Guess Who’s NOT Invited to Participate in NaNoWriMo?

This blog might be a little on the quiet side for the month of November, as I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, or as it’s known in the writing community, NaNoWriMo.

The goal of NaNoWriMo (other than having an obnoxious acronym) is to write a 50,000 word (175 page) novel by November 30. It takes a certain level of insanity to accomplish this, but it is doable. Over 35,000 people accomplished this goal during the 2011 NaNoWriMo.

Let’s be honest. A novel created in thirty days is going to reek of dingleberries. But that’s sort of the point. Because of the ticking clock, you have to crank out an average of 1,700 words a day. There’s no time for that pesky inner editor to criticize your purple prose or your character’s motivation. Besides, true writing happens in the revisions, anyway.

For me, writing my very first draft was like opening a door to a world I never knew existed. The words flowed like magic. While most of those words weren’t any good, I didn’t care because I was having so much fun.

Now, after multiple revisions, immersing myself in writing workshops, critique groups, and finding out how bloody hard it is to get published, I’ve learned a few things. The inner editor who lurks inside me sits there with her red sharpie, dying to tell me that the sentence I’ve written doesn’t move the story forward. She points out all the things I’m doing wrong, reminding me that agents and editors are so inundated, if my first page doesn’t sparkle with brilliance and a unique voice, they won’t get to page two. My inner editor is well aware of the components of a successful novel – compelling characters, intriguing plot, inciting incident. Macro and micro tension. High stakes. Themes. Subplots. A crisis, climax and satisfying resolution. Character arcs. Limited backstory. Original metaphors. No cliché. Internal and external conflict. It’s crazy-making.

I’m not trying to bash my inner editor. I’m glad she knows stuff, and it comes in handy with my critique partners and during revisions. But if I listen to her when I’m drafting, she’ll sap the life right out of the creative process.

That’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo. Thanks to the looming deadline and the necessity of churning out so many words a day, there’s simply no room for that inner editor.

I’m excited to jump into a brandy-new manuscript. My current MS (WRECTIFY) is sitting on my agent’s desk, hoping for the chance to go out on submission in the near future. That whole process and the lack of control involved is also crazy-making, so immersing myself in NaNoWriMo is very appealing. The working title of my new project is LUNA PARK, and it’s about a haunted amusement park. For you Denver folks, think Lakeside on the dark side. Aren’t you curious about what’s inside this tower? I can’t wait to write about it. And guess what, inner editor? You’re not invited. Neener, neener, neener!

 Anyone else out there doing NaNo? 

 

 

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Lessons from the Mac Daddy of the Macabre

Give me a twisty psychological thriller to read any day, but horror? I don’t have the liver for it. I am the world’s biggest chicken. Kind of goes without saying that I don’t write horror either. But, there are a couple of scenes in my WIP that should be unnerving and spooky, and they weren’t coming off the page like I wanted them to. So I decided to study from the master himself, Mr. Stephen King.

A few years ago, I read On Writing, Stephen King’s book about urban hedgehogs. Just kidding. His advice on writing was so inspiring, it made me want to give his novels a shot. I felt like I’d been missing out, but yet, I didn’t want to read anything that would cause me to soil my britches. So I read The Green Mile, about a man on death row who has a supernatural ability to heal. Not supposed to be scary, but that electric chair scene . . . are you kidding me?

Fast forward to now. Guess which Stephen King novel I chose to study the craft of writing horror? The Shining, of course.

I am not very smart.

The Shining is so bone-numbingly terrifying, it will take me a year to finish it. I’m serious. I can only manage a chapter a week. And I only read it in the morning, so I have at least eight hours of daylight to let the creeptastic images burn off. Even then, my warped imagination kicks in as I try to sleep, and I picture poor little Danny mumbling “Redrum,” or being attacked by giant hedge animals. Shoot. I’m FREAKING MYSELF OUT RIGHT NOW!

*Deep breath*

I’m a little over halfway through. Here’s my take on why Stephen King’s novels are so blasted scary. It’s not because he surprises you with things that go bump in the night. It’s the opposite. King tells you up front what to be afraid of. He sets it up in the very first chapters. Then you get creeped out waiting for the bad thing to happen. But for pages and pages and pages, it doesn’t. He’s a wolf who toys with you like the mouse you are. He milks your sense of dread. And when the scary thing finally happens, things go down differently than how you’ve built them up in your mind. THEN he capitalizes on the element of surprise.

For example. In The Shining, young Danny Torrance (who is psychic) and his parents move into an isolated hotel to serve as caretakers for the winter. In the beginning of the novel, the hotel’s cook (also psychic) pulls Danny aside and warns him about spirits in the hotel. He tells Danny specifically to stay out of room 217. That’s the set-up.

As the novel progresses, Danny wanders past room 217 several times, but heeds the cook’s advice. Nearly halfway into the book, Danny goes into room 217 and sees a bloated nasty corpse of a woman in the bathtub. A disturbing visual of this scene is forever seared in my psyche from watching the movie on TV when I was a kid. Thankfully, the censors blocked out the corpse’s withered girlie bits, or my psychological problems would be much worse than they already are.

Now Danny is terrified, and the normal reader is mildly disturbed. I’m not the normal reader, as by this point, I’m prying my fingernails out of the ceiling. It gets downright unbearable when the corpse opens her eyes and comes out of the bathtub to attack Danny. Thank you, Stephen King, for a solid week of nightmares.

King switches scenes just as Danny struggles with the locked door and the corpse is stumbling toward him. We’re spared the gory details of that attack, but leaving it to the imagination is much worse. What happens next is where King really turns the screw. Danny’s parents haven’t wanted to believe that he’s psychic, but when the boy shows up with strangulation marks on his neck, they’re forced to listen. He spills it about the corpse in room 217. Jack, his father, who hasn’t gone all “Heere’s Johnny” yet, goes to check it out. You’re all kinds of scared when Jack enters room 217 and shuts the door behind him. When he walks into the bathroom, you’re totally bracing yourself to wet your pants. But it’s a normal hotel bathroom. The towels are neatly folded, no wet footprints on the rug, and wait for it . . . the shower curtain is closed. He stares at the white see-through shower curtain, fear building up in his spine, and then rips it open.

Nothing but an empty bathtub. Relief washes over him as he closes the curtain, realizing his son has a very overactive imagination. He even chuckles to himself. You breathe again, too. Jack leaves the bathroom, walks into the bedroom, and inspects the room to be sure no one is hiding there. And then it happens, just when you and Jack have let your guards down. The sound of metal scraping against metal . . . the shower curtain slowly opens. Wet, thudding footsteps coming toward you, I mean Jack, from the bathroom. Every hair on your arm is standing at attention as you scan the page to see how Jack will get away, his worst fears about his son and the hotel coming true.

THIS is why I have to read The Shining in broad daylight, served up with a chaser of cute baby animals to numb the nerves. Look at the wittle puppies. Don’t you feel better?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For fans of the book, guess what? 35 years after The Shining was published, Stephen King has written the sequel, called Doctor Sleep. It follows the story of Danny Torrance as a young man, and comes out next September. Now I know what I’m reading next Halloween. Surrounded by lots of pictures like this.

 

 

Do you dig scary books? What’s your favorite?

Happy Release Day!

Back in February, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Gennifer Albin about her path to publication. You can read the interview here.  And now, Genn’s debut novel is officially on the shelves! If you’re a fan of THE HUNGER GAMES, or Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT series, you won’t want to miss CREWEL, which was chosen as BEA’s YA Editor’s Buzz Pick for 2012. Which is a ginormous honor.

Here’s more about CREWEL.

Incapable. Awkward. Artless.

That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.

Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back.

Congratulations, Gennifer. So blasted excited for you!

 

Celebrate the Right to Read – Even if it’s Captain Underpants

A few years back, I read a YA novel called Crank by Ellen Hopkins. It’s the story of a teen who becomes addicted to crystal meth. There’s rape, unwanted pregnancy, all sorts of drug use, and you guessed it, it’s banned in many places. It’s also required reading in high schools across the country. When my kids are old enough, it will be required reading in the Christopher house, too. One of the most amazing aspects of reading – to me, at least – is the ability to wear someone else’s skin around for 300 pages or so. Living vicariously (good or bad) through the main character, we learn about choices and their aftermath. Controversial books spark conversations, and that’s never a bad thing, in my opinion.

Today, as I was reading about frequently banned books on the American Library Association’s site, my teeth about fell out of my head to learn that the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey is on the list. My son adores these books. His fourth grade classroom has the whole series (you go, Aspen Creek Elementary!). Last week, Sam brought home the newest one, Captain Underpants and the Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers. He went straight up to his room and didn’t surface for two hours. When I called him down for dinner, he had the biggest smile on his face, and said, “I LOVE to read!” Just a few days earlier he’d said, “I HATE to read!” when forced to do his homework. We’re no strangers to drama around here.

Captain Underpants is all about potty humor. I’ve never found potty humor amusing, not even when I was a kid. But then again, I’ve never been a fourth grade boy. Honestly, I find the books a little on the crude side, but if you hang around a pack of fourth grade boys, crudeness is kind of their modus operandi. Sam thinks these books are hysterical. He shares his favorite parts with me, howling with laughter. The fact that he’s sharing what he reads makes me happy. The fact that he gets so much joy out of reading makes me unspeakably happy. So, while I may not necessarily enjoy you, Captain Underpants, I thank you and I even respect you, for making my son a better reader.

Check out this list of the top 100 banned books of the last decade. Guess what was at the top of the list? The Harry Potter series. Seriously, who are these people? So many life-changing books for me are on this list… A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Wrinkle in Time, Julie of the Wolves, Bridge to Terabithia. It makes me nauseous to think that some kids won’t ever experience these remarkable books because of censorship. I’m beyond grateful that my parents let me read whatever I wanted. I’m thankful for my school, where I read Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, and Catch 22. And I’m especially thankful that my son’s elementary school allows Captain Underpants to grace their hallowed halls.

Are there any books on these lists that surprised you? 

Monday Medicine – Bad Lip Reading

I just discovered Bad Lip Reading. It’s a website that re-dubs scenes from movies, videos, and political speeches based on what the dialogue would sound like if someone was reading the speaker’s lips. It’s ridiculous and hysterical, and completely caters to my random sense of humor.

Here’s some silliness from Twilight.

Dude. . . you slapped a fiiiish!