Monday, October 31, 2016

NaNoWriMo

No Halloween blogging this year. I dearly love Halloween, but I’m challenged when it comes to writing horror, and I’m never sure whether my taste in horror is YA-suitable. Plus I haven’t read/seen any good horror lately.  I’m moving right along to NaNoWriMo.


NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, where lots of people agree to spend November writing novels. The goal is 50k words within that one month period, and if you hit your mark you get all kinds of virtual trophies to hang on your social media. Plus it’s an excuse to meet other writers, and would-bes, and wanna-bes, and their fans. There are actually parties where people write in public. 

I did a NaNoWriMo for the first time a couple years ago, and it’s probably why I’m here now. At that time, I was laboring under the delusion that I was writing a 300k word novel with a twisty plot (instead of the three 200k word novels it currently is). I looked at the paltry 50k requirement for NaNoWriMo – so small, so puny. I could do that in a month, I thought.

Now there was one particular scene that is crucial to my main novel. It drives the grudge that people are still willing to fight and die for, seven years later. It has to do with a war crime that happened in a skirmish between the bioengineered super soldiers and the extremely smart scientists who refuse to engage.  They have other names and deeper backstory, but those are the essences. They got together and had a fight in the town of Manganela.

I do a lot of behind-the-scenes writing, especially for a monstrously big story like this. Sometimes I’ll have my characters sitting around a table for a story conference, or sometimes I’ll indulge a few pages toward a story from their earlier life, just to help me put things together in a more coherent way. I realized I would have to write the story of the battle of Manganela eventually, even if it were just for my own files – that’s the only way I’d ever really get a sense of what happened.

I decided to write my Manganela flashback as a NaNoWriMo. I took a pause from the Sonny Knight story and switched to another narrator in another land: Arturo “Turo” Berengar, a sixteen-year-old super soldier brimming with tragic memories. He’s part of an army besieging a futuristic self-sufficient city. Inside the city is a girl, Zeffany Silva, and the two of them bond over their anxiety/stress disorders. Meanwhile, half the characters from the Sonny Knight stories make cameo appearances.

My idea (before I started) was that this NaNoWriMo novel would be my first submission, the one that would land me a publishing deal for the Sonny Knight stories. It would be slick and commercial and exciting, with a generous helping of teen romance.

When I finished it, I loved it, but I was taken aback. Instead of my action star vehicle, I had something grim and awful.  Some dark things happen in this story, and there are flashbacks that are even darker.  Instead of saying “peace is good” I wound up saying “war will mess you up fifty ways to Sunday and I’m going to show you some of the uglier ones.” 

Moreover, most of the action dealt with soldiers on active duty in a war zone. My first completed novel (if you didn’t count the ones I wrote by hand in composition books when I was twelve) was military sci fi. A genre I know nothing about, and probably will never tackle again. A genre notable for having lots of libertarians and conservatives – not the kind of folks who want to hear about war messing people up. I treated the soldiers with honor and respect, mind you, but this is a weird and asymmetrical war between gamers with remote-control drones and well-armed body builders, and I researched it by reading about child soldiers, so it's a little surreal and off-kilter. I wasn’t sure if this story would appeal to either soldiers or peaceniks.

Although it is a fine kick-ass story if I do say so myself, as long as you don’t mind a little … darkness. When I said I had a difficult time writing frightening tales for Halloween, I was talking about supernatural horror (ghosts, witches, etc.) – not real life horror.  Sieging Manganela is non supernatural, but it's downright nightmarish in places, and I’m going to lay down some disclaimers when I finally self-pub it next year. It’s kind of the fourth leg of the Sonny Knight trilogy, and it can also stand on its own. .   

Writing Sieging Manganela dragged me out of my solipsistic writing reverie and forced me to confront other things beside the prospects of the market and agents and editors and publishers and all that. It made me think hard about genre, and whether I wanted to be a lonely hippie in a sea of military historians. It made me conscious that a 300k word novel was excessive, and I immediately began the Penultimate Rewrite (I’m doing the ultimate rewrite currently, except for volume I, which has already escaped). 

Plus it solidified in my head the concept that I was writing novels now. In fact I’d finished one!  I entered NaNoWriMo as yet another scribbling noob, but I emerged a novelist. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Maybe there’s a novel inside you, too. It doesn’t have to be a good one, and you don’t have to bother with all the official team spirit exercises at all. You just have to be willing to spend November typing it out, and you can always go back and fix the spelling and grammar later. And if you make it through ... you're a novelist. And nobody can ever take that away.





Friday, October 21, 2016

Beam of the Rabbit

In Stephen King’s amazing Dark Tower series, the guardians of the beam comprise a sort of zodiac that helps Roland navigate his way through more worlds than this.

One knows one is close to a beam by the imagery, turtles and bears and what not. I’m personally on the beam of the Hare, which is not covered in the Dark Tower series, leaving me free to make it up as I go in fine trickster spirit.

I joined the beam of the rabbit when I acquired a rabbit. It was intended to be food for a boa constrictor I had at the time. Instead, the rabbit and I hit it off and I rehomed the snake.

And thus I became a rabbit person. A lot of people like to fetishize animals, I have noticed. Frogs, bears, cats, sloths, pandas and other beasts can be found decorating clothing and other personal artifacts. It would be cultural appropriation to term these spirit animals, since that’s a Native American concept which should be framed from their perspective and not the imperial one (appropriation rears its ugly head).

I named my rabbit Varmint. He was a gray and white minilop with velvety soft ears. Living with him took a lot of adjustment. For one thing, rabbits are destructive, and will eat your electrical cords if you let them, plus they’ll gnaw up clothes, shoes, books, whatever you left lying around on the floor. You can’t really housebreak them, but you can convince them to use a litterbox 90% of the time. I let Varm run free whenever I was home, and when I wasn’t I kept him locked up in a big indoor hutch with a litterbox and toys.


He earned his keep by being my own personal shredder. Rabbits constantly need to chew things because their teeth keep growing and need to be worn down, like fingernails. So I gave him novels I didn’t like. I called it “deconstructing texts.”  Varm took savage glee in destroying things, flinging his cute little head around and emitting breathy “rrr” sounds.
Rabbits don’t really vocalize, but they are eloquent at unspoken language, and far more socially adept than I am. They are very intelligent, but in a completely different way. There is a brain functioning inside a rabbit’s head that works very differently to that of a dog or cat or human or snake. A wild creature that lives in large colonies, with strict social rules. Filtered through centuries and centuries of domestication.

In fact, rabbits really don’t play by evolutionary rules. There are European/Asian rabbits, and there are North/South American rabbits – distinct species, can’t interbreed. (There are also hares, notably in Africa, but we’ll leave them out of it for now.) All domestic rabbits have European origins, and have been domestic for many generations, and if you see one with designer spots or lop ears running around loose, it’s domestic in origin – do it a favor and catch it and give it to animal control. American rabbits (e.g. cottontails, jackrabbits) have never been domesticated, so don’t catch them unless you’re going to eat them. And in fact, my chef friend informs me that you can actually starve to death eating nothing but rabbits, since they’re all lean muscle, so you might want to grab a salad instead, if the rabbits haven’t gotten there first.

The European rabbits (wild variety) are extinct in Europe due to a rabbit-specific plague. Meanwhile, some sporting individual in Spain imported North American cottontails so he’d have something to hunt, and now there are wild American rabbits in Europe. Wild European rabbits, meanwhile, survive on many islands in the South Pacific, where they were left by European sailors hoping to build up a food source. Most notably in Australia, where they introduced the same plague that had happened in Europe to eradicate a ferocious rabbit infestation.  As chronicaled in the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence – which is not actually about rabbits (it’s about cultural appropriation). 

Rabbits live in the moon. They defeated Napoleon and nearly got Jimmy Carter. One of them stars in the nerdiest film of all time. They are tricksters, storytellers and athletes. After befriending a rabbit and determining I was definitely on the beam of the rabbit, I decided to learn all I could about them.

When my rabbit was two he developed a big abscess on his face, and I had to decide whether to spend a thousand bucks fixing it. And a month doing wound flushing, on a vaguely domestic animal with large teeth. And antibiotic therapy for the remainder of his life – subcutaneous injections, at the back of his neck, every other day.

I bore it all, with a smile. He ended up being a friend to me during some dark times in my life. Every night he would come running into the bedroom, do a flying leap onto my chest and lick my nose until I fed him a raisin. He’d sit beside me at night, cuddled up against my hand. I fed him fresh cilantro and parsley, and spoiled him as much as I could.
He was a needy little guy but he didn’t like other rabbits. I tried pairing him up with a boy rabbit (Jack) and they were best buds for about a month – then they broke up, and they started fighting, and I couldn’t let them out at the same time. Varmint would obsessively prowl around the cage whenever he was free, startling Jack whenever he could. I had to rehome Jack for his own safety.



I decided to get Varmint a cat, and I did a lot of research into types of cats that lack prey drive. I stumbled upon the Ragdoll.

Ragdolls are a breed of cat invented/developed/originated in the sixties, in Southern California, when a purebred Burmese named Daddy Warbucks got out and impregnated a large stray named Josephine. Josephine was subsequently involved in an auto accident, and when she came out, she had a litter of big fluffy kittens that acted weird – no prey drive, excessive friendliness (kind of like Williams syndrome in humans), they go limp when they’re frightened instead of attacking.


I found a breeder and purchased a Ragdoll kitten. Something I’d never done before, all my prior cats had been former ferals. My rabbit deserved the best, however, and I presented him with Tallulah. They became good friends. They’d tease and vex each other, but they’d also occasionally curl up with their backs touching.  Most importantly, they kept each other company when I was sleeping and working. Varmint was very social and needy, and Tallulah was too.






She even learned several phrases in rabbit – such as the one where they come over and nudge you to get your attention, then dramatically turn their back on you, which is sort of equivalent to having an animal flip you the bird.  Varmint had an even worse insult in fact – the one where he’d run rapidly past a person while spraying them with pee. He used to do that to my last boyfriend.

Toward the end, Varm developed spine trouble and became increasingly more paralyzed. I kept him in a cage, on a stack of puppy training pads, carefully cleaning and drying him every day, waiting for him to let me know it was time. Tallulah was very unhappy during this period because her buddy was in a cage and she missed him, and she did a lot of pacing and yowling. She couldn’t handle being alone.

Part of the reason Varmint was on antibiotic therapy was that he had a bacterial infection specific to rabbits, and the meds kept it in check. I needed to get another pet ASAP to keep Lula company, but I couldn’t get a rabbit or it would just pick up the infection.

The obvious answer was another cat. However. Lula was a Ragdoll who had been raised by a rabbit. She was strangely socialized. She needed a gentle cat companion that would tolerate her awkwardness. A boy cat (I was the only female Lula liked -- whenever male guests came over, Lula would run out to beg for attention, whenever women visited she would hide and sulk). 

So I got on the internet and searched for a male Ragdoll. I found the big Kahuna (except I didn’t know how monstrously big he was yet).  I learned he had grown up with a sister, and had been separated because the family dog had been picking fights with him, and that he was declawed. And not only that, he was the same color as my rabbit.

Varm lived eight years after I decided his life was worth saving, and during those eight years he was fussy and messy and high maintenance and destroyed lots of my stuff. I couldn’t go out of town without boarding him at the vet, and there would probably be a charge for running an IV since he tended to stop eating whenever he was without me and/or his cat. So I took up hobbies that didn’t require leaving town, such as video games. I started giving all my characters rabbit names, in his honor.

After he died I had a picture of him tattooed on my shoulder. He taught me a lot of things – about neurodiversity, for one thing, and about how there are plenty of truly alien intelligences to study right here in front of our faces. He had a huge personality for such a tiny animal. I still think about him all the time.

I’d get another rabbit but now I’ve got this 30 pound cat. Who is not aggressive in the least, but he’s big and clumsy and seems to really like being an only pet. Lula passed away a couple years after Varmint, from a kidney defect I didn’t know existed until she threw a stone. I miss her too. Not enough to tattoo her picture on my skin, or walk on the beam of the cat. I don’t remember whether there is a beam of the cat, in fact. But she was a good cat, and I loved her.

I still surround myself with rabbit iconography too. I’ll only allow myself to buy convention shirts that have rabbits on them, which has saved me a lot of money. If I’m playing a public video game or otherwise using a handle, it will be rabbit related.

I remember reading about an earlier internet battle between Vox Day and John Scalzi, noting that the former considers “rabbit” to be an insult, even though according to File 770, his wife fancies rabbit handles herself. When I first learned about the Sad Puppies issue, my first thought was, “oh yeah, that’s the guy that hates rabbits.” No doubt he’s walking some other beam.

I’m on the beam with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. With Hazel-rah and Bigwig and Fiver. With Roger and Jessica, with Binky and Sheba. Playing basketball with Bugs and Lola. Chilling with Harvey the pooka. Causing knights to soil their armor. Rabbiting on. 




Thursday, October 20, 2016

Smarter Literati

File 770 is just lighting up my circuits tonight. Here's another linked story about shoddy research in litfic, which I agree is extra unforgivable given the snotty intellectual pretentions of litfic in general.

It made me flash on a book I'm reading now, which you don't want to read (it's for a book club I'm thinking of joining).  The main character is a middle-aged man, and to me it's apparent he falls somewhere on the autistic spectrum (orderly mind, not too sociable, unfiltered speech). And meanwhile the author is speculating, Freudianly, about what kind of upbringing could have caused him to be like this. While mocking him in an ableist way. I'm wondering if a love interest is going to appear and inspire this main character to be more of a free-spirited hippie, thus making him a happy neurotypical. That's exactly the kind of anti-neurodiversity approach I'm trying hard to avoid, so this book is actually good research, even though it's pissing me off with its badly dated science.






Stranger Aliens

When I'm not energetically cranking out more exciting adventures (or staring sullenly at the blank white screen) (or leveling my rogue), I try to think about my next series after I finish writing the current one.  It takes place in space.

I just found this nifty article with embedded video that's kind of surfing along a similar wavelength -- cautioning people to avoid science fiction when trying to envision aliens.  (Thanks File 770, I want to save this one to my notepad.)  Storytelling ... without the story telling.  And the solipsism and cliches.  Yeah, that's what I wanna do, right there ... except how?

Back to pondering.




Saturday, October 8, 2016

My Potentially Idiotic Decision Not To Record Your Email

All the blog articles about how to market your self published literary efforts tell me I should collect emails and put them in a list. And all these blogs ask me for my email, sometimes in the form of an annoying popup. I always refuse, because (a) I’ll get more spam; and (b) potentially they’ll sell their list to other spammers. I already get plenty of email spam, thank you, and I curate it pretty heavily to keep it from increasing. Maybe you feel similarly. Also, it may be my subjective impression, but email feels old and dated next to newer forms of spamming such as Facebook and Twitter.

I have Facebooked in the past, and I’ve got a few people friended on my Charon Dunn Facebook now, but I’ve been slow about getting my page in gear. I know how to Facebook, but I’m not sure it’s a good marketing vehicle for me, and therefore I haven’t invested any time in it. Send me a friend request if you want to encourage me to get moving, and maybe I'll end up echoing my blog posts there or something similar. 

I don’t like Twitter at all. Odd, because I used to thrive on quick messageboard one-liners – I think I burnt out on that kind of thing years ago. Twitter is too prone to misinterpretation and drama and wackiness for my taste so I try to stay away.

In fact, I don’t really like advertising at all. Advertising is your friend’s toddler that keeps interrupting your conversations with shrieks of “look at me!” Advertising is the cat meowing in the hall at three in the morning. Advertising is the blister on your toe that only hurts every fourth step, the infected hangnail you suddenly notice when it comes in contact with lemon juice, the headache that shoots up the pain scale whenever you bend forward.  Yeah, okay, you got my attention (sigh) -- let’s get this interaction over with, fast. 

Naturally, as a hater of advertising, my marketing activity ideas are colossally stupid. Such as:

Get a con booth but don’t have any physical copies of books, and just keep a few fliers in the back and some art. Instead, put branding on guitar picks, give them away free, and sell $20 ukuleles to go with them.
or
Put branding on toys such as yo yos, hacky sacks and beach balls, distribute gratis to convention attendees’ kids so they’ll have something to do while their boring parents paw through tables of reading material.
or
Laser print branding onto cupcakes and chocolate bars, undercut Aramark.  Alternatively, stencil it onto apples, pears, oranges and starfruit. Print it on packets of trail mix and mint gum. Nourish those conventioneers, and freshen their breath!
or
Get a freakishly large cat and try to make it virally famous. End up falling in love with it and respecting its wishes to never leave the house or ride in a car again. 

Ideally my own advertising should be as unpolished, homegrown and anticorporate as possible. It should be so clumsy and amateurish that potential adblockers can see it coming a mile away. It should involve getting people to particulate in some healthy, joyous activity that has nothing to do with me – with my branding sitting around just as an afterthought reminder.  My theoretical cult following would be enthusiastically receptive, but everyone else would be immediately notified it’s just me, so they can alt-F4 (or physical equivalent) right away.

Harvesting your email is not fun. And given the sheer amount of brainpower and moneypower that’s being invested in marketing right now, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance of a better marketing vehicle than email popping up in the near future.


Until then, I’ll keep the blog antics going. 




Monday, October 3, 2016

New Hugo Category: Best Series

The Hugos are tentatively adding the category of Best Series, and File 770 posted a list of eligible works. If I aspired to greatness I’d mention my stuff falls within the parameters, but I’m more of an acquired taste that won’t be appreciated until long after I’m gone.  

Rather, I thought I’d mention the consternation I’ve seen from other prospective nominators as they ask themselves “am I supposed to read all that stuff?” Some of these works are capable of taking up their own library wing, such as Eric Flint’s 1632, which inspired a whole industry of historical riffs.

The most agonizing thing about that list is the fact – I repeat, fact – that at least one of the series on it is so good that I’ll stay up late reading it. Possibly more. With millions more words standing in the way, trying to discourage me from reading anything at all. 

The same obstacles stand between me and my quirky cult readership. Mountain ranges of words, steep and daunting. Guarded by gatekeepers who like entirely different types of books than we do.

Someday we’ll find each other! Until then, we now have a gigantic reading list if we should happen to run out of books which probably isn’t likely knowing us.

Someday we’ll have disembodied brains in jars who have enough time to read and summarize everything and point us toward the good stuff. Maybe one of them will be mine. 

EDIT: Can't resist sneaking in Yet Another Booklist I encountered shortly after this one.  Not series (not all of them anyway) but lots of sparkling gems.