Monday, October 31, 2016

Another NaNo Upon Us

Here we are, once again on the cusp of November, which means it's time to ask two questions:

-How the hell did October go by so fast? and
-Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

(On the odd chance someone is reading this who has no idea what NaNoWriMo is, follow the above link; or, here's the nutshell: a national program in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November)

It seems every year I approach November with that same, doubt-filled post: To NaNo, or not to NaNo, that is the question. Some years, I've done it. Some, I haven't. I succeeded on my first attempt (2010, though the folks at NaNo seem to have lost that record) and my last attempt (2014). I failed to break the 20K mark in 2011, and I don't have any other records in my history, which is strange, because I know I've tried on at least one other occasion. Oh, well.

The first criteria for committing to NaNo is whether I have a project or not. This year, it turns out that I do, sort of. Now, in looking at the 'rules' for NaNo, it doesn't exactly say you have to start at the beginning of your novel, and the folks at NaNo seem to be pretty flexible in their interpretation of the rules. My WiP is currently sitting at 57,292 words (hey, I've won! ). But it's not done. Based on my past history, my first drafts typically end up around 105-110,000 words, and there's no reason to believe this one will be any different. Hmmm.

The real question now becomes, "Can I add 50,000 words to this in the next thirty days?" It's only 1,667 words per day, if I write every day. Hell, on Saturday morning, I squeezed out 1597 words in the space of about two-and-a-half hours--and then added another 509 in commercial breaks and in between periods of the Boston-Detroit hockey game (seriously, I'm sometimes amazed at how fast the words will come). I can hear Agent Carrie saying "Imagine what would happen if you were really working on this, four solid hours a day?" Indeed, that would be wonderful, but alas, life gets in the way, and those thirty days of November get chewed up mighty fast. Looking ahead at the calendar, thirty becomes twenty-eight, because we have to spend two days driving to pick up and drop off the Catbird for Thanksgiving break. And then there's my organization's annual dinner. So we're already down to 27 days, or 1852 words.

And then, I also hear Agent Carrie whispering, "What about the RiP?" Yes, the RiP. The RiP needs some RiPping, so it can get back out in the world and be sold and make it so that I can work four hours a day plus on the WiP--and I can't say for sure how much more work the RiP is actually going to take (not 50,000 new words, thankfully).

So, after all that, where do I stand? Well, I certainly like the idea of NaNo-ing the WiP to completion. On the other hand, the RiP is more important. So it looks like the more sensible goal is to sit out NaNo, aim to have the RiP back in Carrie's hands by the end of November at the latest, and maybe turn December into DecNoWriMo.

What about you? Will you be back in the NaNo game?

Two other things before I go: Check out Agent Carrie's blog later today, or tomorrow, as she is expecting to post her latest Query Critique Winner. If you're like many writers who struggle with writing an effective query letter, Carrie's insights can be very helpful.

Second, maybe it's because Bob Dylan just won himself a Nobel Prize for Literature, or maybe it's something in my mood, but I just can't get the song "Visions of Johanna" out of my head. And, because this is me, I'm particularly partial to this version performed by the Grateful Dead way back in 1986. The lyrics are a little hard to make out at times, but I find it to be a rather powerful performance (and Garcia was unusually animated for this period of time). Have a great week!

Monday, October 24, 2016

It's Not Just About Trump

More than thirty years ago I had to make one of the first decisions of my semi-adult life: which political party should I join? After much consideration, I registered Republican.

This decision was not made lightly. It was not made without a great deal of thought. Back then, there were some issues where I leaned right, and issues where I leaned left, and plenty of issues where I didn't care a whole lot one way or the other, but I had to make a choice, so I made one. The decision was made both rationally and irrationally (rational: on the issues that were most important to me at the time, I leaned right. Rational: registering as an independent would mean I couldn't vote in the primaries. Rational: I thought I might want a county job and I lived in a Republican dominated county. See? I was cynical even then. Irrational: my father was a Republican. Irrational: I wrote a letter to President Nixon during the energy crisis and got a letter and a neat little book).

Over the years, I've pulled the lever (and, now, filled in the circle with the pen and fed the ballot through the scanner; this is much less satisfying than the loud ka-thunk of a mechanical voting machine) for Republicans and Democrats alike, for every office from President down to Town Clerk. I've tried to be informed about my choices, and I've never been a person who votes simply by pulling the lever for any candidate with an 'R' after their name. Party, to me, has always been less important than the person running for office. I was a Republican, but hardly the card-carrying, sign waving, campaign contributing type.

And now it's time to get off the bus.

This is not about Donald Trump. Or, mostly, not about Donald Trump. In a certain way, Trump's ascendance to the role as Republican standard bearer is a sign that the system isn't broken, that it's working as intended. The people spoke, the Party swallowed and said, "Yeah, okay, he's our guy. We don't like him, but we can't change the rules." (And here's a note to the still-smarting "Bernie Bros" out there: the DNC was against you, but the rules is the rules. Don't complain about not being able to vote in a Democratic primary if you're an Independent or a Green or a Working Families if your state doesn't allow it. House Rules work great in Monopoly, but not in an election) We can trace the rise of Tump to the rise of Newt Gingrich back in the 90s, which, coincidentally, is around the time I first started thinking, "Why am I a Republican?"

Some time ago I wrote in this space about change, and my belief that, in general, people in the real world change slowly. My change from Republican to Democrat has been thirty years in the making. Who has changed? I think it's both of us. The things that brought me to the Republicans in the first place are no longer as important to me, while other issues are more important. And of the issues that weren't issues for me then? I consistently find myself on the other side of them. As I've gotten older, I've moved to the left. At the same time, the Republican Party has been moving further to the right. I am not the same, but neither is the Republican Party I signed on for all those years ago.

The final straw for me was not Trump standing there smugly in Cleveland in July. It was reading the Republican Party platform. As much as I can agree with certain Republican principles (fiscal conservatism, smaller, less intrusive government), there is so much in here to object to. If allowed, the Republicans would:

-attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, either by judicial review or constitutional amendment returning abortion control to the state;
-attempt to overturn same sex marriage;
-allow individuals and business to discriminate against same sex couples under the guise of religious freedom;
-ignore the preponderance of scientific evidence regarding climate change and would also gut environmental protections offered by the EPA, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act;
-remove women from combat roles and infantry battalions;
-replace "'family planning' programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior";
-push this country further toward what I think of as Judeo-Christian sharia.

Maybe some of you have read this and you say, "Yeah! I'm all for it! What's your beef?" To me, this document, this policy statement, is just not reflective of the modern world, which is in keeping with the platform writers' statement that "We believe the Constitution was written not as a flexible document, but as our enduring covenant." Welcome to 1789, folks.

Maybe it is just me. Maybe if I went back and read the Republican platform from when I registered to vote, I would find the same thing. Either way, I'm glad I changed. And when this election is over, I will be changing my voter registration.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Musing

I was heading for another "confessional post." Though it's been partially drafted, it's not ready and I don't have the time (or stomach) to get it ready for this week. Instead, we get random bits of whatever.

-Walking the dog in the morning, I'm still not used to the fact that it's largely dark until right around seven (this week). Autumn seems to come on fast in this part of the world. I'll enjoy it while I can.

- Speaking of walking the dog, I took this picture yesterday afternoon while walking the dog. I kind of like it.

-Debate number 3 is coming up this week. Another thing I'm not sure I have the stomach for. Have you noticed (not to get too political here, but I can't help myself) that Donald Trump's rhetorical strategy of late seems to boil down to "I'm rubber, you're glue"? After the "locker room banter" incident, it was "Bill Clinton said far worse." John McCain is "foul mouthed." (I can't even figure out where that comes from) Hillary Clinton "has hate in her heart." Now, after two debate performances that have had some jokingly (and others seriously) suggest Trump is using cocaine, he wants to take a drug test. Enough of that.

-Making only sporadic progress on the RiP and the WiP this past week/weekend. Going through the RiP, I'm finding some stuff that I can't believe got through to submission stage. Yeesh.

That's about all I've got this week; how's things with you?


Monday, October 10, 2016

In Which I Make a Horrible Admission: Locker Room Banter

(Author's note: I wrote this piece yesterday in Writers' Circle. I'm very much troubled by the recently-unearthed audio of Donald Trump on the "Access Hollywood" bus with Billy Bush. This has been very difficult to write, and pressing the "Publish" button is a little scary. I fear I may not have articulated things that well. Let's hope I have.)

Words matter. Words have the potential to influence the thinking of others, to change their actions and behaviors, maybe even their lives. But sometimes words are just words, not uttered or written with any particular intent beyond entertainment. They're used to funny, or to shock, or to gain attention. Whether we're aiming for influence or just throw-away entertainment, we still need to think about what we say, how we say it, and to whom.
Image from Wikipedia

I'm a guy. I hope this comes as no surprise to you after all this time. And as a guy, I've engaged in my fair share of locker room banter. Also golf course gabbing. Barroom bombast. I have told--and laughed at--jokes that cover every -ist and -ism out there. Racist, sexist, misogynist? Been there. I have slurred and slandered, engaged in stereotyping and objectification. Gay bashing? That, too. In certain situations with certain people, this side of me comes out.

I say all of this not because I'm proud of it. I'm not. I say this not to excuse it, because there's no excusing it. I say this because it's simply the truth. And the other truth is, in the right setting with the right people, I will almost certainly engage in "locker room banter" again. It's the simple truth of the matter.

What would you do if you heard me say these things? Would you become angry, tell me off, then leave and tell everyone you know that I'm an utter ass? Perhaps you would chuckle politely, then change the subject and find an excuse to leave soon thereafter, never to see me by choice again. Or maybe you'd join in with gusto. It depends on what kind of person you are. What will you do now that I've confessed these things to you? Will you comment? Stop following? Spread it far and wide on Twitter and Facebook and bring the hammer of Internet Outrage down upon my head? It all depends on what kind of person you are.

And now we come to Donald Trump. The recently-unearthed "Access Hollywood" clip has Trump bragging about putting the moves on a married woman, just kissing women, whether invited or not, and that as a rich, famous person, he can do whatever the hell he wants. Trump has brushed all of this off as locker room banter, and, in his typical fashion, has used his best second grade "I know you are, but what am I" rhetorical style to say that Bill Clinton is far, far worse (and he may well be, but this is not about Bill Clinton).

Do we let Donald Trump off the hook for his ten-year-old crudities on the "Access Hollywood" bus, or for the things he's said while guesting on the Howard Stern show five, ten, or twenty years ago? Do accept his excuse that he was just playing a role, or playing up (or down, as the case may be) to a particular crowd, and that it doesn't reflect who he is as a person? At this point,

And what's my excuse? What's the difference between me and Trump on this (besides the millions of dollars and millions in audience, that is)? I'd like to believe the difference is that one of us means what he says, and puts it into action, while the other is just engaging in locker room banter. I can tell you that I have never forcibly kissed a woman or put my hands on one uninvited. Nor would I. Meanwhile, there's mounting evidence that Trump's words to Billy Bush were not just him being "braggadocious." The allegations that continue to surface about Trump--from former business partners, from cast and crew of "The Apprentice," from contestants in the various pageants he has run--indicate that he these are not mere words.

Locker room banter is not going to go away. Men and women (but mostly men, I suspect) will continue to engage in it, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that--provided it remains just that: banter. Words, not action, exagerration, not reality.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Reading List (The Third)

Well, well, it's another sheet torn off the old wall calendar, and not just any month, but September. That means another quarter of the year gone, and that means it's time for the reading report! If you want to see what else I've read this year, here's Part I and Part II. But before we do that, let's have a quick peek at the old American chestnut growing on my lawn. On the left is a picture taken earlier in the week:

That picture on the right is a bit blurry, and lacks my hand for scale, but there was clearly a bit more growth put in between July and September. There won't be much growth going on now; hopefully the tree to be will make it through the winter. And now, on to the reading list!

Hyperart: Thomasson, Genpei Akasegawa (2010). Read this one at the urging of the Magpie, and it was amusing. Started early in quarter 2, put it aside for a while, then finished it off. Some day, I'll explain what a Thomasson is, but that day is not this one.

Born On A Tuesday, Elnathan John (2016). Strong debut novel about a young boy in Nigeria growing up among social and religious upheaval.

The Fireman, Joe Hill (2016). Joe Hill is good.

The Revenant: A Novel Of Revenge, Richard Punke (2002). I haven't seen the movie yet, but I found the ending rather disappointing and a bit anti-climatic.

End Of Watch, Stephen King (2016). Though I thought the middle book (Finders Keepers) was the best, this was satisfying way to wrap up the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, though it did veer a bit off the straight up detective story formula of the first two.

Everybody's Fool, Richard Russo (2016). Russo writes with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but I found this sequel lacked the warmth of the original.

Nobody's Fool, Richard Russo (1993) Re-read because it was hanging around and I wanted to compare it with the above. Russo nails life in a down-at-the-heels upstate New York town, and the banter between protagonist Sully and his frenemy, Carl Roebuck is pitch-perfect. This could be a desert island book.

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker (2012). The earth's rotation begins to slow down, bringing unexpected, catastrophic changes. Very well done book, though I wasn't entirely sure if I was reading an adult book with a young protagonist or a YA book. It crossed the line back and forth a few times.

The Stand, Stepehn King (1980). Re-read. Still enjoyable after all these years, but the cracks are beginning to show. Do women really refer to themselves as "Stu's woman" or "Larry's woman"?

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (2013). Great concept of a woman living her life over and over again, but can best be summed up by this exchange late in the book: "What if we had the chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?" "I think it would be exhausting."

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (2002). A multi-generational epic that covers the Greek expulsion from Turkey, incest, the immigrant experience, and gender identity, and still manages to be entertaining.

Heat & Light, Jennifer Haigh (2016). Gas drilling comes to a small Pennsylvania town, changing everything. Overall good, but I think Haigh should have trimmed the cast of characters back and gone deeper than she did.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (2014). Picked up off the Catbird's bookshelf. Wow. Just, wow.

Thirteen books for the second quarter in a row, bringing my total for the year to 34. It's funny, too, because I felt like there was a slowdown somewhere in there, but I guess not. I have succeeded in reading newer (5 books published this year). One of these days I'll look at the diversity issue, too. But not today. That needs more space and time than what I've got right now. So--what's on your reading list?