Month: October 2010

As I mentioned the other day, this year I am jumping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon.  I’m a total newb and I haven’t the first clue what I’m doing, but being clueless is half the fun, isn’t it?

Actually I am taking a different approach to this project than I typically do.  I’m a plotter, one of those folks who tend to plan my stories out to the nth detail.  Outlining and creating character sketches/backgrounds are tasks that are an integral part of my writing process.  I sometimes even go so far as to dig up pictures for my primary players and paste them around my writing space; this helps me better conjure images of my characters when they interact. 

While this process is important to getting the outline of the story straight in my mind, another wrinkle of my unorthodox approach is that once I sit down to write, I become more like a pantser.  Much of what I developed in my plotting stage gets tossed aside while writing the first draft.  It’s almost as if I create a blueprint of my story, right down to the addresses of key locations and dates of birth of main and secondary characters, only to deviate from this gameplan at every opportunity in the first draft.  I know what your thinking: schizo much?  Yeah, I know, but it’s worked for me so far, so why change it, right?

Still, that’s exacly what I’m going to do–at least for NaNoWriMo.  I’ve been curious about other writing approaches, recently.  I really respect those folks who can sit down with nothing but a blank sheet of paper and just let things fly.  In my mind, this kind of writing is walking on a tightrope, working without a net, letting go of all that is cautious and familiar and easy.  Dangerous.  Death defying.

So I’m taking the plunge.  This year, I’ll jump in the deep end of the pool, wing it, and just write on the fly, just see what happens.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t done any tinkering with this story idea.  In fact, it’s been kicking around my brain for well over a year now, so of course I’ve given it some thought.  But I certainly ain’t gonna do the detailed plotting/planning that I usually do.  I’m just going to put one word in front of the other, until the thing’s finished.  What could be so simple, right?

I’m so curious to see how it turns out–and so anxious to get writing!–that I can hardly hold a coherent thought in my head (as this post no doubt attests :D).  What about you?  Got any big NaNoWriMo plans this year?  Is this your first rodeo?  Will your process be the same as previous projects?  What are you doing differently?

P.S. My NaNoWriMo handle is jpcircusboy, so come look me up if you’re in the neighborhood!

I’m at home and up relatively early this morning.

We have a four-day weekend due to the Columbus Day holiday and–although I drew a flight to Spain on Sunday–I have every intention of making the most of my time off.  Namely, I’m going to do some plotting (the villainous, rubbing-my-hands-deviously-together variety, not the I’m-trying-to-figure-out-where-this-story-is-going variety) on how to finish a short story I’ve been kicking around, and what prep I need to do for NaNoWriMo.  Are you doing NaNo this year?  Do tell!

You’ll be happy to know that a gentleman from Italian Telecom has just departed the premises.  Yes, it’s true.  We now have a phone–only three short months after moving in.  Man, these Italians move quick, let me tell you.  Pronto, indeed.  What that means to me, dear reader, is that I will soon have “real” internet access at home (right now we have a Vodaphone internet “key” which allows very slow access–think dial-up on quaaludes–for a limited time each day).  Next week, all will be a go I’m thinking.

This is not to say that my recent hiatus from the land of ones and zeros hasn’t been fruitful.  The opportunity to live life unplugged comes with it’s own set of street signs, a set of rules and regulations that stands apart from the gregarious social standards of the crowd.  This time away got me thinking about a whole host of different ideas and issues, including this one: fiction matters.

I bet, hearing that, your reaction will fall into one of two schools.  Either you think “No, duh!”, as this seems the most obvious idea in the world, or you think “Does it really?  I mean: R-E-A-L-L-Y?”

I think it is a pretty obvious concept, but I also think that the truth lies in a place other than where one might think it lies.  For example, in my life as a pilot, the currency of my day tends to be extremely technical and “fact” driven.  Airspeeds.  Altitudes.  Clearances.  One might argue that it is all fact, no fiction.  Much of life is like that, or so it appears.

This is a widely held view.  When a few of my fellow aviators recently learned that I dabbled with writing fiction, laughter was their reaction.  Why mess with something as unimportant as that? their reaction seemed to say.  It’s so…touchy-feely, so inconsequential.

I couldn’t agree less with this characterization.  Sure, facts and science have their place, but I think it is fiction which holds dominion over all that is most important to us.  If we look closer, we can see that the entire underlying structure of life is not factual at all, but is entirely fiction.

Let me give you an example.  One of the “rules” that governs flying is called the semicircular/hemispheric rule.  What this says is that aircraft flying eastbound (above a certain altitude) will be assigned to an odd altitude–say 23,000 feet.  Aircraft flying westbound will be assigned an even altitude like 24,000 feet.  This means that aircraft flying toward each other from opposite directions will not find themselves in the same piece of sky at the same time at the same altitude.  This in my opinion is a great rule, but please observe: it is a fiction.  The rule might well have been something else completely, but this is the approach pilots and controllers have agreed to use, and so everyone lives their lives accordingly.

Yeah, I know what you’re going to say.  Maybe I am broadening the definition of fiction a little, but stick with me for a minute.  My point is that these agreed-upon rules have a profound impact on our lives (after all avoiding aviation accidents is a good thing, for example!), but the rules are not governed by any physical law or other constraint that affected their “shape.”  They amount to a collective “choice”, and these choices underpin the fabric of our lives.

In fact (pun intended), if you look around, you’ll see these fictions everywhere.  Traffic lights.  Laws.  Ethical standards. Novels.  Plays.  Movies.  Music.  Art.  All made up, all created from thin air.  These ideas are the fictions we’ve chosen to believe in, and they are, in my humble opinion, essential to a contented life. 

Don’t believe me?  The final proof, I think, comes in this little anecdote: we recently showed our two-year old, Muffin, the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty for the first time.  Boy, she loved it!  She couldn’t stop talking about it!  She gabbed about Sleeping Beauty for days afterward.  She wanted to sleep with the video next to her in bed.  She will no doubt remember this story for years to come, and she’s already asked for a “twirling” dress and fairy wings.  There’s no question: this fictional story affected her far more deeply than any other thing in her life.  It was as plain as the smile on her face.

Think about your own life.  What moves you most?  What are the stories or ideas that make you want to get out of bed in the morning, that make you stay up all hours of the night turning them over in your mind?  What are the things you really love, that you really believe in?

Don’t kid yourself.  Fiction matters.  When you sit down to put words on a blank page, you are doing important work.  Essential work.  Work that matters.  Believe that you can touch someone’s life and, with enough blood, sweat and tears, you will.


No man should ever publish a book until he has first read it to a woman.

~~Van Wyck Brooks

Yes, I am alive.

If I may steal a witticism from Twain: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  😀

In fact, life has been very good to me these last few months and, excepting a conspicous lack of internet access which has so rudely and inexplicably interrupted my online life (as you dear reader have no doubt already noted), I have absolutely no complaints.

On the contrary, our new life here in sunny Sicily has taken root, truly.  The road to and from work is well travelled, beds made, candles lit, boxes unpacked, books and parcels placed, pictures hung, floors swept, mopped, made to shine in the lavalamp glow of our wondrous Mediterranean light, produce markets explored, fresh vegetables pawed and purchased, wines and beers sipped and savored, bedtime stories shared, and all the indescribable little things that make life worth living have been appreciated.  It’s been an amazing kind of miracle, really; the kind that’s hard to talk about without breaking into a knowing grin.

I have much to share with you and am excited to be “alive” again.  We have found a solution, though imperfect, to the internet access problem and so I will begin posting regularly, and will be around to your blogs in a jiffy to see what you’ve been up to.  In fact, let me pose the question: what have you been up to?  You see, I missed you–terribly!–and, like a distant cousin or long lost friend just returned from an extended journey, I feel the need to curl up next to the fire and bask in the stories and tales you no doubt have to share.

The writing, you ask?  Well, let us talk more about that in due time, shall we?  Suffice to say that though my word count is low–strike that! Virtually nonexistent better describes it–I have done much which I think counts toward the overall goal of perfecting my writing craft.  Trust me on this one.  Sometimes doing something looks alot like doing nothing.

So I pledge there will be more to follow–the proverbial end of the story, we’ll call it.  And one last thought before I get down to business: it’s good to be back!