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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.

 

Just Curious – a bit of a rant

I was skimming around in someone’s blog list of writers and few minutes ago, and looked at one that was pretty typical in having pictures to accompany the posts. In this case, rather large pictures. The one that particularly struck me was the picture of a hand holding a pen. It reminded me how often we’re told, presumably by experts on the subject, that our blogs will be more attractive to readers if they have illustrations. Apparently, this suggestion is being taken as a rule, maybe even a law, by a lot of blogging writers. To the point where I see images that have absolutely nothing to do with writing. And even those that do, like a hand holding a pen, or just a pen, or a computer keyboard, are just taking up space. They don’t contribute anything to the blog, or to the posts they accompany.

Supposedly, images attract readers’ attention and encourage them to . . . read. So I have to ask, how many people spend their time stumbling around blogs, looking for something to read? If you’re at a writer’s blog, the chances are very good that you have a reason to be there, and that reason is to read the latest post. If you start thinking about it, it seems rather insulting to imply that people need to be hooked by pictures lest they quickly wander off. Especially other writers, or people who are interested in what writers have to say.

Are blog readers little children, who have to be coaxed by colorful pictures to spend a few minutes reading? It’s sort of like mommy playing games to get you to open your mouth for the spinach. I guess that’s it, exactly what the experts are thinking — that reading is unpleasant and you have to be tricked into it.

 

Focus, Damn it!

I’m trying to focus. It isn’t an easy job with so many WIPs pulling at me from all directions, but I’m settled for the moment. I hope. I pulled the longest story out of the prison stories collection to expand it, then publish it separately. I’ll add it back once the rest of the stories are done.

It was finished (I thought) at just under 10,000 words, but every time I go back to it I see how my spare writing works against the drama of a story. I know that I cut corners on emotional reactions and making the settings concrete, but for some reason, it just doesn’t occur to me to put them in right at the start. Maybe that’s something I’m not going to be able to change very much and will always have to work out through several drafts.

At any rate, the story is going well. I’d like to get it up to 12,000 words, but may have to settle for less. This particular story is a challenge to build out because for most of it, there are only two characters, and the others are too peripheral to add anything to it. It takes place in a secretive, top-security prison of the future. Its purpose is to hold violent criminals for the remainder of their lives, in total isolation. My usual bare-bones approach is guaranteed to kill whatever drama is inherent in that kind of situation, so I’m trying to learn not to be a story-killer.

 

 

 

Getting Back on Track

The last few weeks have been kind of chaotic, mainly because I’ve been trying to find new ways to earn some money online. So I signed up with four content sites, two of which I have now dropped. Of the other two, I’m actually returning to one. That’s Wizzley, which is extremely well-designed and a very good place to show off writing skills and do a little discreet self-promotion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay directly. You have to sign up for affiliates like Amazon or Adsense, so I’ll be using it primarily for exposure.

The other site is Bubblews, a classic content mill, which means that it’s loaded with spammers, plagiarists, and mindless fluff. But if you can get into the swing, it can pay very well. I’ve spent a lot of time there, learning the ropes and writing short pieces, and accumulating money at a rate that’s pretty rare these days for content writers. The hard part has been figuring out how to get the maximum benefit out of it, while spending the least possible amount of time, and that’s pretty much accomplished now.

So it’s now back to the more important parts of my life. That includes blogging. I did manage to keep up with Living and Dying in Prison, and it’s gaining subscribers a little faster than I anticipated. Still very slow by any reasonable measure, but for a topic that isn’t exactly high on anyone’s must-read list, it’s smoking hot. 14 subscribers in six months!

My goal for this year was to get back into publishing, and it’s just as well I didn’t make that a New Year’s resolution. So far, I haven’t done a thing. Back to work or die trying.

I’ve been doing a huge amount of reading, and the outstanding book was The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. It’s moving and memorable, and led me to read the sequel. Children of God isn’t quite as involving, but it’s still a fascinating book. Both books center on religious faith, so you know they have to have real substance for an old atheist like me to enjoy and recommend them.

One ongoing project that’s actually ongoing is a spinoff from the hand slaves novels. I’m working on two short stories from the point of view of two slave in the Alcot household. I’m posting the first draft, as I write it, on Archive of Our Own and on Live Journal. I figure if I get it out in public and people are waiting for the next chapter, I have to finish it. So far, that’s working.

I’m also making notes and jotting down bits of text for a new novel. But that project is way back in the WIPs queue and won’t get serious attention for some time.

 

 

 

Prelude to catching up

Yes, I’ve been gone too long. Spent most of the last few weeks trying out some writing sites, and doing a lot of reading. It’s been kind of chaotic, and I’m just now getting a grip on it and preparing to buckle down to writing again. If I wake up in the right mood tomorrow, there will be a lengthy post.

Historical Fiction: Getting the Words Right

I enjoy history, but I’ve never gone into depth in any era or historical subject. I’m usually content to know the general outlines, pick up a few interesting details, and leave the rest. I’m also lazy. Disciplined, organized research is beyond my concentration abilities, so when I write in any depth about a subject, it’s because I’ve gradually absorbed so much information over the years and I’ve also accumulated a ton of articles about it. Those articles are a resource that I can draw on without too much extra effort.

I would never write a historical novel. I wouldn’t dare. Because it isn’t just about facts, which are comparatively easy to come by if you know how to do research. It’s also about language, and if you’re not a native, there is always the possibility that you are going to be tripped up somewhere along the line. The rhythm, the vocabulary, particularly the slang, and the differences in speech when you’re portraying people of different social classes — all of these are land mines waiting to go off under your feet.

When I read a novel that takes place in a different time period from mine, or in a different nation, I don’t know enough to be critical of the research. Unless there are very obvious anachronisms that even a casual reader can identify, I’m quite happy to be drawn in by the feeling that I’m now in a different world, even if it isn’t as accurate as keen-eyed critics would prefer.

I recently discovered K.J. Charles’ historical male/male novels. They’re romances, which seems unavoidable these days, but what I enjoy about them is that the world her characters live in is fascinating, and the characters themselves are complex and realistic.

For an interesting discussion of historical fiction, read Charles’ Anachronism and Accuracy: Getting it Right in Historical Novels.

 

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