Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Perfect Beginning

Writing, already a somewhat esoteric activity, is something that becomes more surreal when performed in a room filled with chandeliers made from plastic dolls, metallic pedal-cars suspended from the ceiling, and a flock of writers kicking off NaNoWriMo. The first thing I did when entering the room full of people I didn’t know was to put my laptop bag on a table, launching packets of artificial sweetener into a shotgun pattern on the floor. I looked up at the ceiling, and a humping pair of golden spray-painted mannequins looked back at me.

The one on the bottom looked a little surprised, but whether it was by me or the one behind him, I wasn’t sure. A paper moon was hanging from the center of the ceiling, with another golden mannequin holding up the bottom of its crescent form. It shone on a pink Eiffel Tower filled with plastic baby doll heads. Another mannequin, in modesty, had adorned itself head-to-toe in a silver wrapping of Mardi Gras beads. Where else would I want to be on Halloween, waiting for midnight to strike, starting the clock on my countdown to crank out at least 50,000 words in 30 days?

Nowhere.

So, here I sit, in a two-toned, metal-flake vinyl covered chair, watching the clock and wondering how this will all go down.

It is an interesting collection of folk, the Baltimore NaNoWriMo crew that decided to make the trek to The Paper Moon Diner, ranging in age from college-ish to balding and middle-ageish. I’m on the older side of the spectrum, and I’m OK with that. I’m wondering how much the room has written, how many years they’ve been doing the NaNoWriMo, and how many completed manuscripts they have among them, and how many of those that have been published. I’m willing to bet the answer would surprise me, but not sure of whether it would be by its glut or scarcity.

This is how my first NaNoWriMo begins, in awkwardness and solitude within a room full of writers, talking amongst themselves while I tap the keys on my laptop.

Every once in a while, I stop, look up, and take in the surrealism of it all. With its Halloween-costumed fiction writers and encrustation of Freudian freak-show décor, this room contains more of it than the Dali Museum.

This is my perfect beginning. Now to figure out how to start the manuscript…

Only a few more minutes until midnight.

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Beta Love, My Beta Love

I have some great beta readers, but one is just fantastic. I’m not going to use his name here at this time since I didn’t ask first. Recently, he read through my manuscript FREE AMERICA at a quick pace and delivered actionable feedback. Actually, he read through the beginning not once, but twice, and I revised the beginning based upon his commentary while giving the ending a major overhaul. He has been clear and unambiguous about what bothered him about the writing. He has also been very positive about its quality.

Good, right?

Being a writer means being inherently self-critical. He, and more or less everyone else who I have shared the book with along the way, had positive things to say about it. Am I a masochist because I long for a dressing down that lays bare exactly how and why my writing sucks? Because I feel that way, just a little. I want it to be crystalized in my mind exactly where my writing is weakest so I can go about destroying those bad habits.

I suppose I did get that sort of thing back when I first started writing novel length fiction. I joined a DC area critique group and went regularly for a while until commuting from Baltimore to DC to do the nasty with my writing got more of a chore than I could stomach. Along the way, I did get some critical smacks of reality that helped me focus on becoming a better writer. Sure, some of them were full of crap. That doesn’t bother me. Being a writer means you need to be able to take criticism and accept that not all of it is necessarily valid. Even the criticism I ultimately ignored helped me become a stronger writer, because I took it at face value, considered other factors and then made the conscious decision to persist in spite of a critical voice pushing me back. I also enjoyed watching the dynamics of a critique group play out. That was probably the most interesting part of the exercise. I think it might be time for me to join another group.

If you know of a group I should consider, please drop me a line. Thanks!

I Dream of Dostoyevsky

I don’t often dream of meeting authors, but last night I did.

A young Fyodor Dostoyevsky featured in my dreams last night. Apparently he was having some sort of trouble. I invited him to come into my house, which was on the parade route in New Orleans. We talked in general and had a good time. It occurred to me that maybe I should ask him if he would sign a couple of books for me.

Of course I could not find my copies of anything he wrote, since I had just moved and hadn’t organized anything, but part of the reason I bought the house was because it was a block away from two good independent book stores. I made my way through the crowd and came back with some fresh copies, figuring mine were crappy condition paperbacks anyway. I joked about helping him sell through a few more copies, as if he cared, and we all laughed. I guess everybody knew he was dead, including him.

I have no idea what any of this means, other than I have books on my mind (and Mardi Gras). I would like to think that maybe, somewhere out there, Fyodor Dostoyevsky is reading my work and smiling.