As summer camp comes to a close…

Recently The Office of Letters and Light rolled out their newest project, called Camp NaNoWriMo, which was basically a lighter form of the famous November event taking place during the summer. Completely camp themed, with the site decked out in blue tents and campfires, “cabins” in the form of scaled-down message boards, and pep talks with stories about shorts being run up the flagpole, it was delightfully nostalgic.

Unfortunately, my last experiences with summer camp were many years ago with my Girl Scout troop in northern Virginia. They were week-long experiences that I didn’t fully enjoy, due to the fact that the other girls in my troop and I just didn’t get along. I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t at least partly to blame for that, but it’s all firmly in the past now.

For this virtual camp, I was given a “cabin” to share with 4 other people, two of which weren’t active, and we were given one page with a message board to chat, give moral support, and occasionally procrastinate together. The unfortunate part is, that cabin is now closed and I can’t remember what usernames they’ve used.

Another positive part of the Camp is that it was essentially two events. The beta took place in July, so OLL could work out the kinks and roll out features slowly, and the full version took place in August. We were given two WriMo months with 31 days, and July had 5 weekends. It all added up with plenty of time to get some quality (more or less) writing done, even with class and work filling up much of my days.

It certainly worked. My novel in progress, Jasper City is 75,000 words strong, with close to 14 chapters and three appendices. Before someone reads this and thinks that wordcount isn’t something to get hung up on, I might never have made this much progress without the Camp NaNo event giving me the motivation. I have a lot to thank for the OLL.

In order to avoid using NaNo events as a crutch or the only reason why I write, I’m making a new effort. Armed with a shiny new blank notebook, I’ve started to push myself to write a little bit each day, at least one page’s worth. Writing longhand gives me time away from the internet and all of its lovely distractions, and writing at all helps me to keep that part of me well exercised, like a muscle. I’m continuing my process on Jasper City, just slowly. But it’s enough.

“There was one particular incident, one that he remembered fondly, with Cynthia. They snuck in to the City Guard offices in Robot Town, and this place was redecorated with torn shreds of fabric and fire when they left. Dex took part in this out of genuine outrage, which Cynthia perhaps wanted little more than to see something in this wretched town burn.”

Recently I’ve been trying to revise something that’s truly awful.

It’s harsh, I know. And I know that the book I’m revising has potential to be good once it’s cleaned up, otherwise I wouldn’t bother. I still can’t help but cringe as I read through it, seeing all of the mistakes that I missed during my first edit.

Two questions go through my mind when I read through: How could I have been so careless? and How bad was it before I started editing?

There’s a switch in POVs when I started writing in first person and then changed my mind, important details such as the murder victims’ times of death are inconsistent, and my protagonist needs a serious attitude adjustment. Those are just a few of my problems.

Yet I’m getting into this story again. The novel is my baby. It’s the little child I forgot about for almost two years and now have to pour in as much love as I can to fix all of its problems.

Fresh eyes helped. I put the book away for over a year, and now there are passages that I don’t even remember writing. The freshness is making me excited for the story again.

Another thing that excited me as a writer actually happened a long time ago. This was actually back in May. In the process of trying to get some people to help me revise my novel, I was asked to complete an interview for someone else’s writing blog. The post can be found here. Not only was it nice to see my name on someone else’s blog and get my 15 minutes, the lone comment made me smile.

“This is a fantastic interview. One of the best I’ve read actually. I’m glad I dropped by.”

Thanks Darrell!

What I Learned From Comics

April was not National Poetry Month for me. Instead, I took part in an international event known as Script Frenzy. People from all over the world got together for the personal challenge of writing a 100 page script in 30 days.

This is the sister event to National Novel Writing Month, which is a 50 thousands words a month challenge in November. Both only sound like scary, impossible goals, but anyone who’s joined can tell you there’s a lot of fun to be had even if you don’t reach the finish line. The idea behind both events is a giant push for you to produce something, whether you think it’s awful or not, because you can’t go back and edit a rough draft if you don’t write anything in the first place.

Back to Script Frenzy. Screenplays are the most popular choice among writers, but any kind of script (shorts, stage plays, audio dramas, even ballet and video game scripts) is welcome. I decided to go with a graphic novel this time after all of my planning the month before, and I won with 119 pages and a finished rough draft of Part I. There’s still plenty left to go, including two new characters and stories for them, but I’m happy with what I have now.

Before this April, I never touched any script format. I had no idea what I was getting into, and the idea made me more than a little nervous. It was later clear that there was little to worry about, once everything got started.

Different ideas lend themselves well to different mediums. My project, Lily’s Odyssey, would not have worked out if I wrote it in novel form. The reason for this is simple: With everything that I wanted to include in Lily’s story, that Freytag Pyramid so familiar in English class became more like a Freytag Roller Coaster, and finally a Freytag Rocking Chair that would ultimately put me to sleep waiting for the end. A Lily’s Odyssey movie would have the same effect, with the added problem of being 10 hours long. It would work much better as a periodical publication. Novels also tend to have one major plot with one or more subplots, but graphic novels tend to get dragged out a bit more if they’re written as a series.

Visuals are just as, if not more important than the story. I don’t plan on drawing out this graphic novel myself, especially with the script being far from finished. That doesn’t mean that the scriptwriter is off the hook. A GN script is full of art direction, often specifically written out panel by panel. (There’s no standard format for this medium, so the level of artistic freedom would vary depending on who’s writing and drawing.) While writing, I had to pay close attention to perspective, who was standing where at what time, and light sources. This isn’t always important with prose.

Go easy with the dialog. This goes with lots of things that get crammed into the draft of a novel. Dialog can afford to get stretched out within reason, and the internal workings of the mind can be explicitly stated if relevant. In a script, however, lots of that gets trimmed away. “She looked away, unable to bear the shame of what she had done,” in a novel simply becomes “She looks away.” Her actions and motives would be revealed through showing, not telling, later on in the script.

The reason for cutting out dialog is a practical one. See those big white speech balloons in comics? They take up a lot of space, don’t they? Put in a long, drawn-out conversation in one panel takes up room that can be put to better use drawing out the rest of the scene. For this reason, conversations need to be shortened and spread across a few panels – with some action going on in the background.

Novels and scripts are definitely different animals, but I had a lot of fun learning that. Now I’m going to make it my goal to write at least one thing in every medium. Stage play? Audio drama? Why not?

For the past few days I’ve been reading some of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, both from The Golden Apples of the Sun and R is for Rocket. Along with being a pleasant way to pass the time, these stories have been giving me ideas for other stories.

I guess that’s how it works now, my inspiration coming from other books and songs with the occasional strange dream, and as attached as I am to these newly sprouted infants that may or may not grow into short stories or more, I do wish they would come by at a later time. Now they only serve as hurdles for me, as one part of my mind wants to guide Lily Travers through the post-apocalyptic United States in my graphic novel script while another part would prefer to figure out what to do with an old, abandoned movie set.

I’ll work through it, of course, while letting my idea bank run until it’s a mile long again, but I have enough unfinished projects to fix up and books to read until the zombies come home. Hopefully after that time comes, I won’t be too busy trying to save my own skin to work on something new.

On Libraries

Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s most recent post made me think of public libraries and their fate. It’s something that I’ve thought about before in passing but never gave any serious consideration.

I’ve accepted the very real possibility that one day, the library (as a physical building filled with books to be borrowed at will) can and will cease to exist. I consider this a very probable event that will happen at some point in the future, even if it isn’t in my lifetime or that of the generation after me, though I hesitate to consider anything in the future to be certain. If we could accurately predict such things, we would very likely be flying to Mars on summer vacations with our jetpacks as early as next year.

The real question is this: What will come after the public library? Thanks to the internet and piracy within, it’s reasonable to expect that any and every bit of media will be available for free in some deep, dark corner of the cloud. Publishing companies can go the route of the music and movie industries, and sue everyone and their mother over every title still nailed down by copyright laws, or maybe we will see the rise of the electronic library.

We already have the e-readers and online stores for them, giving access to lots of recent and older titles. We already have ways to rent movies and games online (the Playstation Network and iTunes stores come to mind) Why not for books?

Of course, there would still have to be money in some form changing hands. To have patrons pay for each book borrowed would defeat the purpose, but I wouldn’t object too much to paying a one-time fee to download the service’s software. Perhaps a subscription service if it’s reasonably low. Maybe every book file would come with some ads if the service wishes to remain free for all. Maybe services will be limited to endless donation drives.

Would there still be a limit to how many books can be “borrowed” at once? Again, if it’s within reason I wouldn’t mind as much. The problem with subscription fees and borrowing limits lies when the software developers try to find a definition for “reasonable.” However, I’m not about to set rules for services that don’t exist yet.

The fact that all of this would exist on the internet likely eliminates the “local” factor. Even if city governments are among the first to jump on a service like this (though I have yet to see a government succeed in being innovative in any field, it would certainly save a lot of money on land development), I can see someone setting up their own service not based in any physical location and others following suit if the local e-libraries have just the slightest of problems.

Will there be competition between services? Almost certainly, even if there is nothing stopping one from joining more than one library community.

Will there be opportunities for social networking? “Your book has also been borrowed by John Smith and Bob Hammoth. Find others in your area.” I can see at least one cloud-based service (not set up by local governments) having a feature like this.

Will Google try to dominate this market? Or will we have another King of the Internet by this time?

From CHUM

CHUM is for now a short story, but I plan on making it part of a novel set in an alternate version of 1920s Chicago. Robots are just being introduced to the world, especially as part of the Untouchable Project aimed at using new and very convincing androids to crackdown on those who break Prohibition law. In the middle of it all is Thomas Quinn, a simple supervisor in a robotics factory who hopes that his latest project will impress one certain girl.

To say that Tom’s experience with being around women was limited would be an understatement. Shy and awkward as he was, it wasn’t completely surprising to him when he thought back to the last time he even held hands with another girl. He had to comfort his baby cousin somehow when she found herself separated from her mother, Tom’s aunt Frida.

His mother told him that he was still a handsome young man with his whole life ahead of him, and that may have been true with him in his mid twenties, but he still felt at times that he was wasting his better years when he saw his younger brother with a different, beautiful young flapper every night.

Perhaps he could adopt some thing like his brother did, like a fake Italian accent, a nonsense nickname, and a gun. But Tom didn’t like guns at all, and he always grew so squeamish even at the mere rumor of one being in the room. He had no hope of ever being a family’s associate like Johnny.

That wasn’t so say that he felt just as nervous walking through the factory today with Marla by his side. He had been admiring her from afar for almost a year now, and flirted with the line that had separated admiration and stalking when he shadowed her on some of his days off, if only to find out more about her and what she liked. He was certainly too shy and invisible to strike up a conversation himself.

Om must have looked like such a nervous wreck now, with Marla walking next to him in her best red dress and heels, and with lipstick and a flower in her hair to match. The dress didn’t show off her curves at all. Tom wondered at first if she even had them, and only dreamed of a time when he could ever get a chance to see them. But Marla’s true beauty was in her face, with hardly any makeup expect for her lipstick. She certainly didn’t need to wear any at all, and the lipstick was just for showing off.

It certainly worked. Every man in the factory stopped his work to look at her, pausing periodically and losing focus on the tasks at hand just to get another glimpse of her. There was the occasional whistle from someone standing a safe distance away. Surely, she got that kind of attention from interested man and jealous women often enough to bore almost anyone else, but Marla continued to accept it with grace and a renewed sense of pride.

In comparison, it only made poor Tom all the more anxious. His pulse raced even more, and he felt his body turn pink. Anyone who turned to look at the pair at that point would wonder what the hell Marla was doing with the bundle of nerves named Tom.

Busy busy!

I’ve recently learned that I hate being idle. Maybe that’s why I’ve managed to give myself such a crazy convoluted schedule this quarter. Two part-time jobs, full-time classes, and a school club leave me with 52 hours completely accounted for before I consider sleeping. It doesn’t sound like a lot until I look at it all on Google Calendar.

Other than that, here’s what I want to accomplish by the end of the quarter in June:

Writing: Rough drafts of graphic novel script Lily’s Odyssey, Lonesome George novella, finishing up the short stories “CHUM” and “The Wolf,” and giving Machmen a little TLC now that it’s breathed a bit.

Reading: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Foundation, and two big collections of SF-themed short stories.