Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Side Project, Because NaNoWriMo Isn’t Already Hard Enough

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves have fallen, the smell of exhaust hangs heavy in the morning as people warm their cars to defrost the windows, the unwanted pumpkins have begun to rot in front of the stores, and one can hear the first murmurings of family plans for Thanksgiving.  Here in Indiana we’ve seen our first snowfall.  And God bless it, the Halloween candy has gone on sale, price cuts just in time to stock up.

Yep, it’s definitely the season of NaNoWriMo.

Two days until the start of National Novel Writing Month, a glorious anticipatory period when one is excited to begin, pens at the ready, and has somehow managed to forget the insanity—the painful, hair-pulling, head-banging insanity—brought by the ensuing 30 days.  On the official forums, there are already write-ins scheduled here and there and everywhere, gatherings of like-minded writer folk who huddle in cafes, bookstores, bars, restaurants, and any nooks and crannies they can find in order to type away while maintaining some semblance of a social life.  Right now we all have fresh faces, bright eyes, and wide smiles; our clothes are neat and our hair is brushed.

Check back in two weeks; all that will have changed.  Oh sure, we may still be congregating in public, packs of wild-eyed writers, but we’ll look haunted, not rosy.  Our smiles will have given way to grimaces.  Clothes?  Think pajamas.  And you’ll seriously doubt we’ve ever even heard of hairbrushes, let alone own one.

But that time hasn’t come yet.  No, now is the time of exhilaration when we delight in being writers, when we’re stimulated by the challenge we’re about to undertake.  Some of us have notes and outlines and a plan; others have nothing more than a keyboard and a vague idea and the seat of their pants.  No matter how a participant approaches NaNoWriMo, they all come with the same thrill.

50,000 words in 30 days.  It’s insanity.  Foolish.  Crazypants.  And yet here we are.

I have my story.  Characters, outline, handwritten notes, the whole works.  I’m ready.  I’m eager.

…and I’m doing it a little bit differently this year.

Yes, I’m going full throttle for the usual goals:  write that damn novel (or at least 50,000 words of it) during the month of November.  But I’ve also decided to add an extra element, a little side project, that is in no way necessary and just might prove to be my undoing, the feather that adds just enough weight to send everything crashing down.

Or it will be awesome.  Too early to say.

What’s this addition, you ask?  (Or you don’t ask.  But that’s never stopped me from telling people anyway.)  A log of the experience.  I’ve decided that throughout the month, concurrent with writing my novel and losing my damn mind, I’m going to chronicle the event from my perspective, a record likely to be a mash of anything and everything even remotely NaNo-related:  notes to myself, jubilant scribbling in moments of triumph, despaired scrawling in times of darkness, general thoughts on the process and my fellow Wrimos, word count, state of mind, etc.

I suspect this endeavor will do little more than chronicle a downward spiral into madness, beginning nice and neat, full of promise, and gradually devolving into incoherent, illegible pen marks.  If I manage to keep up with it throughout, if I succeed not only at the NaNoWriMo challenge but also my self-imposed task, then this could be epic.

Or it could crash and burn.  Again, it’s too early to say.

Why this side project, you ask?  (I’m pretending you’re asking.)  Here’s the thing:  I have a bright, shiny new notebook just waiting to be filled.

Every NaNoWriMo session, I try to order at least one thing from the online store and toss in a small donation on top of it, because I very much believe in supporting a good cause that encourages people to get creative.  I wish something like this, on this scale, had been around when I was in high school and just finding my footing as a writer, and because NaNoWriMo is so beneficial to me now—I’ve finished a handful of projects, some good, some salvageable, and some so awful we do not speak of them—I want to give back.

So as this year’s good deed, I donated and ordered an obscenely expensive notebook with the NaNoWriMo typewriter graphic on the front.  (Seriously folks, $14 for a damn notebook, no matter how nifty, is seriously pushing the bounds of good sense and my generosity.)  And now that it has arrived, what to do with it?

Document how NaNo stole my soul, of course!  I’ve even pulled out the highlighters and colored Sharpies for this one.  At the very least, this little venture will prove amusing (to me, if not to everyone else).  If all works out, I’ll be posting the occasional scanned pages here, just to document my ink-stained journey.

Two days until NaNoWriMo officially starts.  One and a half days until I’m at the local NaNoWriMo kick-off party, a NaNoWeen extravaganza to celebrate both the holiday and the first step towards writing madness.  After that it’s 30 days until I (hopefully) stumble across the finish line.

Is anyone willing to be waiting there with a large glass of red wine and a couple carpal tunnel braces?  I’m going to need them.


Now for a Little Something Depressing

Allow me to bring the room down for a second:

My grandmother passed away on October 19th.  83 years old, she would’ve been 84 on the 22nd, and she was one of the sweetest, most amazing woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—the nicest person I’ve ever met.

No, seriously, the nicest.  The worst thing I ever heard her say about anyone was, and I quote, “Hitler was not a nice man.”

Understatement, Grandma.  Serious understatement.

One of the most important people in my life, she influenced me in the best possible way.  Cardinal sin of the family:  upsetting Grandma.  One simply didn’t do so, and if one did upset her, the guilt springing for her disappointment was a far worse punishment than anything handed down by my mother.  She unwittingly acted as a sort of behavioral barometer:  if we didn’t want Grandma to know about it, then we probably shouldn’t do it in the first place.  As we became adults, this general rule was later paired with another:  if said activity was generally acceptable but not actually Grandma-approved, as a family we simply made sure she didn’t know about it.  (Hello, getting shitfaced/having a sex life/taking the Lord’s name in vain/getting in a fight/wearing revealing clothing/indulging one’s road rage/any number of other enjoyable past times!)  My grandmother was a focal point, a sort of lynchpin, the (sometimes uninformed and rose-colored glasses wearing) matriarch.

Hers was not a sudden passing; hospice care started in early September.  I started mourning then as I watched this vibrant woman slowly fade away, and every visit she was a little bit worse, until eventually every visit I found her to be a lot worse.  No surprise when the call came that she was unresponsive and didn’t have long left.

A couple years ago my family faced the sudden death of my father.  I’ve yet to find any experience more jarring than the county sheriff knocking on the door in the wee hours of the morning, and one of the most painful aspects was not being able to say goodbye.   This time, at least, I was blessed with that chance.

And I’m grateful.  The call came around 5 p.m. on Friday, and I was at the nursing home by 7:30.  I stayed roughly three hours, keeping my grandfather company, discussing matters with my uncle, and in general keeping vigil.  We didn’t leave until my mother (who had driven back from a camping trip) and my sister (who had been working) arrived.  When I left, I had the opportunity to do what I hadn’t been able to do before:

I held her hand.  I told her that it was okay for her to go.  I told her I loved her.

I then cried the entire 35 minute drive home, and she passed away early the next morning.

Whether or not she knew I was there, whether or not she heard me, is debatable.  We have no way of knowing, of course, since it’s not like we can tap her on the shoulder and ask.  (Although how interesting would that be?  Tap, tap—hand her a glass of wine.  So Grandma, did you know I was there?  How’s the other side?  Is God as snarky as I’ve always imagined?)  But let’s be honest here:  when someone is that far gone, keeping watch over her is more for us than for her, more to make us feel better than to truly ease her way.  Who it’s for doesn’t really matter, though, because she’s now at peace and, because I had those final few moments, I’m more at peace, too.

Of course I’m sad.  I’m upset and I’m hurting and I miss my Grandma, but I know she lived long, she lived well, and she knew before this that I love her.  She didn’t need me to tell her at the end.

And lo, the Books Did Take Over the World

I own a library.

No, seriously, I own a library.

678 books.

I just counted and the official tally is 678.  Pretty impressive for a personal collection.

Okay, when compared to ‘real’ libraries mine may not be considered large, but I’m willing to bet I have more good books in my one bedroom apartment than my small town’s public library keeps in the entire building.  I will also admit to owning quite a bit of crap, but there’s no shame in that:  sometimes there’s nothing more enjoyable than reading an awful book and being able to say, “Oh my God, that’s such shit!  I could’ve done better in my sleep!

Note #1: I’m pro-silly brain candy after spells of reading heavy or dark works, and sometimes what you think will be shit turns out to be good, while what you expect to be fantastic turns out to be absolute shit.

And so it goes.

I’m a voracious reader but haven’t entered the Kindle/Nook era, due to my love of the physical aspects of books (and new—or old—book smell!) and the fact that I simply haven’t fancied an eReader.  Will I one day venture into that technological landscape?  Most likely, because while one doesn’t stop buying books just because one runs out of bookshelf space, one does cease buying books when one runs out of living space.  I have not, however, reached that point.  I dislike feeling crowded, and watching one episode of Hoarders is enough to make me pull out some crates, box up as many as I can part with, and sell to Half-Price Books.  I’m not entirely insane, after all.

Note #2:  the last time I took a load down to Half-Price Books, the girl at the counter got downright excited, her eyes lit up and her face glowed.  She practically shouted, “This is amazing!  You have some really awesome stuff and it’s all in great condition!”  My eyes lit up and my face glowed, because that was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.  She then handed me a rather impressive receipt to redeem for cash at the register.  Almost as good was the peeved look the guy to my left gave me, as he’d just been told the books he’d brought in weren’t worth anything and they didn’t want them.  Not my fault, dude.  Five-year-old medical textbooks are obsolete.  Idiot.

Now, before anyone gets judgmental about my book-love—yes, some might say addiction, but I’m not on Intervention so it’s not a problem, okay!?—keep in mind that my collection is the result of over a decade of buying, reading, and finding shelf space.  I have a number of books from my teen years, but once I turned 18 and landed a halfway decent paycheck, things took off from there.  That was ten years ago.  I rarely ever pay list price for books—used bookstores and used options from Amazon are the way to go when one wants books but also has a pressing need to eat and pay the bills on time.

Note #3:  “But you don’t understand, I needed to buy this new book!” is not an acceptable excuse for why one’s rent is late.  I’ve never tried it, but I’m assuming it wouldn’t fly.

One exception to the above ‘used books are awesome’ rule:  I will pay full price for books from self-published authors.  It’s like buying music from unsigned artists instead of downloading it through, ahem, other means on the internet.  A way to support new writers who otherwise might not have the chance to get their stuff out there by bypassing a business model that’s damn near impossible to access, and a way to encourage a change in the market.  Yes, there’s a high probability that the book will be shit.  And yes, the covers are often awful and, if you buy the physical book instead of the eBook, they’re almost always those cheap-looking Create Space editions.  But none of that matters when you get lucky, when you hit the literary jackpot and turn into a squealing, flailing fangirl over a book that very few people in the world have heard of, let alone read.

Note #4:  I recently found a new book to add my list of favorites this way, one that made me happy sigh at the end.  Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights by Liam Perrin.  My review is here.

I love books.  I’m a geek.  But I do have a life:  I have friends I see on a consistent basis, I have a bar or two where I’m a regular and am known by name, I’m halfway decent with a pool stick, I’ll occasionally attend a ballet or theater production, I see my family every so often, and I’m a pretty outgoing person.  I have what one could call a large personality (and some have called obnoxious—to-may-to, to-mah-to).  I enjoy going out.

But I’m also one of those people perfectly content to stay home on a Saturday night, puttering around in my PJs and rearranging my bookshelves simply because I can, because it’s fun.

As booklover and writer, I stand proud.

I am a lit geek.

Note #5:  If you are of the opinion that I’m too much of a lit geek, I say nonsense, there’s no such thing.  If you are of the opinion that I have an addiction, I point out that at least my addiction is books and not, say, heroin or sex.  Or heroin and sex.  Books don’t ruin lives…unless one ends up qualifying to be on Hoarders.  I’m doing my best to avoid that.)

And one day, oh yes, one fine day, my books will join the hundreds of others already on my shelves.  In a sense they’re already there:  once I complete a work, I print it up, put it nicely in a binder, and add it to the special shelf reserved just for them.  But one day there will be nifty covers and my name on the front, titles printed on the cover instead of scrawled on the side in permanent marker, official releases from a publishing house that I can point to and yell, “Look!  I’m an author!”

And when that day finally comes, when I can spend a Saturday rearranging my bookshelves in order to add my very own to the mix, well…

On that day I’ll have 679 books.

And now, the grand reveal.  Welcome to my library (aka my living and dining rooms):


My Living Room
these stand side by side against one wall, separated by a desk
cropped out of the photo in the interest of not being able to get them
all in one picture

 ??????????????????????     ???????????????????????????????

My Dining Room
these too stand side by side, separated by only a few inches
but due to a camwhoring hanging lamp, I had to separate them

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And somehow I still have plenty of room in my apartment, no feeling of being overcrowded, no tripping over them or running into them in the middle of the night.  This is where I thank God that in a small town such as this, one can get a good deal of space for a relatively small amount of money.

Dictionary of Cari: Middle Child Syndrome

Middle Child Syndrome (mid-l chahyld sin-drohm]:  noun, a son or daughter displaying a group of symptoms (feelings of unfairness, dramatics, extreme stubbornness, abundant creativity, swings between confidence and self-loathing, humorous, quick on the uptake, occasional crazy eyes) characteristic of the disorder of being born between two or more siblings.  (Note:  while popular opinion associates this disorder with low self-esteem, many with middle child syndrome vehemently disagree.  And if one continues to insist on such connotations, the middle child will show you just how confident he really is.  The author of this entry highly recommends that you duck.  Now.)

            Example #1:  “Yeah, he’s batshit.  He can’t help it; he’s got a wicked case of middle child syndrome.”

            Example #2:  “I’m so proud!  My oldest is a doctor, my youngest just got married, and my other one…well, she’s still alive.”

            Example #3:  “FUCK YOU!  DON’T TOUCH MY STUFF!”

The Dictionary of Cari, created because Webster’s doesn’t always get it quite right.

Brain-Eating Amoeba

There’s nothing worse than a story that just won’t come together.

I’ve got main characters, I’ve got secondary and tertiary characters, I’ve got backstory, I’ve got plot threads, I’ve got dark and gritty, I’ve got humorous and light, I’ve got a beginning and an end, and hell, I’ve even got a theme.  (And clearly I also have a list.)  The spark of inspiration came from a couple pieces of artwork (see below) that I’ve printed up and now have hanging on my wall, and I’m aching to get to work on this novel.

But I can’t.

So what’s the problem?  Am I out of pens?  Out of paper?  Has my keyboard blown up?  Do I have no blood with which to write on the walls like Geoffrey Rush in the movie Quills?

No.  No, no, and no.

The problem is that no matter what I do, the damn thing won’t gel.  The story won’t crystalize into something substantial, something that can be put on the page, something that can be told with any coherency.

Damn it.

I’ve brainstormed.  I’ve scribbled down notes about scenes and put them in order.  I’ve got a massive Evernote ‘notebook’ full of reminders and ideas and notations.  I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve kicked things, I’ve taken naps, I’ve banged my head into walls, and I’ve collapsed from frustration.  (And I apparently made another list:  Cari’s Recommended Process for Story Development.)

Because if a piece won’t come together, if it’s refusing to work, then there’s something wrong.

I’ve learned that.  I’m not published or well-known (or known at all, not even a little bit), but I’ve been doing this writing thing long enough to know that if I’m having this much trouble, a fundamental aspect is amiss.  Is it something I can fix, or is it something that will force me to scrap it for parts?

There’s no way at this point of knowing if I can make it right, not until I’ve put the work in to figure out just what element is wrong.  And that’s a lot of work that might be all for naught if I have to send it to the recycle bin.

But I’ll still do the work.  Time and effort and aggravation and tears—I’ll go through all of it, all for the chance of satisfaction at the end.  Disappointment if the story is no good; exhilaration if I’m victorious.

(Somewhere my mother is wishing I’d put even a fraction of this determination into things like ‘homework’ or ‘cleaning the house’ when I was younger.  I’m not sorry.)

Because writing is work.  Writing is hard.  It’s not my job, so I don’t technically have to do it.  But I love it.  That satisfaction when I get an idea to come together.  The pleasure of putting my own words down.  The triumph when I sign and date the finished work.  That’s why I do this.

Assuming, of course, I can manhandle this into some sort of coherent, engaging narrative instead of the murky amoeba it currently is.  If I succeed, then my tale gets told.  If I fail, then the amoeba eats my brain.

Worth the risk.

Girl in Window

Shirtles Boy

(Artwork by Zak Smith)

Playlist: The O’Shaughnessy Reputation

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I’ve put together my official playlist for the novel I’ll be writing:  The O’Shaughnessy Reputation (Put On Your War Paint).  And here I am, sharing it with you for no particular reason.

The O’Shaughnessy Rep (Put on Your War Paint) Playlist

            You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid—The Offspring
                        “Now dance, fucker, dance.”

            The Phoenix—Fall Out Boy
                        “Put on your war paint.”

            Bad Moon RisingCreedence Clearwater Revival

            Boy Division—My Chemical Romance
                        “I’m not asking, you’re not telling.  He’s not dead, he only looks that way.”

            Burn It to the Ground—Nickelback
                        “No class, no taste, no shirt, and shit-faced.”

            Everybody Loves Me—OneRepublic
                        “Don’t need my health, got my name and got wealth.”

            Foggy Dew—Young Dubliners

            For Boston—Dropkick Murphys

            Get in Line—Simon Curtis
                        “Come on, tear some shit up with me.”

            Give ‘Em Hell, Kid—My Chemical Romance

            I Can’t Decide—Scissor Sisters
                        “I can’t decide whether you should live or die.”

            I Want It All/We Will Rock You Mash-Up—Sucker Punch ST
                        “He couldn’t care less, he’s fearless, he’ll give the reaper hugs.”

            Let’s Hear It for Rock Bottom—The Offspring
                        “Going down in flames, well it’s not that bad.”

            Let’s Kill Tonight—Panic! At the Disco

            Peacemaker—Green Day
                        “You thought I was a write-off, you better think again.”

            Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing—The Offspring
                        “If you’re gonna go to hell, drink it up, you might as well.”

            Take It Easy—Eagles
                        “We may lose and we may win, but we will never be here again.”

            Thank You for the Venom—My Chemical Romance

            O Death—Jen Titus (Supernatural version)
                        “When God is gone and the Devil takes hold, who’ll have mercy on your soul?”

            The Wrong Company—Flogging Molly
                        “Unfortunately, I’m in the wrong prison cell and the wrong company.”

            Road to Ruin—Great Big Sea
                        “We’re on the road to ruin, it’s the only way to go.”

            Remember the Name—Fort Minor
                        “A hundred percent reason to remember the name.”

Dictionary of Cari: Lit Snob

Lit Snob [lit snob]:  noun, one who acts superior in matters of taste regarding written works that are considered to be very good and to have lasting importance.

          Example #1:  “He acts like such a lit snob, but he only carries the book around, he never actually reads it.”

          Example #2:  “He’s such a lit snob, he won’t admit that he never finished Ulysses, either.”

          Example #3:  “If that lit snob makes fun of my books one more time, I’m going to punch him in the face.”

The Dictionary of Cari, created by yours truly because Webster’s doesn’t always get it quite right.

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