I’m Going To Do Nanowrimo This Year

A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form.
—-Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide To Writing A Novel In 30 Days

My android tablet and portable keyboard, I stopped my bike ride on the Bridge Park over the Trinity River to get some writing done.

I’ve seriously tried NanoWriMo three times – succeeding once. The two times I failed I wrote myself into a corner – my plot had nowhere to go. The one year I won, I picked a novel that couldn’t move into a corner – it was an old man in a beach house during a hurricane, with the water rising. He would think about his life in a series of reminiscences as death approached. That way, I could always find something to write.

The crazy thing is that on the last day of November, at about eleven PM, my Microsoft Word Document had me at about 50,007 words, so I uploaded the thing to the Nano website. However, its “official” word counter had me about thirty words short. No big deal, right?, I had forty five minutes to write thirty words.

It’s impossible to explain why, but those were the hardest thirty words I have ever bled out. I crossed 50K with three minutes to spare.

So this year…. I’m looking at my schedule trying to find a couple hours a day. One thing is this blog. For the duration I’ll post my daily word count, a photo from the past, and a paragraph of what I had written that day. I don’t want to upload the entire day’s work because it is a shitty first draft and nobody wants to read those. I should be able to carve out a paragraph of interest, though. A simple blog entry like that will save me some time every day that I can use for writing.

If anyone is in the Richardson/Dallas area and wants to set up a writing time, contact me at bill.chance57(at)gmail.com. I’m also thinking about setting up a Writing Marathon for at least one day (maybe the Farmer’s Market?), if that sounds interesting to anyone (if not, I can do it alone).

Yeah… that’s the ticket.

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Open Your Veins, and Bleed

“You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
—-Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith (and many others)

Our kitchen cabinets are filled with pint beer glasses emblazoned with local breweries – souvenirs of the visits to many brewery tours and keep-the-glass sampling events.

Deep Ellum Brewing Company – Dallas Blonde

One of these was a little too close to the edge of the kitchen counter when my son’s Lab was looking up there scouring for leftovers and knocked one off – breaking it on the floor – shattering the vessel into a thousand slivery shards. The first nine hundred and ninety are easy to sweep up. The last ten are invisible, sharp and hard, hard to find.

Last night as I walked barefoot through the kitchen to my room, intending to sit down and write for my hour… I found one.

There is an interesting pain profile as a sliver of glass pushes through the thick callus on the bottom of a foot into the tender, live flesh, muscle, and sinew beneath. I doesn’t hurt much… until it does. I hopped on one foot to a countertop and leaned while I searched for the glass. It’s transparent, crystalline and invisible, of course, so I had to feel for it, then pull it out. I glanced at the splinter before throwing it in the trash. It was longer than usual and was red-tipped – but I didn’t think much about it.

I suffer from a form of graphomania and, while most people complain of writer’s block, if I don’t get a solid hour of writing in each day it’s hard for me to go to sleep (writing something good… now, that’s another question – one for another day).

I sat down at my desk and lost myself, writing for an hour or so. I saved my work, and decided it was time to walk back and go to bed. But as I tried to stand up, I realized that my foot was stuck firmly to the floor. That was confusing and unsettling, why couldn’t I lift my foot up from the painted concrete – I was floored. Looking down into the murk under my desk I saw that my foot was centered in a dark-colored disk of some glue-like material that was intent on keeping it there. I had already forgotten what had happened only an hour before – so I guessed I had spilled some fruit drink or something and it had dried into a sticky trap.

So I redoubled my efforts and with a viscous pop my foot came up. It wasn’t until a few minutes later I remembered the glass sliver and realized my foot had been stuck to the floor by a pool of drying blood. I hadn’t moved my foot for over an hour, plenty of time to bleed, coagulate, and adhere.

Not much I could do, so I went to sleep. Today, I found dark crimson crescents of blood scattered throughout the house – I didn’t realize how much I walked around last night.

Time to get out the mop.

Glass from Wine Walk
Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas

Lakewood Brewing Company, French Quarter Temptress, Special Glass, Brewed, Fort Worth, Texas

Down the Rabbit Hole

“Poetry is much more important than the truth, and, if you don’t believe that, try using the two methods to get laid.”
― Mark Forsyth, The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language

“A poet is not somebody who has great thoughts. That is the menial duty of the philosopher. A poet is somebody who expresses his thoughts, however commonplace they may be, exquisitely. That is the one and only difference between the poet and everybody else.”
― Mark Forsyth, The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

The Window at Molly’s, the street (Decatur) unusually quiet, with notebook, vintage Esterbrook pen, and Molly’s frozen Irish Coffee

“Shakespeare was not a genius. He was, without the distant shadow of doubt, the most wonderful writer who ever breathed. But not a genius. No angels handed him his lines, no fairies proofread for him. Instead, he learnt techniques, he learnt tricks, and he learnt them well.”
― Mark Forsyth, The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

I picked up a book at the library – I picked it up by mistake because I was looking for books by John Forsyth (and there weren’t any). I picked up The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth. I’m not sure why I stacked it on the checkout kiosk – but it turned out to be crackerjack – I really enjoyed it. The book is simple – forty chapters – each one dedicated to one rhetorical figure, discussing its use in literature, classic and profane, with an emphasis on Shakespeare. The chapter titles are intimidating, mostly Greek terms: Alliteration, Polyptoton, Antithesis, Merism, Blazon, Synaesthesia, Aposiopesis, Hyperbaton, Anadiplosis, Hypotaxis and Parataxis, – are the first few. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Well, it is. Forsyth is a witty (sometimes too witty) writer that makes these ancient Greek mouthfuls entertaining and elucidating. As a writer – it’s like being given a bag of weapons that you can use to slay an unsuspecting reader. Most of these are things that are known to anyone that has spent too much time on the wrong end of a pen or with their nose between the book covers… but listing them, explaining them, exampling them, giving them names, gives them power and makes them easier to pull out of the wordsmith’s quiver and load into his quill.

If you are interested in words, get the book.

Now, once I have discovered something like this, and read it carefully (taking tens of pages of notes) – I can’t stop there. I have to go down the rabbit hole.

Forsyth has a handful of other books for me to read. I suspect I have more books to read than I have time left on this earth, but what the hell. He has a TED talk, and a handful of articles across the web.

And he has a blog.

It’s called Inky Fool – and has a lot of cool stuff in it.

Continuing down the Rabbit Hole, the latest entry (as of this writing) A Measure of Rudeness has a link to an amazing PDF online. It is the work product of a big Marketing Firm hired by, I guess, the British Government to produce a slick study called Attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV and radio – Quick Reference Guide.

It is an official list of dirty words. It is much more extensive than the only list of broadcast dirty words I had seen before:

So they made a list. The actual list is ten pages long. And this is the Quick Refnerece Guide. It says in the introduction that a lot of older people don’t understand a lot of the new obscenities. It’s also a British list – and some of these haven’t made much inroads in Texas – I don’t think… of course, I’m old and don’t understand a lot of the new obscenities.

There’s Minger and Munter… there’s Nonce and Slapper – good thing I read the list, never knew these were offensive. The short section on Offensive Gestures wasn’t anything new to me. There’s a section on words offensive to old people… Coffin Dodger, FOP, and Old bag. Not bad… I kinda like Coffin Dodger. Could be a good online alias – say CoffinDodger31415.

Not surprising that the Discriminatory language section takes up the biggest part of the list. I’m sure it’s growing exponentially – both in number of words and in categories. Pretty soon this is going to swallow the language whole.

Now I have to tear myself away, dig out of the rabbit hole, and get some work around the house done. Later, I’m sure.

“John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven. It was about a “green great dragon.” He showed it to his mother who told him that you absolutely couldn’t have a green great dragon, and that it had to be a great green one instead. Tolkien was so disheartened that he never wrote another story for years.

The reason for Tolkien’s mistake, since you ask, is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.”
― Mark Forsyth, The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

Writing in my Moleskine Journal outside the Mojo Lounge, Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

“Above all, I hope I have dispelled the bleak and imbecilic idea that the aim of writing is to express yourself clearly in plain, simple English using as few words as possible. This is a fiction, a fib, a fallacy, a fantasy, and a falsehood. To write for mere utility is as foolish as to dress for mere utility. … Clothes and language can be things of beauty, I would no more write without art because I didn’t need to than I would wander outdoors naked just because it was warm enough.”
― Mark Forsyth, The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

The Illusion of Risk

What are you buying when you get on a roller coaster? Not risk… but the illusion of risk. Being hurled to the edge of danger but knowing that you’ll never have to cross it. … Think of Alaska as one big theme park.”
—- Limbo (movie), John Sayles

This year’s New Orleans Writing Marathon was based at the wonderful, historic Beauregard Keyes house in the French Quarter. What a beautiful place – I recommend a visit and a tour.

I particularly enjoyed the artwork hanging on the walls. On our trip across the river to Algiers, we discussed a dark painting that I remembered. You couldn’t see much – only a snow capped mountain line and maybe a bit of an orange glow. When we returned for the evening, I took a photo of the painting with my phone and was surprised to see that there was more visible in the picture than there was in real life. There was a row of mountains and a small boat in the foreground that you could not see with the naked eye. I was particularly taken by that subtle orange glow behind some trees on the right hand side.

Enhanced photo of a painting in the hallway of the Beauregard-Keyes house, New Orleans

The staff from the Beuregard-Keyes House said that the painter and even the date of this particular canvas was unknown. I talked to the others that had been at Algiers with me and realized I had the wrong artwork – they had been discussing a nearby painting of Venice at night by George Loring Brown.

That didn’t matter to me, I still was fascinated by the dark line of snowcapped mountains and still water. The next day at a nearby breakfast place I decided to write a flash fiction based on the painting (changing the mountains into volcanic peaks for dramatic effect). Inspired by one of my favorite films, Limbo (see it at your risk, I loved the film but the others in the theater stood up and cursed the screen at the end – Christopher Null said, “I can forgive many things. But using some hackneyed, whacked-out, screwed-up non-ending on a movie is unforgivable. I walked a half-mile in the rain and sat through two hours of typical, plodding Sayles melodrama to get cheated by a complete and total copout finale.” – He is completely wrong, the movie ended the only way it could….), left the ending… somewhat unresolved.

Typed up from my handwritten notebook:

July 11, 10:30 Croisant D’Or, New Orleans

The darkness was so all-encompassing it felt as thick and liquid as the saltwater they dipped their paddles in. The four canoes and single small skiff moved in a rough line. Sam could almost see the skiff ahead – more of an impression than actual vision – rowed by the four on board – its sails useless in the dead calm night.

Beyond, the unseen moon hidden by an invisible line of cliffs to the right illuminated the snow capped upper slopes of the volcano. Its torn cone glowing in the sky – visible, but selfish with its cold light.

The paddles and oars clumped up and down the line, with an occasional weak splash. The men were all too exhausted with effort, fear, and lack of sleep to work efficiently and the sound of wood striking gunwale or skipping off the water at the wrong angle was a surprise to these skilled seagoing men – but they were so numb – the embarrassment passed.

They worked in silence. Sam wondered if the other men’s minds were silently exploding within – as his felt. The humidity thickened the darkness. The only breeze was provided by their paddling – the heat was broken every now and then by invisible lenses of cool air that fell down the slopes from the snowfields miles above. They passed through a bank of sour sulfur mist from the fumaroles along the shore. The paddling increased to move through that foulness as quickly as possible.

Sam saw something new – coming to life out of the ink. At first it was barely visible – a dark dull rust-colored patch ahead, quickly heating into a dark but distinct orange glow.

It was a bit to the right of the skiff, along the shoreline. Sam realized this was their destination, their camp. There was a line of dunes and behind them a swampy area before the land rose quickly up the mountain. They had pitched camp atop a series of grassy hummocks above the brown stagnant drainage, but still protected by the dunes from being seen from the sea.

At first the glow heartened Sam and the others as their rowing increased a little more in pace. They were almost back. Sam thought of a bit of a rest – of a stout drink around the campfire before they had to start the hard work of unloading the rifles and ammo boxes from the canoes and the skiff. Sam even thought beyond that, of crawling into his tent for sleep. That seemed the end, he couldn’t get his mind past the imaginary sensation of letting himself falling limp and snapping his eyes shut.

But as they approached at a frustrating pace, weighted down by all that steel until the tiny waves lapped at the gunwales, the orange glow began to grow and spread.

Soon, it was all-encompassing. They could even see yellow licks of flame flicking over the tops of the dunes. Long tongues of red light reached up the sides of the mountain above, moving and interspersed with long ominous purple moving shadows.

Shouts, curses, and desperate cries peppered up and down the line of little boats. Sam kept silent though, and continued to paddle with desperate hopeless effort. They all did, still moving straight into the growing conflagration.

They had nowhere else to go.

Sam thought, “I am mortal. We are all going to die… but when? Is it going to be tonight?”

Short Story of the Day – “Driven Snow” by Nancy M. Michael

“Life is a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle.”
― Jim Thompson

Crepe Myrtle trunk in the snow

I read a lot of short stories. I read A LOT of short stories. In most cases I read pretty much a short story a day. I like to read them, I don’t have much time for long novels, and I like to write them.I have learned that it is best that I read what I am writing.

Over time, I have spent months where I review and online short story each day –

Short Story Months:
Day One 2013

Day One 2015

Day One 2017

Instead of doing an entire month, I think I’ll put up stories I enjoy one at a time.

There is a fantastic independent publishing house, Akashic Books. From their website:

Akashic Books is a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.

In particular, I enjoy their Noir series – each book consisting of a group of savage short stories based in a particular city. I have written about their Noir books based on the two cities I am most familiar with: Dallas Noir and New Orleans Noir.

They have a tasty extensive list of short and flash fiction available online.

Today I have a free online short story put out by Akashic Books. It’s a warped little romantic tale about how a relationship handles a snowstorm on I70 in Colorado. The flash fiction piece is a lot of fun – though it seems to have one obvious little error (Isn’t it nights in WHITE satin?).

Driven Snow by Nancy M. Michael – Loveland Pass, Colorado

Like the city-themed Noir books, fiction, especially thrillers or horror, is always more fun when it is set somewhere that you are familiar with. I am somewhat familiar with I70 through the mountains, Loveland Pass and Ski Basin, the scenic route off the Interstate to A Basin, and the feeling of snow whiteout conditions.

I remember jockeying down that stretch of highway in a blinding blizzard with a tiny Datsun jockying with a string of monstrous snowplows going 80 miles an hour inches off my bumper and looking bigger than the surrounding Rocky Mountains.

Whew! just the memory makes me feel frozen and sweaty at the same time.

So take a few minutes to go read the story and while you are there – check out Akashic Books and their other offerings. They deserve our support.

Eating Barbequed Iguana

I’m on a mexican radio
I wish I was in Tiajuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the dj
Can’t understand just what does he say?
Radio radio…
—- Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio

The Tennessee Williams quote on the wall at the Gallier House, Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans.

I wrote about this on my Facebook page back in February – but I don’t think a lot of people followed the link.

At any rate, this story started back in 2012, on a trip to New Orleans. I ran into a group at the St. Vincent’s Guest House and soon was involved in a one-day writing marathon – walking around with a handful of folks, scribbling away.

I was inspired by the experience to the point I organized a Writing Marathon or two of my own, here in Dallas.

Then finally, in July of last year, I was able to swing attending the full week-long Writing Marathon Retreat – branching out from the Gallier House to write across the French Quarter and beyond.

One day, the group I had gone with that day stopped for the fixed-price lunch at Antoine’s (highly recommended if you are in New Orleans in the summer). I remembered an incident that had happened in that very restaurant thirty five years earlier. I pulled out my pen and notebook wrote up my memories in the bar.

At the end of each day, there was the option for a few folks to stand up and read from what they had written earlier. I put my name on the list and read the story from Antoine’s. The readings were recorded.

Then, in February, a selection of the recordings were played on KSLU radio.

You can listen to the 2017 readings AT THIS LINK – If you want to skip ahead, my reading is at about the 14:10 point.

If that link doesn’t work – go here – http://www.kslu.org/awards_recognition/index.html and click on “2017 Writing Marathon.”

People have asked me about the siren at the end of my reading. That isn’t a sound effect – the fire engine actually went by on the street outside, siren blaring, as I finished.

Now I need to get going and register for the 2018 Retreat. So much fun.

We Are A Nation Which Cannot Remember Its Dreams

“Every reiteration of the idea that _nothing matters_ debases the human spirit.

Every reiteration of the idea that there is no drama in modern life, there is only dramatization, that there is no tragedy, there is only unexplained misfortune, debases us. It denies what we know to be true. In denying what we know, we are as a nation which cannot remember its dreams–like an unhappy person who cannot remember his dreams and so denies that he does dream, and denies that there are such things as dreams.”
― David Mamet, Writing in Restaurants: Essays and Prose

Downtown McKinney Texas


Oblique Strategy:
Retrace your steps

John Scalzi wrote critically about writing in a coffee shop:

You’re not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop, you know.

I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn’t be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said “Looking For Sex.” Go home, why don’t you. Just go.

He expanded this simple idea into a book, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

He’s not wrong, of course. There can be a certain stuckuppishness about going to the coffee shop to write – either with a laptop or with a Moleskine.

With me, however, it’s different. I like to go to coffee shops sometimes, I like to drink coffee that someone else makes for me sometimes… and I write wherever I go.

For years, a long time ago, I took my son Lee to two hours of art lessons every Saturday morning. While I was waiting for him, I’d go to a nearby Starbucks with my laptop and write. I developed the ability to nurse one Venti coffee for two hours. In addition to getting two hours or writing done in an otherwise wasted window of time I perfected the writer’s ability to listen in to stranger’s conversations without looking at them.

This particular Starbucks was always crowded on Saturday mornings and the conversations were usually interesting. It seems that the main topic was to beg forgiveness and seek redemption for what had been done in passionate error on Friday night. There were some interesting stories floating around.

So I view Starbucks not as a coffee seller (which is good because their coffee is awful) but as an office rental space. For the price of an overly expensive cuppa Joe you get an office, internet connection, and conference room (if needed) for a couple hours. Good deal if you ask me.

Tonight I needed to finish a short story but there was too much going on at the house. I needed to be left alone for a few pages, at least. So I packed up and headed out to a coffee shop not far from our house. Of course, in my neighborhood you won’t be able to eavesdrop on conversations, they are in too many different languages.

But at any rate, three hours and one Venti later, my story was done. And I didn’t care who saw me typing and didn’t worry that absolutely nobody noticed me.