Saturday, December 31, 2011

You Say You Want a Resolution

Beginnings are hard. So are endings. Really, the easiest is in the middle, where we're still figuring everything out, and nothing is final.

I'm seeing a lot of end-of-year posts, and a lot of "looking to the future" posts. I've been doing quite a lot of "right now" sort of thinking and doing, perhaps learned from the Doberman. Dogs are good at that, living in the "right now" and also the "when will you feed me", though people are good at the latter as well.

So, where do we stand, right now?  All things considered, this blog is a baby blog. I've had a total of 302 visitors, which I think is pretty snazzy. Of course, the trick is getting them to come back, and follow. And read more.  And comment!

Friday, December 30, 2011


Last weekend, for Christmas, I drove to New Jersey and back to spend it with my grandparents and family.

I do a lot of thinking while driving because really, what else are you going to do? I mean, I talked to the dog some, but she just laid on the back seat, and it isn't like I could turn around to look at her, so no input there.

 (not representative of our most recent trip; she now has a harness with an attachment that a seatbelt goes through)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Memento Mori, 1

I have this necklace. It's a skull, carved out of yak bone, that I bought at a Fair Trade store. Is it from Tibet? I'm not sure; that's where I think of when I think of yaks. I wear it to work once in awhile, and once, one of my work friends looked at me and said "That is the strangest thing I've ever seen". When I got home, we had a friend over, who said "That's awesome!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ebooks to end libraries?

Apparently, libraries are going to go out of business. Didn't you here? The Interweb has books now!

Not impressed? Don't think the sky is falling? Don't think the gotterdammerung of the library is nigh? Yeah, me neither.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Write What You Know...Research What You Don't

Other than things like spelling and punctuation, facts are pretty important.

If you want to include a topic in some way, or even a detail, it's important (in my mind any way) that it is represented as accurately as possible. The Internet is a great place for "learn enough to fake it" research; depending on the topic, the Internet is also occasionally good enough to in fact just "learn it", whatever it might be.

That's the writer's responsibility. The reader's responsibility is to keep in mind that a novel? Is fiction. The characters are not the author. Though if the reader is drawn in enough to believe that the author must have experienced described events or feelings in some way, I guess the writer has succeeded, yes?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury: a book review

Reading Ray Bradbury always seems like a treat.

The ideas that he puts together, and the resolutions that his stories frequently have, all come together in such a pleasurable way that I'm happy to read them again and recommend them often. So when I found that he'd written a book on writing, I snapped that right up and brought it home.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Library Musing

You haven't truly lived until you've been bitched out by a woman wearing a hat that is a snowman, complete with carrot nose.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Notes to Myself

I write notes to myself.

If I'm at home, I'll typically put them in any number of notebooks that I have around. I'll rouse myself from near sleep to send myself an email with my phone. If I'm at work, I grab a piece of scrap paper and scribble down the thought, or the web site, or the book, or the article, or the product. I have to search my pockets come laundry day, or these scribbles, in varying colors of pen, are shredded to bits. Lost notes are lost thoughts.

Sometimes, of course, when I find these notes, I have no idea what they mean. Zombie teabag? Hallmark channel? But sometimes making up a new answer is just as fun.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Story and Character Ideas Are Everywhere

A hipster, a sporty girl, and a businessman on a cell phone all stand at a crosswalk.

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? Or is it the opening of a movie? Or a commercial? Or your new book?

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Life after National Novel Writing Month is at once a relief and a letdown.

You no longer have the goals and the deadlines. You no longer have the charts and the progress bars. The forums are still there, and will be 'til they're recycled in October of next year, but they seem less crucial. Unless you made Internet buddies with people, going to the Reference Desk and Plot Doctoring sections no longer means you might be helping a novelling stranger hit 50k.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Crossing the Finish Line!

As of now, I am validated and have won National Novel Writing Month 2011, with 50016 words.

My story is not done, but I'm done spending time with it for now. As it stands, I consider it the weakest of my three Steampunk novels (all three of which share the distinction of being unfinished. Oy.) But I am finished, and I am proud. I do so love doing National Novel Writing Month; the pressure, the forearm pain, the utilization of wacky ideas to further the story that might push the limits of what I would normally decide to do. NaNoWriMo is a good experience, to learn more about yourself, and your writing process, and to say "I wrote a novel this year!"

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, November 28, 2011

Once the Seal is Broken

This may or may not offend you.

When I have a new hoodie, I try to put off washing it for as long as possible. For one, I'm a freak and like the "new clothes" smell. Far more than the "new car" smell, in fact, which instead of filling me with pleasure and a sense of pride, leaves me vaguely nauseous. Obviously, if the hoodie gets something on it or smells bad in any way, I'll wash it, I'm not one of those weirdos who freezes their Levis in lieu of applying soap (though again, jeans get washed if they smell or have something on them. Similar principle, but more importantly, worn jeans fit better and are more comfortable. This is not science. This is my life). But it's always a sad thing. The fleece is never so soft and velvety, once washed, as it was new. The strings get weird, the inevitable shrinking starts to occur.

Now how am I going to relate this to books?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Novel Rewards

The video game everybody is talking about this week (in my circles anyway) is Skyrim. It's the next game after Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which I must say, I played the hell out of. As in, got all the achievements on the xBox for it but the Thieves Guild. Do I want to play Skyrim? Yes I do. Roaming Dragons? Dual wielding, either weapons, or magic, or a combination? Sign me up!

The stumbling block? National Novel Writing Month.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

And in that Dark Sleep

I remember reading once that Salvador Dali had a unique setup to gain inspiration: He sat upright in a chair, his hands hanging down. Under one hand, he had a plate, and in that hand, a key. He would nod off, and when the key hit the plate, he would wake up and drew what he saw in his near dreaming state.

Apocryphal or not, it's a neat story. And I can say that I myself have frequently pulled inspiration for stories from dreams.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This is Your Brain On Drugs

I'm really pretty boring. I don't do drugs, I don't really drink (don't like the taste of most of it). I don't play paintball, I don't skydive. Well, I do one drug. Caffeine.

Since college, my soda intake, though switched from regular to Diet, has gotten what I think is a little out of hand. It's a waste of money, it isn't good for me in any way. I assure you, high doses of caffeine have not turned me into a metabolic furnace that melted the pounds away. Would that it were so. Really, so far as vices go, it could be worse. But, I want to cut back. National Novel Writing Month was perhaps not the time to do this. Or was it?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Where Am I to Go, Now that I've Gone Too Far

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently on how young adult fiction has become "too dark". I was interested and perplexed by this kind of an article and argument. There is lots of dark young adult stuff; there is also still a fair number of bubblegum and sunshine high school and boyfriend style young adult fiction. A lot of these books address "real teen issues", though, perhaps more than they used to. Judy Blume has always been very forthright in her writing of these sorts of things, and I think that many current authors maybe be taking a page from her book.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Quote of the Day: November 12, 2011

"Wanna hear something funny? When I was in prison, I was a librarian for three years!"

Working with the public is so rewarding.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In the News: November 11, 2011

Mars Crew Lands after 520 Days : I read articles on this "Mars Mission" with a good deal of interest and amusement. Mars Live Action Role Play? Governmentally funded? I just want to know why they didn't have space guns, and whether they had astronaut ice cream. I love astronaut ice cream.

The Bloop: Okay, I confess, not a news article in the most recent sense, but a mystery of science and nature.  Or perhaps Cthulhian. Nobody knows.

Asteroid 2055 YU55 passes close by Earth: how close did it get?: While reading about this asteroid, I kept thinking of Susan Beth Pfeffer's book Life as We Knew It. There are two more, but really, the first book was the best of them. I also wondered "Who the hell names these things?" because really, Asteroid 2055 YU55? That's a pretty sucky name.

Western Black Rhino Declared Extinct: Thing like this make me profoundly sad.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Seedy Underbelly

Ever watch something half-informed, or half asleep, and miss some subtle but important overarching detail?  Ever read something and finish the book completely mystified, not enlightened at all? Ever watch something as a child, and then watch it as an adult, and realize that it wasn't what you thought it was at all?

I've got a major example of one of those. Somewhat embarrassing, but really kind of funny. The Sound of Music.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's a Matter of Style

I don't make plans.

This isn't to say that I'm incapable of planning a chain of events in day to day life (meal plan for the week, how to organize tasks at work, how to teach Elka a new trick). But when I'm writing? I sit down and write the first words first, and the last words last. Sometimes I write down the middle words out of order, so I don't forget. But, outlines? Character maps? You're kidding, right?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Things We Carry

To date, I've enjoyed Tim O'Brien's book The Things They Carried the best so far as Vietnam writings go. I'm not sure if it could be properly called a novel, or essays, but I tend to read things as fiction anyway, so it doesn't bother me any. It's some of the finest prose pertaining to wartime situation that I've read, though not all of the stories contained happen in the Jungle, but a serious book too in its somewhat dreaminess, not like Catch-22 (which was about World War II but still somehow funny) or Matterhorn (which got too big for its britches and was equal parts too serious and too slangy), or The Short Timers (if you've watched "Full Metal Jacket", you know The Short Timers) or Generation Kill (book and miniseries are about equivalent).

The title is both literal and figurative. What I've been thinking about is the same way.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

In the News: November 2, 2011

Just a few news articles that piqued my interest and seemed really cool, whether they're true or false.

'Magic' Viking Sunstone Just Natural Crystal: the dismissive tone in part of this article bemuses me. Even if it was "just" natural crystal and not "magic", it was still pretty brilliant.

Scientists Claim to Have Discovered Cold Fusion: Yeah, we've been here before. But, with video. Cold fusion! Who cares if it's true! (well, actually, I think it would be rad if it was. I have a distinct dislike of nuclear meltdowns)

Reformed Skinhead and his tattoo removal (sorry some of these are Yahoo news, it's just where I saw them first): this seems like how I would have preferred American History X to have ended. The guy even talks a bit like Edward Norton.

Chernobyl Liquidators : Pretty self explanatory.

And, for the heck of it, my Doberman, Elka:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bruce Springsteen

Well, I was going to wait. But why not talk about Bruce Springsteen?

In my previous post, "The Order of Things", I discussed having a novel that was inspired and influenced by Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland".  Off of the Born to Run album, which is hands-down my favorite, it's also, I think, the longest song. It's about love and betrayal and being desperate, and all the things that go on at night.

The Order of Things

I'm not a big fan of poetry. 

That is to say, poetry has to be particularly fine to draw me in. I like Allen Ginsberg's "Howl". I like T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land. I like Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus". I guess what I'm getting at here is that I like rather literary, somewhat complex poetry, though I do have a New Jersey loyalty to William Carlos Williams and, of course, Bruce Springsteen (so he sings his poems. They're poems. That are stories. More on this another time.) Poems tell stories in fewer words and fewer pages, poets loading all the power that they can into each phrase, and every chosen word, and there's a certain magic in that.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cultivating an Image

I discussed writing superstitions only a couple of days ago, but wonder if perhaps I jumped the gun.  My main argument (discussion?) was that I didn't want to have writing superstitions, be it about certain objects or situations, because if those objects or situations were removed, I didn't want to find myself unable to write.

Maybe I was wrong, though, and I'll play the devil's advocate here and tell you why.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

National Novel Writing Month is only a week away!

30 days, 50,000 words. If you're not in the habit of writing, it sounds rather imposing. If you are, it sounds like cake, doesn't it? But is it, really? A novel from start to finish, the length of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Of Mice and Men?

Maybe it's easy. Maybe it isn't. But Christ Baty, National Novel Writing Month's founder, wrote a book to help you out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Very Superstitious, Writing's on the Wall

A lot of writers have superstitions. They use a particular pen, have good luck charms, have little totems that they keep around to aid in the creative process.

While I can appreciate the need (and fondness) for trinkets of that sort, I try to do the exact opposite. I try to be able to write wherever, whenever, however, because I don't want to find myself stuck if I don't have a pair of fingerless gloves on, or if I left my plastic quarter-machine Doberman at home. I really don't want to cultivate precious habits like that, or I'll end up like Roseanne on that episode where she started to go to Bingo games and ended up with all kinds of lucky lighters that she had to arrange in a pattern in front of her.
(Image from Wikipedia)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whose reality?

I don't like reality TV.

I have two improbable exceptions to this: Dog the Bounty Hunter (I know, right?) and cooking shows. I love Japanese Iron Chef, I love Hell's Kitchen, I love Masterchef.

But "regular" reality TV? The Real World, Jersey Shore, Survivor? No, thank you. I'm from the Jersey Shore, and that's not my reality. It isn't now, and it wasn't while I was there. But I loved the Bones episode about it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

City in Ruins

This might be a morbid or macabre thing to consider, but what's your favorite ruined city?

I don't mean "favorite" in a sunshine-happy Disney sort of way; I mean in a really truly fascinates you sort of way. I mean in a way that draws you in and makes you want to know about it, that you wonder about occasionally.

I had this discussion with a friend the other day, because his favorite ruined city, Krakatoa, was on the cover of Archaeology magazine. My favorite is Pripyat, in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. It's occurred to me that it's a special sort of group of friends that you can have this sort of conversation with.

(photo from Wikitravel)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Judge a Book by Its Cover

You know what a phrase I really don't like is? "You can't judge a book by its cover."

When it comes to actual people, to whom the metaphor is often applied, that is true. Books, though.  Until you open them, the cover is all you have to go by! Is it a hardcover or a paperback? Is it a cardboard hardcover, or leather bound? Is it a nice fat trade paperback, or one of those weird, tall floppy ones? Does the hardcover have a dust jacket on it? Is the cover glossy or textured? Are there people on the cover picture, or is it a landscape? If there's a dog, is it the actual breed that the story describes (this you can only find out later. And, mostly, it isn't.) Does the book smell bad?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott: a book review

I read a lot of books. Really, it was kind of a herculean effort to wait this long before putting a review up.

I go through phases where I read a lot of books on writing, or a lot of books on a particular research topic (Chernobyl, South Africa, and mercenaries, to name a few), or a lot of books on dogs. I actually didn't used to read much nonfiction, it was novels and short stories all the way, with a smattering of poetry. But, well, things change.

So, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, is a book on writing. Actual writing, not publication, not marketing, writing. And trying to get it right.

Writing Assignment: 10-20-11

Today's writing assignment, should you choose to accept it:

Take the wrapper off of a brand new blank book, providing it has a wrapper in the first place. Write something. Simple, right? Maybe not.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

I threw away my rejection letters.

It was a rather satisfying, if not cathartic, experience, which I of course promptly Facebooked, as one does. There's more to that end of the story, which I'll tell you one day.  But today we're going to talk story submissions, and rejections.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In the Headlines

Sometimes, people ask me where ideas come from. And sometimes I don't know.

Other times, I can truthfully say that I've gotten inspiration from reading the news. I know I'm not the only one.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Your Limits Will Set You Free

In writing classes, when an assignment was handed out, most of the other students sighed, and rolled their eyes, and sometimes even ignored it and did what they wanted anyway. I can't say that I never did what I wanted anyway, but for the most part, I was happy to have the assignment. Writing assignments can challenge you to step out of your comfortable crevice and do something new with your writing, and doing something new can be when you learn and grow.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

There's Someone in my Head, but It's not Me

Occasionally, we all run into this question: "Why do you write?"

The sort answer is "because I have to." That's a little too mystical, though.  Or pretentious. Or Schizophrenic. "I write because the voices in my head tell me to".  Yeah, sure lady. Did you stop taking your Thorazine because you didn't like how it made you feel?

So, a longer winded answer is in order.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

You have died of dysentery

As a middle-schooler, I was haunted by a video on general computer use that they once showed us. This was the 90's, so PC's weren't as ubiquitous as they now are; Campbell's Soup labels still bought Macs for schools, on which we played Oregon Trail and Fraction Munchers.

Write it Down

I used to be afraid to write in a blank book. I felt that, if I started a story in one, I had to finish the story there, or else I had "wasted" it. I loved having blank books, though, and so have amassed quite a collection.

Junior or Senior year of college, I got over it. Maybe it was because of the creative writing classes I was eventually able to take on the side (my degree is in Psychology). Suddenly, I was able to write a name, or a blurb, or the beginning of a story, and if that was all I was going to write on that topic, I could draw a line or turn the page and write something else. Easy peasy.

It was freeing, really, to not have to worry about keeping a book "nice". I think I had probably read too many books in which the heroine had journals or letters that she kept for posterity, for Those Who Came After to read. Between computers and my handwriting, I don't really need to worry about that. Frequently, I'll write the opening of a story in a notebook (I keep any number of them in my purse and at work) and then finish the rest of it on the computer.

Other times, I'll have an idea, but not really the time to get out the pen and paper. In those instances, I'll whip out the cell phone and email or text myself the phrase that's come to mind. That's how I preserved my idea for this year's National Novel Writing Month; I was almost asleep, lights off, pen and paper distant, and thinking about the stories that we tell.  I didn't want to forget my notions, and so I grabbed my phone and emailed myself the words "Family Apocrypha". And then went to sleep and forgot. Imagine my surprise, the next morning, when I opened my Gmail! But I remembered the idea.

Good ideas or bad, if you don't remember them, you aren't able to judge. Write it down.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Beginnings are often awkward.

We don't know each other yet, don't know each other's habits, and perhaps don't yet know what to say. So here, I'll go first.

My name is Jennifer, though I prefer Jen. I've been making up stories for as long as I can remember, and I eventually began writing them down. I wrote a very bad fantasy novel during high school, which will not see the light of day. Since then, I've written, and started, other novels that I think are rather better. Since 2007, I've participated in National Novel Writing Month, which is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.

I plan on sharing my writing process here, and also discussing books and stories in general.  I've always been a big reader, frequently getting in trouble for it as I grew up. Even now, I read between 100 and 200 books a year, my "habit" fostered by my job at a library. I love fantasy and science fiction, and also good old fashioned "literary" fiction.

I feel that a good writer needs to read.  I believe that a good writer learns about the world, and never stops learning, regardless of whether there's a classroom. Writing, authoring, is a process and a journey, and I hope you enjoy coming with me.