The Great Theme Reveal

Anybody who’s read this blog for long knows I’m not much of a “theme” person. I have to drag themes kicking and screaming out of my novels, and most of the time, I have no particular desire to build or work with a theme. I’m not someone your tenth-grade English teacher would like. My tenth-grade English teacher(s) spent the entire year hinting about ways to do drugs in class, on the premise that stoned might be an improvement, and ultimately wound up being sainted for not killing me in my sleep.

At any rate, my theme for last year’s A-to-Z Challenge was a Fly-By-The-Seat-of-Your-Pants stroke of brilliance: Whatever the hell happens to pop into my head. It worked well enough. I made it through.

This year, I thought about doing an upbeat complicated relationships thing, because that always seems to work its way into my stories, but let’s be honest, I’m not really sure all my readers are up for a recitation of A-to-Z relationships, and quite frankly, it would almost certainly devolve into a list of rare and exotic paraphilias. Why no… I just needed something that started with the letter U. Why do you ask?

That could sure get thorny fast.

Do I really need a theme?

Okay, so the one that finally popped into my head was…

Words that begin with the letter M.

That doesn’t seem so unreasonable. I’ll need to add words that don’t begin with the letter M to make it fit the challenge, but with some effort, I think I can make it work.

Words that begin with the letter M it is, then.

If you want to join in the challenge, all the details are here.  Let me know if you’re playing along.

NaNoWriMo and Me

I got the reminder that the official NaNoWriMo prep period starts in September. I’m not much of a preparation type, but I’ve definitely started thinking about what this year’s novel is going to be about, and about all the novels I’ve worked on in the past.

NaNoWriMo–for the handful of non-writers here–is National Novel Writing Month, and writers from all over the world get together online and try to write a novel (50,000 words) during the month of November. And there have been some commercial success stories and a whole lot of personal success stories. (NaNoWriMo was the first time I finished a novel!)

After that, I got weighted down with editing, and the near-impossible task of making my first-ever novel, which I wrote in 30 days presentable. And there were a few Nanos where I started novels, just to be distracted by the ever-present editing job.

How long do you have to let a novel cool before you edit it? I’ve heard six months, or a year, or at least a month, but I think the real answer is this: Let it cool until you’ve written the first draft of your next novel. That’s the only thing that’s going to fully occupy your mind, and let you approach editing with a fresh eye.

Well, anyway, eventually, I did wind up writing more novels.

I don’t really remember how, but for a while, I fell off the NaNoWriMo band wagon, and wrote entirely on my own schedule. The next novel wasn’t a NanoNovel. I know that.

Somewhere in there, I got help revising my novel.  And somehow, I managed to turn that very first finished disaster into something people were capable of reading.

And then, through peer pressure and nostalgia, I wound up back at Nano. I think I’ve gotten my 50k in three or four times, over all.

But that’s not my goal, anymore.

My goal is to revitalize my goals. Make new friends. Make good habits.

Year around, my writing goal is about 1000 words a day. And that’s less than you need to win Nano. It adds up, though, to 365,000 words a year. (Not including forum posts, or blog posts, if I want to be a purist.) About 7 Nano-novels worth of text. Easily 4 or 5 proper, full-length novels.

The habit is easier to get into when there are other people around you to support you, and that’s what Nano really does well. A month is a good length of time to get into a habit. (I got into the blogging every day thing with the A-to-Z Challenge, this year).

I’ve been slipping on my 1000 words of fiction a day, and I want to build the habit back up before I hit the new year. (I don’t believe in resolutions, but I do start my count over on Jan. 1.)

If you’re looking to start some year-round habits, or even just to write that first novel, Nano’s a great way to go. Drop by my profile, and say hello, or just leave me your user name in a comment, and I’ll add you to my buddy list.

I still don’t know what I’ll be writing about, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out by November.

Signing Up for More Fun

Post A-to-Z Road Trip [2016].jpg

I signed up for the Post A-to-Z Road Trip more or less the same way I signed up for A-to-Z, this year. At the last moment, and as a whim, because I didn’t know the thing existed until it was almost too late.

I did pretty well with a-to-z. I got a lot of views, and met a lot of people I might not have without it. And it got me into the habit of blogging reasonably regularly. I stayed in that habit, and with everything that’s happened between A-to-Z and now, I happen to be particularly proud of that.

The Road Trip is a lot smaller than A-to-Z. Looks like about a hundred blogs, instead of over a thousand. I’m hoping that means the most active ones. I know I saw a few old friends on the list. **waves**

I haven’t completely decided what to do with the Road Trip. Of course, not. I only got there a few minutes ago! And I want to get this post out, so if anybody misses it, it’s not my fault.

Any ideas about how you’re going to make this work?

Y is for Yes!

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Yes! As in, I don’t have to scour the dictionary for words that begin with Y. Yes is a perfectly good word, and one I’m really over using, right now. Probably a lot too much yes in my life–especially at work–and not nearly enough “Up your–” uhm… politely worded “NO.”

And I’m feeling the weight of all the implied “no’s” that go with saying yes in the wrong places. No, you cannot have time to work on your book. No, you cannot have a blood pressure indicated by any number you learned in primary school. No, no, no, no, no.

And yesterday–another nifty Y word–someone came up to me and asked me about my book.

Except, she was really asking about her book. The one she thinks about writing, sometimes. The one she isn’t writing.

She was getting tangled up in things she’ll never have to worry about unless she writes a book. Manuscript format, and how to find a publisher… and… and…  “Dear John letters.” What if she got a Dear John letter? What would she do?

I told her that I’d gotten plenty. And she seemed… more shocked than she should have been. I don’t know if she was surprised that I manage to continue breathing air, or just that I manage to keep writing. And I was quick to tell her that rejection really isn’t so bad.

I don’t think she would have believed me, if I’d told her how much a “Dear John letter” can make me smile. Or that I have a favorite. Or that some of them were really, really, really nice to me. That’s something you have to experience for yourself.

And I’m sure she wouldn’t have believed me, if I told her she should do it, too.

I told her, anyway. I gave her the basics–the bare bones version–of how to look for an agent, and then a publisher, and noted the self-publishing option, and told her she should write that book. I may have offered to help her with the formatting, and maybe even with the research. (I’ve known her for years. I want her to succeed. I might even loan her books. It’s not an empty offer.)

But, I don’t think she’ll do it. Sometimes, saying yes to yourself and to your own dreams is tough. It’s hard to say “yes” to the right things. I don’t do it often enough, myself. But when I do, I’m always glad I did.

X is for Xenophobia

Is it too late to pick an alphabet without an X? Yes? Damn.

So, the story I’m working on–the one I’m sharing, piece by piece, on this blog–is about a universe that is rebuilding after a long and expensive war. The primary setting for the story is the planet that won the war.  It’s a planet that is facing a huge influx of refugees from other parts of the universe. Some of them are from allied planets, and others are from the vanquished planets. (The Empire refers to these as the “Penitent Planets.”)

It might be worth mentioning that the war–which has been over for a little over two decades–started with a rumor, and a misunderstanding, and just a little bad math.

It’s much too late to fix that, now.

My characters are moving forward with the results, whether they want to, or not.

So, Xenophobia… The fear of things which are foreign. Foreign people, foreign things.

Xenophobia is believing your new neighbor doesn’t have a soul, because your species is psychic, his isn’t, and you can’t pick him up in the ether.

Xenophobia is hating your new neighbor just because of the way his exoskeleton clicks when he’s molting.

I could probably keep going, but my internet’s in and out, right now. It’s not crazy about the weather we’ve been having.

U is for Unexpected Surprises

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Click to Visit other Participants!

I was shopping in the rock-bottom bargain bin at a used bookstore, and I bought a few books on the “What are you risking?” plan. Five, maybe ten bucks worth, and ten bucks on used books can go a long way.  I wasn’t expecting anything in particular. It was a grab bag, maybe a little influenced by the theme of the week, but that’s the truth. At that price, you get your money’s worth, if you like any one of the books.

It wasn’t until I got home that I found that one of the books was signed. In pencil, way in the back, where the bookseller hadn’t noticed it. Maybe if he had, he wouldn’t have sold it to me at “What are you risking?” prices. signature.jpg

And who would have looked for a signature in the back pages of a book?

You’d have to know the writer pretty well to get his pen-name out of this real-life name signature. John Wallace Pritchard wrote as Ian Wallace.

And he didn’t happen to write this book. It’s a copy of Quantum Mechanics and Experience by David Z Albert.

There’s something about the thing that resonates with me. Something about that interaction… it speaks to me. The idea of some nameless fan–he didn’t even write his own name in the book, when he owned it–rushing over to an author he recognized, and getting an autograph.  Here, sign my… uhm… well… my book. My menu. My boarding pass. Whatever. Sign my anything. My random non-fiction thingy that you did not write, and might not have read, because it’s here.

S is for Science Fiction

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Click the Image to Visit Other Participants!

The truth  is, I don’t know where to start with this genre. If you want to go back all the way to the beginning, I think you land at a giant coloring book called Alfie in Computer City. I don’t remember much of the plot–Alfie gets sucked into a computerized world, I think–but I remember the book, itself. Three feet tall, and two feet wide, and it was a coloring book. It might have been the only coloring book I ever owned. Probably was. We’re not really a color in the lines family. (And let me mention, btw, that I did not color in Alfie in Computer City, either. I was a strange child.)

A little closer to the present, we have Star Trek, X-Files, and Doctor Who. Astronauts on the playground jungle gym, and a constant parade of friends who all seemed to fall somewhere on the SF—->Fantasy spectrum.

And then… nothing. I’m not sure why, but somewhere along the way, I stopped.

Don’t get me wrong, I kept reading sci-fi, and watching the fan-boy extravaganza, and enjoying other peoples’ what-ifs, but For whatever reasons, I never made the switch from consumer to producer. I don’t remember voluntarily writing anything Sci-Fi or Fantasy past about sixth grade. I don’t remember what made the difference.

Maybe the difference was that I was growing up, and starting to realize just how far away those worlds were. That even if I really did become an astronaut when I grew up, I’d never get much further than the moon. And fantasy… well, that’s just make-believe, isn’t it?

Peer pressure brought me back. I wanted to write something new–something different–something I thought my friends would enjoy.

I had been burning out on murder and violence in the thriller genre, so I decided to try murder and violence in some other genre.

Maybe that’s a joke. I’m not really sure. I don’t really think the science fiction I write is brighter, overall, but I do think there’s more of a sense of hope and optimism. The idea that things could be really good is there in a way that it isn’t when you have a corpse, and a killer to track down. More faith–if not in humanity, itself, in humanity’s potential.

And I find myself looking at the two and realizing that the similarities are there. I have weird and interesting relationships in both. That’s where nearly all of my stories start. A unilateral marriage here, a domestic triad there… the interactions between people who know each other well, or want to. Or want to hide things from each other.

It’s been a long day, and I wouldn’t doubt it, if you said I stopped making sense a few hours ago. But that’s S. One more day down.

R is for Repetition and Results

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We’re getting on toward the end of the A-to-Z Challenge–only nine more letters to go–and I’ve done well with it. It’s April, and I’ve already gotten more traffic than I did during all of last year.

I want to keep the habits I’ve started to build up here. I want to get to the end of the challenge, and keep going. So, now, I’m beginning to think about what happens after Z. I thought about blogging all the countries in the world, but considering how often I’ve gotten up and forced myself to make a last-minute post, that sounds like a lot of research. And probably a lot more diplomacy than I can muster, most days.

Whenever I’ve done something repeatedly, I’ve gotten results. I may not have wound up at the Olympics, but I do wind up with something better than I had before.

So, most of what I’ve done on the blog is from my novel. I’m revising as I go, so that’s a little slow going. I don’t think I could ever build up much of an audience from novel posts, although the people who like the novel really do seem to keep coming back for more.

And I’ve done some short stories. My concern on short stories is whether posting them here is really the best way to go. Sometimes, when I’m writing for a blog hop, I get to a point where I’m looking at my story, and thinking “Hey, this is really good. What if I–” but I’ve already decided to use it for the blog.

What I haven’t done–up until A-to-Z–is a Regular, Reliable schedule. Admittedly, there have been some times this month when I’ve felt like I’m chattering away at the Universe, but I have results to show for it. Good habits. A few new friends.

So, what’s going to come after Z for you? Any plans? Suggestions?

P is for Perfection

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Perfection is my drug of choice. Always has been.  In grade school, I was once held after school to finish a project that I had been too finicky to finish in the scheduled time. And I don’t mean, after school, that day. I mean after school that year.

The thing was supposed to be an American flag (the teacher was ex-military), and at the end of fourth grade, I was still about nine stripes short of that.  My parents brought me in the day after Summer Vacation started, and I sat in an empty classroom, gluing red, white, and blue crepe paper squares to cardboard.

All day. After all, the teacher wasn’t going anywhere, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

I’d like to say that I learned my lesson. That henceforward, I balanced my perfectionism with given time restraints, and produced perfectly adequate results.

But what I did learn was that Mrs. Beth Dawson and the United States Marine Corps do not really have any significant quality-control standards for crepe paper flags.

I don’t think I’ll ever triumph over my perfection addiction.

But I’m gradually learning to stop saying “I can fix this” and start saying “the next one will be better.” I’m learning that I can move toward perfection with motion, rather than fixation. I am learning to move on, without giving up the overall ideal.

So, there you are. A post on the letter P. And now, I’m moving on. I spent all day at work, and then wound up climbing around in a tree cutting down branches.

Pretty sure it was a killer attack tree.

The pink blossoms must’ve been some kind of display of aggression.

Story Time Blog Hop LogoThe Storytime Blog Hop for Speculative Fiction will be April 27th. I’m working on my story, right now, and I hope to see everybody then.

O is for Owning Your Website

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Click to Visit other A-to-Z participants

As part of the A-to-Z Challenge, I’ve been on other people’s websites a lot, since the beginning of April.  These are personal websites. Artful websites. They are websites that are loved. Every single one of them.

So, I’m going to grab a bullhorn, get up on a soapbox, and talk about owning your website. Because I believe you should own the website you’re building for yourself.

Here’s the thing. If your website is something like yourname.blogspot.com or yourname.wordpress.com, you do not own your website. Someone else does, and that means that someone else makes the rules. You can be bouncing along, just fine, until the rules change. Or… suddenly you want to grow, or change, or put up affiliate links. Then, you’re out of luck.

Or, maybe the guy who owns the website gets an offer he can’t refuse, and sells the domain name. That happened with a blogging community I used to be a part of. After it was sold, it was something or other for a while–music sales, I think. And now, it’s nothing. Yep. There used to be a cool little blogging world right there. And it was cool.

If I had owned my website, I would’ve moved it to a different host, and kept going like nothing happened. The links I worked to build up would still function, and the people I met–even the casual ones–would still know where to find me. That’s the benefit of ownership.

Very brief, very artsy overview of HOW to own your website, for people who are on the dreamer/hippie/artist/poet/insane genius spectrum.

1.) Domain Name. Mine is ReprobateTypewriter.com. You register your domain name with a Domain Registrar, and you pay an annual fee to maintain it. .com is a classic. Simple, and elegant, and what people think of first. If you’re more of a wild child, there are all kinds of other choices. .recipes springs to mind. I own one of those.(Cannibalism.recipes, to be precise. I love handing out that e-mail address.) There’s something for everyone. Your domain name is your brand, your monogram, your banner in the sky. Whatever. It’s how people can look you up.

I register my domain names through DomainMonster.comI’ve been happy with them. (They’re the current longest-standing relationship in my life.)

and

2.) Web Hosting. Think of this as the building your website lives in. Space on a computer. You can rent, borrow, or buy. Barter ad copy. Barter artwork. (amazing what engineering types will do to avoid the creative stuff.) Plenty of options. You can use your domain name to send people anywhere. And if you move hosts, the links stay good, and people don’t have to learn a new name. Domain Monster does do hosting, but they didn’t when I started playing with websites, so I don’t use them. I’m on Dreamhost.com right now. No complaints. You could also use some free service, and point your domain name toward that.

The thing is, owning your website is just a tiny bit more expensive, and not a whole lot more difficult than using someone else’s service, and it puts you in the driver’s seat. It lets you change and adapt to change.

So, lecture over. **takes off pince nez spectacles** Any tips, or recommendations? Who loves their registrars and hosts? Any one know of some desperate computer engineers we can rescue from… crosshatching?