NaNoWriMo Starts Tomorrow!

Well, my outline for my NaNoWriMo book is almost twenty pages long, and the characters are yelling that they want to get out of the cheapo outline and into an actual story. I’ve reached the point where I feel like I’ve outlined as much as I can; if I do any more, the story and the setting are going to bog down in my head. Now that I have the general arc of the plot and a good idea of the characters, I really want to start writing.

And tomorrow it starts! From November 1-November 30, I need to write about 1,700 words a day; I’ll probably be shooting for 2500 or so, just to ensure that I can take an occasional day off if needed, or for some breathing room if I get bogged down at any particular point, and also so that I have some extra time to wrap it up if I overshoot the 50,000 words.

Seven hours to go! Although it remains to be seen if I’ll actually start writing at midnight; chances are good I’ll still be at a Halloween Party.

The Elevator Pitch

The problem with writing a novel is that when you mention what you’re doing, people always want to know what it’s about. I ran into this not long ago when I was working on the first couple chapters of a sci-fi novel. I distinctly remember my first attempt to describe it to someone: “It sounds lame whenever I try to explain it.”

This is probably not the best way to get people interested in your book. My problem was that I had several characters I liked, a concept I loved, a setting that was just beginning to take shape, and I had no clue how to compact all that into less than thirty seconds. Nothing I could come up with seemed to capture it. A story is always far richer in your head than you can explain in a soundbyte, so how to compress it into a marketing slogan? How to explain to people why this idea interests you so much that you want to write a whole book about it, without explaining the entire plot in detail?

After a minute of thinking I was able to get it to: “It’s about a world where hyperspace travel is possible, as long as there are gates at each endpoint. My story is about the people who travel at sublight speeds for years to build the gates, and the kind of lives they lead.” It still doesn’t sound great, in my opinion, but it’s way better than my first try. (That particular novel’s not dead yet, by the way– the characters are still very much alive in my head, but since I’ve already written a few chapters for it, I decided not to use it for NaNoWriMo. After all, for that you’re supposed to start from Page 1.)

My story for NaNoWriMo is an epic fantasy, and here it’s even harder to boil it down to a 30-second pitch. With the invention of a larger-than-usual cast of characters, an entirely new fantasy setting, magic systems, back story… how do you boil it down?

Consider the novel “A Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin– what’s the thirty second pitch for that novel? I have no idea. Granted, some epic fantasies do have good pitches… “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson is basically: what if the hero of prophecy failed and the Dark Lord triumphed? Granted, there’s a heck of lot more to the book than that, but that’s a nice snappy pitch.

Maybe a good pitch for mine will occur to me while I’m writing. If it does, I’ll post it.

Rejection Part II: Why it Pays to Write Thank You Notes

So after I got my Very First Rejection LetterTM, which was really just a short e-mail, I decided to send a quick thank you note, to say thanks for considering my story. I also added that I’d submit again if I wrote something in the future more appropriate for their magazine. I’m glad I did, because the editor wrote back saying that I should do so, because she liked the way I looked at things.

Even my ultra-paranoid side has to admit that probably wasn’t a form response. So positive encouragement, yay!

Sending thank you notes to editors after a rejection will probably become common practice for me. Sure, it sounds semi-masochistic, but the editor who rejects your story today may be the same one who reads another story of yours six months from now. It’s just like how you always send thank you notes after a job interview, regardless of the outcome.

(You know, I probably shouldn’t admit here that I was usually too lazy to do that. I mean, umm… never mind.)

My First Rejection Letter!

I hit a major milestone in my writing career today: I got my first rejection letter from a professional publication.

Last month I mentioned in a post that I’ve written four short stories that I think are at or near a publishable level. Well, over the past couple weeks I finally submitted three of them to professional magazines: A general fiction piece that went to Story Quarterly, another one that went to 42 Magazine, and a science fiction/sort-of-humor piece that went to Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’m aiming high, especially with the sci-fi piece.

To my surprise, one of the general fiction pieces, which I had submitted via e-mail, got a rejection letter back the following day. The editor said it had made her smile, but it wasn’t what they were looking for. Which is fair enough, although the fragile-ego’d, paranoid side of me wondered what in particular had gotten it rejected in just a day, whereas the normal turnaround time is months. Maybe it was just chance that it happened across her desk, or maybe it was that it was short– only 1000 words. I’ll take solace in the fact that it made her smile, even though that could just be part of a form letter. (See, there’s that paranoia again.)

My plan is to print it off and start a file of rejection letters. Some day when I’m published I’ll be able to look back on them and smile, although I have to admit, they do sting when you get them.

Refocusing on NaNoWriMo

This evening my Writer’s Group had our first meetup in preparation for National Novel Writing Month, which starts on November 1st. One of the guys, Jon Batson, successfully did it last year, so it’s nice to see that it’s not impossible… and truth be told, I’m raring to go. Because we’re not actually supposed to start writing until November 1st, I’ve been outlining instead, preparing a backstory for the world, naming and fleshing out the characters, and putting together the outline of a plot. This has been good for me; my previous attempts at longer pieces have been more along the lines of “let’s see where this idea leads”, and then attempting to wing it through several chapters without much thought as to the overall structure of the book. Heck, it’s my first novel/novella attempt where I actually know the ending in advance.

I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of writers: the outliner, who plots everything out before hand, and the discovery writer, who makes things up as he goes. This will be my first book written from an outline, and so far I have high hopes.

More Australia Photos

I uploaded another batch of pictures to Flickr (link) and upgraded my account, first so that could I upload more, and second so that people could actually access the larger versions (2816×2112 makes the scenic vistas look quite nice, if I do say so myself).

Hope you like ’em!

Australia Day *error*- Back Home

Well, I’ve been back home from Australia for a week now. The jet lag from the return trip wasn’t too bad; the worst side effect of coming back is that every morning, my alarm clock goes off at 7 am and I can’t get back to sleep, because I have to drive to this place called “work”.

The return trip was about 2 hours shorter than the trip going over, due to the vagaries of global air currents, but somehow it seemed a lot worse. Maybe it’s just that there was no anticipation of two weeks vacation to insulate me from the stress of air travel. Or maybe it’s that I lost weight over the trip (the result of entire days of walking around and/or diving), so there wasn’t quite as much cushioning between my pelvis and the uncomfortable airplane seat. Or maybe it was the much-more-noticeable security. On the return trip, I got to:

-Go through customs twice (Australia makes you go through customs on the way out, too)
-Go through airport security twice (including dumping my water bottle and doing the whole “take off your shoes” routine both times)
-Watch a security officer root through my carry-on baggage
-Get wanded by the aforementioned officer
-Have my checked baggage X-rayed at US customs
-Watch another officer root through said checked baggage (from which I derived no small amount of schadenfreude, since it was pretty much a dirty clothes hamper at that point)
-Have my passport double-checked (thankfully no one on the terrorist watch list shares my name)
-Redo security at LAX because I left my metal-free wallet in my pocket instead of putting it in one of the plastic trays (for some reason, I was reluctant to let it out of my sight while surrounded by strangers in LA)

To top it off, my baggage didn’t show up in Raleigh until about six hours after I did. Admittedly, if the airline is going to lose your luggage, better for it to happen on your return home than when you get over there… but still. The ideal scenario would be for it to not get lost at all.

And now I’m back, poorer financially but richer in experience, which sounds sappy and cliche but is pretty much why I travel: not just to see new things (though that’s certainly a large part of it), but also to put myself in new and unfamiliar situations, surrounded by new and unfamiliar people, and prove to myself that I can successfully navigate my way through.

I’m naturally very introverted, and part of me would love to lock myself in my room and never come out. Trips like these don’t change that (one thing I’ve learned is that your insecurities will follow you across the ocean), but they do provide an opportunity to challenge myself. In that sense, I’m sort of like an arachnophobe who keeps thrusting his hand into a box full of tarantulas. Maybe one of these days I’ll get the hang of it… or at least it won’t freak me out quite so much.

Another reason why I travel is to gain a wider perspective of the world. When all you see is your own city, or your own state, or even your own country, it’s easy to be dismissive of the rest of the world, or to group an entire country or region in with a single news story or stereotype that you’ve heard. (For an easy example, just look at the way some people group all Muslims or all Arabs in with radical terrorists. But pretty much any national or ethnic stereotype falls into this category, some of which are more harmless than others: the Irish are drunkards, the Jews are stingy, the Brits have bad teeth… or, in reverse, Americans are loud, obnoxious, gun-toting hicks.)

When you travel, though, and immerse yourself in the people and places of another country, you see not just the stereotypes, but the entire humanity of a place. Sometimes the stereotypes are even largely true, but they’re still wrong, because they only encompass one aspect of a place or a people, who are at least as varied and colorful as the people where you’re from, even if it’s not obvious from the way they look.

Maybe Australia’s not the best example of this, because Australia is largely a Western country, not too different from my own. Even so, though, certain images and stereotypes dominate: Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin come immediately to mind. And even though we know these aren’t actually true (or at least say words to that effect), they don’t come close to exemplifying how amazing and diverse the place actually is: from the cattle farmer raising his herd amidst rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands, to the schoolteacher living with his girlfriend in Melbourne, to the Chinese immigrant in Brisbane hawking her wares in her native tongue, to the businessman working for a bank in the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney, to the real-life bush guide working on the edge of the Outback, to the twenty-three year old diving instructor working his way from boat to boat in Cairns… the reality is actually far more complicated and interesting than the stereotype could ever hope to be.

Every place, and every person in every place, has their own unique story, influenced by their upbringing, their culture, their environment, their beliefs, and by the long string of mostly-random events and occurrences that make up the history of their lives. And while you can’t learn all the stories of a place, you can at least begin to get a sense of what that place is really like, beyond the stereotypes and the news articles and what you heard from your Uncle Ray about that one time he went there twenty years ago.

There’s a lot more I could say on this topic, and I probably will at some point, but suffice it to say, this is where the tagline of my blog comes from: when you meet someone new, or explore an unfamiliar place, you also gain a new story, and through those stories you gain a little better understanding of the rest of the world. (I think this can hold true for fiction as well as nonfiction, but that’s a subject for another blog post.)

So thanks for reading this particular chapter of my story. More will come on this blog– though mostly about my own writing endeavors. Still, whenever timing and finances allow, I plan to do it again… it’s a big world, and there’s a lot to see.