NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMoTomorrow is that time again. No, not the Day of the Dead, though that falls on November 1. And it’s not the last day of Daylight Savings Time, thus robbing us off an hour of daylight at the end of the day. Yes, both these things happen tomorrow. But tomorrow is also the beginning of NaNoWriMo. If you’re a real sadist, you can start at midnight tonight, technically the start of November.

To the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel-Writing Month, an annual challenge to create a 50,000-word novel in one month. That works out to 1667 words a day. Doable? Yes. Publishable? Don’t be silly. Even if you take the standard 90 days to write a longer novel, you’re only churning out a rough draft. If you can do 2000 words a day, you can finish in 25 days. Which gives you room for Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Road RulesAm I doing it this year? No. Have I? Yes. How long did it take me?

13 days.

The result?

Road Rules. Yep. I did the original draft in 13 days. What you’re reading is the fourth draft that my former agent shopped for about a year. I don’t recommend trying that at home. The reason I could do Road Rules so fast is that I planned the hell out of that story. By the time I sat down to work on it on November 1, 2006, I already knew how each scene would play out. Plus, I went on a vacation to Hocking Hills, the wilderness area in Southeast Ohio. I had an entire week to bang on the manuscript. What I could not believe was when I finished it before the vacation ended. It was not even two weeks after I started.

Can I do it again? I doubt it. I might be able to do thirty days once I finish my degree work, but 13 days is a freak occurrence. I’ve heard that I, the Jury was written in a weekend, that Stephen King’s Bachman novel The Running Man was written in 72 hours. But even for Mickey Spillane and Stephen King, these were freak events, never to be repeated again.

Should you do it? I can tell you if you do 50,000 words in a month, you will get a huge boost of confidence just for finishing. That’s sometimes the most important part.

Gray Listing

As you may know, if you’ve been following this space for a while, I quit subbing short stories for publication to run them myself. The paying markets for crime are almost nil unless you get an anthology invite. So until then, short fiction is going to be something of a garage band arrangement.

As Jim.

As Dick, I’m still subbing to paying markets. After a couple years of fine-tuning and reworking, I’ve discovered something. I am going to have to “gray list” a handful of markets. What’s gray listing?

While science fiction has a wealth of places to submit, there are a handful of markets that, despite what they say, really want to see a track record. Are you famous amongst the spec ficcers? Do #gamergate idiots want to boycott you? (Hint: That means you’ve made it, kids. Go thou and piss them off. It’ll boost your sales.) Did Tor or some other imprint buy your work? If so, you can get into these magazines because your name will sell copies. (Or in the case of tor.com’s short story page, draw page hits.)

When I first started subbing stories to pro markets, I decided to aim high and send to the biggest names in SF fiction. Every one has been shot down. Then it occurred to me that, until Dick either sells a novel to a trad house or manages to move a bunch of copies on his own, they’re not going to talk to me. Do I want to sell to them?

Does a tauntaun shit in the snow?

But that’s not going to happen now. So I’m gray listing them. What’s gray listing (for the second time, Jim)? Simple. White listing is a list of people, markets, or whatever that meet your approval automatically. No questions asked. Black listing, which many of us do to car companies, insurance carries, brands of beer, and so on, means this person, company, market, whatever is banned from doing business or interacting with you. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. Go directly to jail. For instance, I will never own another Chrysler product again. The Neon was just such a sloppily built vehicle that I can’t bring myself to make five years of payments on another one. So I have blacklisted Chrysler. I also have blacklisted one short story market for sending one set of specs for a story, then publishing a completely different set of specs. Mind you, I know there are exceptions, but their submissions requirements were so obscure that I had to go through back channels to get them. After being asked to submit. Sure, the pay there would be good, but I think a writer has a right to ask for some clarity.

Gray listing is different. Gray listing means you take the person, place, or thing out of the equation until the time comes when you and the person, place, or thing in question can work for mutual benefit. Hence, Large SF Market Oligarchy™ will not get anymore submissions until Dick becomes someone they would be interested in. Or they ask, which would be cool. One market I’ve stopped subbing to because of this, but also because they only take hard copy submissions. Hello! It’s 2014!

The reason is simple. If it’s highly unlikely an editor is not going to accept a submission regardless of how good it is, then the time spent waiting on approval or rejection is time wasted. Yes, prestige is all well and good, but I (as Dick) want two things: SFWA-approved credits and payment. I really want that last one. I’m a middle-aged man staring at years of student loan payments and want to get rid of a couple of mortgages.

So gray listing’s your buddy. You’re not wasting your time. You’re not wasting a magazine staff’s time (and believe me, the slush pile is an enormous time suck). You’re being efficient. And if one of those gray listed markets sends you a request, then the list has done its job. Win-win.

I’m Jim Winter, And I Approve This Message

Vote like an adult then whine like a baby.Yes, we’re in that final week before the midterm elections. Isn’t it appropriate that Halloween, followed by the Day of the Dead, falls within in this time?

In Ohio, it hasn’t been too bad. Most of the state offices will likely cruise to reelection. Even Josh Mandel, whose past political ads would get him sued into bankruptcy used for anything other than trying to get elected, is sticking with the Ohio GOP’s line of “Endorsed by my kids” messages. A few years ago, our Congresswoman, Jean Schmidt (R – Her own massive ego), tried this and barely kept her job. She’s since had her ass handed to her by a former mayoral candidate from Cincinnati, who paid lip service to the Tea Party, then promptly acted sane during the primaries. Tea Partiers and their opponents in my district were very pleased. After all, how’d you like to be represented by someone who called a wounded Vietnam vet a coward on the floor of the House? I didn’t. What saved me from straight ticket hell was the Democratic challenger to an incumbent judge. Desperate for some attention, he ran an ad saying the sitting judge was pro rape (based on a witness misbehaving in the courtroom). It was a silly and rather offensive ad. I said, “Bless you!” and voted for the incumbent. The judge became my token Republican that year. Haven’t heard a peep out of the challenger since, and I think the ad was a campaign manager’s idea. This guy was a law professor who ran because most incumbent judges usually get to keep their jobs in Cincinnati anyway.

Kentucky’s ads have been particularly egregious. Mitch McConnell and Allison Grimes have been trading some particularly nasty jabs at each other since day 1. Not surprising. There are two people Kentuckians hate more than Hitler these days: Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama. And McConnell has been busting his tail to make Grimes look like Obama’s puppet. When I see an ad for either one, it’s usually my cue to hit the john, get a soda, or even zone out.

We’re lucky in Ohio this year. In 2006, the GOP’s slate of candidates were so spectacularly bad that I fretted I would have to do something I find akin to treason: Vote straight ticket. See, I don’t live Democratic States of America or the Republican States of America. I live in the United States of America. And in 2006, I was going to be forced to vote straight Democrat because the only candidate I liked was a two-term senator. I also have a strict rule on term limits. If you’re in for two terms (I give representatives eight years because the two-year term is quite possibly the dumbest surviving part of the Constitution the framers came up with. Thank God that 2/3 rule on slaves got stomped on.), I don’t vote for you. Period.

Political ads give me a headache and have since Reagan ran for his second term. Sure, “Morning in America” got the nation off its collective ass by making us feel good about ourselves. But Walter Mondale’s ad running CSN&Y’s “Teach Your Children” ruined that song for my mother, who used to sing it to me when I was a toddler. Willie Horton in 1988 was a low for the elder George Bush.

The Kentucky ads are particularly bad this year. Mitch McConnell is not running against Grimes. He’s running against Obama. You know. The elected leader of the nation? The best this has accomplished is tying with Grimes in the polls. Then again, when your strategy is to run with “I’m not the other guy,” and the other guy is not even your opponent, you are very likely going to lose. See Kerry, John; Romney, Mitt; McGovern, George. And let’s be honest here. McGovern should have been able to not only hand Nixon his lunch, but shove it so far down Tricky Dick’s throat that it’d leave food stains in his boxers. But it was a different world back then, and these days, even Nixon would look at the campaigns and go, “Um… Not going there, dude.” (That image is particularly effective if you picture the jowly former president growling it.)

But then it’s over next week. And we can move on to what’s really important: Racking up massive debt to buy crap no one needs for people we don’t get along with so everyone’s happy at the end of the year.

Er… I mean Christmas shopping.

Friday Reviews: Who I Am by Pete Townshend

Who I Am by Pete TownshendWho I Am

Pete Townshend

The creative mind behind most of The Who’s music pens his autobiography, a project he admits took sixteen years. He also says he decided to write this book when he was 21. Ego? I don’t think Townshend is denying that. All rock stars, he posits, are a bit narcissistic, and while he doesn’t say it directly, he believes he is more narcissistic than Who lead singer Roger Daltrey. If you know anything about lead singers, narcissism is part of the job description.

And this is one of the amazing parts of Townshend’s autobiography. Here is the man who created Tommy, the aborted Lifehouse (which spawned the classic Who’s Next), and Quadrophenia. His solo albums, when taken as a whole instead of a collection of songs, each are organized like novels. He has one of the most ambitious imaginations in rock, perhaps exceeding the flights of fancy of Roger Waters. And yet he seems to look up to Roger Daltrey. He even says, “I hope he writes his version of The Who’s story someday.” Daltrey is a rare island of stability in his life.

Townshend hides none of his vices. He admits to being a horrible husband to former wife Kathy and worrying how leaving her might affect her. At the same time, he worries about others. The Keith Moon we have been treated to over the years was a whimsical man, the lost Monty Python member, and someone for whom being seriously was glaringly missing from his skill set. And yet, Townshend fretted over Moon’s emotional state and his bad habits, which ultimately killed him.

We’re also treated to a dismal childhood that went into much of The Who’s music, his parents contentious and adulterous relationship, probably sexual abuse at the hands of an increasingly demented grandmother, and the friends he ran with in postwar Acton, part of London. It’s all there.

Townshend’s recollection of his life is refreshingly honest and self-deprecating. I listened it on Audible, which let me hear him read what he’d written. I highly recommend doing this book on audio as his lyrical prose really comes to life.

Being A Dick

Wil says "Don't be a dick."One should never be a dick. In fact, it’s what prompted me to pilfer this photo from Wil Wheaton’s dontbeadickday.com. Of course, lifting it was kind of a dick move on my part, but at least I’m giving credit. And if asked, I’ll take it down. (Which will make editing this blog post a bitch, but to say no would be an even bigger dick move.)

Wow, that went off on a tangent. Anyway, one should never be a dick. Not without good reason. No one likes dicks. It’s a good way to get a swift kick in the dick.

But I’m going to talk today about being a different kind of dick. I’m talking about being a Dick with a capital D. As in short for Richard. Now, some Richards were complete dicks. Nixon comes to mind. But I’m talking about my Dick. The Dick Bachman to my Steve King. Yes, he’s finally gone live, which means I can no longer do the extended dick joke here tagged “My Dick is writing a novel.” That’s okay. It was time for that bit to be retired.

But Dick has come out of the shadows and into the light. Over on that blog, I refer to myself with a less racy, but similarly sourced name to discuss what I do here without letting on that I’m doing it over here. I know. I’m breaking one of the rules of the indie pub era, which is never to hide one byline from the other. But I ask, “Why not?” I’m willing to do the work, and there are some reasons I have for acting as though they are separate entities. I vow not to engage in sock puppetry with my two identities, not unless it’s for comedic effect.

It does mean the subject matter on this blog will likely change. It’s lost a bit of steam in the past few months anyway. I need to differentiate what I talk about there and here. What that means come the New Year, I can’t say yet.

It’s a lot more work, but it promises to be fun. Because there’s a reason I call this byline “Dick” that has nothing to do with raunchy humor. Stephen King wrote under the name Richard Bachman partly to burn off some work that didn’t quite fit the image of the author of The Shining and Salem’s Lot. But also after the success of Carrie, he wanted to see if he could do it again.

Right now, Holland Bay is being revised for an agent. Which means I’m going back to trad with my crime fiction. “Dick” is an indie writer, and that’s likely an important distinction.

Fear Itself

"You're drinking water? But that contains hydrogen oxide!"

“Something about Obama! Or the Koch Brothers!”

As I type this on a Sunday evening, it’s been about twenty minutes since I’ve heard or read something about ebola. What gets on my nerves is that most of the people complaining about it are also the same people who won’t get a flu shot. Many of these people will likely get the flu, which is something they do need to worry about.

But tell people that it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll ever come in contract with someone who has ebola, never mind get the disease themselves, and they get upset. I don’t get it.

Actually, I do. The source of most of our information about ebola and illegal immigrants and terrorist groups comes from the nightly news. In the past ten years, many of the more sensationalist stories have had to be retracted or get debunked on snopes.com. By then, the damage is done. And they don’t care.

Is it a grand conspiracy? Is there some sort of evil agenda at play here?

Well, yes there is. See, the broadcast news services, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all need to sell advertising so Tim Matthews and Sean Hannity can go on telling you what to think. Advertisers use advertising to sell you everything from Toyotas to iPhones to tampons to even gold-buying schemes. (Study on it. Pray on it.) And how do those ads work?

Well, they keep your eyes glued. How? Two things: sex and fear. The networks have always used sex. Three’s Company and Friends and any soap, day or night, have contained enough bare skin, double-entendre, and implied or graphic sex to keep eyeballs pointed at the screen. But sex doesn’t work so well on the news. What does? Fear.

Tsunami hits Japan and sends a nuclear power plant in an out-of-control meltdown? Hey, radiation’s coming to America. Film at 11. Radical terrorists trying to take over half the Middle East? Well, the threat of them coming over here keeps a lot of people watching, right after this message from Captain Crunch. Ebola? Hey, there’s a new iPhone out. Let us tell you about that before we get to some horrific disease you likely will never get.

Sweeps months tend to be the worst for this. Local news in Cincinnati is pretty good. Yes, once upon a time, Jerry Springer was a respected anchorman, not a freak show barker. Yet every February, May, August, and November, YOUR SMARTPHONE IS HAVING AN AFFAIR WITH MITCH MCCONNELL AND A GOAT BEHIND YOUR BACK!

CNN actually takes the cake in scaring you to keep you tuned in. Back in the late 90’s, NASA discovered an asteroid that will come uncomfortably close to the Earth in 2029. It’s since been determined it’ll pass farther away than anticipated. However, CNN picked up on this for its 10 PM broadcast and ran with it. I remember watching for news of the end of the world in three decades only to learn, forty minutes later, the chances of humanity’s imminent extinction by dinosaur-killing impact were somewhere between slim and none, leaning heavily toward none.

It gets worse. Pundits make their money telling you everything is those “other people’s” fault, that they’re out to get you. It’s the Muslims fault or immigrants or liberals. Or conservatives. If Obama isn’t out to get you, the Koch brothers are. It’s all a grand conspiracy meant to make you miserable and keep you down.

Uh huh.

First off, I have, as a matter of fact, bought Gold Bond Medicated Powder for some itchy feet. When that happened, I hadn’t listened to a second of Rush Limbaugh since, oh, 1996. It was 2010. Volkswagen is pushing Jettas hard. Know why I bought mine? Internet search, comparison to Edmonds.com, the raving praise my cousin the lifelong VW fan heaped on the cars. Test drive. I didn’t buy it because Obama tried to kill the Koch brothers by bringing the Black Plague to American shores.

You didn’t hear about that one?

Film at 11.

Friday Reviews: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great ExpectationsGreat Expectations

Charles Dickens

I selected this late novel by Dickens from Harold Bloom’s list of novels in his book How to Read. The list begins with Don Quixote and includes several French and Russian novels of various lengths, along with works by Faulkner and Thomas Pynchon.

Great Expectations was a good choice. It’s text is not as dense as A Tale of Two Cities, and there’s a refreshing lack of those contrived Dickensian names (“Scrooge”, “Wackford Squeers”). Great Expectations does, however, showcase Dickens’ pet themes, namely class disparity, poverty, and the questionable application of justice in early Victorian England.

The story is about Pip, the short name of Phillip Prirrip. Pip is an orphan raised by his abusive sister and her kindly husband. In the beginning, he helps an escaped convict by sneaking him food one Christmas Eve. The convict is later arrested, and Pip forgets the incident. He is eventually apprenticed to his brother-in-law, a blacksmith, and resigns himself to a life at the forge. A mysterious benefactor sends for Pip and offers to have his solicitor, Mr. Jaggers, raise him in exchange for giving Pip a small fortune. The benefactor wishes Pip to “become a gentleman.”

Pip’s life is one of idle luxury with no foreseeable plan. But he is a gentleman, and that is what is expected of Pip. Over time, Pip feels an enormous amount of guilt over leaving his brother-in-law, who showed him more kindness than the society types Pip encounters. He also feels a growing sense of alienation from Estella, the coldly beautiful girl from his childhood. In the end, when Pip discovers the identity of his benefactor, he wonders if his entire life since leaving Kent was a lie.

Great Expectations would be the template for later novels such as Twain’s The Gilded Age, much of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, and Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. David Simon’s television work, particularly The Wire and Treme are compared to Dickens work. However, Simon pulls from a different zeitgeist than Dickens, though there are many parallels – the anger at poverty and class inequality in particular.

Before reading this, I might have picked A Tale of Two Cities as Dickens’s contribution to Bloom’s list. However, Great Expectations sums up Dickens’s philosophy on class, morality, and justice.