Sunday, October 30, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse

With NaNoWriMo only two days away, I've been spending some time perusing the forums. It's always interesting to see where people are from, how old they are, how many times they've done NaNo, and what they are planning on writing for their novel.

A big plot this year appears to be Zombie Apocalypse. The first time I saw it, I thought, "Huh. Weird, but definitely a NaNo type novel." People tend to do crazy things in NaNo novels. It's all about typing 50,000 words in one month and there's a large contingent that will do anything to reach that goal. Including writing whacko stories about a Zombie Apocalypse. When I saw Zombie Apocalypse popping up more and more frequently, I figured out it must be some kind of pop culture reference that I wasn't familiar with.

One of the disadvantages of growing older is that you stop paying attention to pop culture and miss a lot of these references. The demographic that goes to movies and watches television is the 18 to 35 group. This turns into a feedback loop situation. Since it's the 18-35 year olds who are consuming media, the creators of that media focus on making movies and TV shows and video games that appeal to that age group. Generally this means that those who have started receiving solicitations from AARP on a regular basis don't like those movies, TV shows, or video games and do something else. Like read or tune in to PBS or TCM or go to symphony concerts.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Preparing for NaNo

Is it only a little over a week until the start of NaNoWriMo? This year I thought I was getting a good jump on planning my novel. I'd be all ready come November 1st with a detailed outline, character sketches, plot points, maps, and all the other things I usually develop as I write a novel. I'm not sure I'm going to make it.

Oh, I do have a list of characters and a vague idea of the plot. I've been getting good planning ideas from Alexandra Sokolov's blog over the past two weeks. But she just posted the details of Act 1 this week and I haven't even gotten to use that! There are two more acts and only nine days before I have to start writing! Panic is starting to set in.

Oh, I've done more prep than I have some years. But, for a plotter, it's never enough. Fantasy writers have a problem with worldbuilding. They can spend months--years, even--drawing maps and costumes and floorplans and developing languages and religions and magic systems.  Mystery writers--those of us who plot, anyway--can get bogged down in red herrings and suspects and arcane clues.

I've never understood how "pantsers" (those who write by the seat of their pants) ever get a novel out of what they write. I admire those who can sit down in front of a blank screen and just start typing a story out. They lead their characters to the edge of a cliff, push them over it, and only then do they worry about how they'll survive the fall. Me, I'd be hyperventilating, my stomach would be tied up in knots,  and I would probably turn that character into another victim. Unless I did several days worth of research on how someone somewhere survived a similar fall.

There's other kinds of prep that I have done, though. I've laid in a supply of chocolate. (Did Chris Baty plan on leftover Hallowe'en candy when he decided NaNoWriMo should start on November 1st?) I picked up a packet of Via, Starbucks instant coffee that actually tastes like coffee. I've been checking out recipes recommended for cooking during the month of November, things that don't take much time for preparation so you have more time for writing.

I'm nervous and excited all at the same time. There's nothing like the adrenalin rush of needing to type 1667 words every day knowing that there are thousands of people all over the world doing the same thing.

So, since I'm running out of time, I need to get back to my novel planning. That's all for this week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Sentenced to Death by Lorna Barrett

First a disclosure: Lorna Barrett is a member of the Guppies (see the link on the right) whom I've known for several years. I don't think that influences my opinion of the books she writes, but it might. I borrowed this book from the library based on the fact that I didn't like the last book in this series very much and am reluctant to buy books that I'm not sure I'll want to keep.

In this fifth novel in the Booktown Mystery series, Tricia's friend Deborah is killed when a small plane carrying a banner for the Founder's Day celebration runs out of gas and crashes into the gazebo where she's giving a speech. Everyone in town believes that this is just a tragic accident except Tricia. It doesn't make sense to her that an experienced pilot would forget to put gas in his plane.

Of course, Tricia doesn't sit still or mind her own business. She immediately talks to the NTSB representative sent to investigate the plane crash, persuades the local newspaperman (an ex-boyfriend of hers) to ferret out information, and generally noses about. This leads to the discovery that her friend had lots of secrets. As do others in Stoneham, New Hampshire.

This was a fun read that kept me turning the pages. Tricia's sister, Angelica, makes a perfect sidekick who listens to Tricia's speculations and aids her in the investigation. Although I do miss the antagonism that existed between them in an earlier book, I've come to accept Angelica's new role. Ginny, Tricia's employee at Haven't Got a Clue, the mystery book store she owns, grows and develops in this story. Mr. Everett and Grace put in an appearance.

The primary reason readers come back to a mystery series is to follow the lives of the characters as each mystery is solved. Lorna Barrett has created an ensemble cast that has become a group of old friends we want to keep up with.

Definitely recommended.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall Gardening

Back in March, I wrote about the devastation of my yard due to the extremely cold February we had. Between the advice given by most horticulturists (don't assume the plants are dead too quickly) and the extreme heat of summer, my yard hasn't changed much since then. Well, except for the ground squirrels, but I'll leave the follow-up on that to another time.

I did trim back the dead branches and such before summer hit so the front wouldn't look like a Halloween stage setting. This did NOT improve the looks but, since it was small, it was able to hide behind the larger plant that survived.

Yesterday morning, before it got up into the nineties again (we're having a warmer fall than usual), I got out my brand new pitchfork and wrestled what was left out of the ground. I was glad to see an emitter for the drip irrigation next to the dead plant. That meant whatever I planted in its place would get plenty of water.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

I Should Be a Horror Writer

I have a terrific imagination, particularly when it comes to imagining the worst. The least little thing can send my mind scurrying down dark tunnels towards disaster.

There was one place I lived where I hated to clean the bathroom. Every time I started scrubbing it, I'd notice this odd smell. I was convinced there was something nasty living in the drains or the walls that was going to poison me and kill me. I'd die and no one would find the body until several weeks later. They'd do an autopsy and pronounce that I'd died of a heart attack or stroke, blissfully unaware of the evil POISON that had really killed me.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Book Review: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

I finally finished this second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I have to think my reading experience was damaged by putting it down to read some books I had put on reserve at the library, then moving on to some lighter fare after that, before picking it up again last week and finishing the book. I found myself wishing it would be over with, which is not a good way to feel about a book.

Or maybe it's just that I'm not meant for epic fantasy. These books have so many points of view, it takes me several pages of a new chapter to bring all the related characters and the situation we last left this character in back into my memory. Just as I'm getting thoroughly involved in this part of the story, the chapter ends and a different character steps forward to continue his or her tale.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Loving My Mac

I usually don't write about the geeky stuff in my life. I've always been a math and science nerd and, in my early thirties, became a computer nerd. After discovering that a Bachelor's degree in psychology wasn't a whole lot of good when it came to finding a job, I went back to school and got an Associate's degree in Data Processing, where I learned to program computers.

This skill served me well until a few years ago. I built my career on the IBM midrange computers (System/34, System/36, AS/400) and, as PCs and Microsoft took over the business world, it became harder and harder to find a job. When I was laid off from my last job two years ago and found a different type of computer-related job, I figured my days of business application programming were over. I was too close to retirement to make retraining realistic. Besides, what I really wanted to do was write mystery novels.

Writing a novel is not easy. It sounds easy. I mean, all you have to do is sit down at your computer and type up a story. Try it. What you learn pretty quickly is that the first thirty or forty pages are easy. That's all the stuff that's the premise for your story, the ideas that have been floating around in your brain, the things that inspire you. Then you get to the dreaded middle and you have to figure out how to get from that inspiring beginning to the bang-up finish. There's plotting and subplots and how do you get all those characters to play nicely with your story?

As Walter Smith said:
There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.