Thursday, June 5, 2014

Nanowrimo goes to camp

For the first time this year I'll be trying Camp Nanowrimo. I've posted a few times on here about Nanowrimo, which I've given a whirl. So I'm interested to try the more flexible version.From what I gather, they're trying to bring a summer-camp feel to the project, which is also new for me. I never got the chance to go to summer camp, unless you count Bible day camp, which I don't.

When I've done Nano in the past, not once did I near the 50,000 word goal during the month (I did finish one of my novels after November, though). And while I did probably get more of a word-count boost than I would have without the goad, I couldn't help but feel a little dispirited by never "winning" The nice thing about Camp Nanowrimo, which occurs twice a year in April and July, is that it brings the same sense of community and inspiration as traditional Nano, and also lets you set your own goals and make your own rules.

So, I won't be "cheating" by adding words to my existing novel project, though that's a no-no in November. (Of course the rules aren't enforceable, but it's frowned upon. Goes against the camaraderie aspect.) Also, I can set a more reasonable word-count goal that I might actually reach--exciting! You also have the option to choose "cabin mates". These can be all strangers with similar writing goals to you, or a combination of your friends and strangers. I like the small-group concept as well.

If you're interested in joining, I'll be participating as richuncleskeleton. Let me know if you want to be camp mates!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sisters in Crime

To help me transition from writing speculative fiction to tackling my first contemporary mystery novel, I've joined Sisters in Crime. Yesterday I attended the first meeting of my local branch, Sisters In Crime of Columbus Ohio. The guests for the May meeting were Lara Baker-Morrish and Annie Murray, both prosecutors for the city of Columbus. Murray is the director of the Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit.

Their talk was fascinating and frightening; it's sobering to realize how much negative impact a stranger can make on one's life if they choose you as an object of fixation. In addition to some fresh ideas for my plot, Murray also shared some of the ways most people make themselves easy victims. Case in point: not putting any sort of lock on one's cell phone. I never really understood the point before. But after Murray detailed all the ways your phone can be used against you (and to track you), I now realize the importance of that basic measure.Granted, if someone's dedicated enough, all but the heaviest personal security won't make much of a difference. But I can at least try not to be a walking turkey.

My only regret is that I had to leave before the meeting ended. I look forward to seeing what all the group has to offer.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Marcon (semi) fitness

Several people have told me they've enjoyed reading my posts on writing and fitness over at Writer's Fun Zone. So I figured I'd post one over here.

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended MarCon this past weekend, where I got to meet up with friends, writers, and other fans. Cons are not the most health-conscious environment (which is like saying water tends to be on the wet side). My general experience is spending a weekend in a convention center with no sunlight, eating way too much at the Con Suite and/or food court, and suffering exhaustion from lack of sleep and overstimulation. So, not the hallmarks of fitness.

However, I did manage to limit the self-damage this time around. Exercise-wise, my weekend didn't start out great, because I had to miss my Friday karate class. Friday I mostly settled in and wandered around the con. However, I did maintain at least a little consciousness of what I was eating. I skipped the restaurant breakfast buffet on Saturday and Sunday, at least.

Saturday is normally a strength-training day. However, I was limited on workout time, because I had so much to do and so many people to see. So instead, I put together a brief interval training workout. I chose interval training because it's an effective workout in a short amount of time, and you can do intervals of just about any aerobic exercise.

DISCLAIMER: Talk to a doctor before you begin any exercise routine. Yeah, I did this, but that doesn't mean you should! I'm in no way a certified fitness expert. Please consult one if you're going to try this!

So here's the workout I put together. I'm easily bored and wanted something that worked my whole body, so I created a varied routine. I jotted down four sets of two exercises. I'd complete the first two exercise, rest, repeat those two, rest, then move to the next set. Here's what I did:

Warm up: jog down to gym from hotel room, stretch in gym

20 squat kicks with 10 lb. dumbbells
10 burpees

20 lunges w/knee lift and bicep curl, 10 lb. dumbbells (10 right, then 10 left)
20 tricep dips, raise up, toe touches

20 side lunges with shoulder press, 5 lb. dumbbells (10 right, then 10 left)
20 mountain climbers

20 alternating-arm back raises
20 reverse crunches, 8 lb. medicine ball (For the second set, I did 20 Russian Twists with the 8-lb ball, but I kept my feet on the ground unlike the badass woman in the demo video)

Cool-down: walk back up to room. The gym was in the basement and we were on the 7th floor, so it was a good length for a cool down. Then I stretched in my room.

The interval part of the workout took roughly 20 minutes, which is just about right for this type of workout. Then after a shower, I got on with the con! That little burst of exercise kept me wide awake for the rest of the day. I also made sure to poke my head out and walk in the sunshine a little each day.

Next time you're at a con, try and remember to take care of yourself. You'll feel much better on the drive home!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

MarCon 49 Wrap-Up


I've still got some post-con grogginess, but I had a good time at MarCon this year. Here were my highlights:

I popped into Cindy Matthews' presentation, The First Five Pages. Matthews talked about how to get your manuscript moving fast, before your potential editor or agent has the chance to get bored.

I attended a fantastic workshop on Writing Law Enforcement, led by Griffin Barber and Alistair Kimble. Barber is a long-serving officer with the San Francisco Police Department, and Kimble is an FBI agent. (In addition, both are published in Eric Flint's 1632 Universe.) They gave us workshop attendees an interesting and informative rundown of the differences between local and federal law enforcement, the human side of their line of work, and some common misconceptions that pop up in TV, books, and movies. Because we were a small group, they took extra time and care to answer my very basic questions. Since I'm tackling my first mystery novel and one of my lead characters is a police officer, I wanted to ensure I got the details right, and Barber and Kimble did a great job filling in my mental blanks. They also handed out awesome swag:






Saturday I attended a workshop on Fairytales and Fantasy, featuring Karen Dollinger and Jillian Kuhlmann. Dollinger later spoke on a panel on the relevance of feminism, which turned out to be a lively but respectful discussion.

Today I attended a reading by Kuhlmann from her debut novel The Hidden Icon. That was followed by a reading of the short story "Good Thoughts" by Chuck Ebert. He has a story coming out soon, the details of which I'll post as soon as I get them.

Plus, I got to exchange brief hellos with Lucy Snyder, Denise Verrico and Gary Wedlund. (As well as other folks, but right now I'm suffering from Con-brain.) I was grateful to reconnect with old friends and learn so much new. See you at next MarCon.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blog tag! Current Project: Four questions

The incomparable Laura Bickle has tagged me to answer four questions on my blog about my current writing project. Ever the good sport, here I go:

1) What am I working on?

My current project is a murder mystery called Polychotomy. This is my first attempt at a novel-length work that doesn't involve any speculative fiction elements.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Polychotomy deals with the travails of a quintet of polyamorous lovers in crisis. When Emily's boyfriend is murdered, the police immediately accuse her husband John of the crime. They paint him as a jealous cuckold, even though their nonexclusive relationship is well-known in their small town. To complicate matters further, John's girlfriend Sadie is also dating Tom, assistant detective of the local police force. In a town where everyone's business is fodder for vicious gossip, Tom fights to find the killer.

The only other crime novel I've heard of that involves a non-exclusive relationship is Savages by Don Winslow. While I haven't checked it out yet (though I did enjoy one of his other books, Dawn Patrol), my understanding is that the nature of the relationship in that book, as well as the setting, is much different.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I'm writing Polychotomy for a number of reasons. First off, I enjoyed my first foray into writing in the mystery/crime genre, my novella All Hope Lost. I enjoy murder mysteries and wanted to try my hand at a longer work in the genre. Also, I've not seen a polyamorous family portrayed in fiction, so I wanted to explore that as well. It's fertile ground for ideas!

4) How does my writing process work?

I do a lot of planning before I write: freewriting, character sheets, scene outlines. I've also discovered that I cannot write solely electronically. I tried doing all of these steps on a writing software program and it just didn't work. For some reason, I need the tangible pages of a notebook and the feel of a pen.

Want to get tagged on what you're working on? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dream recall and the window treatment

Just read an interesting article about new research in dreaming: who remembers their dreams, who doesn't, and how to improve your recall (thanks for the link, Lucy Snyder). I'd heard that waking naturally can improve recall, and at one time I kept a dream journal. I liked the journal because it gave me ideas for stories as well as helping me remember dreams.

But I'd never heard of the first exercise the article lists: "The Window Treatment". This strikes me as a great one for creating more vivid writing as well:

"For five minutes, watch whatever scenes unfold outside of a window. Observe everything: colors, objects, buildings, cards, people, animals, and movements. Everything from what someone looks like to the colors of their shoes to the speed that they are walking. If there are animals, pay attention to whether they are butterflies or moths, for example, or the specific breed of a dog. If a car is driving down the street, what kind of car is it? Are there any embellishments on it? The goal is to detail, in your head, exactly what you’re seeing — do not generalize.
Once you’ve done this, write everything down in a notebook. By experiencing the events and recounting them, you’re training your brain to remember details in real life, and eventually your dreams, too."

Since specifics are what make writing real, this is a great tool for learning how to notice and visualize. I'm going to have to give it a try.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Most Eloquent Love Story Ever Shown



Today I want to talk about one of the most effective love stories I've seen. It's told in sixty seconds, contains no dialogue, and I still tear up a little when I see it (granted, that might say more about me than the story). It's the epitome of show, don't tell, because there is no "tell". The first time I saw it, I wanted to watch it again, and again and again. So I decided to take a closer look. I wanted to learn how the story worked so well, and what I could learn about storytelling from it. So I'm going to break it down, piece by piece and discuss how the parts come together so strongly.

This heartstring-tugger is, of all things, a commercial for Budweiser. It's called Puppy Love and aired during the Super Bowl. In case you missed it then, here's the video:




So much cute! But any puppy video can radiate cute. Let's look at all the story components and try to figure out how they come together to leave me a huddled crybaby. I want to hear what everyone else got out of this video as well. If you see a great story component I missed, please list it in the comments.

Setting: The opening shot shows us we're at "Warm Springs Puppy Adoption". So we're already prepped for adorableness.

Characters: From the cluster of puppies, one breaks away. The character is instantly sympathetic (c'mon, puppy!), and has raised a question. Why is this puppy running from the rest? Where's it going when it digs under the fence?

Soon enough, puppy nudges into the neighboring barn, and we meet character number two, a Clydesdale. From the moment puppy raises its paw and Clydesdale nuzzles it, I'm hooked. They're friends! This is the sweetest! Yay on them for finding each other.

Conflict: Uh oh. Clydesdale's human sees what's up and takes puppy back. Of course he has to; puppy belongs to the lady at Warm Springs, not him. When puppy makes that face at :20, I almost break apart. Never has heartbreak been more clearly expressed. (As a side note, I have no idea if that face was real or if they altered it with CGI. I really hope it's the latter, because it crushes me to think what they must have done to that puppy to get it to make that face.) They've been driven apart!

Rising Action: But that's not the end for our hero(ine?). Puppy does not give up. It goes out in the rain, being brought back muddy, and tries to dig once again. Puppy's love for Clydesdale will not be denied.

Crisis: Warm Springs Lady sells puppy to an ominous man in sunglasses. Oh no! Now puppy and Clydesdale will be separated forever! Note that this was foreshadowed in the opening shot. Since this is a puppy adoption farm, we know the puppies will be sold away at some point.

Showdown: Note that up until this point, the affection has been largely one-sided. Puppy's the one who's been running to Clydesdale. But when puppy howls in anguish from the back of Sunglass Man's car, Clydesdale's the one who comes running. Clydesdale's just as much in love with puppy, and my throat's starting to clamp up.

While puppy scratches and barks at the rear window, Clydesdale jumps over its fence to catch up with the fast-retreating car. Then Clydesdale's friends join in. Soon the car's surrounded, and Sunglass Man is stopped in his tracks. When the Clydesdales return to the horse man with puppy at their lead, I breathe in relief. The crisis has been averted.

(Another side note: we never see what happened to Sunglass Man in the interim. I wouldn't be surprised to see a bloodied pair of shades stuck to one of the horses' hooves. But hey, he's the bad guy, right?)

Resolution: Puppy and Clydesdale have made it clear their love won't be denied. But will their humans accept this? Once puppy returns, Horse Man scoops it up. Clearly this is puppy's home. And in the final scene, puppy and Clydesdale run and play together at the horse farm, while Puppy Lady and Horse Man look on, and I try not to blubber all over myself.

Part of what makes this story work so well is that it's stripped of any unnecessary extras. It has to be, because of the time restraints. Within the confines of a word-free minute, the commercial writers have created a dynamite story in a highly effective emotional package.

What did you think of Puppy Love? Does this commercial's emotional punch give you any ideas to add poignancy to your own writing?