for 2012.  Or what they’ve learned from their writing.  Because we do learn from writing, and from the experiences it brings us.

I’ve got to go back about a year, however–back to the days when I was role playing, back when I was writing about Kerry and his lovely Annie.

Back when I was sick from work–as opposed of being sick of work, but that’s another story–I told people about the issues Kerry had with being himself.  Or should that be, herself?  ‘Cause Kerry exists in one world with two genders, and has the ability to switch from one to the other when he feels like it–

Only, come October, 2015, his better half ends up having to deal with menstruation, and that means having to spend time really being a girl, not just flipping over into girldom when the mood strikes, or he’s getting a full physical.  So it’s during this first time of dealing with the Dim Red Tides that Kerry stays his girly self for almost a week, and–at the suggestion of one of the instructors he respects a great deal–she gets renamed Cassidy, which is Gaelic for “Clever Girl”.

The school that Kerry and Annie attend have a Samhain celebration every year, which includes a dance where one can, if they are in the mood, come dressed in costume.  It’s always held on the Friday or Saturday closest to Samhain Eve–or Halloween, as most people know it–but this October, in 2015, Halloween falls on a Saturday.  This means that the dance–which is just a bit of secular fun for the kids to enjoy–coincides with the true festivals that begin at sundown, on Samhain Eve, and continue through the next day, 1 November, the actual day of Samhain.

This also means that Kerry is dealing with another period, and he’s flipped over to Cassidy.  This means she’s attending the dance with Annie, and they’ve both decided to show up in costume.  Since Cassidy is a bit of a geek, and because she wants to have fun and not give a shit about the fact that a lot of people will be looking at her anyway, decided to show up as an Amy Pond Kiss-o-Gram, and Annie shows up in her River Song finest.

They talk, they dance, they enjoy themselves.  Cassidy has a couple of people give her shit, but she blows them off well and good.  In the end, they sneak out of the dance for a bit, talk some more, and steal a kiss in the same spot where Annie and Kerry first kissed the same night they came to the school and were placed in their coven.

Then Annie tells Cassidy they need to walk between the bonfires . . .

Bonfires are a tradition during Samhain.  People would toss things in, old clothes, food, the bones of slaughtered animals, and watch them burn.  It was all about cleansing, getting rid of the old and greeting the new.  Some places have bonfires side by side, with enough space to walk between, so that one is purified and cleansed, leaving behind the ashes of their old life, and ready to face the new.

This is what Annie and Cassidy have at their school.  In a large field, there are two bonfires, and students are encouraged to dance about them and walk between, a symbol that they are leaving behind one more year, and facing the new, clean and untarnished.

I hear you going, “Yeah, but where is this leading, oh Scribbler of Words?”

Here you go:  characters teach you things, not only about your stories, but sometimes about you.  Cassidy was a character that came to me very easy, because she’s a cute, smart, geeky girl who accepts that there’s really nothing different about her, and that those who see her as a “freak” or “strange” are people who just can’t deal with this thing known as reality.

But then a lot of my female characters came to me easily.  Audrey Dahl was the first, she of psychic ability and fireball throwing.  The same with Jennette Hagart, the Nerd Girl Who Became an Ass-kicking Sorceress.  But Cassidy spoke loudly to me, because she touches me like few others.

Because I am Cassidy.

A few people have asked about the name change that came to my blog, which was the same name change that happened on my Facebook Page.  Some even noticed that the changes came about on or about 10/11/12, which was Coming Out Day.  There is a reason behind this:  it was time to come out.

I’m transgendered.  I’ve been this way my entire life.  But this year, in a year of much change and, in some cases, great hardship and insanity, I needed to get real with myself.  I started seeing a therapist, and I began the journey toward becoming the person I actually am.

I’ve begun taking steps towards being Cassidy, the woman I actually am.  It’s happening slowly, and it’s going gradually, but it’s happening.  In a few years time, the old me will be a memory, and Cassidy Grace Frazee will be a fact of daily life.

Oh, and she writes, too.  She’s very good as well–as good as me, I might point out.

What a surprise.

This is my life.  A few  people close to me have known this for a few months, and they’ve supported me, which is a great thing.  I don’t expect things to become easy, but then, I’ve not known a lot of easy stuff for the last fifty years.  Why should the remaining ones be any different?

Annie and Cassidy walked between the bonfires that Samhain Eve night.  They felt the fire wash over them, felt the heat upon their skin, and when they emerge out the other side, they were clean and new.  They were different people, and they’d never look back from that moment.  One day I’m going to write this story–

But there is another I have to concentrate upon at the moment.

NaNo is a crazy time.  Halloween is a crazy time.

But a certain ginger girl reminds me that life is crazy, and you gotta deal with what comes your way.  Follow your instincts  and you’ll find your way through the fire.  I know, however, I’m never going to get burned.  I’m always going to come out the other side shiny and new.

Because I’m nothing if not a clever girl.

Getting to the Future Without the Past

One day, sixteen hours until NaNo gets going, and people are starting to feel the pressure.  Or, I believe they are, because the comments are beginning to come fast and furious, asking things like, “What are you going to do?” or, “Do you have names for your characters?”  It’s all fun and games until you actually have to start writing, is that it?

Some people are jumping about with ideas that are coming from nowhere.  A few of these ideas are dealing with something often called “Future History”, and involve a lot of “what ifs?” that can’t be answered easily.  In particular, some of the ideas deal with things happening three thousand or more years down the line, which means you’re going to have to do some major research, and head scratching, if you want to come up with an idea that doesn’t suck sour air.

But that doesn’t stop some people.  That doesn’t stop them from taking what we have “now”, and saying something like, “Hey, what if everyone started dropping bombs on everyone?”  (Place pinkie in corner of mouth.)  “But–three thousand years from now!”  Oh, yeah:  that’s going to work.  Just take what we have now and dress everyone like an extra from “Logan’s Run”.  I mean, that’s how it’s done, right?

Wrong.

To put it bluntly, creating future history is a bitch.  I’ve done a bit with another set of stories, and I’m dreaming up one now. And while I can say that I’ve done a bit of homework so that my worlds seem realistic, I can’t say with any certainty that they’d hold up as anything but fantasy.  But I’ve at least given my world some thought, and I’ve tried to make it fit into the realm of possible.

Far too many people, however, begin pulling ideas out of their asses, and putting a different outfit on a well-worn idea won’t make it look any different.  If it’s a bad or ill-conceived idea at the start, it’s going to be a bad one in the end, and no amount of editing short of a rewrite is going to fix your story.

There is nothing wrong with this–if this is what you want to write.  Hey, some people enjoy writing things that don’t make sense.  And this is not to say that I’m completely correct.  One can take historical stories like The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and use that for inspiration for your future world.  The Project Rho site has a very good write-up on the development of future history, and this is something one should read again and again if you’re going to try setting your space opera off in the future.

But if you have no intention of learning anything, and feel you can keep America pretty much as if after several millennia have passed, you’ll probably have your women flying about in bra brassiere space suits, too.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, other than you’ll end up looking like a complete idiot–and people like me will come along and tell you what a doof you appear.

To put it bluntly, science fiction fans are hell.  After Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld was published, engineering students from MIT wrote papers about how his fictional creation was unstable.  Not impossible, mind you:  from an engineering standpoint, the Ringworld was nothing more than a self-supporting suspension bridge, a modified version of a Dyson Ring, which had been discussed in some circles before.  But there was instability inherent in the structure  and it was this instability that led Niven to use this as a major plot point in the sequel, The Ringworld Engineers.  Had this point not been addressed eventually, Niven–who has had a great deal of experience creating future history–would have come off looking like some hack from the 1930’s.

Creating any kind of future or alternate history involves some work.  Maybe you can get away with some basic ideas in a first story, and then expand upon those ideas in later stories.  But even then, you better have your chops down pretty pat, and be ready to defend your position, or you’ll get walked upon with heavy boots.  And not being able to defend your position does not mean running away, then asking other people the same questions, certain that they know as little as you about creating a new world, so they’ll tell you things like, “Oh, America wouldn’t attack first–it’s their policy never to start a first strike”–and you never feel a sense of shame believing this comment, because you believe that in three thousand years not one freakin’ think about the county’s first-strike policies will evar change . . .

Good luck with that story.  I’m certain your hard drive will keep it warm for years to come.

Starlight and Demons

Some people will ask “What does the future bring?”  I’m not certain I have an answer for that, but I do know it can lead to some remarkably crazy stuff.

Last night I was going over notes for a story idea I’ve had for a while.  I developed it about two years ago, during a creative writing class.  It was a fun class, because I met some interesting people, and I freaked out my instructor, who just didn’t get how science fiction worked.  At one point, it was necessary to write a two page rebuttal to her questions about a five hundred word scene I’d developed.

Some people just can’t ever wrap their minds around this stuff.

So I was updating some notes I’ve had for these characters, realizing that some things needed a radical changing because my ideas about them have changed in the last two years.  Some things about them I’d forgotten; some things needed a bit of fixing.  I resisted starting a time line, but that could . . . take place . . . today.  Why not?  It’s not like I have to prepare my NaNo Novel 2012.

But that took up most of my time to somewhere just south of 11 PM.  (Does time have a direction?)  After that, I decided I’d had enough to do for the day, and headed off to bed.

That’s when the strangeness came.

For some reason my dreams wanted to remind me that, one, I can get caught up in some crazy, criminal-like shit that would make Vic Mackey cringe, and two, I do all my work in invisible buildings.  They were also somewhat unsure what sort of work I did:  sometimes it was programming, other times it was teaching, and once in a while I was working with twenty-somethings to build projects for science.  (Or better yet, science!)  It went on like that for a very long time . . .

Then everything shifted, and suddenly I was at a party where Amanda Tapping was trying to talk me into going home with her.  Come to find out, she was a demoness, and she was looking to get her jollies on with someone who understood demonesses.  To be honest, Amanda made a pretty hot demoness, and she was talking to me in her Doctor Helen Magnus voice, so I was instantly in love–and what she was wearing did things for me, too.

Unfortunately, nothing happened.  It seems like every time the talk turned to heading to her place, I’d end up in a room in this huge house, and have to go looking for her.  This must be why I felt so worn out when I finally crawled out of bed at 7 AM.  I mean, seriously:  my body felt as if I’d ran a marathon.  Or spent all my time walking around a huge mansion.

I can’t tell why this happens to me these days.  Of late–maybe the last couple of weeks–my dreams have been coming on strange and vivid.  There also seems to be no letup.  I’m certain this has to do with my mind getting back into Imagination Mode, pushing aside the crap that passes for earning bill-paying cash.  By the way, kids:  don’t get into programming.  The lack of tedious repetition will eat your soul!

Two days, thirteen hours until NaNoWriMo.  Should I stick to my novel ideas, or think about other things–

Besides a demonic Amanda Tapping seducing me?

There are worse things, you know . . .

Bricking Out the World

Three days, seventeen hours, and thirty-two minutes, and the world of people who like to write turns to their version of a padded room.  I think that was what my dreams were discussing last night, where I seemed to be alternating lives between a stunt person in a very low-budget movie, and working in a company where no one really cared about me, and I was allowed to wander about all day, wondering what it was I actually do . . . no, wait:  that last is real life.  I even saw someone I work with in the dream, though they wouldn’t speak to me.

That wasn’t very nice of her.  Oh, well.  Time to move on.

I’m already seeing the stress in the Facebook groups, among the people who are scrambling to get some semblance of order to whatever passes for notes for their upcoming NaNo opus.  I don’t want to say some of these people will, by 10 November, end up like Miss Happy Rainbow Girl to the right, bemoaning the fact that Writin’ is Hard Work, and if it wasn’t for the cat begging to be fed and petted every four hours, I’d have made my one-six-six-six words a day, durrrrr–but that will happen.  Hell, it might happen to me.  I can’t say.

But it won’t happen because I’m not ready.

As I’ve said more than a few times, having everything set up and ready to go before you see 12:01 AM, 1 November, pop up on your computer, it probably one of the better ideas you could ever have before word one goes into you story.  It saves on the Head-Meet-Desk feelings that will come about, oh, about 8 PM, 1 November.

If you are trying to write about something that is out of the norm–like space opera, worlds of magic, vampire stories where the main characters don’t act like hormone-driven fifteen year old kids, but rather, you know, vampires–then you gotta get your world building chops down.  I did this for my NaNo Novel 2011, where I was developing a world that was modern day, but which used magic for a lot of things.  I had wizards and witches, sorcerers and sorceresses, a demoness, and a lesbian vampire who didn’t act like a Lego block.  But most of all, I had the people who laid down the rules for these preternatural people running around my different Chicago, and I had magic–

Which meant I needed to figure out how to work said magic.

The biggest thing about world building is that you have to keep things consistent.  If you decide that people can fly simply by sprinkling fairy dust on your butt, then you are not going to fly if you snort said fairy dust down like a line of Mr. Heisenberg’s Finest Product.  More than likely your head will explode, Scanners-style, because snorting fairy dust should be sort of like inhaling a kilo of pure China White.  Fly or die, baby.  Your choice.

This is the sort of thing you have you hammer out if you’re going with something that might not be the same as the world in which we exist.  You might even need it for our world.  I think it was David Gerrold who once commented that if the rules of your world say the main character can’t use their left hand, at the end of your story, you can’t have them save the day by using their left hand.  That’s not just lazy writing:  it’s dishonest as hell, and calls you, the author, out as little more than an unimaginative hack.  It’s a rule breaker, and in these days of Internet flame wars over things as insignificant as whether or not George Lucas did rape your childhood, any rule breakers in your story are going to get you pillared in short order.

World building doesn’t have to be a long process.  Have a few notes ready, maybe a visual aid or two to keep you on track.  Remember words and phrases that are important, remember how things work.  Little differences are going to make all the difference when it comes to getting your story close to believable.  A story is only as strong as the world in which is resides, and if you have a weak foundation, you’ll probably have a weak story.  That doesn’t always happen, but the odd aren’t always ever in your favor, folks.

Then again, sometimes NaNo is an experience that is suppose to be fun and games.  Maybe you shouldn’t take it too seriously.  Maybe you should just write with all abandon, and not worry if what you’re producing is worth a damn . . .

Naw!

When No Dream Has Gone Before

The countdown tells me it’s 4 days, 16 hours, and 24 minutes until the NaNo begins.  I’m ready, if for no other reason than I’ve got everything ready to go, and all that remains if the writing.  All the writing, all the time.  Well, not all the time; I’m not that crazy.  I know there are people who say they did one hundred thousand words in like three days, which is something Philip K. Dick couldn’t do, so I have to figure that those manuscripts are an insane jumble of scribbling that would drive Cthulhu insane, or it consists of line after line of, “All NaNo and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

In other words, crap.  But that’s just me talking.

I find myself, then, doing a lot of thinking.  Most of the time I’ve thought about another set of stories, and my fingers are itching to draw up . . . here it comes . . . a timeline.  Yes, I know, I love those suckers.  I just can’t help myself; it must be the Gallifreyan in me.  I’ve actually thought that putting together a visual time line of one of my stories would be interesting, since it takes place in about five different time periods.  Watching how the story bops all over the place could point out flaws in my narrative–or simply prove how good I am at getting my facts in line with my make-believe reality.

I could have a project for later today.  We’ll see.

The dream last night . . . oh, geez.  This is where the title of the post comes from, since it was some craziness that had to do with me investigating a Starfleet crew that had vanished from a Norway class ship, and I needed to interview the only survivor.  For some reason a salient point of the investigation involved an inflatable bed, and in the end, I’d figured out that the only person left had eaten the entire crew.  The dude must have been hungry.

And what did I get for my hard work?  A Saber class ship, and an inflatable bed.  I’m so lucky.  At least I ended up Queen Shit of my own little warp speed mountain.

I think the dream had something to do with an idea I was playing with the other day, since I was thinking about doing an article for another website, and I was thinking of doing something on Star Trek, because–why not?  It keeps the mind going, and the fingers busy.  If nothing else, it gives me a change to vent, or better yet, point out something that others may have missed.  Wait, I’m talking about Star Trek:  tons of geeks have had the same thoughts.  Ah, still wouldn’t hurt to write . . .

This is the point I’m in at the moment.  I’m not writing, but I should.  However, due to NaNo, I’m not about to start on something, then abandon it in mid work because I have to work on a novel.  Oh, sure, I could do as some do, finish up one work, then start on another and count all the words towards my fifty thousand, but that’s not writing a novel to me.  That feels like cheating.  But, all’s fair in love and writing, and if some people want to work it that way, it’s their business.

I shall forge my own path, no?

In the meantime, I’m seeing time lines, and they do look so nice to me.

If I’m not back by nine tonight, don’t bother looking for me, ’cause I’m off having fun.

The Face On the Page

Yesterday was time to play.  I started looking at the NaNo page, and was thinking about what I was going to do with my book cover.  Yes, I’m doing that as well.  But you have to expect this from me, ’cause I’m crazy.  There, I said it.  Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

So I found a picture–something that came off the Creative Commons Flickr, which means people don’t mind if you use their work for usually non-commercial purposes.  And, yes, Mister I’m Letting You Know You’re Stealing a Photographer’s Work, But You Know That:  yes, I do know that, because I’m not a brain-dead fool going around ripping shit off from the Internet as so many do.  That’s why I did my homework, that’s why I know about Creative Commons, and use them when I can, as should you, and you know who you are.

In short, back off, man:  I’m a professional.

As I was saying, playing.  Yeah, I like doing things like that.  I wanted to get something that looked spooky, something that had a similar font as the one I used for Kuntilanak, and something with a touch of green.  That’s right, green, and there’s a good reason for that, but not one I’m going into now.

I used a couple of free things to play with the design:  Gimp and Paint.net, which I’m trying out because I want to see how they work; both are free, by the way.  I also used PhotoPlus X4, which can now be had for $20.  Each has it’s good and bad points, and it was sorta fun to play with them.

So what was the end result?  Feast your eyes, if you will:

That’s taking a stock picture, giving it a little of a black and white overlay, then darkening it a bit, and turning up the green filter.  I’m thinking of adding something in the doorway, something that is hiding just at the edge, something that makes the picture just a little spookier.

Don’t know if this is going to be the actual picture I post on my NaNo Novel Page, but it’ll be something along these lines.  There is something else I want to try, maybe try it tonight or tomorrow.  I’ll compare it to what I’ve already created, and then see what the consensus becomes.

Though, in the end, it’s my say.  Or the Muse’s say.  Or both.  Though I’ve been told by the Muse to just shut up and listen to her.  Which is usually how it goes, right?

This is pretty much the end of the prequel leading up to NaNo Novel 2012.  I don’t need a cover, but I’ll likely throw one up there for the hell of it, because . . . yeah, why not?  But this is it; this is the end.  I have my outline, I have my times, I have my death list, I have my cover.  There’s nothing left to do but wait for a minute after midnight on 1 November, and crank out a few hundred words to get the party started.

Two thousand words a day–or more–everything.  For thirty days and nights.

Yeah, chill the hell out.  I got this.

All the Tools of the Trade

Here it is, Thursday, and by this time next week people around the world will be writing their little fingers off–though I’m certain a few will be screaming at their computers, or on Facebook, yelling, “Why am I doing this?  Why?  WHY??”  Don’t worry if you fall into that later group; it’s really easy to play Throw Writer From the Train.  Let me look for some tall grass to cushion your fall . . .

Last night I was updating my NaNo Novel information on the NaNoWriMo site, and saw the information about uploading a cover for you novel.  I’ve done a cover before, and I thought, “Hey, why not do another cover?”  I mean, it’s not one I’d use if I sell the novel, or even if I self publish, it’s only going to be there for the duration of NaNo.  So I was on the Creative Commons Flickr, looking for something I could use.  I may look through for a few more things, but there are thousands of pictures out there, and that becomes something of a huge endeavor when you’re searching for the right image.

It’s the era of digital publishing, of self-publishing.  It’s not just enough to know how to write these days:  you are require to be able to edit and come up with ideas for promotion, and even do a cover or two when the need arises.  It’s not easy; even though I know a little about photo manipulation, creating a cover that makes your happy is hard as hell.

But it’s something that you have to know these days.  You have to.

I do my own editing.  I’ve had people ask me why, and it’s an easy answer:  I can’t afford to pay someone to edit my manuscripts.  I write novels, and we’re talking about two hundred, three hundred–or, for one of my series, around nine hundred pages.  Even at the cheep price of $2/page, you can see how I’m going to find myself deep in the checkbook if I pay to have someone go over my work.  It’s not that I wouldn’t like that, but . . . I’m just a poor, starving artist, and until I’m rolling about cash, I’ll have to be self sufficient.

Same with book covers.  It’s time consuming to find a picture you can use, and using software to create or manipulate an image, to get it formatted correctly . . . and then remember that the size of a cover for use on Smashwords is different that the size you’ll use for Amazon Kindle, and can become a bit of a headache.

Gone are the days when all a writer need worry about were their trusty typewriter, ribbons  pens or pencils  paper, and a fifth of Bushmills.  You gotta know how to use software, how to format an ebook, how to use social media for more than poking people, how to make covers, how to edit the hell out of your work . . . you gotta do it all.

You gotta be all the people in the band.  This is your Who Came First, and if you can’t step up and do the work, someone’s gonna beat you to the sales counter.  “I can’t do that” isn’t a valid argument these days, not when there’s so much open source software out there, and online tutorials showing you how to do things like re-size an image.

Yeah, it’s a tough old world, but writers are a tenacious bunch, and if anyone is going to figure out the whole mess, it’s us. Or you could sit around and make bunny dresses, then tell the world how things are so hard.  It’s your choice–

I mean, it’s not like anyone made you put words on a page, right?