Sunday, October 31, 2010

Final Hours Until NaNoWriMo Kick-Off

Less than six hours until writing for NaNoWriMo officially begins and I am still putting the final touches on my outline. I am afraid if I don't finish, I'll lose focus on what I am writing and hit a wall. If I have the main points plotted, I can jump around if I need to.

I have ten chapters plotted so far, but I honestly can't tell you what the final tally will be. I get the sense that, when I start writing, my chapter breaks won't even remotely resemble what I have planned. So, I am going to guess that my ten chapters will be more like eighteen on paper. They only look short in summary form.

I might be starting to over think this outline just a bit! That is what happens when you can't start writing when you are ready! Come on NaNoWriMo, let's get this show on the road!

Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Finding the perfect writing atmosphere can be tricky. I am a coffeehouse writer. I like the background noise, the mellow music, all of the accessible caffeine. But finding the perfect coffee locale is made more difficult when your search takes place in the suburbs.

In my glory days of city living, I had an endless selection of quiet, but not too quiet, hip, but not too crowded options. If I were in downtown Chicago right now, I know exactly where you would find me (assuming that someone else was watching the kids and I had already done the grocery shopping). And if my first choice was too busy, I can think of five or six suitable back-ups that would provide everything I look for in a writing location.

Alas, I am no longer living in the city. While I do adore the area in which I live, my choice of coffeehouses has been significantly reduced. I live near a couple of large coffee retailers, but the closest independent coffeehouse is a good 20 minute drive. Is it worth the trip? Yes!

I am not one of those people who refuses Starbucks or Caribou because they are too established, but most of their locations just don't have the right vibe for me. In fact, one of my first choices downtown would be Argo Tea, which has become quite a prolific chain since I lived in the city.

The little independent coffeehouse I frequent has a feel that I like. The chairs are super comfortable. The music is good enough that I am not too annoyed that I have forgotten my headphones (I always do). The barista knows that I like my drinks scalding hot. Most importantly, I seem to get a lot done when I am there. I get bursts of inspiration and venture off on little writing tangents that take my stories to places I hadn't anticipated.

Do I make the trip whenever I write? No. I have to save it for special occasions or desperate measures. If inspiration is evading me, it is a great place to go, but sometimes I have to settle for a nearby Starbucks or *gasp* stay at home and write.

Being a parent means that I can't always get away. I have had to adapt my writing and thought process to allow for a different ambience that includes screaming children and my regular desk chair. At least I still have access to caffeine.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Short story: Daily Dose

Sabine was too young to remember the Enlightening. Too young to remember the chip being implanted in her neck. Too young to remember her father being taken away for refusing to hand her over willingly. The Mothers didn’t like dissenters, so he was removed and replaced with another man. Other families were torn apart entirely. Many parents fought and lost to the Mothers. Single parents were considered unstable. Same-sex couples were blasphemous. Love was a thing of the past. Everyone had to have a Mama and and a Papa. She knew that Mama was her actual mother. There was a smell that was familiar to her, that identified her as the right fit. Papa was a stand-in. His glances did not carry the tenderness or concern of her mother’s and his words always sounded level and scripted.
She had been twelve when her older sister, Jenna, was taken as well. Papa had caught her trying to dodge her dose and reported her to the Mothers from the intercall system in their parlor. A collection team came to get her within the hour. Jenna screamed up until the moment they stuck her with the syringe full of sedative, putting an end to her defiant tantrum. She crumpled like an old doll and they carried her out to the van for relocation. Sabine still hoped that she was out there somewhere.
She and Jenna shared a room and, after bed check, Jenna would let Sabine crawl into bed with her and tell her stories of what the world had been like before. She told her about candy and cartoons, baseball and dancing, movie nights and sleepovers. Some of the things that Jenna told her were so far from Sabine’s world that she thought Jenna was making it all up. As Sabine got older, the stories transitioned to tales of how the Enlightening came to be and of how things were not a serene as they seemed. Sabine was still young to understand such things, but she would carry Jenna’s words until they came to make sense.
The first time Jenna told Sabine about what had happened to their father, Sabine grew scared and her heart began to race.
“Don’t be scared,” she whispered in a panicked tone, which gave Sabine further reason to worry. “Try to steady your breathing or the Papa will come to check on us and we could be sent away for insubordination.”
They heard footsteps approaching the stairs. “Get back in bed! Close your eyes and start mumbling, like you are talking in your sleep. Now!” Jenna hissed.
Sabine scrambled back into her bed and did her best to look like she was sleeping. She didn’t know what one might say in their sleep, so she tried to sound like she was restless.
The sliver of light under the door showed Papa’s feet at the door. Sabine tried to lay still as the door opened, but she was sure that the sound of her heart pounding filled the entire room. She didn’t want to be sent away like her father.
When he was certain it was just a dream, Papa closed the door and returned to the parlor to report back to the Mothers. Sabine sat up in bed and whispered back to her sister, “What was that all about? How did he know to check on us? We were so quiet.”
“It is the chip in your neck. We all have one. It monitors our vitals. Someone in a building somewhere can see if we are sick or scared and even where we are. If your heart was racing, it could be because you are nervous about trying to escape or just because you walking up the stairs too fast. Somewhere along the lines, they decided to track our vitals instead of installing cameras everywhere.”
Sabine didn’t know how she felt about being monitored all of the time. Was it better or worse than being watched all of the time?
It wasn’t long after that night that Jenna started being more closely monitored. Papa would ask her more questions and take note of her responses. The intercall system buzzed every few hours for reports on her behavior. 
After a few weeks, a large box was delivered. Papa signed for it and carried it into the small den off of the parlor. Later that afternoon, Jenna was made to sit in the den for an hour for mass therapy.
“What was it like?” Sabine asked after bed check that night.
“It is crazy. The therapist is on the television and I have to wear this headpiece that checks my brainwaves or something. They ask questions and read our thoughts to see how we really feel. Having something under my skin is bad enough and now they are in my head.” Jenna’s voice cracked. She turned over and pulled the covers up over her head. Clearly, Sabine would get no more answers tonight.
Everyday, Sabine watched Jenna trudge into the den and emerge an hour later looking even more defeated than when she went in. Their bedtime chats were now entirely about what was wrong with the Mothers and how they watched everyone, wouldn’t tolerate anyone who stepped out of line or spoke against them. Sabine wanted to hear more about games and love, but Jenna only had unhappy tales left to tell.
After three weeks of mass therapy, Papa presented Jenna with a small pill one day at breakfast. “Doctor’s orders,” he said, a bit too cheerfully. Jenna had no choice and took the pill obediently.
There was no telling how long Jenna had been skipping her daily dose. Sabine had not noticed any changes in her sister. She was as quiet and sullen as ever. Papa seemed pleased that she was being so compliant.
It was mass therapy that morning that was her undoing. Fifteen minutes into her session, the intercall sounded with an alarm and Papa listened as he was instructed to hold Jenna for collection.
She didn’t even make it to the door before he got to her. He pulled her hands behind her back and tried to cover her mouth, but she wriggled and squirmed to keep herself from being silenced.
“Mama! How can you let them do this to us? Can’t you see they are all crazy?! No one should live like this! LET ME GO!!!!” Jenna screamed, her face red with anger. She turned away from her mother, breath slowing and her voice now calming to a more resigned tone, “Sabine, fight them! Remember that I love you and Daddy loved you too.”
Sabine looked to her Mama who stood stoically as she watched her oldest daughter being drugged and dragged away. “Why would you let them just take her like that? Don’t you care about her?! Do you care about me?”
“What good am I to you if they take me away too?” Her mother turned away from her and began to climb the stairs to the privacy of her room. The Mothers usually made an exception for grieving, as long as there was no fight. Sabine realized that her mother was protecting her in the only way that she could, but she was also broken. Her spirit had been stolen along with her husband.
It was then that Sabine came to understand the terrible powers of the Mothers and that everything Jenna said against the Enlightenment was true. But, unless Sabine wished to be drugged, her dissent would have to be a silent one, which was fine with the Mothers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Expanding Horizons: Tackling A New Genre

As a new writer, I have learned that one way to get better is to write as much as possible. One way I have broadened my horizons, is participating in the monthly challenges put forth by the On Fiction Writing group over at Goodreads. While I haven't been happy enough with most of them to post for the group, I still get the experience of writing in different genres, in different POVs, showcasing different methods.

I was talking to my mother about how much I enjoyed a couple of the different genres that I hadn't anticipated liking and she inquired as to whether or not I had chosen a genre on which to focus my writing. I guess I was surprised by her question, as I hadn't really thought of "choosing" a genre.

I have ideas that come from all over the place. My moods, which vary widely from day-to-day, inspire different tones and themes. The first pieces that I was confident enough to submit to OFW for critique were extremely dark. Dark enough that I did not allow some of my close family members to read them for fear that they would have me committed. Those of you who have visited True Tales of a Slightly Crazed Mama, have seen the lighter, more humorous side of my writing.

So, my response to my mother was that I have not picked a genre to adopt as my focus and I really don't intend on doing so. I may in the future, if I find I excel in one particular area, but I like to think that I'll always dabble in new and different areas to make myself a better writer. I may keep that work to myself, but I'll still do it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I Start With The Soundtrack

Music has always been a huge part of my life. I high school, I was the quintessential choir nerd and my after-school job was at a music store where I also took voice lessons. While I quickly realized that singing would never be more than a hobby, my love of music had already gained quite a stronghold in my life.

So, it was no surprise that it was music that brought me to writing. I was listening to a song while I was driving and it made me think of a scene. When I got home, I started to flesh out the story in my mind and created what I thought would be a kick-ass soundtrack if my story was ever made into a movie. The end result was a playlist that took me where I needed to go whenever I got the chance to sit down and write.

Since I have a wide variety of music in my library (my sister-in-law thinks that I have the music library of someone with multiple personality disorder), my playlists are completely different for each of the projects that I have in the hopper. That comes in handy because I like to jump between pieces. I decide which project to work on, start up my playlist and go to the place in my brain where that story lives.

We all have to start somewhere. I have found that my blank screen or white piece of paper doesn't stay empty for long some good tunes to get things going.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Gearing Up For NaNoWriMo

Some part of my delusional little brain seems to think that I don't have enough to do. Between three children, a part-time (usually full-time) job, a home that I stuggle to keep tidy, reading and writing, I barely have time to sleep.

That did not stop me from signing up for French lessons on LiveMocha and deciding to take on NaNoWriMo this November. NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge with a goal to write a 50,000-word project in a one-month period. It isn't about quality, it's about quantity - a practice in motiviation, stamina and determination.

This writing project has to be a fresh start, so I can't just pick up one of the many projects that I already have in progress. I have started kicking around some ideas, but I think I may just boot up my computer on November 1st and see which idea gets to the keyboard first.

I am desperately trying not to go into this challenge with the expectation that I could never in a million years finish with all of my other responsibilities, but keeping that thought out of my head has been difficult. A lot of fellow writers in the On Fiction Writing group of Goodreads are participating and I am sure we will push and encourage each other as we strive to get those words on paper. There are more than a few members of the group who have participated and finished in previous years.

I hope to join their ranks come November 30th. I may have to give up sleeping, eating and cleaning, but I want to see that word count pass 50,000. If I do, I get a nifty certificate and I may even treat myself to a NaNoWriMo Winner t-shirt!