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When Revision Feeds on Itself

Preparing for this year’s NaNoWriMo has been an exciting experience, with some unexpected developments. Considering that I’ll be doing almost a total rewrite of a novel, I should have expected that. But hindsight is always clearer than foresight.

One of the major changes in the revamp of Gift of the Ancien is that I decided to end it by resuscitating a discarded novella that was originally meant to be a sequel. By “discarded” I mean trashed — no longer in existence. It might not have been terrible, but it went in a direction I was no longer interested in for my writing. But the idea persisted.

Gift of the Ancien, for those who haven’t read my older posts, is about a subspecies of humans that developed out of a mutating plague bacteria centuries ago. Every so often, a male child will turn out to be a throwback to the earlier form of the mutation, expressing itself in a three-times yearly need for blood. So the story touches on vampirism, but is very different.

What the novella did was take that story a few generations into the future. In getting ready to rewrite it, I realized I needed to ask a lot of questions that I hadn’t dealt with in Gift. You never know when inspiration is going to strike, and it struck late last night. The questions poured out, and the answers began to come. Questions about the throwbacks’ social structure, moral values, and relationship to both humans and the Ancien themselves.

I went to bed with all that spinning around in my head and woke up this morning with the realization that certain aspects of the novel would have to be changed and/or more fully developed in order to foreshadow what becomes, essentially, a new kind of American Ancien, very different from the one that originated in Europe, and that dominates Gift.

Only six days left to whip all the material into shape and bring it to fruition during November. Exciting, yes. And scary.

Watching the NaNoWriMo Forums

Continuing a trend that started after a few years of doing NaNo, I rarely contribute to the forums anymore. It’s sort of a case of “been there, done that.” There are, when it comes right down to it, a limited number of topics possible and they are repeated from year to year. Meaning that nothing much changes. What makes it mildly interesting is how the different threads shape up, starting in October and continuing through November.

First up are the newbies wondering how it all works, do they have what it takes to get through the month, how many chapters should their book contain, and should they go with this idea or that idea?

It’s the stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with writing, or is, at best, marginal that I find fascinating. What’s your favorite clothing to wear when you’re writing/doing NaNo? What’s your favorite drink/snack? What does your writing place look like?

There’s a tea swap, believe it or not, where people sign up to send each other their favorite teas (three varieties, with enough of each for five cups). There’s even a post card swap. New for this year, as far as I’m aware is a thread about Starbucks’ secret menu. According to one spoil sport who worked for the company, there’s no such thing, but there are recipes you can find online and give to the barista to make up for you.

This sort of thing takes up a fair amount of the forums and is, to my way of thinking, a clue to why only a few thousand writers complete the month out of the more than a half million people who sign up. NaNo is just as much a huge one-month social bash as it is a writing challenge. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s ever-growing popularity is due to the social aspect more than the challenge. The always-huge thread about how to up your word-count without actually doing much writing is further testimony.

It’s a great resource for sociologists, if nothing else.

Never Say Never – Bringing A Novel Back From the Dead

Is it worth trying to rescue a bad novel? The argument can go either way; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the novel itself, and on the writer’s insights and abilities. When a critique of Gift of the Ancien showed me just how bad it was, I had a choice: throw it away and pretend it never existed, or put it away and hope that I might someday find a way to rescue it. I put it away, for two reasons. It’s an original take on the vampire theme, which has been written nearly to death with thousands of variations on the same old details. It’s a study of a population that’s superior to humans, but not strong enough to replace them or even survive if their existence is discovered.

Ancien has been waiting for almost exactly two years now, and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve found a way to resurrect it. It means an almost total rewrite, with most of it being brand-new material. Right now, it looks as if very little of the original will survive, but the original idea still glows brightly in my mind.

In fact, it’s glowing so brightly that when October rolled around and talk about National Novel Writing Month popped up on several sites, I had to rethink my belief that I have no more use for the annual event. I pulled out very early last year, and an experiment with doing some writing during the July Camp Nano didn’t work out, so it was goodbye NaNoWriMo, it was great while it lasted, but now it was time to break up.

It just proves you should never say “never.” So it’s back to NaNo because I want to get this thing done while inspiration is red-hot, and NaNo is the container that keeps it from running away and getting lost, and also the breeze that keeps fanning the flames.

The new version isn’t going to look very much like the old one, but I think it might possibly do what I originally intended — knock readers’ socks off.



Sometimes a Great Rethink

Even though I’ve been concentrating on nonfiction lately, there’s lots of fiction action going on in the background. My 2012 NaNo novel is slowly evolving into something bigger and more interesting than the original idea. The notes, the bits of dialogue and sketches for new scenes are piling up nicely.

My semi-vampire novel, Gift of the Ancien, took a big hit when someone whose judgment I trust pointed out the flaws. And they are big flaws. Huge. So it’s been completely on hold, not even creating a ripple in the brain waves for some time now. That changed today with a major insight that will probably trash most of the novel, but use some of its material in a completely different way.

For some unknown reason, I’ve been writing a bit of dystopian flash fiction lately, in between articles for Bubblews. That really isn’t a great site for fiction, and there’s every chance that the stories will be stolen, but they’re very short and off the top of my head, so no loss. I could take any one of the three and turn it into something much bigger, but I probably won’t. In the meantime, they’ve earned me a bit of money. Considering that I don’t care for flash fiction and seldom read it, making any money at all from a few amateurish attempts isn’t a bad deal.


It’s Been a While

It’s been so long since I posted here that I’m surprised to find that no one has unsubscribed. And that the blog is still getting reads. I don’t know whether the changes I’ll be talking about will affect either of those facts, but life is what it is.

The direction of my writing has changed considerably and will continue to go in a new direction. First, I won’t be writing any more slave fic, even though there are more stories to be told about Carhagen and its inhabitants. Sales have been dropping steadily; I know there’s still an audience out there if I wanted to catch its attention. There have been no Amazon sales at all this month, and if that continues through October, I’ll be retiring Hidden Boundaries, Crossing Boundaries, and Within the Silence, probably permanently. They were a big part of my learning process, as a writer, and they proved that I’m capable of writing material that people will pay for.

When I can get back to fiction again, it will be mostly near-future dystopian SF. For now, all my energy is going into nonfiction. The major part of that is the book on the death penalty. If I accomplish nothing else in my life, that’s the single most important project I need to finish and see published. The secondary, but financially important project is turning out short articles for Bubblews.

For a content aggregation site, Bubblews pays unusually well. The money I’m earning there helps defray the cost of books for research, and allows me to be more active fighting against America’s death penalty than just writing about it. Some of what I publish there is even worth reading. I may use this blog to point to an article now and then, when it’s relevant, but not very often.

I also won’t be posting here too frequently, but hopefully, more often than every two months.  So, if I’m not currently writing fiction, what will I post? That’s still up in the air, but some of the articles I write for Bubblews could be expanded. Science fiction and writing, specifically. I keep them as short as possible there because the number of writers on the site mean that any article disappears quickly. Our archives only cover the last 100 articles, so anything older takes some persistent Googling to find, assuming anyone is that interested, which I doubt.

It’s safe to say that the subject matter will be more random than it has been in the past, and it might not always appeal to people who’ve been reading the blog for some time.

Camp NaNo — Not a Good Idea

Maybe it was worth trying — pushing the book forward on Camp NaNo. But given the rules, it just couldn’t work out. Trying to ignore everything I’d already written and proceeding as if I could just tuck those fragments in where they belonged once NaNo was over turned out to be impossible. All that it would have accomplished, even if I could have managed it, would be to leave me with gaping holes, and pieces that would have to be revised in order to fit together in a way that made any sense.

I already write in what I call a patchwork or jigsaw style, but at least I can usually maintain some sense of continuity. That wasn’t possible while doing NaNo. So I withdrew yesterday, having managed to write about 2,000 words over the eight days.

The only positive result of the attempt was that it did push me into weeding out a lot of extraneous material, and organizing the whole thing into sensible chapters. Other than that, I’d have to rate Camp NaNo as a catastrophe of epic proportions.

At least I did have a brainstorm about the title. Set Me Free will now be the title of one of the chapters, and the book’s title will be Damned and Forgotten.

An Unexpected Side Trip

It was unexpected when I wrote the last post, but I made the decision shortly after that — to enter the July session of Camp NaNoWriMo. I had deleted my Nano account after last year’s realization that I couldn’t devote an entire month any more to one massive writing effort. It had reached the point where I wasn’t learning any more from it, and it just put off other work that I needed to be doing.

But I really need a push with Set Me Free, and the summer camps aren’t as high pressure. Setting a word count goal of 20,000 words (you can set your own goals in the summer) would get me well into it without being too stressful or taking so much time that I couldn’t do much of anything else.

Tomorrow is the big day. I’m not nearly as ready as I would be if I were writing a novel, so what will come out of it is probably big chunks that will have to be expanded later, and then whipped together into a coherent form.

I still have a lot of reading to do, so that will continue during the month, and with any luck, I’ll find quotes that I can use, and little bits of inspiration. This is going to be a vastly different NaNo from any that I’ve ever done, but if it works, I might just sign up again, either in the Fall or next summer, to do another nonfiction book.



On the Cusp of … Something

A few people might have noticed that I haven’t been posting here very often. I’ve taken on a lot of projects that have cut into my blogging time, but more important, I’ve gone about as far as I can go with this blog, at least in its present form. I’d probably never run out of topics, but I’m completely burned out on discussing writing and self-publishing.

So what’s next? I’ve been seriously mulling the problem for the last few days without coming up with an answer. Try to post once a month? Shut the place down? Find a new subject?

This morning, I stumbled over one of those serendipitous moments that happen every once in a while. I read a “reblogged” comment about a post on another blog. From the original blog post: “I often advise my students to avoid sharing their work with a larger audience until they are able, and willing, to create art from life, a process that requires distance or a craftsman’s care or both.”  The comment that followed: “Jenny Spinner with a fascinating consideration of narrative blogging: ‘As with the essay about my father, part of the lure of the narrative blog is that it’s written in the raw. It won’t stand still. Neither the writer nor the reader knows what’s going to happen next.’ “

There are two things going on in my life that connected with this. First, I’m working on a book about the death penalty. Second, I’ve also been writing a little bit about a relationship I have with a man on death row. I don’t know whether I will continue to work on it or whether I would ever publish it. It’s more about my feelings and how this relationship has changed my life, and how I understand it, than what we talk (write) about. I call it Meetings Before the Dark, because both of us are close to death, he by execution and me by virtue of my age.

From a purely writerly point of view, there’s a lot of good material that could be of interest to other writers. From a personal point of view, I’ve often found myself wanting to talk about it, if only to release bottled-up feelings. Maybe I could do that here, not in a confessional mode, because I’m a private person, and this would be pushing the boundaries for me. I’m also quite analytical, as my regular readers know, so there would be a great deal of analysis and contextualizing.

The over-riding context would be the American criminal justice system and its flaws. Within that, my concern is the lives of the incarcerated, particularly those who are condemned to die at the hands of the state, and how the existence of the death penalty impinges on our lives. I wouldn’t propagandize, though I’m completely opposed to the death penalty. My focus would be more philosophical and ethical.

So this is what I’m thinking about as a possible new direction for the blog. I’m sure a lot of subscribers would drop out, but that isn’t a factor in my decision. I’d be interested in feedback, of course. Yes? No? Maybe? Suggestions?



Catching Up – Again

The last few weeks have been hectic, if you can apply that word to mental states as well as physical states. With me, almost everything that’s important is mental. The biggest occupier of my mind, and my time, has been Bubblews (I still find that name totally embarrassing), but I’ve tamed the beast and have reached the tipping point where I can do less work there, and achieve more. The first major achievement was hitting the big green button for my first payout. Which will be coming next week. I’m now halfway to my second payout, which will come faster than the first due to the beast having been tamed.

During the mental hiatus known as writer’s block, I agreed to serve as a research assistant for a friend working on his Master’s degree under unusual and straitened circumstances. I’m looking forward to it even though it’s another ball to juggle.

Odd bits of serendipity combined recently to unblock another block, so I’m actively working again on Set Me Free, my nonfiction book about the death penalty. The stumbling block that I kept tripping over was trying to combine two issues in one book. So all the material about life without parole was moved elsewhere, to be developed on its own someday — I hope.

I’m beginning to tackle jobs that I’ve been avoiding, so the new covers for Hidden Boundaries and Crossing Boundaries have finally been uploaded to Smashwords and Amazon, along with edited descriptions that I hope are better than the originals.

A major revision of the short story, Someday Will Come Too Late, is just underway, so maybe I’ll be able to drag it out of its limbo state on SW and Amazon soon. Avoidance is still the byword for A Perfect Slave, but I’m beginning to feel less hopeless about getting it properly formatted. If this unusually buoyant mood that has me in its grip lasts a while, I may even see that story published.



A Little More About Trigger Warnings

Trigger warning: the trigger warning below may be upsetting to some people because it mentions castration and gang rape. You have been warned.

Trigger warning: This post is going to mention castration and gang rape.

The controversy goes on, of course. I just read an excellent article in the New Yorker that presents several perspectives and suggests that books meant to change attitudes are weakened by trigger warnings. Using James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, he says, “A trigger warning or, really, any sort of preface, would disrupt the creation of those highly pressurized, vital moments in literature that shock a reader into a higher consciousness. I cannot be the only person who believes that James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son” has the power to radically change the way all people look at race in this country—Baldwin’s brutal treatment of himself, his perfect choice of detail, and his mode of dragging the reader through Harlem elevate the story of a young man preparing himself to attend the funeral of his father to a complete, gorgeous whole. Any excess language—in the form of a trigger warning—amounts to a preëmptive defacement.”

I’ve been thinking about this problem a great deal lately because I’ve come to the conclusion that, for reasons of my own, having nothing to do with trigger warnings, I’ve shied away from delving too far into unpleasant subjects. The central character of a novel I’ve been working on for over a year is castrated as a child. Later, he is gang-raped by the police when he’s arrested for vagrancy.

Should I glide over all that, as I originally planned to, or should I present it in all its ugliness. After all, those events shape him in important ways. How can that idea be convincing without conveying the horror of what happened to him? Clearly, if the victimization trend is allowed to take hold, I would be obligated to place trigger warnings in the book’s description.

To put it into a slightly different perspective, what risks do I run if I publish the book with no warnings? I’ve seen book reviews with one star because the reader wasn’t told to expect something that they strongly object to. The question for writers is whether we are obligated to anticipate what readers will dislike or find disturbing. Suppose I include warnings for castration and rape, and someone gives the book one star because it includes a male/male love affair. It doesn’t, but I have seen books downrated for that very reason.

My final decision is to be faithful to the book and let the chips fall where they may.

Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind

Special Snowflakes?

There have been several commentaries on an article about a student government request at one of the University of California branches. It seems that we now have a generation of young people so crippled by trauma of one sort or another that they needed to be warned when heavy weather is ahead in the literature they’re expected to read. What they want is trigger warnings for each work.

I’m not going to go into the pros and cons about whether this is a good or bad thing, or about the causes for the apparent inability to deal with literature that reflects real life. That’s been done well enough.

More important is what this means for writers. Are there really so many traumatized youngsters that respecting their sensitivities should be a consideration when we write a novel or story? More crudely, can this phenomenon, if it truly exists, affect the bottom line?

My personal view is that we’re obliged to be truthful to our characters. There has never been any time when a particular book would please everyone. Modifying what we write to suit some unknown set of readers who might be offended or disturbed by it is a betrayal of ourselves and our creativity.

Moreover, I believe this is a trend that shouldn’t be encouraged. There has already been too much mindless acceptance of the victim mentality. Acknowledging that there are people out there with trauma of varying degrees of seriousness doesn’t require us to be their protectors and therapists. Part of overcoming trauma is facing it. Individuals are entitled to whatever help is available. Beyond that, they have a choice. Learn to deal with reality or hide from it.

US Students Request Trigger Warnings in Literature

And here’s an excellent blog post, by Audrey Kalman that goes into some depth. Word Up

Hounded by Facebook

Just how deep does it go when websites track you? How intrusive can they get? Deep! And intrusive. A reader mentioned Facebook in a comment on my last post. I answered to the effect that I’m not on Facebook. That was a little earlier this evening. Checking my mail a couple of minutes ago was a message from Facebook saying that they were sorry I was having problems with my account. Of course, my only problem with Facebook is that once you join, it’s pretty damn near possible to get them out of your hair, even if you close your account.

I made the mistake of joining a couple of years ago, and deleted my account almost immediately. But I’m still in their database and it seems that they have the ability to track me through WordPress and gain access to my gmail address. Will clicking on the button to unsubscribe from their emails do any good? We’ll see, but I have a vague memory of having done that once, somewhere in the dim past. One of the choices they give you as a reason for unsubscribing is that you never asked them to send you their emails. I really doubt that it matters which choice I pick, because I’ll be hearing from them again. I’d almost be willing to bet on it.



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