Monday, October 27, 2008

The Writer's Little Helper - "The Nugget"

In forty words or so, write down what your novel is about.
In the Teahouse
Horror/Dark Fantasy
A young woman watches as her friends commit suicide for unknown reasons, suspicious of a teahouse they had been celebrating in shortly before. She must find out why her friends are dying or face the spontaneous urge of self-destruction herself.


Forty words exactly. Not too bad.

NaNo Just Ahead...

Less than a week to go before the start of NaNo. On one hand, I feel quite lucky that I have a coherent plot already mapped out (loosely) on notecards using James V. Smith's "Ten Key Scenes" technique. I can tell where the story's going to go without feeling the need to have a death grip on my characters, so I'm free to let them do whatever they like within reason.
But that brings me to my main problem. I don't know my characters. I know that there are four female friends comprising the cluster of mains and there are a few male supporting characters, but aside from their professions and (in the case of only a few) their physical details, that's it. No names, hobbies, tics, quirks, weaknesses, backgrounds, nothing. The sections of the Mole I'm using to organize details for the characters is blank in most areas. I'm beginning to become somewhat nervous, though I generally come through in the clutch so I'm more worried about putting myself through unnecessary stress than I am about failing.
There are a lot of things I'd like to have right now that I haven't produced yet. Mostly I'd like names, a little background, some character-specific playlists to add to my iPod like I did last year. I'd really like to know my main character, since she'll be telling the story. She's in every scene, for crying out loud.
Last year I used small bribes to make my deadlines on time, some of which I failed to meet. This year, I think I'm just going to go with one main bribe. If I finish NaNo in time, with a complete story, I'm buying a brand new Zojirushi lunchbox set. Otherwise, nothing. Who knows whether or not I'll be able to stick to this plan. I have a terrible habit of deviating from things at the last moment, the way I did with my 50 Book Challenge itinerary. Once I hit 50 back in September, I petered out and went back to writing my own fiction.
And that brings me to my final point of bitchery. Other people's fiction. This year I'm going to find the time during November to read. I'm going to read voraciously. I'm going to read every YA title I've wanted to read from the 1960s forward, including L'Engle, Bradbury and Dahl. I'm going to finish my Francesca Lia Block books. I'm going to read Poppy Z. Brite's short fiction. I'm going to even, believe it or not, read Breaking Dawn. I'm not putting the rest of my life on hold this year. Considering the fact that I'm taking the first week off work and immersing myself completely, this shouldn't be too hard of a task to accomplish.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Brush Pen Evaluation

Forgive me for not including handwriting photos at the moment. I’ve used two separate digital cameras and I’m still unable to capture decent handwriting samples. Regardless, I’m going ahead with this review and hopefully by next weekend I’ll have pictures included for each pen mentioned. Also, the photos of the pens themselves I rather blatantly lifted from Jetpens’ own website. If this is not allowed, please email me and let me know and I’ll take them down immediately. Now, on to the reviews.

First of all, let me make clear that I’m not using these pens for their intended purposes. I’m no artist and I am as Caucasian as they come, and these pens are really meant for Asian fonts, calligraphy and artwork. They’re great pens and I’ll continue using them as long as I have a reliable source for them, but I just don’t feel my giant, loopy Anglo handwriting is doing them much justice, especially in the aesthetics department. I really wish I knew enough Kanji to take full advantage of these, but until then making my journals and writing notebooks legible is going to be their main purpose.

Zebra Disposable Brush Sign Pen, Fine Nib. This is my standard journaling pen, the one I’ve been using for the last couple of years. Before that I had some fountain pens, which I still occasionally use, but the dark, thick lines of this pen just couldn’t be beat.

Zebra Disposable Brush Sign Pen. Super Fine Nib. Companion pen to my original Zebra, this one has a much finer line and a stiffer feeling nib. Not my cup of tea, really. My handwriting looks a bit childish and hesitant with this pen, as if I’m unsure of what I’m writing. It looks rushed and awkward in my journal, and I’ve resigned it for use at work when I need to jot down notes and I’m hiding my better pens from my coworkers. As an artists’ pen, though, this would make a great tool.

Pentel GFKP. This is an artists’ brush and I have no business owning something like this. I found this on eBay a few months ago and, knowing Shinkawa Yoji uses this same pen for his Metal Gear Solid artwork, I bought it simply so I could brag to Eric that I have one. He was thoroughly unimpressed. Rather than having a stiff, felt-tipped style nib, non-disposable brush pens use synthetic bristles to mimic traditional brush instruments. I’m still having a hard time controlling my handwriting with this, as it’s more difficult to master than a disposable. I have a Sailor Profit that is very similar in style to this and, despite not having used it in a while, I remember encountering the same difficulties with that pen as well.

Kuretake Fudegokochi Brush Pen, Super Fine Nib. Both samples Jetpens sent me to try are thinner than what I am used to using. They’re similar in thickness to the Zebra Super Fine, but neither leave me with the feeling that my handwriting looks bad using them. This one leaves my handwriting looking very thin and loopy, though still legible. The nib stays firm a very long time, regardless of how much writing is done with it. This is probably why my handwriting looks so decent with it despite the overall thinness. I like this pen quite a bit.

Kuretake Disposable Pocket Brush Sign Pen, Extra Fine Nib. Now this is a nice pen. Of the two given to me, I’d have to say I like this one slightly better. The pen itself is very classy, with a matching dark teal barrel and cap, complete with sparkly little “stars” embedded in the plastic. The gold embossing is a nice touch, as well. The nib itself is almost perfect, though still thinner than what I’m used to. The lines are just slightly thicker than the Fudegokochi and darker as well. It’s the perfect journaling pen and I’d imagine as an artists’ pen it also works very well. After using this I’m starting to think that perhaps my trusty Zebra makes my handwriting a bit too thick. I may need to make the switch to these pretty little blue pens sometime soon.

Much thanks to Jetpens for giving me this opportunity. I really like this company, not only for giving me the chance to review their pens but also for stocking the things I’ve needed for the last year or two. Their site is great, their prices reasonable and their shipping really quick. I’ll be a customer for a long time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jetpens Rocks

I like to use Japanese brush pens for journaling. They’re the only thing I’ve found that make my notoriously ornate handwriting even semi-legible, and the jet black ink stays bold on the pages of my Moleskine while my normal fountain pen inks tend to fade. I collect pens the way some people collect coins or stamps, and I like my pens to be refillable and durable (and too expensive for my budget now, sadly), but for lined journal paper I really can’t find anything better than disposable brush pens.

For a while I was buying disposable Zebra-brand fude pens on eBay off of a seller in Hong Kong or Taiwan, but the last time I needed to order them I found that they’d closed their seller account and I couldn’t find anyone else who had them in stock. A friend of mine, whose love for gel and roller pens more than equals my fountain pen obsession, introduced me to Jetpens ( and we’ve been making combined orders ever since.

Jetpens sells all manner of Japanese writing instruments and stationery, from expensive fountain pens to disposables to pencil cases. They even have my Zebras, in three different thicknesses (I prefer Fine, myself). I don’t need to scour the Internet looking for a seller halfway across the world anymore. They ship from the US and most times I’ve received my stuff in a day or two.

A week ago that same friend showed me a Facebook ad from Jetpens asking for reviewers to test new Uni-Ball Signos. I emailed and explained that I mostly use brush pens but I’d love to review anything for them as I’m a big fan of their site. They emailed back and told me they’d already given the pens for review away but they had some brush pens to give out. I now have two Kuretake brand pens waiting to be tested out and reviewed. I’m really excited. Not only do I get free stuff (and I love free stuff), but I also get to post photos of writing samples and compare all the different pens I have. And I get to promote a site I really love. I can’t forget that part.

Anyway, in the next few days expect to see a nice long post showing off my very frustrating handwriting and all the different pens I’ve been using lately, especially my brush pens.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

1000+ Words "Techonology"

This was another Eric-suggested exercise that exceeded expectations. “What about a ghost that can communicate only with technology? What if it can only appear as glitches in electronics?”

I took the idea and ran with it, though in a slightly skewed direction, and came up with a 1,800-word short I’m calling, simply, “Hello.” The ghost doesn’t show up as glitches, exactly. It does use electronic hardware as a way of getting their message across, though.

I wasn’t too thrilled when I started writing this. It really had the feel of a story that I’d end up abandoning halfway through. I used to write a lot of those. I’d come up with an idea, write out what I’d thought through (which was only about the first half of the story) and when it came time to flesh it out and finish it I’d balk. My idea would feel very stale to me, not worth spending time on, and I’d scrap it. Up until recently I’d probably write three or four of these half-stories for every one I’d actually finish.

Lately, though, I’ve been finishing more and more of my stories. In fact, most of what I start out writing simply for exercise ends up longer than I’d expected starting out. It’s a glad reversal, for me, and I feel like writing every day now. I no longer feel anxiety at having to come up with a new idea. Granted, not all my ideas end up panning out, but once I’ve committed to putting something onto paper I don’t feel a lack of inspiration anymore. In his book Writing Short Fiction, Damon Knight called the subconscious mind, the part of your brain that floats ideas up to the surface, Fred. Having a dialogue with Fred meant sending ideas or thoughts into the subconscious and accepting what was given back to you. The more you talk to Fred and use what he gives you, Knight explained, the more ideas you’ll end up receiving.

It seems like Fred’s been working overtime lately, and I really appreciate it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

1000+ Words "Baking"

I asked Eric for story ideas today. Occasionally I’ll go to him for inspiration and he’ll come up with a theme for me that ends up working well. Since I made cupcakes this morning and took photos and posted them to my Livejournal, he suggested I try a writing exercise with a baking theme.

What I ended up two hours later is a 3,125-word short story titled (for the time being, at least) “The Scavenger Girls,” and it really only has a slight involvement in the flour and sugar arts. It’s another ghost story. I can’t stop writing them. It’s a horrible, possibly fatal, affliction at this point.

Always the ghost stories, and always the tragic suicides. I can’t divorce myself from them, and at this point I’m not even sure I want to anymore.

At this point, I’d like to write anywhere from three to five more shorts this month. After that I’ll become serious about NaNo and my “month-long writing exercise,” and when I fill my daily quota on that project I can stop and busy myself with edits for the stories I’ve written. I’ve written four this month so far and there are several from last year I think I could reread and make a bit better.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"My Neighbor's Apartment" Submitted!

Instead of doing writing exercises today I opted to edit, polish and submit “My Neighbor’s Apartment” to a double-blind peer review journal I’ve had some success with in the past. I’ve read it, reread it, rewritten it in parts and have had other people give me their impressions and I have to say I’m really happy with it. I wish all short stories were this fun and painless.

“Wings” is still out at the Nocturnal Lyric. It’s been out since March and I’m still eagerly running to the mailbox every few days, looking for a self-addressed return envelope in my very obvious pen and handwriting. Every time I get one my heart jumps a little and I run back into the house to tear into it, almost afraid of the verdict.

It’s been a while since I received and acceptance letter or contract the old fashioned way.

I should send my stories out to another round of publishers, though I’m starting to doubt the quality of a few of them. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much. Of everything I’ve written in the past twelve months, aside from the two novels in progress, I think I’ve enjoyed “Cryptic Coloration” and “Canned Aisle” the most. “Cryptic Coloration” was my first real foray into magical realism, a story of two very different women paired up on a business retreat together and the odd things that surround the hotel they’re in. “Canned Aisle” is one of my “ghost invades the mundane world and goes on its merry way” stories, something that seems to be becoming almost a hallmark of mine. That theme and the theme of the suicide jumper have shown up so many times that I’ve lost count at this point.

I really ought to take all my unpublished short works out in October, dust them off, rework them if necessary and send them to publishers before November comes around.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

1000+ Words "Unoccupied Apartment"

Write 1000 or more words describing an empty apartment and what can be found inside. I ended up with another somewhat pleasing short story, this one 2.640 words in length. This one is titled “My Neighbor’s Apartment.” I think I’m slipping in the story titling department as of late. My titles keep coming out bland.

There’s something about Autumn that turbocharges my fiction-writing initiative. Last year I wrote four or five short stories in October and November, and this year I’ve written three in a week. Granted, not all of them are going to see the light of day (what writer has a 100% publication rate?) but they’re fun to write and make for great exercises. Plus, each new story adds an entry to the body of my work as a whole, which makes me happy. I like to see my collection of stories grow, even if they haven’t been published and possibly never will. There’s a little fragmented piece of me in each and every one of them.

Despite NaNo season coming up in three weeks, I dusted off my old copy of Damon Knight’s book “Creating Short Fiction” today for a reread. It’s a great book, full of ideas, charts, writing samples, exercises, you name it. Despite being 27 years old, it’s still one of the best books on the subject I’ve found.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

1000+ Words "Street at Night"

Yesterday I assigned myself an off-the-cuff idea. Describe a street at night and what waits at the end of it. An hour later I had a rough 1,700-word short story that I edited and polished into a somewhat pleasing little piece I’m calling “Humidity at Night.” Since it has a very concrete beginning, middle and end I’m not going to reproduce it here. I just want to give an update so I can prove to anyone reading (and myself, really) that I’m not slacking off. I am still writing.

It’s just going way better at the moment than I’d expected, and I’m keeping more of it to myself than I thought I would.

I’m still not sold on the title “Humidity at Night,” though. It seems a little generic to me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Funny Observation

I did another Room to Write exercise today, “Rantings and Ravens,” but I ended up with a 1,200-word short story that really pleases me. I’m not putting it up here just yet, in the off chance I may be able to use it somewhere. For the time being I’ve named it “Curious Morning.”

I wrote it in the first person and kept the protagonist rather vague, not for any concrete reason but because it was intended to be nothing more than a short writing exercise. However, I had in my mind a picture of a woman while I wrote it, probably because I am a woman.

When Eric read it, he saw the protagonist as male. Funny how we inject a little piece of ourselves into the things we read (and write).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Room to Write - "No Experience Necessary"

Today write about something you haven’t done… Don’t be concerned with accuracy or believability. Instead follow your feelings and your imagination.


Every year I say that this is the year I’m going to do it. I’m going to lose enough weight and get in decent enough shape and I’m going to take lessons, and once those lessons are done and I’m certified I’m going to take the money I don’t have and fly down to the Caribbean and dive.

I haven’t done it yet but I have grand plans, plans that include swimming with sharks, touching an orca, discovering an untouched plane or ship at the bottom of the ocean and witnessing skeletal ghosts with my own eyes. I’m going to see clusters of tiny barnacles with my own eyes, iridescent squid and miles of glowing jellyfish too. I’m going to witness a wobbegong hiding in the sand, a cookie-cutter shark taking ragged little chunks out of the hulls of boats.

I’m going to be there, connected to a portable metallic lung, while dolphins chase fish, while kelp dances, while manatees do whatever it is they do while they aren’t fleeing boat propellers. I’m going to touch the sides of giant tuna as they go by, grab onto the fin of a whale.

I’m going to touch a seal. It will even sit on my belly as we float on the surface.

Maybe I’ll discover something down there, artifacts worth money perhaps, or maybe personal effects that mean something to someone still living.

I haven’t gone diving yet, but I’ve had a subscription (a free one, but still) to a scuba magazine for two years now. I don’t always have time to read all the articles, but the pictures take my breath away. I’m taken by multicolored little fish, giant cetaceans, the sleek, dark divers beside them. The beaches are all beautiful, with shiny white or matte black edges meeting the water, the vegetation tall and well watered. The plants in magazines never go thirsty, never dry out.

I’ve never been diving, but I will. I’m not sure when or how, but I will.

And I know it will be nothing like my imagination.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Room to Write - "You're Such an Animal"

“... write from the point of view of the animal with whom you identify most.”

Try to guess who this is. /sarcasm


I love going to the bathroom in my neighbor’s yard. There’s something about wandering into someone else’s grass and dropping a deuce that appeals to me, though I’m not exactly sure what that is. I just like it. It’s the perfect way to start the morning.

Life is, for me, somewhat boring, and because of that I have to find my pleasures where I can. Entertainment is often watching a movie on the television with one of my housemates in a language I cannot understand, harassing people as they walk by my house or napping.

Napping. Oh, God do I love napping. I’ve made sleeping in odd places practically a competitive sport. I can sleep on linoleum, grass, pavement, hard carpeted stairs, anything. I can sleep inside a claustrophobic plastic prison with bars across the door, on my soft-foam bed (just like the ones they advertise on TV), on those stairs for hours upon hours. My favorite place to sleep, though, is in a carpeted corner, twisted up like a corpse, my legs thrown up on the wall like an afterthought. It looks like someone’s murdered me and tossed my body somewhere convenient. It never fails to freak the housemates out, especially the girly one who makes me watch those movies with her every day.

Another thing I do to pass the time is eating. Normally my food is bland and even the water I drink liberally does little to help me choke it down. Sometimes, though, people buy me cookies or give me chips. I love snack food. Once in a blue moon I’m caught by the urge to thieve food, just for the fun of it. I’ve stolen meat, cheese, cookies and even a whole salami sandwich once. American cheese tastes funny.

More than stealing, though, I love manipulating people into giving me what they’re eating. It’s so much more fun to wander around the house, following people as they make their lunches or dinners or snacks and harassing them until they cave. One of my most successful techniques is to sit at the top of the steps and stare at them until they cannot ignore me any longer. That usually yields some decent results.

Sometimes, though, I end up with food I don’t like. Those are the times I really wish I hadn’t begged, but usually I just throw the nasty stuff on the floor and someone takes care of it for me. It makes me feel like a celebrity. Some of the foods I’ve manipulated people into giving me that I don’t like are cucumbers, raw mushrooms, zucchini and dill pickles. If it’s green, cold and crisp I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like it at this point.

Just give me your Sun Chips instead.