Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Okay, I Think I'm Ready

Playlists? Check.
Tools? Check.
A rough idea of the first two chapters? Check.
Food? Enough until the weekend, at least.

I've slept four hours since I got home this morning, and I'm taking the night off work to get a jump on my word count. Hopefully I'll be able to stay up and get this off on the right foot.

If anyone's made it to my blog via the NaNo boards, I'll be online most of the night as long as I can get WiFi down in the basement where I'm going to be hiding. I'm trying to keep my nocturnal activities from keeping anyone else awake.

My AIM name is JackFrostSA, if anyone wants to bitch, moan, gloat, brainstorm or take a break with me. I'll probably be desperate for human contact after a few hours. I'll see some of you at Finnegan's Wake for the kickoff party Friday night at 7, as well.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NaNoWriMo Preparedness Plan

Before NaNo starts:

Bounce (techno, soundtracks, etc)
Chill (Vintage Chill, Elemental Chill, etc)
Ambient (From Here to Tranquility, etc)
Dark (October Language, Ghosts on Magnetic Tape)

PENS EVERYWHERE (fountain, rollerball, calligraphy)
Ink Cartridges
Scrap Paper
Fiction manuals (I could build a fort with these)
Mechanical pencils
Extra chair cushion

During NaNo:

Low-cal Soup
Bottled Water
1% Milk
Lunchmeat and vegetables (turkey, cucumber and hummus sandwiches)

Approved Break Activities:
Updating Blog
NaNo boards
Playing with Ranger
Reading short fiction
Reading fiction manuals
Meeting NaNo participants

Monday, October 29, 2007

Of Zombies and Acceptance Letters

I had an interesting time this past weekend. What I had built up in my mind as being a pretty mediocre afternoon actually turned out to be a lot of fun, and I met some very nice authors as well.

We were supposed to leave for Zombie Fest 2007 early on Saturday afternoon, shortly after we finished our walk and got ready. Unfortunately, we ended up spending an hour or so rearranging our plans, waiting for people who ultimately went AWOL and generally bitching and moping around the house. By the time we were ready to pick up our friends who weren’t vanishing on us, it was already 2:30 and, by that point, the $15 price of admission was too high for me to justify. Or at least it was starting to become that way. I have a tendency to get anxious if I stray from an itinerary too much, and we had already missed the first two authors’ groups that were doing readings and Q&A sessions at the convention. I was thoroughly disgusted. Still, I couldn’t just back out and let everyone else down so I resigned myself to spending way too much money for both my and Eric’s admission.

It was almost 4:00 by the time we got a quick dinner and made it to the convention, and I saw a lot of vendors set up, showcasing everything from new horror-themed board games to DVD-Rs of old sleaze films. Score. I managed to pick up Ringu: Kanzen-Ban (the original Ringu made-for-TV movie) sans subtitles, a bunch of older horror fiction and pop culture magazines and some other odds and ends without breaking the bank. Kim and Daniel, the couple Eric and I brought with us (who are wonderfully nuts) got their faces painted and wandered around talking to all the zombie movie actors.

Eric and I spent a lot of time just browsing the booths, talking to the “zombie killer” survivalists and giggling over the bootlegs of Turkish Star Wars. There were a few publishers present, including Raw Dog Screaming Press, but aside from asking them if I could take some of their brochures and whatnot I was too shy to talk to them. That’s my theme for cons, actually; go somewhere you have a great deal of interest in and then refuse to talk because you’re too self-conscious. I really need to shake off that habit, it’s fairly annoying and isn’t helpful to me at all.

I ended up talking with Edward Holsclaw II, one of the three authors left for the 6:00 reading and Q&A. I felt a bit shy still, but I tried to carry the conversation as best I could. It’s nice to get to talk to people a bit more successful than I, to get a picture of where I could be in a few years if I keep my momentum up. I think it would be pretty awesome to have a table at a convention, but it looks like it’s hard work as well.

Eventually Eric and I sat down and watched a bit of Night of the Living Dead and waited for the reading to start. I sucked on lollipops our friends over at the Kawaii Gifts table gave us as Halloween treats and read old issues of Giant Robot and Black October while Eric sat in front of me, watching the movie and trying to ignore me kicking the back of his seat every twenty to thirty seconds.

After a brief announcement the readings started. First off was Kim Paffenrath with a passage from his new novel, a sequel to his zombie tale Dying to Live. In it, a young girl living in a survivors’ encampment assists her mother in a birth that goes bad. I was touched by how raw and emotional it was and how well a male author captured three women interacting during a crisis. Once NaNo is over I’d like to pick up Dying to Live.

Second was Gary Braunbeck with his Stoker-winning short story We Now Pause for Station Identification. In brief, this is a story about a man working as a disc jockey hiding in his booth while the dead rise and return to their old lives, only to sprout vines and root themselves to the spot. This one blew me away, not only for its content but its presentation. It was like listening to an audio book live, and a quick sideways glance confirmed Eric’s attention was snagged as well. Hearing impairment be damned, he was rapt. He even wanted the audio CD at the end of the night, but neither of us had cash on hand and the ATM at the ExpoMart charges extra for withdrawals. I’d already spent enough, as well.

Coming in last was the author I’d already spoken with briefly, Edward Holsclaw II. He first read a short passage from his novel Origins: Unknown where his main character, a man searching for his family after a biological catastrophe sweeps the planet, tries to cross the country while escorting a little orphaned girl. He stops for supplies at a convenience store and finds a dead pregnant woman has given birth to a zombie child, and he now has to sadly dispatch with it. After this he read a short Native American-themed monster story from his short fiction collection Twist of Fate.

Afterwards came the Q&A, and I could feel Eric glancing over at me, nudging my leg and squeezing my hand. The only problem was that I didn’t come to the convention with any burning questions to ask, but sitting there I felt there were a few things I could learn from them with the brief time I had left before the night was over. So, due to his urging, I asked about the state of small press horror publishers compared to what it was ten years ago, and they basically told me that the publishers that vanished were short-lived to begin with. The older magazines are still around, but unfortunately (in my eyes anyway) they’re much harder to get into because of the fierce competition. Some of these magazines receive 400 unsolicited manuscripts a month, which is somewhat intimidating to me.

After my question I noticed Eric going for the microphone and I cringed a bit. He’s said some somewhat embarrassing things in public before, and while he hasn’t done anything like that recently I still have trouble getting it out of my mind. I should really give him a lot more credit than I do, because he routinely catches me off guard with questions, comments and intelligent discussions I should probably expect from him but don’t. Tonight was one of those times, and he asked them if they thought that digital or otherwise non-written mediums of horror could be considered art, and cited a recent email discussion between Roger Ebert and Clive Barker. I was pleasantly surprised by him, and a little proud. The general consensus was ‘no,’ by the way, and I’m surprised Eric wasn’t offended by that. As we left he went off to talk to Mr. Braunbeck about horror games and his story and other things, and I wandered off to find Dan and Kim. I was thoroughly beat, from the long exercise walk and the convention itself, and after a quick trip to Best Buy I went to bed. Eric went with Dan to a Halo party and apparently got thrashed. He was still delighted to go, and was practically beaming as he woke me up on his return.

The best thing about the day, however, was that I got an email from Terry D. Sheerer, the editor of Horrotica, an online horror fiction digest. I’d submitted The Woman Without to them a few weeks ago, and once they’ve done a small amount of formatting and editing they’d like to publish it. It won’t be until the issue after next, in the January-February 2008 edition. Despite being non-paying and online, this is still a big victory for me. I have one more publication under my belt, which will plump up my credentials a bit. And this story has deserved a home for years.

I don’t think I could have asked for a better weekend, really. Now I’ve got to put my nose to the grindstone, cleaning the house and outlining my NaNo plot. I’d like everything to be clean and organized before I begin, and there’s only three days left.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh, Those Countdown Jitters

So, NaNo’s almost upon us and I need to set some terms to keep me focused. I have a tendency to abandon projects when they take too long or become too difficult and, to be honest, that’s one of the things I really want to change about myself that I haven’t gotten to yet. I give up too easily, way too easily, and if I’m ever going to make something of myself in the literary world I’m going to have to develop not only discipline but also perseverance.

With that idea in mind, I’ve decided to give myself a set of conditions that I MUST adhere to. If I make it, I’m picking up the Garmin eTrex Legend Bonus Pack from Best Buy that I’ve been eyeballing for a couple months. I’m dying to get into geocaching but until now I’ve satisfied my curiosity through websites like and the Podcacher podcast. I’d like to actually go out and do it before it gets too cold, but the clock is ticking and there isn’t much time left in the year. I love my exercise hour, and I love walking, but I think spending that time hiking around searching for things would make it a lot more fun. Also, it’s something cheap Eric and I can do together that doesn’t involve sitting around in front of a TV/monitor or eating. Zoning out and stuffing my face are what got me to the breaking point to begin with, now I just want to get out and be active.

Now, for the hard part. What if I lose? I don’t plan on losing, even if I have to furiously pound at the keys until I’m down to three hours of sleep a night. It’s a possibility, but I’m going to fight until I can no longer fight to get it done. If I don’t, though, how do I punish myself? I thought I could send money to Focus on the Family, but Eric told me he would kick my ass if I threw out our savings like that. So, should it be something despicable but non-monetary? I had originally thought that I could motivate myself by threatening to vote for the worst possible Presidential candidate, but they haven’t even been narrowed down yet. I’d be delaying the negative effects for almost a year. So, there’s only one last threat to make.

If I, Jessica Brown, do not meet the requirements necessary to win NaNoWriMo, I’ll have pictures taken of myself and they will be posted online. Terrible pictures. Underwear pictures. Possibly… homegrown. First, I want to let anyone who’s reading this (all two of you) know that I don’t take pictures of myself. I haven’t since I was young. Even when I was in peak physical shape I hated photographs of myself. There are no pictures in existence of me in my high school cap and gown. None. My drivers’ license expired at the end of September and it’s now the 25th of October and I haven’t renewed it because I am terrified of having my photo taken. I think this will make a perfect motivator for my short attention span ass.

I’m renewing my license tomorrow, by the way. Even if I have to have someone physically shove me into the DMV office.

I went to the library yesterday. It was the first time I’ve been there in nearly ten years, and it’s been completely rearranged. There have been additions to the building, the departments have moved and the entrance is in a completely new spot. The floors, the carpets, the furniture, everything’s been replaced. The last time I was at the library there were two computers available to use, and they were on dialup with text-only displays. I used to go there to look up information for small press publishers. Oh, how the times have changed. It didn’t hit me until I showed up last week to get a new library card that I’ve missed that place so much.

I’d probably live there if I weren’t paying twenty-five cents every half hour for parking. I was only there for a short while yesterday, just to pick up Clive Barker’s novel The Great and Secret Show. I sat down to read it a bit before checking it out but not two minutes after my butt hit the chair than a lady brought an older woman over and sat her down across from me. Everything was fine until an older man started wandering around behind me and the woman kept going “Where are you going? What are you doing?” It wasn’t really annoying me, but my attention span is so poor that I kept finding myself reading the same paragraph over and over and unable to comprehend it beyond recognizing the words as being in English. Next time I’m going to have to bring my earphones.

It’s been suggested to me that I consider medication again. I was diagnosed with ADHD, and then later on simply ADD, at the age of five and didn’t stop using medication until my late teens or early twenties. I won’t deny that some medications, like Ritalin, did me a world of good at times. It didn’t always work, but some years it was a great help. However, I remember a time in the eighth grade that I wanted to kill myself and it turns out that the medication I’d been on that year (Dexedrine) has that effect on a lot of people. I’ve since become reluctant to medicate myself or even consult a psychiatrist, since most visits with a professional were just me sitting down, telling them how my month went, and getting a prescription. I didn’t feel like I was improving, and now I don’t think there’s anything to improve, really, aside from my attention span. I think the only way I’m going to be able to beat it is by forcing myself to adhere to a rigid structure, keeping a strict writing/reading schedule and continuing to write regardless of the quality of my output. It can all be edited later, but I need to write first to get to that point. I think getting out of the house and taking my laptop with me to the library might be the best thing for me. I might need to scout out other places to park, though, and I’ll have to start a strict walking schedule as well so I can get everything done in a day.

So, when I get home, I’ll be going to lunch and heading out to the library with my writing gear in tow. If this works out I’ll probably end up spending the entire month of November there.

A short list of things I need to have done by Wednesday, at the latest:

Find a suitable notebook (done, I think, but you can never have too many).
Outline your plot (I don’t want to talk about that right now).
Come up with a suitable playlist or two of inspiring music.
Write out a schedule to follow that allows for exercise, writing and chore times.
Read some stuff to get the creative juices flowing (NOT your “fiction manuals,” for chrissakes).

I think this has been enough fussing for one day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rejection Slips and the Lamenting of Passing Markets

I’ve mentioned before that I have only four manuscripts out. Yes, that’s right. Four. I know it doesn’t seem like many, but I’m coming up with new things daily and I’m building upon those at the same time I’m trying to find a home for my finished work. I get to experience a little bit of each stage of the small press publishing process all at the same time and it feels kind of nice. This isn’t some sort of special routine, though, as I’m fairly sure that most (if not all) competent and disciplined writers operate this way.

I got my first few rejection slips this week. I feel kind of odd about them.

The first was from McSweeney’s. My short detective fiction story, In My Office, was apparently not a good fit. I should probably have researched a bit more before I submitted, as they are more of a publisher of conceptual humor than anything else. I’ve resubmitted it to a neat British website of classic and new short fiction called East of the Web.

Tabard Inn liked my short suicide jumper story Commute. Unfortunately, it was too “ordinary” and wasn’t of questionable taste. I really like this rejection slip, simply because Mr. Bruni commented on the story itself and the ending in particular. I really appreciate it when I get more than a “no” or a form letter. I can handle a simple rejection, but this slip implies to me that my competence isn’t the issue, and also that if I write something a bit bawdier I might be able to find a home for it here. I think I’m going to buy Issue Two of this magazine, just because I like it so much. And the editor/owner signs the inside covers of the copies to make it a bit more personal. A nice touch, I think.

The Woman Without, my lesbian succubus “erotic horror” story (and the predecessor to my NaNo idea) is still out for consideration at Horrotica, as is The Orchard at Talebones. I’m looking forward to hearing back from these publishers.

It seems to me that a lot of horror small press magazines have gone missing in the interim years that I neglected to write. Shadow Feast, home to my story Shika: The High Price of Life, is gone as is Wicked Mystic, the magazine that went from Xerox-grade digest to glossy-covered behemoth. The Nocturnal Lyric has gone to annual and all those small startups that were in past editions of the Novel and Short Story Writers’ Market have vanished. I feel bad. All this I could have had played a part in, even if it was just to receive a rejection slip, and it’s gone. I’m happy to see that The Nocturnal Lyric is still kicking, though. I believe my first story ever was published there.

And now, onto something a bit more personal and a whole lot more frustrating.

I can’t outline a plot for shit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a novel or a short story. I can come up with characters and an idea of what happens, at least the beginning and the end, but all that happens in the interim is blank. When I go to put the story down on paper, once I get past where I’ve developed the plot, I either freeze or I keep going and turn it into absolute dreck. I hate it. This is going on right now with two stories I’m working on, three if you count Pages, the story I put down a couple weeks ago to focus shorter writing exercises. Unfortunately, the so-called shorter stories took on lives of their own and are now stalling out on me. I’m about to introduce aliens hiding inside pumpkins in the form of mold in one story, but I can’t decide on why they’re even there, how they communicate or how to get rid of them. In the other, I’ve managed to take my two underage-looking vampire girls to Hong Kong in pursuit of pedophiles to snack on, eventually hoping to get them to rural Thailand, but they’re stuck in a nighttime ghetto after getting off a human trafficker’s ship. Yesterday’s wonderful suicide website idea is still in the planning stages because I’ll be damned if I let this one get waylaid by poor planning. That and Eric, my boyfriend and strongest supporter, thinks it would make a great novel. I’m still sold on the short story idea but we’ll see how it works itself out.

T-minus one week until the start of NaNo and my novel idea isn’t completely fleshed out, either. I’m not especially worried about that because part of the draw of something like NaNo is that I will be focused on quantity over quality, with an opportunity to edit later on. I suppose I could do this with everything I write, but I prefer a bit more discipline and a whole lot less free-form rambling. Without discipline I’d never get anything done. I’ve learned that the hard way.

I’ve also noticed how little time I actually have. How am I supposed to work all night, exercise, brainstorm, write, read fiction manuals AND fiction for pleasure and get enough time to sleep a decent amount before lathering, rinsing and repeating? Am I going to have to cut out all extra activities, like reading the news or sending Instant Messages? Am I going to have to cut back on my sleep and run the risk of passing out at my desk at 4 AM like I used to? Should I start up a meth habit just to get this all done?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Let's Pretend They're Not Really Killing Themselves

I find myself becoming more and more attracted to the idea of suicide as a plot device. Two weeks ago I turned a writing exercise into a short piece on suicide jumpers, and today I’m outlining a longer story based off the Japanese phenomenon of suicide websites.

There’s something inherently creepy the taking of one’s own life, and it’s perfect to throw a bunch of “what if” questions at. What if these people weren’t actually doing it to themselves? What if it was something on the website? What if it was a ghost? Is it possible to influence people to commit suicide by manipulating their emotions? Actually, now that I think about it, both the short story/audio book and the film 1408 did it rather well. So yes, if a room can force people to terminate themselves with no lengthy back-story, so can a website. Now, to keep it from being hokey, that’s going to be the hard part.

Suspicions Confirmed on Suicide Site's Involvement in Group Deaths

I found this story while perusing the Mainichi Shimbun’s new website. It’s a dual-language Japanese newspaper that tends to translate more sensationalist news items. It’s stuffed to the gills with potential story ideas, and I often print small stacks of articles to take home and browse. They’ve recently split from MSN, so their archives from previous years aren’t available at the moment. I’ve been reading the site off and on for several years, and between the news and Japanese novels and film I’ve noticed a trend going on. People in Japan kill themselves openly a lot more often than we do here, and it’s being done more and more in groups. With a large portion of them, even if the final act is done in private, a lot of the planning stage is done online with a group of like-minded people. I’ve read a number of articles where people who don’t even know each other meet in person and then go off to die together. It’s quite an unnerving idea for me.

So here’s the big “Let’s Pretend” for today. Let’s pretend this isn’t suicide. Let’s pretend something is making this happen. What is it? A monster, a ghost, a psychic? Do we even need to know, specifically, what it is? For now, at least as I outline this story, I’m content with a rather ambiguous antagonist. I want this to have a very personal, frightening feel. I want to have convincing, three-dimensional people falling into this bizarre online “trap.”

I’m finding it hard to be content with myself anymore unless I’m busy. If I’m not writing, I’m reading fiction manuals. If I’m not reading fiction manuals, I’m out walking, and if I’m not out walking I’m doing laundry or cleaning the fish tanks or trying to read fiction for pleasure. This busy feeling is an odd thing, considering how long I spent wasting time indiscriminately. Being busy feels kind of nice. It makes me appreciate the time I do get to spend doing the little things that make me happy.

Apparently writing about suicides makes me happy. I’m not sure what that says about me.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pulling Yourself Out is Hard to Do

This year, after nearly a decade of nothing, I managed to reverse a bit of the damage I've done to myself. I can't buy back the years I wasted with gluttony and non-productivity, but I can kick myself into overdrive in an attempt to catch up. That is what I am doing, and that is the purpose of this blog.

I grew up loving stories. I would beg my parents to make things up to entertain me, whether as a bedtime treat or to keep boredom at bay during car rides. At twelve I started writing my own ghost stories, and by middle school I kept a notebook on me at all times. I was first published by a small press my senior year in high school. I remember, late in the school year, getting my first acceptance slip the same day I received my college acceptance letter.

I wrote for a couple more years and then, in my early twenties, I stopped. I stopped writing, I stopped reading, I stopped exercising. I stopped planning for my future. I can't pinpoint the exact cause of all this. I wish I could. I wish I could blame it on deadbeat boyfriends or the crappy teachers I had at school, but ultimately it's entirely my fault. This bothers me because I still can't figure out why I would give up so many things that were important to me, and for seemingly no reason at all.

Earlier this year, I found I had doubled my body weight. I was no longer reading or writing fiction, I was in debt, I was depressed and I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Again, all of this for reasons unknown to me. It was then that I decided I was going to stop marching towards the cliff I'd inevitably end up throwing myself off of. I'd get my act together and shape up or die.

I'm fifty pounds lighter today and as of this afternoon I have four manuscripts out right now. I know that doesn't sound like much, and it's not, but it's a momentum building within me that I don't think I could slow or stop if I wanted to. And I don't.

On to the present. The real purpose of this blog is, in addition to the daily writing exercises I put myself through, to sharpen my writing skills. I'm pleased at what I am writing but I also fear I may have atrophied. Seven years is a long time to be away from something you love.

I'm also using this blog as a means to keep track of my goals. National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us. I used to think it was the stupidest idea ever, back when I was someone who USED to write short fiction. I realize now that I was quite jealous of people for no good reason. They were doing it, while I was laying in bed staring at the ceiling fantasizing about I could be doing but wasn't. I could have participated any year I wanted to, but I was afraid. I was afraid of failure so I just didn't do it. Illogical, I know. This year I'm going to treat it as an extended, month-long writing exercise and see what I come up with. I'm planning on writing a novel based on a short story I wrote ages ago (and have sent out again) called The Woman Without. I've already met some participants in Pittsburgh who seem pretty cool. When all is finished, I hope to have a big lump of first draft garble to polish and a handful of new friends. It's no fun being lonely, I've discovered.

Until then, I hope to have at least two more short stories finished by Halloween. I'm about 1200 - 1500 words into both of them but they've stalled out a bit. Between brainstorming and reading the stack of fiction guides I have I might be able to meet this goal. Here's hoping.