No Show November – On The Other Side of the Up-Side-Down

I like to get into the Halloween spirit just like any other witchy thirty something, but wanted to watch something besides Hocus Pocus for the hundredth time. Just because I watched every single Saw movie doesn’t mean I like them. I prefer a whimsical Halloween; I like my Halloween movies to have a certain amount of glitter, humor, romance (Practical Magic, anyone?) or be old enough to be considered a classic – Carrie.

Netflix has been telling me for a year that I need to watch Stranger Things, but I wouldn’t listen. I was too caught up in The Adventures of Merlin and Frasier reruns to take a gamble on something new. That, and the preview for it looked like a spin-off of TheTwilight Zone and X Files, neither of which I like to watch after dark or alone.

Well, about two weeks ago, smack dab in the middle of October, I took a chance on episode one of Stanger Things. Oh, goodbye forever! I felt myself getting sucked into the television like that kid in Poltergeist. The first night I watched three episodes.

I am not a t.v. person on the regular. I have been known to quit dating a guy whose idea of a good time was watching the director’s cut with extras and cast interviews. I hate that. That’ll damn the relationship like Akasha and her vampire offspring in Queen of the Damned.  Boy, bye!

After two nights of Stranger Things season one, I dreamed I was in Atlanta desperately trying to find an Eckerd Drugs because I needed a special make-up kit. In this dream, I faced all manner of dangers, a monster I never actually saw, a dark alley and a Walgreens, but no Eckerd Drugs, which was a popular pharmacy in the eighties.

After I woke up and figured out I was at home and still without the much coveted make-up bag, I resolved I’d give myself a few days away from Stranger Things. That night while I was watching episode seven, I gave up. A week later I was driving home from work and saw a man walking his dog and the first thought that came to mind was “Demigorgon” (for those of you not bitten by this venus fly trap, that’s the name of the show’s monster). I was in deep.

By the time season two was released on October 27th I did manage to go to work, but beyond coming home and feeding myself, that’s about it. I watched three episodes unapologetically. Y’all I went off the rails with this show like at Thanksgiving when I have the pumpkin, pecan and sweet potato pie all on the same plate and look around waiting on someone to say something. I went off the rails like on my birthday when I get out the soup tureen so I have a bowl big enough for my cake plus ice cream.

During this haze of consumption I felt conflicted, not unlike when my sister and I would get our hands on the newest season of True Blood on DVD and succumb to the hilarity, humanity and gore that show produced. I’d think of all the things I ought to be doing, like knotting that super amazing jade mala I put on yellow cord, for instance, or doing something – anything – with the third draft of my novel.

I just didn’t feel conflicted enough to do anything about it. Finally, by the seventh episode of season two, I convinced myself that this show is so good it’s like doing research on good story telling and that binge watching it is, in fact, going to help my writing career. Yeah, I had it that bad.

Now I’ve seen every single episode and am content and satiated with a subtle longing for more – exactly what I hope to offer my readers one day, so maybe it was good for my writing career, like studying character development in Witches of Eastwick. 

While I was wondering what in the hell I am going to do with my life now that I’ve seen all the episodes, contemplating even getting back to relative normality, I considered the looming NaNoWriMo fast approaching. “National Novel Writing Month” is the entire month of November where writers are challenged to compose a fifty thousand word masterpiece in thirty days.

I have no intention of hopping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon this year, I have enough problems of my own right now with the third draft of a very not bad novel looking forlornly from the corner of my big ‘ole desk. I don’t need the drama of two novels fighting, it would be like Freddy Versus Jason around here!

NaNoWriMo did give me an idea, though more related to No Shave November; by the way, this year I’m participating. By mid-month it’ll look like I’m wearing cashmere leggings.

No Show November is a challenge to not watch a show any night of the week. No new shows, nothing hot off the press from Netflix, nothing I’ve got on DVD, not even the news. This also includes YouTube, Instagram videos and infomercials unless you must watch any of the above specifically for work or study. For instance, if Sahdia teaches the hagala shimmy in belly dance class and I manage to forget how to do it before I get all the way home, then bet your bum I’m going to find it on YouTube, however, this does not mean I’m supposed to watch two hours of Belly Dance Superstars Live at the Pyramids.

So I’m going to start No Show November today. The idea of this might make you feel kinda tense. It does me, too. I like to have the television on, even if it’s on the radio station. When I knot malas, I sometimes like to have it on a Disney movie, depending on the vibe I’m working on. I like to watch a program with dinner. This challenge might have to be amended along the way, but I am curious what the first week will be like. I don’t want to feel like my novel is, in fact, the never ending story, so I’m going to use all my free time from No Show November to see if I can finish this incarnation and at least get to draft four. I’ll periodically remind myself this isn’t forever but just a little mental detox.

Wish me luck and join me if you want to. If you do, I’d like to know how it goes for you and in what you would like to invest your new found free time. Good Luck. The challenge starts now!

 

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Write Like a Champ

rocky 2

You may wonder why I haven’t posted a blog in over a month. Well, dear Reader, I was wondering the same damn thing, so here we are. I’ve been screwing around with that book, the one mentioned in my previous post more than a month ago.

The truth of it is that the first draft, which I thought kicked my ass plenty, was just the start of it. The second draft is harder because I have to keep the good stuff, get rid of the bad stuff and add new stuff to fill in the gaps. I’ve decided that the wish to be a writer is like having a mental illness; you don’t choose it, it manifests at inconvenient times and never shows itself when you need it to.

I decided that the stages of writing a novel really do follow the Rocky franchise, and I’m about to tell you how.

During the first draft, I was slumming. I hadn’t written in a while, and when I did I sent stuff to small-time gilt edged literary journals with a pay entry for competitions. I don’t write for the love of it alone, it’s more like a driving madness. Suddenly, perhaps it’s in a turn of phrase I overheard at the Olive Garden or the galactic shock of Michael Jackson’s death, but I have an opening line for something more substantial than a haiku. I think I’ve got a shot at a best selling title and I sincerely want to go the distance.

That’s the heart of the first draft – I want to finish it. I (pretend like I’m gonna) wake up early or stay up (really) late but I attend to it with the same care that Rocky drank those gross raw eggs. Going ten rounds with Apollo Creed is not unlike how I felt when the first draft was finally done. I felt kinda punchy but I made it.

The synopsis of Rocky II is that Rocky and Apollo fight again, then become friends. This is the stage where I went back and read my book like a regular reader from start to finish. Sure I made notes, but I didn’t make many changes. I noticed discrepancies and added commas where necessary. There were secrets kept from me in the first draft that are apparent to me now as I read thru. Characters developed during the writing and I can see them more clearly. I did get lazy in writing discipline while I let the manuscript rest, so I had to go back into training so I could make it another ten rounds. Training includes deep breathing, reading good writing and turning Netflix off. It also helps to write everyday, even if its long-hand

In Rocky III the tables are turned. The Stallion is now in the position Creed held in Rocky I. Clubber Lang is thirsty like Balboa was back in the day. After I made friends with my novel during the re-write I started to feel like I could be a real writer, one with a career and not just a notebook in my purse and a desperate look in my eye. I felt over-confident from my many triumphant wins during the read through, like witticisms I forgot I wrote or off the charts shenanigans that are brilliant. Rocky III takes me down a few notches, when the notes I made during the reading have to be instituted. This is the cutting room floor, y’all. The re-write beat me down. This is where I am now. I pity the fool!

Rocky IV is perhaps my favorite. Though I’ve seen this installment more than the others, I am far from its equivalent in my writing career. This is where I imagine dealing with the publishing industry. The cold, hard tundra of business and negotiations on behalf of something that could’ve taken eight or so years to write. I can clearly see the tiny Balboa looking up at that giant blond Russian played by Dolph Lundgren. That is how I feel about this stage of my career. When the agents and editors say, “I must break you” I mustn’t let them.

Rocky V is the one I pretend didn’t get made. This is the equivalent of what should end up on the cutting room floor; where the files of bad ideas, false starts and sketchy backstories I might think of resurrecting later for a sequel land. I suggest skipping this stage, and this movie, and go straight to Rocky Balboa.

This installment of the Rocky franchise came later. I saw Balboa in the theater with my grandmother. When Rocky I came out in 1976 I wasn’t born yet. Rocky Balboa shows a much older Rocky back on the old block. He owns a restaurant now, he’s a mostly happy widow with a jerky hitch in his step like he could walk into a hay-maker on his way out of the kitchen. We can still see The Italian Stallion in this old guy, we know he’s in there. Writers have that same stalwart psyche; it’s part of who we are, and if properly provoked we’ll come directly out of retirement swinging wildly. This is where I admit that I’ve considered giving it up, the angst and uncertainty of a writing life is so not glamorous, but sometimes you’ve just got to show ’em what you’re made of.

Creed, the most recent installment had me like….. hold on, I need a minute.

Apollo’s son shows up on Rocky’s door hoping the champ will train him. Rocky is old, y’all, they didn’t even try to make him look good, but he still has that slow brown eyed sincerity. And of course he trains the kid, and this is the stage of writing known as mentorship.

Let me tell you something, right now you don’t want me as your writing mentor. I haven’t done anything but self-published content on a blog I bought and, also, hammer out a few first drafts in typical genres. I also fill notebooks with beautiful handwriting that is as easy to read as classical Sanskrit.

My mentors are Stephen King, who wrote the manual for us would-be authors, On Writing, and Natalie Goldberg because she is so damn consistent about writing for a writer is as necessary as coffee and peanut-butter. It’s part of our well-being. I should add that I’ve never actually met these people, so if you see Stephen King and tell him, “Oh, I read a blog post written by your protege, it was wonderful.” He’ll have no idea what you’re talking about and I’ll probably get a cease and desist order in the mail.

When I’m feeling really lost about the business side of writing I go look at websites for authors I admire. I also read books that create for me what I aspire to give my Readers. Currently Drums of Autumn performs this task for me, but so has The Mists of Avalon, Clan of the Cave Bear and Ann Rice’s The Wolf Gift.

When Apollo’s son went into the ring Rocky was right there by his side, just like Micky was there for him. That’s what a trainer is supposed to do and that’s how mentors work. The thing with Writing is that it’s a job in which the fighter must be in their own corner, which is sometimes the hardest part of the craft. Certainly we have friends who support us, a mentor we rely on, a Teacher we trust. But in the midnight hour, they’re all asleep! Writing is a solitary career, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a worthy one, like anything you put your heart into.

rocky

 

 

 

What I Am Reading

Stephen King strongly urges aspiring authors to read as voraciously as they write. Granted, as an aspiring author, I admit being prone to fits of despair around the whole topic of it and wallowing not in productivity but in procrastination. What a waste of talent, I know.

I used to read a lot more than I do now. There are shiny distractions, interactions and general malaise that keeps me from a few of my favorite things. But, because Stephen King has done something I have yet to do, parlay story-telling into an art and career, I figure his advice ought to be heeded. And I’ll tell you something; the man is right – writing comes a little easier if you’re reading good writing.

I travel to Atlanta fairly often. I occupy myself on the drive by paying attention to the road, drinking coffee, listening to Michael Jackson and talking on the phone. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, offers that listening to audio books is the same as reading, if one is reading to be a better writer.

I went to the library (yes, there are still such a thing as those). I took To Kill a Mockingbird and something else I cannot remember to the counter for checkout. I hand over my little library card. It is declined.

I am not kidding.

I feel like I’m standing at the grocery store with a six pack of Miller Lite and a box of Magnums without the money to pay for them, so snarling and dismissive is the expression smeared across the face of this young librarian dressed in mute tones.

“Madam, you are mistaken.” I say. I hand over my card again, certain there are funds left on it.

“You are no longer a residence of this county. We need proof of your address.” She holds my driver’s license between us, proof of my unworthiness. She’d asked to see my license so as to renew my library card, I couldn’t have known I was walking into a trap.

“The devil with you!” I bellow at the quiet library desk where no one pays me the slightest bit of attention.

“I’ll just take these…” she says, sliding my selections across the counter with a sly smile that ejects me from the library of my hometown of nearly twenty years. I watch Harper Lee disappear behind a stack of Harlequin Romances meant for the friends of the library book sale.

I stew and fume and bemoan my lot in life. I do not want to visit the library on the other side of the bridge where I now live. It feels so inner city and downtown and large. The other side of the bridge has always felt like its own country, in the very least a different state.

I drive over the bridge. I drive around the looming, dark civic center and I skirt the edge of the cool part of town. I slide beneath a warm streetlight and park on the rain shiny curb, which feels dangerous and wild. I go into the downtown library. There is a massive marble staircase and a little grand piano.

This place is not unlike the library of my home, not the one from which I was just ejected but the town in Alabama where I grew up. This library is sprawling and wrought iron and new. It feels like the majesty of Scarlet’s mansion, Tara, before the Civil War. There is the smell of books and the long distant fragrance of coffee someone brought in at lunch. Now it is after dark and I am leaving for Atlanta in two days. I don’t have the luxury of admiring everything, I am there for a book on tape – er, CD.

Perhaps the coolest part of this venture, other than that Charlie Brown is on my library card, is that my library card is issued to Prana Devi. On this night, with my new library privileges in a facility far beyond the grandeur and selections of that place from which I was previously excluded most coldly, I check out The Isle of the Sequinned Love Nun by Christopher Moore.

I listen to this book all the way to Atlanta and back again. It is awesome. The narrator is funny and has a voice for each character, even the ladies. I think perhaps the narrator is a little bit crazy and wonder what he looks like. Probably very handsome, if crazy is any indicator.

I find when I get back from my trip my writing impulses start firing. I begin keeping a notebook in the console of my car again, to make notations during stop lights and in parking places. I have ideas and more than anything else, renewed interest.

The next book on tape I check out is The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. I find myself staying in my car extra, sitting in the driveway to get to the end of each chapter. There are three narrators for three different main characters and each is wonderful. I find myself wondering what it might take to be a narrator for books like these.

The third book I borrow is The Secret Magdelene by Ki Longfellow. This is the most remarkable book by far, and I am grateful to be able to listen and not to have to read because there are words and names I wouldn’t know how to pronounce by sight, phonics or no.

And then the CD starts skipping. This is not a book that you can miss a few words in. In fact, this is a book written in such poetic language I had to pause in my listening to make sure my heart’s beat hadn’t become too quiet for the listening.

I took the scratched CDs back to the library and checked out the book instead. I’d heard enough to know how the main characters names are pronounced, anyway. Finally, even while holding this book on my lap, I ordered my very own copy so I could sleep with it on the covers at night and leave hearts and stars in the margins in sky blue ink.

This is my companion for my stay-cation, this book and my cats. For the next two days I don’t plan on leaving my house unless its nice out and I take my mat outside for some poolside yoga. There is a slim possibility I will go for a walk between chapters, writing or reading, I am not sure.

My Thursday classes have substitute teachers who will probably play better music than I do, anyway. I will be home reading.