Friday, November 27, 2009

I Need a Beer

Made the official NaNo deadline of 50k today. Seems the Office of Letters and Light’s word count validator is twelve hundred words off of my OpenOffice program, meaning I had to fly through another section of the story before I could be declared a winner.

Anyway, the story’s about halfway done, and I’m not setting it down. I will be taking a few days to get caught up on book reviews, author interviews, the Flashes in the Dark entry I’ve been putting off and a few other things. I’m still debating on submitting to my campus literary journal.

It feels good to have gotten this much of the project done. I’d been holding back on it for months so that I could use it as my NaNo plot, and it turned out a bit better than I’d been planning.

Now, off to write another thousand or two words for Rain, which updates tonight. The typing never ends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Contaminant" Appearing in 69 Flavors of Paranoia

My nautical zombie flash, “Contaminant,” has been accepted by 69 Flavors of Paranoia for their Vol. #3 lineup.

This was an interesting piece for me to write, and pretty much kick-started my interest in both water-themed and zombie shorts. I’m looking forward to being part of 69FoP again.

Daft Punk and Coffee By the Gallon

One more week, and it will all be over.

This has been both the most experimental and most stressful NaNo project I’ve taken on to date. Not only have I been writing with a full college course load to juggle, but I bit off more than I could chew with my term paper project and I’m starting the new Rain chapters while trying to get everything else done.

Suffice it to say that all novel-reading, reviewing and interviewing ended up on a short-term hiatus this month, though as December looms I think things will phase back in without any issues.

I’m pleasantly surprised, though, with how the novel has turned out so far. Not only have I been experimenting with perspective (a rotating third-person instead of my usual first), but this is the first novel I’ve worked on where the pacing hasn’t really been at a breakneck speed. Nothing needs to be squeezed into and resolved in fifty thousand words, and so I’ve been letting the story unspool at its own pace. This has proven to be both slightly worrisome (I occasionally wonder if perhaps I’m not letting the story drag on a bit too much) and somewhat liberating, though I still see myself entirely as a novice, learning as I go.

Hopefully there will be something workable in this draft when it’s all said and done. Some days, I look at the previous chapters I’ve printed out for quick reference (I need to invest in my own printer one of these days) and wonder what in God’s name I’m writing this for, and other days I sit down and rifle through the pages and I’m somewhat pleased with the turnout. I suppose I’m just one of those shifting, never satisfied types. Sometimes it’s almost passable, and a few chapters really stand out, and other times the whole thing is garbage and I really ought to stop embarrassing myself with this charade. I think these are common reactions to one’s own work, though, since I see other, more well-known writers say the same things sometimes. At least I’m in good company, I think.

Approximately twelve thousand more words until I can slow down and give each project equal weight. I have to say, I’m looking forward to that, even though I want to finish Ghostbox’s initial draft as soon as possible.

I suppose that’s what semester break is for.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I got the go-ahead from Jacob Kier, owner of Permuted Press (and sponsor of this year’s Horror Realm flash contest) to reprint “Conference,“ my second-place winner. I’ve linked before to the video of the super-cool James Melzer (author of Escape and Invasion) reading it at the flash winners’ panel (I’m still laughing about making him drop the f-bomb on camera), but I held off on posting the text in case rights had been transferred or Permuted had plans to do anything with it. Seeing as I recently found that they’re not, and the rights are entirely mine, I said to myself Hey, Jessica, why not put it up on the blog? You haven’t posted any original fiction in a long time, and people are probably sick of reading your long-ass complaints about writing.

I was just asked today about whether or not Jonathan Coulton's song "Re: Your Brains" had any influence on the story, and the answer honestly is no. I hadn't been thinking about it at all at the time I wrote the story (I was actually pretty harried and hungover while banging it out that Saturday morning), but it's so appropriate I can't help but link it.

So, here’s the flash that won me copies of Derek Gunn’s The Estuary and Jason S. Hornsby’s Every Sigh, the End. Enjoy.


There were so few of us left at this point.

Christine and I stayed in the office, in the server room, while the rest of them had run off looking for shelter elsewhere.

We barricaded ourselves inside after checking to make sure our maintenance department had been on the ball with the whole backup generator issue. After the last hurricane blackout, corporate came down pretty hard on ineptitude involving mechanical subjects.

We broke and raided every vending machine, dragged every freezer chest up to the top floor. When we were convinced we'd be able to stay hidden for as long as possible, we shut ourselves up with nothing but cables and blinking boxes to keep us company. She had her laptop and I had mine.

We scanned the Internet, peeling the wrappers off HoHos and Twinkies. It didn't look like we would be able to leave the building for quite some time. Whole cities were crawling with the newly dead and the not-so-newly dead, and nobody knew quite what to make of it, aside from the fact that it was terrifying as all fuck.

I checked my company email. Nothing. I still had no word from anyone. I sighed. “What about you?”

Christine shook her head. “Nobody's responding. I know they took their laptops with them, but...”

I clicked on an application and the familiar, comforting Skype startup screen faded into view. “I'm going to try getting a hold of my family. God knows if they're all right. I left my cell back in my office. Stupid, stupid.”

“Good idea.”

I hovered over my friends list. Who should I try first? My mother? My sister? Who was more likely to be at their computer at this moment?

Before I could decide, a call came in. Amanda, the little window announced to me. Our receptionist, one of the group who'd made a run for a nearby medical center.

It was a video call.

I accepted it and the tiny window expanded.

Amanda's face was raw and bloody, a chunk torn out of her cheek running diagonally beneath her nose and across her mouth. Part of her lip was gone, and several teeth had been torn from their moorings. Her mouth looked partially chewed, and her hair had been torn out in chunks. Her eyes had a glazed look to them, as if there was nothing of value left behind them, as if she were entirely animatronic.

Her ruined lips moved, and her voice came out in a low, garbled moan. “Meeting. Five minutes. Mandatory. Come downstairs.”


Monday, November 9, 2009

Learning Experience, Take Three

I passed the fifteen thousand word mark a few minutes ago and realized that I haven’t even hit the second act yet. This manuscript is going to be a lot longer than fifty-thousand words, and I think I’ll be okay with that.

I’ve been feeling a bit of anxiety the past few days. I know that this project is going to go far beyond the end of November, and between that and the fact that I’m only plotting one or two chapters in advance I'm finding it a bit unnerving. My first attempt at a novel-length piece of fiction yielded a fifty-thousand word manuscript, but it was only halfway completed. After NaNo was over, I said I’d finish it, but I never did.

With the first attempt down, and with last year’s experience, I feel a bit more like I’m able to handle this. Even though I still feel exceptionally vulnerable as a writer, Ghostbox will be completed, warts and all. This baby’s going to be born even if it takes me months. I’m having a bit of fun trying out new things, and so far it’s been working rather well.

I’ve gotten the hang of the third-person narrative and switching focus back and forth between three characters. I’m slowly but surely letting myself relax and immerse myself in the characters’ viewpoints of the world without worrying that I’m adding too much material or holding back where I should be letting loose. It’s a nice feeling, being able to let a story unravel the way it needs to, without worrying about whether or not it’s making enough headway plot-wise. Still, there’s a tiny voice living in the back of my brain that’s a bit irritated that things didn’t leap out at the gate and take off running.

This isn’t that kind of story, though, and after the horrible anxiety I went through doing line edits of Teahouse, not knowing where to pad the story and what kind of additional material I needed, I think going this route and adding possibly too much in the first draft may be a good thing for me.

Each story I write I find myself falling head over heels for one character above all others, and it’s usually not the character with the most focus in the work. The first year it was Kitty, the blonde, Mexico-born succubus who played the role of the narrator’s best friend. Last year it was another blonde woman, the self-destructive, self-loathing alcoholic Lucy, the narrator’s closest friend from college. This year it’s Darren, the pot-smoking, computer-obsessed IT worker in love with UrbEx, Geocaching and dead malls. At least this year the character that’s stolen my heart is one of the mains, though the focus still revolves mostly around Sam, the poor security guard stuck in the mall as it puts up its last fight in the shadow of the wrecking ball.

Every long project I work on has its own playlist, and this year’s has been harder to come up with than most. I use this to set my mood while writing and to get in touch with aspects of the characters’ personalities as the story unfolds. This year, unfortunately, the playlist has been revolving almost entirely around Darren. Sam and her boss Morrow haven’t given me much to work with yet in terms of music. In fact, I’ve only nailed down five tracks so far.

Smooth Criminal - Alien Ant Farm

Dr. Greenthumb - Cypress HIll

Land of Confusion - Disturbed

Mindfields - The Prodigy

Here Come the Demons - Rehab

Most of these (in fact, all but one, and it’s the only Sam track I have so far) are either remakes of 80s/90s tunes or straight out of those decades themselves. The novel is set in the present day but most, if not all, of the characters have their own nostalgia attached to the setting, which saw its heyday in decades past. At least two of them spent their most formative years during the height of the mall rat years, bringing their own unique and sometimes conflicting perspectives into the story with them. Last year’s playlist was devoted to downbeat songs involving suicide and regret, and this year’s focuses mostly on wistful memories of the past. Interesting.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo #3 and a Whole Lot of Firsts

Well, November is now upon me and I’m a whopping 5050 words into the project. I’m doing things a bit differently this year in terms of style and characterization, and with the other projects I’m working on I’m having a much different experience than I have in the past.

One of the biggest things I’ve done is ditch my typical first person narrative. I’ve been writing in that style for so long that I’ve really let any third person skills I once had atrophy. A few publishers I’ve submitted to recently have a preference for third, which forced me to go back to it for at least a few thousand words at a time, and because of that I started to realize just how much I was limiting myself as far as story scope is concerned. I like first person because it allows for a more personal style of narrative, almost like two people huddled together, one talking and one listening, across a dimly lit table from each other. It’s intimate, and it allows me to get into one person’s head so deeply it’s as if I’ve become the character for the duration of the story.

Unfortunately, it also seriously limits what I can do with the story. I’m stuck in the head of one person for the entire story, and anything that’s not spoken directly to them or happens outside of their scope of vision is off limits. Any extra information in the story has to be inserted in the form of dialogue, which can be a real pain.

This year I’m writing entirely in third person, somewhere between limited and omnicient, and it’s working very well so far. I say it’s not entirely omnicient because I don’t intend on getting into the thoughts and feelings of each character, but for the main cast it certainly works that way. Think Gibson’s Spook Country, where the chapters alternate between a set of main characters who eventually come together towards the end. That’s the kind of effect I’m going for.

I also have more male characters than ever before in this project, and some of them are very important to the plot. When writing first person, I almost always choose female narrators, mostly because they’re easy for me to identify with and they match my perspective somewhat. I do this also because I’m a bit concerned about not portraying male characters accurately, and I always worry that I’m doing wrong by them somehow. With the acceptance of my story “Porn and the First-Person Shooter,” which was written in third limited and featured a male main, I’ve started to relax somewhat, but there’s always that tiny part of me that’s waiting for someone to email me or run into me at a con and call me a misandrist bitch. Hey, it’s happened to male writers for decades.

I’ve also been a bit too busy and/or lazy to outline the key plot points in advance. So far all I have are notes for the first three chapters I scrawled on a bar napkin on Halloween evening. I have a notebook with character notes, some rough mall outlines (which stores were on what floor while the place was still in business) and minor plot ideas, but no outline. This worries me a bit because I did this the first year and wound up with the first half of something that was much larger (and more directionless) than I’d anticipated. Adding Rain to the mix, which also has no outline, is making me a bit nervous.

I’m doing well, though, all things considered. I’ve been at a hundred percent of my word goal each day, but I’m not racing ahead like my butt is on fire like I did last year. I guess, seeing as I’m a lot more busy this time around, I’m just not into the whole “throw yourself into your work and get it done as quickly as possible” thing this time.

I also don’t have a playlist yet. This is the first year that I haven’t worked alongside a soundtrack, and it feels a bit strange. I’ve been randomizing the songs on my iPod and listening to things from my misc. folder instead.

Chapter One is finished, and I’m making headway into Chapter Two. We’ll see how it goes from there, I guess.