Monday, October 28, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Spooky Things

I'm gearing up for Halloween, and so I'm thinking about scary movies, books, and costumes. I love being scared. As a kid, my mother let me read and watch quite a few things that I'm surprised she allowed (not that I'm complaining, mind you). I read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and R.L. Stine and Bunnicula.

As a kid, I ate up R.L. Stine, and I loved Bunnicula. Those books offered just the right amount of fear. But I also read Stephen King at a young age. One of my first King books was The Shining. It scared the poop out of me, and I loved every minute of it. Here was this story about a kid (reading it at that age, I focused on Danny's story rather than Jack's) who was stuck on a mountain with a crazy parent and the devil. Talk about a rough childhood! The sequel, Doctor Sleep, is sitting on my Nook, waiting to be read.

There's an animated movie that, on the outside, looks like it should be a little kids' movie, but in reality, it's actually quite terrifying, and that movie is Watership Down. When I was young, my family had what my dad liked to call a 'fishing camp.' It amounted to a mobile home sitting on a narrow piece of land that backed up to a wide arroyo on one side (this arroyo was large enough for barges and their loads to easily travel). On the other side of the road was a wildlife refuge. Quite a few people owned property there, but it still felt like a desolate place. Add to that the fact that we didn't have a phone, and it felt quite isolated.

So one weekend, while my parents are outside grilling or doing yard work, or something along those lines, I stayed inside to watch a cartoon on TV. That cartoon happened to be Watership Down. Now, I had a pet bunny as a kid. I was (and am) partial to bunnies. Not too many minutes into the movie, one of the rabbits has a disturbing vision. There's blood. Lots of it. And the rest of the movie isn't all that light and fluffy. So I sat there, mesmerized and more than a little horrified, watching what my mother thought was a nice cartoon. Scary as that movie was, it didn't deter me from reading the book years later.

Then there were the horror movies of the 80's that shaped my twisted psyche view on movies and facing fear: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Amityville, The Exorcist, The Omen, Friday the 13th. Even horror movies before I was born shaped my life just a wee bit. My mother's name was Rosemary, and so during her visits to the obstetrician when she was pregnant with me, he liked to ask her, "So how's Rosemary's baby?" 

What are some of the books and movies that have sent pleasant chills down your spine?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writing is a Marathon

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, which means thousands upon thousands of people are gearing up for a frenzied month of writing, myself included. Last year, I wrote 50K words of short stories (and a novella/novelette). This year, I've just wrapped up novel revisions and am looking to put more short stories out there. I'm also interested in writing a science fiction novella, so about half of my words for the month will be devoted to that.

Me & the kid make a mad dash for it.
Prepping for NaNo also has me thinking about writing in general. When I near the end of a writing project, I tend to go faster. I can almost see those two most wonderful words, THE END, and I'm in a hurry to get there. Most of the time, however, I plod steadily along. I tend to measure my goals in weeks and months, rather than in daily increments, simply because each day varies so much from the one before it that I can't consistently measure progress that way. But sometimes, I get caught up in these pushes, and I think, "I must hurry and finish this story and see it published and move on to the next one and then the next because there's no time, and oh my gosh, I'm running out of time, and there's still so much to write, and...." And on and on my neurotic inner voice runs on the little hamster wheel.

So I think NaNo is a good time to remind myself that this whole writing thing is a marathon and not a sprint. True, it's fun to dash madly sometimes, but mostly you've got to keep plodding on, putting one word down at a time until you've got that entire story on paper. Then, once you've reached the finish line, you do what those marathon runners do and load up on carbs. I've already got my eye on a chocolate donut.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Look at All The Pretty Balloons!

Pretty balloons!
I went to the International Balloon Fiesta this week. I've been several times before, and this year I actually went twice, once at night to watch the Balloon Glow, and then the very next morning I was on the field again to watch the balloons take off. For the Balloon Glow, the balloons inflate and remain tethered to the ground. Then the announcer counts down, and they all fire their burners at once. It's like being surrounded by giant fireflies. It's cold, and people are drinking coffee and hot chocolate and beer to stay warm, and they're walking around wrapped up in blankets. Then, once the balloons have deflated, there's a fireworks show.
It's toasty near the burners.

I've written about the Balloon Fiesta before. I've gone countless times, and it never gets old. I love being on the field, surrounded by colorful balloons, and watching them take off until there are hundreds in the air. Yes, hundreds. They're like huge, rainbow colored dandelions blown into the wind. It makes me feel like a kid every single time.

I had the chance to go up in a balloon years ago. One moment the basket is on the ground, and the next, you're airborne, only you're never really sure when that moment comes. You just suddenly realize that you're drifting up. There's only the hiss of the burners and whatever conversation you have with your fellow passengers and the pilot. During that ride, we drifted over the Rio Grande, and the pilot dropped us down far enough that our basket touched the river. It was a peaceful, elegant way to fly. The only thing is, the landing's a wee bit rough....


 It's truly a magical experience. I'm not sure who had the biggest grin this year, myself or my son. I'm sleep deprived from the late night and (painfully) early morning, but it's all worth it, and I can't wait until next year.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Some Questions to Ask Yourself During Revisions

I didn't get around to writing a post last week because (1) I was sick and spent all of my energy thinking about how wonderful antibiotics and chicken noodle soup are, and (2) I was sad that Breaking Bad ended. Aside from taking off a few days to recuperate from the germ invasion in my respiratory system, I've been revising my current novel furiously.

I find it much easier to revise a short story than a novel. There's one main plot line, one major turning point for the main character, and so it's easy to hold it all in my head and get edits done within a week or less. When it comes to a novel, however, I spend quite some time writing it in the first place. Then I set it aside to gain some distance so I can look at it more objectively, and then it takes a chunk of time to go through revisions. With all that time passing (and given the swiss-cheese nature of my memory), I have to be really organized during revisions.

During my first pass-through, my main concern is whether or not each scene is pulling its weight. does it advance the story and contribute to world building or characterization or some other detail? So I have a series of questions for each scene to make sure it belongs and is earning its paycheck.

What does the point of view (POV) character want? The more specific I can answer that question, the stronger the scene will be. So if my answer is that the POV character wants to be rich, that's not such a great answer. But if I can say that the POV character has always dreamed of buying a winning lottery ticket and has a few dollars to spare to head down to the local Gas-n-Grab for Power Ball tickets, than that sounds a little more intriguing.

My next question is, who or what stands in the POV character's way, and what do they want? Don't be afraid to make things super difficult for your POV character. Throw something (or someone) powerful in her way. Maybe a couple of robbers are in the Gas-n-Grab and she finds herself in the middle of a robbery with her hard-earned extra bucks stolen. No lotto ticket tonight.

Then I usually go through a few check points. What is the setting/world building details? What's the time frame? What surprises are there for the reader, and is a surprise necessary for this scene? What is the turn in the POV character's situation? And what is the ending hook that will keep the reader going?

If you find it difficult to answer these questions, then maybe the scene needs some work. Maybe the POV character doesn't have a strong goal, or maybe there isn't anything standing in her way. Maybe the setting needs some beefing up, or maybe the scene ends with a fizzle rather than a bang.