Saturday, November 13, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021 - Week 2 Encouragement: Don’t Sweat a Sub-Par Writing Day

Scott D. Parker

As of yesterday, all the writers doing NaNoWriMo 2021 should have reached the 20,000-word mark. This threshold is based on a daily word count of 1,667 words per day. I’m happy to say that I now sit at 31,777 words.

There are two things at play with that number. One, I’m having a blast writing this novel, a traditional murder/mystery, a genre new to me. The words almost always fly from my brain, through the fingers, and onto the screen with joyous abandon.

Additionally, this is more of a character-driven story than I’ve ever written before. For my thrillers or westerns, there’s almost always a bad guy with a gun shooting at my heroes and they have to react. Not so with this book. It’s contemporary, with people talking about real issues and soon to be solving a crime. It’s odd for me, but I’m sincerely digging it. My initial readers are as well. My wife—a very harsh critic, who reads way more books than I do, and typically does not to read some of my more over-the-top stories—surprised me with her verdict on Part I of the story. It buoyed my day yesterday, especially since I’m going down a new path.

Every day until Wednesday, 9 November, I wrote more than 2,000 words in a day. But Wednesday morning, the words didn’t come in a gusher like the other ones have done. I ended up with only 1,880 words that day, above the baseline of a typical NaNoWriMo day, but less than my personal average. I thought about circling back sometime later in the day to bang out and additional 200 words, but opted not to. I wanted to remind myself, when I look at my spreadsheet with the daily tally, that some days will see fewer words than other days. It’s okay and it’s natural. The same thing happened yesterday, when I reached only 1,900 words.

The exception was Thursday. It was Veteran’s Day and I had the day off. What I ended up doing was working on the book all morning. I kept my typical day-job schedule of getting up from my chair every hour and exercising. Basically, I treated the fiction-writing job as the actual day job. It is what I’d love to do. I closed the laptop at noon to go shopping with the wife having booked 5,268 words.

Lessons for the week

It’s okay not to reach a pace you set for yourself. It’s even okay not to reach the 1,667-word mark everyday as long as you have the end goal in mind.

If you have some extra time this month—like I did on Thursday—take advantage of the bonus time and keep writing and add to the book’s total. Not only will you advance your novel, but you’ll be able to reach a point when you can take off a day from writing, like Thanksgiving. Time management is crucial to finishing a book, and be mindful of all the time you have available to write.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Loose Thoughts on James Bond......Again

 By Jay Stringer

I've continued thinking about James Bond over the last two weeks. Which brings the grand total of time I've spent thinking about James Bond this year to two weeks. 

The question facing the producers right now is about broom heads and handles. Or the ship of Theseus. How many things about a Bond movie can be changed before it's no longer a Bond movie?

There's a certain section of the internet that will give you very firm answers on this. Bond is a straight, white, womanising, hard-drinking, defender of the British Empire. Any deviation from that is a surrender to the evil forces of wokeness. 

Or something. 

These legacy characters are incredibly flexible, but just how far can they flex? How far should they flex?

When it comes to Bond, I'm open to any interesting and fresh casting ideas. But I do wonder why a person of colour -or any minority for that matter- would want to take on a role so embedded in colonial identity. I have my own complicated identity with ethnicity and the British State, and I go back and forth over whether I would want to write a character like Bond. Although I've tiptoed in that direction with the character of Joanna Mason in my Marah Chase books. I can't speak to the lived experience of an actor of colour, and if someone out there has a take on Bond and wants to go for it, I'd be interested to watch. 

I suspect No Time to Die -as much as it was a send-off to Daniel Craig- was testing out a format for the future. Keeping Bond as the straight white fella of lore, but filling the world out around him with more diverse and interesting characters. Toning down on promiscuity, allowing women to exist and be strong characters around Bond without him hitting on them every ten seconds. 

In many ways, this leans more into the Mission Impossible movies that I tend to enjoy more than Bond. But that still brings me back to broom handles and heads. I keep thinking of the form. The structure. The DNA of a Bond story. 

Mission Impossible, at heart, is a heist. A team is assembled, the plans are made, the heist is carried out, things go wrong, changes are made on the fly to get things back on track, and there are six billion double crosses. The team element is crucial to a heist story. And this same team element could be used to give everyone a bit of what they want from a modern Bond movie. But then...Bond's DNA is different, Bond stories, at heart, are much more Philip Marlowe, much more of the lone gumshoe. Bond takes on a job. He follows a trail. Clues from A to B, in a sequence, encountering lower-level threats until he uncovers the big bad. And there will be a big rich man's mansion of some form, whether it's a missile silo or a hollow volcano. He doesn't have much of a team. 

Two different forms, at heart. Different DNA. 

To my mind, understanding the form is as important a question as the casting. Bond can probably survive being portrayed as something other than a damaged, alcoholic, misogynist, relic. I think he could comfortably survive being portrayed as a decent guy in a tough job -a compromise that any adult watching the film could relate to on some level- without all of the outdated baggage. But how far from the underlying structure would a film go while still being a Bond film? Following the Mission Impossible template would lead to fun movies, but not James Bond. Whoever is cast, does the story need to follow the Bond DNA? Or is it more interesting at this point to break all the rules and do something else?

How much of the ship can be changed before it's a different ship? 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The dark is only the beginning


This week, Beau takes a look at Daniel Barnett's Nightfall.

"Tomorrow died on the last morning of May. There were those who saw it happen, who watched the shadow fall, who felt the chop of the guillotine as the world lost its head. Everyone else witnessed only the aftermath, for the event itself lasted no longer than a moment. They stepped outside from windowless rooms, they climbed up from crowded subways, they pulled back the blinds to let in the sun, and found the nightmare waiting for them."

But the dark is only the beginning.

Nightfall is the first volume of the Nightmareland Chronicles, an ongoing serialized adventure horror epic following one man's journey to reach his estranged daughter in a world claimed by eternal night.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Truth versus Facts

 As I mentioned on social media recently, I've been listening to the podcast Trickster, about the life and writings of Carlos Castaneda. I read some Castaneda many years ago and loved the books; there are things in those books, thoughts, ideas, that I've never forgotten and actually reflect on to this day. That's nearly forty years after reading the books.

When I read Journey to Ixtlan and Tales of Power and so on, back in the mid-eighties, I was unaware of the entire controversy over whether his books were legitimate anthropology or, at least for the most part, fiction.  But even being unaware of this debate, you had to wonder whether what Castaneda had written was primarily true.  Or wait...I should use a different word than true...let's say factual.  

I remember some time a bit later having a discussion about this with an acquaintance who was a fellow Castaneda reader, and by then, I'd read up on how most in academia apparently, anthropologists and others, now considered Castaneda a hoaxster. They held this view based on a variety of things about his work and so-called "field work"; they insisted he'd essentially fabricated his sagas about the sorcerer Don Juan Matus. Reading the critiques, I could understand why they dismissed Castaneda's work as factually "inauthentic". Given all the evidence, that's accurate to say.  But to describe him as simply a "con man" seemed reductive and also, my acquaintance and I agreed, missed the point. If you read the books, aside from the lively and descriptive and gripping writing, aside from the humor, aside from the adventure -- aside from all that and more -- you get immersed in the great storytelling which carries within it a wealth of perhaps not profound but certainly fascinating ideas.  Ideas presented in stories within stories within stories that, I found, are extremely entertaining to read.  When you've read something 37 years ago, as I have with him, and a decent amount of it remains in your mind as vivid and funny and fruitful still to think about, that's some damn good writing, and whether it's "fiction" or legitimate anthropology, doesn't matter.  I can understand why anthropologists and academics got pissed at Castaneda. That makes total sense.  If people in an academic field that's supposed to demand some scientific rigor make up a lot of what they write, that's a problem.  And a big one.  But if what's in the actual writing has truth in it, not literal truth perhaps but a more metaphorical truth if you will, who cares?  Bad anthropology, or non-anthropology, but writing that succeeds beyond the confines of whether it's factually authentic.  

It all reminds me of similar discussions on this whole truth versus facts question (remember, we're talking art here, not politics), that I've heard elsewhere.  Indeed, listening to Trickster made me think of some things Werner Herzog has said on the subject, and so why not wrap up here today with the ultimate soldier of cinema himself:

Monday, November 8, 2021

Flash in the Pan


Sometimes a little change can do a lot of good. As writers we often work towards the common goal of a full-length novel, because that’s what publishers want and that is what sells. In trying to create that book many writers have to set aside other, more spontaneous forms of expression like poems or short stories. Taking a break from the grind can do a mind and body good, so in the spirit of having a little fun, I’ve tasked my friends in RVA City Writers to a flash challenge.

Who are the RVA City Writers?

RVA City Writers (aka "RiVAh City Writers") is a group of wordslingers in the Virginia area who come together to promote and share the words of local authors usually working in dark genre fiction (crime, noir, horror, mystery). This gang ranges from the not-yet-published to the award-winning.

D Alexander Ward 🗡 Hugh Lessig 🗡 John Glover 🗡Julia Brugh 🗡 LynDee Stephens Walker 🗡 Marietta Miles 🗡 Phillip Thompson 🗡 Meriah Lysistrata Crawford 🗡Shawn A. Cosby 🗡 Shawn Reilly Simmons 🗡 Ward Howarth

What is the challenge?

Write a fifty-word flash. That’s it. However, the story must incorporate three randomly selected words and revolve around a single, overall theme.

The words have been drawn and shared; letter, afford, and yard. Pretty sexy words, am I right? And then we revealed the topic; despair.

When will they deliver?

Each writer has chosen a single Monday between now and the end of the year when their tale will be told. The three words must be used, despair must be the motif, and the word count must remain fifty or under. Next week I will post a calendar of who will be published and when.

I’m looking forward to reading the stories from each of these amazing writers and I can’t wait to share them with you.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Review: Stuff the British Stole

A helmet full of stolen stuff—like a gift basket for a king!

By Claire Booth

A tiger. A shield. A bronze. A dog. A human head.

Each one gets an episode in this fantastic podcast. Stuff the British Stole isn’t so much a cataloging of what British Imperialists took from Indigenous Peoples around the world as it is a contextualization of the consequences.

It’s also, looking at it from a crime writer perspective, a fabulous true crime podcast. True, it’s crime in more of a global history sense than a street mugging sense (although that did happen, too—often by official representatives of the British Empire).

Take the human head. Or rather, heads. Hundreds of them from the Maori of New Zealand, who preserved and venerated them. Many had facial tattoos that were (and still are) enormously significant and spiritual. That made them highly sought after by British collectors; many ended up in British homes and museums.

Podcast host Marc Fennell talks to Maori who are working to repatriate the heads still in foreign possession. But he also takes his reporting a step to the side by talking to a modern-day Maori tattoo artist, who explained why the tattooing is so special, and how the British derision for it caused centuries of decline and contempt for the tradition. It was heartbreaking.

Stuff is a Australian Broadcasting Corporation production and a great example of the wonderful global-ness of the podcasting universe. It’s also an example of a creative work that gets its tone exactly right. Fennell is a light touch, using humor and cheekiness when appropriate, but also making sure to respectfully show the painful emotions still felt by the Empire’s victims.

I devoured Season One this week and am impatient to get started on Season Two, which is currently releasing an episode every Tuesday. I recommend you dive in before they run out of Stuff to feature—which should only take a few hundred years.

The Season Two logo. In an interview with the 99% Invisible podcast (which is how I discovered Stuff), Fennell said he originally wanted to use a different “S” word in the title instead of “Stuff.” Don’t worry. People are swearing enough as they listen—sample reaction of mine: “What the actual f***?”