And we’re off!

November again. Insane writing month again. This, of course, means more procrastination blogs for everyone! The goal this month is to write the second half of The Hero Journey of Lola Avelia Stubbins XII. Wish me luck, and have a little sneak peek at a bit of what I wrote last year, with apologies for the weird formatting.

Excerpt from The Hero Journey of Lola Avelia Stubbins XII

Stub spilled gracelessly into the corridor, bowled over by the weight of her pack. “Pint and pissers,” she swore. Spaceships may have been engineered mostly by dwoles, but they were staffed primarily by the much taller gorgs and silfs and nomons, and the scale made it obvious.
“Whoa, steady on.” A hand reached down to help her up.
Stub jerked her arm away and felt immediately abashed. She looked up…she always looked up… at her rescuer. “Thanks, but I’m fine.”
“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one,” the grable said. Black hair shimmering with the iridescence of an oil slick fell over a gleaming emerald complexion to frame a lascivious stare.”You’re not fine: you’re a fox.”
Stub could feel her skin pinking. Her eyes traveled back down the ropy arms exposed by his loose workout jumper. She swallowed. “Umm…thanks?”
He laughed. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be flirting with you while you’re in uniform. That’s gonna get me busted back down to ensign one of these days. But didn’t the sarge let you know you can use the lifts? You barely clear a meter. There’s a minimum height rule in the accessibility guidelines.”
Stub pulled herself upright and met his gaze. She did not inform him that the sergeant had, in fact, glossed over that useful piece of information. Still… “My height isn’t a handicap. I don’t need special treatment.”
He held up a hand, palm out. “I respect that.”
Stub forced a smile. “Sorry. I’ve taken half a dozen cracks about my size between docking and here. Truth be told, I am going to need to increase the upper body work in my calisthenics routine to get out of those tubes any way but face-first.”
“That’s the spirit.” He grinned. “The tall folks think it’s funny to haze the new wee ones and they’re generally too smart to get caught by a senior officer. But most of ‘em aren’t that bad once you get to know ‘em. Hang in there.”
The grable punched her shoulder and scooched past her to swing gracefully up into the tube she had just fallen out of. “See you around, Fox.”
Stub’s mouth worked too slowly and she ended up speaking to the closed hatch. “See you around.”
She spun slowly on one heel, breathing in deeply as she considered the arrows on the numbered signs and found her direction. “Oh no you don’t, Lola Avelia Stubbins. This is a short-term assignment and you’re on thin ice here as it is. Don’t even think about it.”
She couldn’t help but think about it…him. Even if the grable’s interest was only the stereotypical grable willingness to screw anything with a pulse…well. Even by grable standards, that one was a looker. And it had been a very, very long time.
That thought deflated her bubble of sensuous daydream in a lark’s minute. The reason, she reminded herself, that it had been so long since she’d had a good tumble wasn’t likely to change. Shirlings were not broadly popular as a race for reasons that went beyond height, and as soon as any of her shipmates picked up on her real name, she could count on becoming the same thing she’d been everywhere she’d gone since college: the scapegoat for the sins of her forebearers.
And those of her, she couldn’t deny it, embarrassingly fanatic relatives who refused to acknowledge that their hero-worshiping version of history was somewhere between dead wrong and aggressively backwards.
Entering her blessedly private quarters, she wasted no time dumping her gear out of the duffle and into the footlocker. Organizing it into the null-g webbing would have to wait until after her meeting, but she needed a fresh uniform and her shower kit post-haste. An unwelcome leatherbound book fell out of the bottom of her bag, landing on her unmentionables with no sense of decency. Not that her underwear were indecent: it was that damn book.
“Thinking of fanatic relatives,” she sighed. She had told her mother she didn’t want it, but she had said Stub was being unreasonable. As if a junior lieutenant’s footlocker on a working spaceship was a reasonable place to store a historical artifact and family heirloom. Stub had taken it out of her bag three times before she got out the door, but apparently Mam had got the final word in. “Serve her right if I incinerate the blasted thing,” she growled.
Stub shoved the book to the very bottom of her locker and grabbed what she needed to clean up. Disposing of her namesake’s journal would have to wait.

NaNoWriMo Wants You!

Guess what?!? It’s that time of year again! Yep, the time of year when National Novel Writing Month and the holidays collide to make my already questionable ability to produce content for the blog just slip away altogether. This year the delightful mess is further complicated by the fact the John and I just bought a house and that I’m house-sitting for my parents in a week. I’ll be lucky if something approaching novel writing happens, let alone blogging.

But that’s okay, right, because I know all of you who read my blog so diligently are going to be SO inspired by my post that you’re going to go out there and spent the month in solidarity with me, writing like little fiends whether you like it or not. And I don’t care if half of you are whinging and trying to get away with that, “But I’m not a writer” nonsense.

National Novel Writing Month is an awesome endeavor for everyone, and here’s why:

1. Learn to Appreciate the Labor of Writing

You like to read, right? So develop some empathy for the work writers really do. If you’ve developed no empathy by the end of the month, you’re either a natural or a prolific disaster–either way, you may have found a new calling.

2. Be Brain-Healthier

Trying new things is good for your brain. Skydiving is expensive and terrifying. Writing is terrifying (especially when you share your work with others), but at least it’s cheap. And when people mock you for the outcome, at least you probably haven’t added injuries to the insults with a broken leg or something.

3. Become Immortal

Everyone has lived a life, and everyone has a story to tell. If you think you don’t, that means you’re not sharing it. If you’re not sharing it, your stories and knowledge will die with you.

4. Stop Being Selfish

See above. Stop hoarding your stories! In an age where biological mutation has become all but irrelevant for the perpetuation of the human race, the forces which drives us to evolve is the introduction of memes. If you’re hoarding your memetic wealth, you’re cutting the entire planet off from a potential source of valuable change.

Okay, I admit…even if you are a morally beatific genius, that one’s a bit of a stretch. That’s all I’ve got right now, but I think any one of those reasons should convince you to try to write a novel. If nothing else, it will give you one more story to tell.


With a Little Help From My Friends

Never say that this dudette don’t meet her deadlines, ayuh.  With a little help from the Great Pumpkin, a ridiculously damaging October snowstorm, and a wonderful husband who knows when I need to ignore him for a while…I’ve done it. I’ve survived the second major revision of last year’s NaNoWriMo novel. Now I need your help. My book is far from perfect, but I’ve rewritten so much of it that I can’t distinguish between storylines that are, were, and might have been. I need detailed constructive criticism, and I’m not above offering bribes to get it.  Here’s a look at what all I’m asking you to read:

Autumn’s Daughter

Niamh Brennan is changing into…something. Something that can incinerate objects with a glance, move objects with a thought, inadvertently dematerialize a moving vehicle, and that’s not even the half of it. When Niamh’s sister Birdy is kidnapped by an entity no one else can even see, Niamh and her best friend plunge into a strange world of magic and theoretical physics to rescue her. In pursuit of the missing girl, Niamh discovers that she is more deeply connected than she could have imagined to the politics and scheming of a not-as-mythical-as-she-thought people who call themselves the Sidhe.

Edit My Book Fast Contest Extravaganza!

To enter:

1. Email me at the following address: with the subject line “I want to rip your manuscript into tiny pieces to make it better, for reals.”

2. Receive a reply from me containing a checklist of feedback I’m looking for and Word document attachment.

3. Email me again when I inevitably forget to attach the attachment.

4. Read my checklist, then read my book.

5. Make no less than 30 comments, changes, and/or suggestions using the comments and “track changes” features on Word or Open Office. If you don’t track it, I might not be able to find it to count it towards your total.

6. Save your copy and email it as an attachment back to me.

Grand Prize (first five valid responses)

> 1 batch of homemade cookies (chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, or snickerdoodles, your choice, and please don’t neglect to mention any food allergies if you win)

> Custom-designed mug sweater (they’re cute and they keep your tea warm!)

> Mention on my “Thanks” page when I eventually get published

> My eternal gratitude

Awesome Prize (next five valid responses)

> Custom-designed mug sweater (they’re cute and they keep your coffee warm!)

> Mention on my “Thanks” page when I eventually get published

> My eternal gratitude

Not Too Shabby Prize (any other valid responses)

> Mention on my “Thanks” page when I eventually get published

> My eternal gratitude

Bonus Prize for Artists!

If you’re and my book inspires you to draw anything from it, I would LOVE to see what you do. If you send me art based on my book (along with your permission to put it on my blog), I would be delighted to share it with my readers and link the post to your web presence.

I am heading into NaNoWriMo as of now and I still have a mountain of Christmas knitting to accomplish, so this contest will remain open at least until December 16th, longer if I have not received ten valid responses. One week after I announce the close of the contest, I will announce the winners. Prizes will be sent out by the end of January.

The Great Pumpkin

It’s All Hallow’s Eve. The night when the spirits of the dead walk the earth. Whether you believe in honoring the mysterious spirits or fooling them, or whether you believe that the dead rest silent in their graves, it’s an eerie night. My family never celebrated the modern tradition of Halloween, dressing up in costumes to roam the neighborhood looking for candy. We marked the wakening of the spirits by hiding in the basement with the latest Disney movie and Pu-Pu platters for six. All the lights on the ground floor were turned off, the door was locked, and we curled up in front of the basement t.v. with our egg rolls and the pre-sorted plastic pumpkins full of lawfully purchased candy to ignore the doorbell as it rang and rang and rang.

I miss those Halloweens. In retrospect, they are probably one of those landmark moments where nurture defines you and they may play some bigger than small part in my anxiety about interacting normally with your average American. I cherish the memories, however, because they are also a memorable source of the bond I have with my family, especially my little sisters. I like to think that our little plastic pumpkin patch was, to borrow from Linus, “Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”

Halloween has been a special kind of hell for me since I graduated and left the cozy womb of our isolationist traditions. Not that the womb would have stayed the same–somewhere along the line my mother loosened up about Halloween and now seems to enjoy celebrating it. I enjoy a good costume as much as the next geek, but Halloween is more the realm of Bacchus these days. There’s nothing like a macabre costume party to bring out a college student’s skanky, experimental, and overindulgent side. It is another side effect of my upbringing that as much as I try to reserve judgement, the sort of wild behavior that Halloween permits makes me extremely uncomfortable. On October 31st, my toes just curl in queasiness at the thought of joining the real world.

I’ve been feeling especially unexcited at the thought of leaving the house this Halloween, though for once my reasons are far from being connected to my aversion to the normal holiday traditions. Halloween is also, you see, the last day before NaNoWriMo begins. It is the last day for me to finish my penultimate (one hopes) revisions on the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year, freeing me to start the new year fresh. Working means eight hours less each day to spend feverishly hacking and rewriting vital passages in my book. I’ve already figured out a schedule to minimize the time I spend on things like eating, housework, sleeping, and personal hygiene, but there’s really only so much time I can shave off my time at work.

I’ve been trying to compensate this past week for all the revision work that I couldn’t force myself to complete over the summer and in September. Every spare moment has been spent at my keyboard, or roaring in frustration when Word whines at me because my file is too big for its tiny, inefficient brain (hah, look who’s talking). In other words, my efforts have been sincerity itself. With all my heart, I have been wishing for just a few more hours to write before All Hallow’s Day lands with it’s demand that I start anew.

It’s always struck me as heinously unfair that Linus was so mocked for his faith in the Great Pumpkin. I sometimes wonder if the purity of our faith isn’t more important than the object. I suppose, in the end, all we can judge the worth of our faith by is the evidence in our lives. Linus may never have seen the Great Pumpkin; he may never have received a pile of gifts. To him, all that said was that his pumpkin patch lacked sincerity, inspiring him to belief all the more fervently next year.

For me? The Great Pumpkin brought snow in October. I was thoroughly disappointed when the snow cancelled our trip to New Hampshire to visit John’s family, but I gained two days to scribble away in, working sincerely toward my goal. Better yet (well, better for my writing, though sadly not for the community), the storm took out power to the school I work in: on Halloween, I am free to stay at home in my pajamas writing like the mad woman I am.

I’ll meet my goal. And when ghost of last year’s NaNoWriMo project will be finished by midnight,  I’ll get to start fresh on my next book on All Hallow’s Day. I say when, not if, because that one little slip is all it would take to doom me.

When I succeed, just try and tell me there’s no Great Pumpkin.

Writer’s Workshop: Contest Coming Soon!

I was so excited about summer, back in May. It was going to be my magical time to write and revise and edit…my golden ticket to the candy factory of getting paid to make shit up. I had a brilliant plan in place. In the weeks I had between the end of school and the beginning of camp, I was going to revise my novel to a point that I would be content sending it out for review by agents. By the end of September, I planned to have researched agents, written query letters, and sent out my first pleas for rejection to leave my free to spend October and November outlining the sequel.

Before you laugh, I have to defend my lofty plans by saying that I have a track record of being a damn fine editor. I have taken a hundred-page academic thesis in a discipline that is not my own and polished it in under a week on more than one occasion. Can do, have done. In my mind, whipping 70,000 words of fantasy into shape should have been a cake walk. And…if it was someone else’s work, that might be true. Have you ever tried major reworking of a story? It’s like telling your quirky kid that he need liposuction and a few hours in the tanning bed. Well, okay, more like a change in diet and some moderate exercise from time to time, but even though the changes will improve my novel immensely, I’m finding them extremely difficult to make.

I buckled down on Monday and spent some quality time writing a query letter and researching agents. Three paragraphs took me about as long as two chapters of the book itself. I’m still not pleased with them, but it looks like I’ll have plenty of time to edit it: every piece of advice I’ve come across recommends having your manuscript in mailing form before you send our your query letters. Apparently nothing kills interest faster than not being ready to mail out a manuscript if an agent asks to read it.

So here’s my plan: I’m begging for help, for which I will pay with cookies. I’m telling you this now to keep myself accountable. On October 31st, I will have finished my first major revision of my novel, according to the plan I have outlined. On that date, I will be publishing a call for editors. I will send out my manuscript via email to anyone who volunteers to help, along with an outline of what I intend the book to be. The first five people to read my manuscript and return it to me with edits made via “track changes” and “comments” will receive a batch of homemade cookies and a custom-designed mug sweater. The second five to read it and return it will receive a custom-designed mug sweater. Everyone who reads it and returns it with comments will receive immortality in print if ever I land a publishing deal, as I will thank you all in my front matter using the nom de plume of your choice. I will give more details about the sort of feedback I need in the October 31st post. It is not a task for the faint-hearted, but knowing my few (but loyal) fans are cheering me on with their blue and red metaphorical pens will help me plow through the writing of book number two during NaNoWriMo.

So…who’s with me? Do I have any editorially-minded takers out there?


My goat was gotten this morning, my friends. Tweeting about my NaNoWriMo progress has increased my Twitter connection to other writers, and this morning one of them posted a link to a blog post of other writers describing their opinion of this crazy writing bonanza. Most of the authors had positive things to say, but there’s one in every group, isn’t there? One sour banana that rots the experience of the bunch.

I won’t bother telling you what this one negative nancy said–it was too insulting to not-yet-published writers to bear repeating and I don’t need to damage the author’s obviously fragile writing ego by trumpeting the specifics of her petty jealousy to the world. There’s a silver lining in every self-righteous cloud and what came out of my fury with this no-name stranger was some contemplation about what NaNoWriMo can really do for a struggling, would-be writer. Namely, what it has been doing for my lazy brain.

There’s an old self-help saw that says any habit can be changed in 21 days, and I’ve heard (or rather, read) people claiming that participating in NaNoWriMo is their way of jumping in to establish a new habit. Research on changing behaviors, however, doesn’t bear this out. Read, for example, this article. And the more I read from veteran NaNoWriMo participants, the more I see that the attitude of “changing my habits forever” is a newbie sentiment. The vets seem to sing a tune more like, “It’s so nice to be a part of a supportive community of writers and to renew my commitment to writing.”

Which makes sense, when you think about it. The last time I was bellyaching about my own tendency to get in the way of my own writing, my mother reminded me tongue-in-cheek of a passage from Romans: “The willing is in me, but the doing of the good is not.  For the good that I want I do not, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (7:18b-19, NAS) Paul was theologizing about the sinful nature of humanity, of course, and it’s worth noting that I have a problem with the way the rest of this passage philosophically separates us from responsibility for changing our habits, but his observation is still very true. Connecting our actions with our best intentions is a universally difficult thing.

A friend of mind recently linked to this article about changing habits on one of her social networking pages, and I was floored by the implications the author drew from a study in kinesiology to the changing of habits. Learning a new physical motion in place of an old one takes 3000 to 5000 times to master, and if this carries through to replacing something like sitting on the couch knitting to sitting down at my desk to write, his point is well taken: “Five thousand is an inordinate number of times to face a decision, and to make the right choice.”

So a single month of writing really has far less than a hundred opportunities to make the decision to sit my rump down and crank out some type. Changing my daily routine on a permanent basis is not the most probable outcome of the exercise, and in all likelihood, my manuscript will sit on my computer growing e-dust for more time than I want it to once the month is up. What I think I will take with me, however, is the sense that I AM NOT SPECIAL.

Yes, Mom, I’ve finally figured out that I’m really just like everyone else.  I’m finally learning to take comfort from that truth. When I walk away from NaNoWriMo, I’ll still know that there are more than a hundred thousand other writers staring at the remnants of their NaNoWriMo projects wondering, “Now what?” I’ll know that I’m not alone in my editing misery, in my inevitable rejected-over-and-over-again-by-publishers disappointment, and in my relentless hope that maybe someday someone will pay me enough money to write that I can quit my day job.

And come next November, I’ll probably come back to my computer with a new idea, grateful that I have the accountability of posting my daily word count for this world of writers to see to give me the kick in the pants I need in order to keep the faith for another year.

Pumpkins and kittens and gourds, oh my!

NaNoWriMo is going well. As you can see by my handy little widget if you’re reading this during November 2010, I am actually a bit ahead of the minimum schedule. Since this has also turned out to be a week full of amusing anecdotes, I thought I’d take a writing sabbatical from my writing sabbatical (is that even possible?) to write you a post of a few amusing happenings in my life since last week.

First, I sliced off the tip of my thumb while attempting to cut tomatoes with a dull knife. You heard it here first, folks–those nice sharp knives they demo in the cooking stores that can cut tomatoes like paper actually do serve a purpose. I always cringe when I hear my dad or my youngest sister tell me they’ve cut of the tip of a thumb or finger (yes, it is a recurring event in my family), but you know what? It’s not that bad. Really.

Second, John and I carved a pumpkin for the Deviant Art contest. Or rather, John spent two days carving and Dremeling a pumpkin and two gourds while I lounged on the couch knitting, watching Psych, and offering enthusiastic moral support. Credit where it’s due? I did hollow the gourds out, and most of the pumpkin. You can see Mork the Pumpkin on John’s Deviant Art page. (Poke around his gallery too–he’s got some neat photos up there!)

Mork continued to be a source of amusement. First, we displayed him for our trick-or-treater. Yes, I did mean that in the singular. Our entire giant bag of candy was visited by exactly one very polite ninja who refused our offers of a more generous handful. Second, apparently carved pumpkins have a very limited shelf life. Mork has been slowly collapsing in on himself like a zombie since Tuesday, but we only got rid of him today when we realize he was also an incontinent and moldy zombie pumpkin. It was…a disturbing cleaning task, to say the least.

Lastly, we found a flea on one of the cats. Do you remember that scene in Monsters Inc. where the monster has a sock on him and ends up shaved and collared by the monsters in hazmat suits? That’s about what played out here. The cats were, shall we say, not amused by what was possibly their first baby-style flea bath. John and I ended up soaking wet and smelling of minty laundry. This is apparently what qualifies as a “fresh” scent in pet soaps. Here are a few pictures of the event for your entertainment:

Lyra got the first bath, showing the worst signs of infestation. Here she is wet, bedraggled, and standing on her dignity as best she can.

Kali had markedly less patience with the process than Lyra. John is not so much petting her as he is preventing her from bolting.

It may not say much about John and I as human beings, but we were in stitches over how pathetic they looked…

…as evidenced by how long we kept them trapped in the bathroom so we could get a good photo. We did give them fuzzy catnip mice to comfort them in their trauma, and they are now so soft and fluffy that I’m thinking baths might become a more regular occurrence.

Work has been nothing but a run of hilarity and catastrophe this work, but I’m going to beg off on reporting the highlights. My fingers may have a bit more NaNoWriMoing in the yet today.

NaNoWriMo Sabbatical

No, the title of my blog is not referring to an obscure Pokemon character or unsightly medical condition. “NaNoWriMo” is apparently the way affectionate insiders refer to “National Novel Writing Month.” Truth be told, I think they’re due for a name change since the event is international, but “IntNoWriMo” is admittedly less catchy.

Whatever you call it, November is host to the efforts of many would-be writers who use the month to write a 50,000 word work of fiction. The idea is to lose the inhibitions of perfectionism and just get words on the page. Bad writing can be edited, after all, but you can’t do anything to improve writing that isn’t there, right?

I have thought about embarking down the mad path of NaNoWriMo a few times in the past, and this year I actually have a work schedule that is as conducive to the effort as I probably ever will have in my life as a financially productive adult. (Unless, of course, I ever actually make it as a writer…) I have decided, therefore, to go for it. November will be a month dedicated to writing a short novel, no matter how ill-advised the prose that pours from my pen. (cf., the alliteration in that sentence…)

To that end, I’m going on a blogging sabbatical of sorts. This will be my last regular post until December. I may post from time to time and will update via Facebook and Twitter as usual, but the novel is going to take priority. I will, however, being making a greater use of Twitter. When I’m writing, you will be able to gauge my level of procrastination and hair-tearing by following my feed @Melissaipsa.

If any of my writerly friends are following the rabbit down into madness for the month with me, you can look my progress up on the NaNoWriMo site under the username MWalshe. Fare thee well until December, and godspeed to my fellow rabbit-chasers.