Friday, August 25, 2006

This is a test

This is me testing the new Windows Live Writer, the blog-posting utility from our friends at Microsoft. If it works, then you'll see this msg. If not, then you went.

The sleeping insomniac, mass murder, and methamphetamines

I've decided to tell myself that the reason I'm so tired these days because I'm spending so much time living inside the head of an insomniac who, at last count, hadn't slept in five and a half days.

I, on the other hand, have been sleeping every night, and waking up freaking exhausted in spite of it.

The biggest problem with first-person narratives, particularly whe you're writing about broken or self-destructive or exhausted characters, is that you tend to dwell inside of their heads, vicariously experiencing what they're experiencing. I really should learn my lesson and get back to writing third-person narratives some day.

I took a break from the book last night, partly beacuse I figured I deserved it, and partly because I'm juggling three plot threads, and slowly figuring out how to work them into the book.

The school violence sub-plot just seems to want to go on and on, and it's starting to look like it'll stretch into three chapters instead of just two, and maybe four if I want to spend any time with the aftermath. Which should be fine. I think I even sort of connect the personalities of the shooters with the personalities of our "cult leader" in their attempts at seizing a sort-of power because they feel powerless in their own lives. Still, this ever expanding sub-plot is throwing me for a bit of a loop, as it's becoming much bigger than I had anticipated.

The second sub-plot, recently stumbled upon thanks to a conversation with a friend, involves methamphetamines and their use by this cult of people trying to stay awake. I know nothing at all about this drug, and am definitely going to have to do some research I'm going to discuss it, if even in a brief way. But it was the mention that was made to me that some people on meth go for four or five days without sleep that made the use of the drug in the book seem almost too perfect. Sometimes coffee and red bull isn't enough.

What's bugging me a bit about the meth side-plot is that I'm not entirely sure how to weave it into the rest of the narrative, except as a trivial side-bit regarding the lengths to which these people are willing to go to in order to stay awake, and, in theor, receive enlightment. Which, come to think of it, is maybe all it needs to be. Something that can spark the narrator's own desire to reacquaint himself with the divine after seeing how desperate these people are for *any* sort of meaning.

Or maybe something that can push him further away from it.

More thought required here.

The third current problem is the realization that, for the most part, nothing of any interest happens in this current chapter, barring the flash-black, school-shooting material. But driving into work today, I happened upon a way to spin the chapter that makes it's nothingness work -- the narrator's feeling that this is his life. This is what his life is like -- boring, meaningless, insignificant. Day in, day out, half-asleep, half conscious, half alive.

If I can pound out 2,000 words tonight, I should be able to cross the 20,000 word threshold, putting at almost half of a NaNo novel. Looking back, I can barely tell where these 20,000 words have come from. If the next 20,000 come this easy, this book should be cake.

Except for the whole being exhausted all the time thing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

25 and 33, and other things.

On August 12, I turned 33 years. Also on August 12, IBM 5150 PC -- generally considered to be the first personal computer -- turned 25 years old.

I'm trying to remember if I knew this, but near as I can, tell it comes as a surprise that I would share a birthday with the personal computer. Eerie.

That little piece of trivia is about the only good thing to come out of my birthday this year. Which, for the most part, is fine by me. Birthdays have sort of lost their shine over the last few years. I can remember, seven years ago or so, while I was still at the Tribune, sneaking around after hours so I could scribble my birthday in everyone's daytimer, just to make sure no one would forget. I couldn't be bothered to do that anymore. Too much work. And for what? So what if their daytimer screams a reminder at them about my birthday, most people would either ignore it or offer a half-hearted, unfelt birthday wish. I'd rather they just not say anything at all.

Had to renew my licence on my birthday as well. Renewed for five years, at a not-so-economic $75. Which I guess is okay for five years, but having to drop that much at once, while I was on vacation, stung a little.

It also stun to realize that the next time I renew my licence, I'll be 38 years old, staring down the barrel of 40.

Holy fuck, let's not talk about that.

I've been in a horrible funk lately, and I kind of hope that the whole "vacant-birthday-getting-old-almost-40" thing is the cause of it. Because if it is, it should be passing soon, and it couldn't pass soon enough for me. Why it hasn't passed already, actually, with progress on the new novel going so well, I can't figure out. Usually I'm at my emotional lowest when I'm *not* working on a project. Usually having a short story or a novel on the burner is enought o keep me uplifted. Not so this time.

I do feel pretty good when I'm actually working on the book. For the few hours each night that I'm staring at the screen and pumping out the words, everything else goes away, and I am energized and enthused. But then when it's done and I shut the document down, I look around and I think, "What am I doing this for?" And not the book, but everything else. Everything that feels like it's just killing time, everything that feels like it's not building towards a legacy I can be proud of, everything that makes me think that, unless I can fix it, bring meaning to it, make it worth something, then I'm just wasting perfectly good oxygen here.

I don't want to say that I'm a wreck, because I'm not. I'll live. I always do. Until I don't. But I'm definitely off, and in a funk, and in need of something to reinvigorate my interest in the world around me, something to convince me that I'm doing something good by being here. Or, better yet, in need of something to emerge on the horizon that can help me throw off everything around me that's dragging me down, so that I can embrace the things that really matter to me more than anything else in the world.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Book Update:

The current word count on the Insomnia novel is just over 14,000 words, with 4,000 words dumped in the last two evenings. I should be able to drop another 2,000 tonight without even breaking a sweat.

I want to say that this is the easiest, most comfortable novel that I've ever worked on, but I'm afraid I might jinx the work. But I can't deny that everything is coming together brilliantly. I stumbled upon a new subplot a few nights back, and figured out last night -- while working on the third chapter -- exactly how to introduce two of the book's subplots, including the always important "romantic" one.

I think I figured out how to get around the days-as-chapters problem as well (by simply throwing it out the window, and accepting that some chapters will end up titiled things like "Saturday Morning" and "Saturday Evening" -- as is the case with chapters three and four).

The school-shooting back story is coming along nicely as well, after my initial concern over it. I ended up having to go back and throw out just about everything I had already done on it and start it over from scratch, but this time it's actually working, and working so well that the back-story became long enough to split into two chapters.

Which should also make for some good drama, as I get to drop the back story right at a cliffhanger.

And then, of course, introduce a chapter with no references to the shooting right afterwards.

It's fun to leave people on the edges of their seats.

It's a shame that this isn't a NaNo novel, in a way, because I'm sure I could have torn through the 50,000 in a month easily. At the same time, I'm glad I jumped on it when I did. I think part of what caused last year's novel to fall apart was that I sat on it, even while I was burning to work on it, just so that I'd have something to do for NaNo. By the time November came along, I was no longer quite as passionate about it as I had been four to six weeks earlier. I had over-thought it. It was boring.

So even though I'll likely not be novel-writing this november, it is at least a worthy sacrifice, if I can end up with a worth-while novel completed at an entirely different time of year.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Non-NaNo writing

Well, it's official. I'm working on a new novel.

I cracked the 10,000 word mark on the "Insomnia" book last night so I guess, even after the bumpy start, and my general unwillingness to follow through on the commitment necessary in crafting a 50-100,000 word project, this currently untitled novel is my current, full-ish-time project.

It's actually gone intensely well the last few days. I probably did 3 or 4,000 words last night, easily more than twice my regular daily output during NaNo. Which means I'm probably going to take a break tonight, because I really don't want to burn out on this book so early on.

I'm beginning to get a little concerned about my structural plans, how that will effect length, and how that will effect the whole narrative.

Breaking each chapter into each individual day seemed like a really smart way to break up a story that wasn't going to have any sort of normal breaking points (because he's not sleeping, and so his whole experience just turns into one, nightmarishly long day). But I'm beginning to detect a few problems with the chapter=day approach.

First, In order to cover enough territory to make certain plot points believable, I'm going to have to cram a lot of stuff into each day, which will make for some awfully long chapters.

If I don't go that route, I'm not sure ten days is enough to pull it all off, but I can't push his insomnia too far past the generally accepted record (which is, in fact, ten days) with risking disbelief in the part of the reader.

I might be panicking over nothing at all. It might all just work out smoothly and naturally. Here's hoping it will.

ADDENDUM: I was going to mention what this noveling during the non-November months was going to do for my National Novel Writing output this year, because I fear I won't be doing it. This current book will either still be in progress, and I won't want to put it on hold for 30 days just to work on something completely unrelated, or else it'll be done and I'll be too creatively burned out to start on something new so soon afterwards.

So, if either of those things happen, I was thinking of using national novel writing month as an excuse to start editing my last finished novel (the one started during the 2004 NaNo). Treat it as national novel-editing month. Because it does need the editing work if anything's ever going to happen with it, and I really would like to see something happen with it.

Which seems to make this the appropriate time to send subtle hints to my lovely and talented volunteer-editor to try to get her editing work done by November first, so I can start looking at pages to rewrite, rework, or just throw the heck out.

Hint, hint.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Spaz attack

Blogger had a small spaz-out last night, refusing to post my entry and, instead, posting it a half-dozen times this morning. The over-posting has been cleaned up, but for anyone who stopped by and wondered why I was ranting about the same thing six different times, there's your explanation.

How the heck do you spell "spaz" anyway?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Insert title here

As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged an mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.

Why were so many Americans treated by their government as thought their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their made-up tales.

And so on.

Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All fact would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.

It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.

- Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions

I put a few hours of work into the new novel tonight, cleaning up some of what was bugging me about the second chapter. There's still something kind of itchy about it, but I think I like it better now, because I seem to be managing to spread out the details of the school shooting a bit more effectively. Which isn't entirely because I want to spread it out, but because that's the style I'm trying to use for this book -- lots of short, almost jarring, pieces. Now we're here. Now we're somewhere else. Now we're somewhere else. Jumping from the events of the present, to recollection, to the realm of pure fantasy, every page or so.

I'm having fun with it. Well, as much fun as can be had dwelling in the head of someone who hasn't slept in four days.

Finished Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions earlier tonight -- one of the books I picked up in Kamloops during my first week's vacation this year. I enjoyed it tremendously, and was profoundly struck by the chunk of the book I quoted at the top. I actually read that chunk last night, and have been burning with a desire to post it ever since I read it.

It's an interesting idea he poses -- and an idea he used in the actual writing of Champions, which is, I think, one of the greatest satires of American (and, thus, North American) culture I've ever read. Published in 1973, and still just as relevant. I haven't read a lot of Vonnegut, but from what I have, that seems to be the case.

Reading Vonnegut -- or any good satirist, for that matter -- leaves me wanting to dig out last year's aborted NaNo novel and take another stab at it. I wish I knew why it was that the book unravelled on me. If it was because I was trying to satirize something too big for my talent, or if it was simply because I was rushing through it to meet my daily word count. I still think the idea -- and the satire within that idea -- has merit, and I'd love to give it another shot. Maybe when I'm done with this new one.

On the topic of the NaNo, I'm a little concerned about this year. It's still a few months away, but I'm burning out the only current novel idea I have right now, and at the rate I'm writing, I'll be lucky to be done with this one by the time November rolls around. I'd hate to miss a NaNo after three years, but I'd hate more to try to put this book on the sidelines in order to pursue something else for just a month.

Started writing this week's column in my head tonight before jumping on the novel. I should have typed the words up at the time, because when I try to remember them on Wednesday, they won't be quite as good as they were tonight.

That's the way it always goes.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I need a notepad and a pen. And then I need the willingness to actually use them.

Working on the new novel again tonight. Already seeming like I'm not going to get much of it done, as I'm already avoiding it by writing here instead. But I needed to stop and complain about stupid little things. Like the fact that it's only the second chapter and I already can't quite remember how long the protagonist has been awake for.

I need to keep notes. How freaking difficult is it to just jot down the day and time that he last slept, and then refer to that anytime I need to know? Not difficult at all. So why haven't I? Outside of my often being a gigantic retard, I'm really not sure.

It's a little detail, to be sure, and one easily fixed in later drafts. But I hate having to clean up stuff like that in later drafts, because it's so bloody easy to just get right the first time through if you're paying attention. And it's not that I'm not. Or not entirely. It's just that my mind wanders, and I end up focused on other things, digressing into a commentary on how the future turned out to be a world of sedation, and isn't it wonderfully ironic that in this sedated world, our protagonist would be an insomniac?

Yeah, wonderfully ironic, except we can't remember anymore how long he's been awake for, because, Todd, you haven't figured out how to use a notepad yet.

I think I'm also avoiding this chapter because it's the back-story chapter. Well, not THE backstory chapter. The way I write, I never know when backstory is going to suddenly rear it's ugly head. But this is the big one. The spiritual moment that did the exact opposite thing from most spiritual moments -- the moment that convinced our hero that God doesn't exist. And the moment that everything else in the book is going to end up connected to. This is the Columbine chapter. This is when our protagonist tells the story of the day his high school was the site of horrible, random, meaningless violence -- when a pair of students blew away a half-dozen other students, just because they could.

I so fucking don't want to mess this up.

It needs to hit the reader hard when it happens. It needs to explain how this character gave up on God. And it needs to do all of this while treating the topic of high-school violence with respect. I don't want this to be a bullshit exploitational thing. My thoughts and opinions on high school violence are complicated at best (but really, when aren't they?) and I need to get as much of that across on paper as human possible.

I should just stop worrying about it and go and do it. I tend to be mostly successful when I take that approach. But I'm a bit out of it myself right now, from not having a fantastic sleep last night, and I half think I might be better off saving it until my brain is working better.

I'm even stressing about what would make the best background music for trying to write this chunk.

Again, I should stop worrying, and just load something up and write it.

Instead, I distract myself here.

Writing about how I'm distracting myself.

How meta.

In novel-related successes, I did name the pseudo-love-interest character (and, even before then, figured out the love-interest subplot for this novel, so that's yet another success) and have already established the line that introduces her. Or at least her name.

"Her name was Summer, but she looked more like late-autumn."

Super-cheese? Probably, but at least for the moment, it's working for me. Because it's coming from the main character, and not a third-person narrator. And if it's super-cheese, at least it helps depict his sudden, love-at-first-sight reaction to her.

Now if only I had a name for my main character.

What's a good name for a 20-something insomniac?

I need something quick, because there's no way I'm going through half a novel without naming my narrator again.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dear "StumbleUpon" plug-un for Firefox...

...sometimes I love you.

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

Random 10

It’s not Friday for most of the world, but today does mark the end of my work week, and I’m jonesing to blog, and I’m sitting here listening to music anyway, so I figured it might be a good opportunity to dust off the ol’ Friday Random 10. Arguably Friday or not.

PS: As per the “Tell me something about you that I don’t know” question from two entries ago; yes, I am singing along with every single one of these. Take that.

  1. Marianne Faithfull – Incarceration of a Flower Child – I’ve only listened to this song a handful of times, but I just can’t get over it. Written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd in 1969, it wasn’t recorded until 1999, and even then it was performed by Marianne Faithfull (with Waters on the bass). It’s pure, classic Waters, and in many ways, seems lyrically stronger than much of what Floyd was doing in that era. As much as I would love to imagine what it would have sounded like as performed by a 1960s-era Pink Floyd, the Marianne Faithfull version is so wonderful haunting that I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

  2. Brazil – Mr. Helpmann – A quick radio interview from Terry Gilliam’s Film “Brazil.” – funny, funny stuff, but it might be a little confusing if you’ve never seen the movie. Which, by the way, if you haven’t you should. No really. Like, right now. Go rent it or buy it or steal it from someone you don’t much like. Because, seriously, it’s that good.

  3. Phil Collins – That’s Just The Way It Is – I was super-into Phil Collins in the mid-to-late 80s, but something about the transition into the 90s seemed to diminish either his musical power, or my taste for his music. I still have a soft spot for his tunes from that era, but anything he’s done since then just doesn’t sit well for me. This is from the “But Seriously” album, which marked the end of my fascination with him – some good stuff on here, but some of it is already stale-dating.

  4. Alabama 3 – Ain’t Gonna Go – From Alabama 3’s first album. Is there anything from these guys that isn’t just completely, undeniably, 100%, multi-flavoured awesome?

  5. Eagles – Wasted Time – Probably the most optimistic lost-love song ever written. An all time favourite of mine, and one I always queue up whenever I’m feeling particularly blue.

  6. INXS – Laying Down the Law – Looking at the tracks listed above and below this song, I can only assume this is from the “Lost Boys” soundtrack. Which is a movie I’m really not fond of, and which I only downloaded for one song. Come on, random 10, things were going so well – I didn’t need to be reminded of how much crap is on my hard drive.

  7. Eagles – James Dean – More stuff that I only have because I’m an insane collector. Don’t think I’ve heard this song before, but this one I’ll actually listen to, because, for the most part, the Eagles are pretty cool. [EDIT: Okay, I think I probably have heard this before – probably in the background, on a radio, somewhere. Either that or it’s one of those songs that just has that sound to it – like something you’ve heard before, even if you haven’t.]

  8. Alanis Morissette – Baba – I think one of these days I’m going to do an “almost random 10” list because I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a song pop up that I’m not terribly familiar with (like, say, this one) which is immediately preceded or followed by something I’m much, much more familiar with (like, say, Morissette’s “Thank U” – as is the case here).

  9. Sinead O’Connor – Waiting for a Van – Things started so well. How did they so quickly digress into bunches of stuff I don’t really know? I guess have 10 CDs of rare Sinead O’Connor stuff doesn’t help.

  10. Pink Floyd – Vera – From “The Wall” (though this is an extended take on it, yanked from the movie). I really need to see this film, and I really need to sit down and listen to this album again. I think I sort of overdosed on it in my teens, which, as overdoses often do, led me to run screaming away. But it remains an epic, musical achievement, probably the most famous and most successful rock opera of all time, and Pink Floyd has long been a personal favorite.

  11. Peter Gabriel – Ngankarrparni (Sky Blue) [Reprise] – Damn, that’s a lotta brackets. Just guessing from the surrounding tracks, but this looks like it might be from Gabriel’s “Rabbit-Proof Fence” soundtrack. Additionally, it sounds (and is titled) like it was take on his “Sky Blue” song, from the album “Up.” Which, by the way, was awesome. [EDIT: This is sort of interesting to listen to. I’ve never seen “Rabbit-Proof Fence” (where I think this version is from) but it’s definitely an early take on “Sky Blue” without any lyrics. Just the music and the chorus of voices going, “Oh oh-oh-oh ooooooh.”]

  12. JB’s Blues – From the “I Heart Huckabees” Soundtrack. Damn that’s a good movie. Damn that’s a good soundtrack. And yes, I’m going to 15. At least.

  13. Warren Zevon – I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – The song right under this is  “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” which I’d rather listen to right now. So I think I will.

  14. Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall Part 3 – Wow, two songs in one night from “The Wall” – it must be a sign! And they’re not even the over-rated ones! W00t!

  15. Beck – Hotwax – I really need to start listening to some earlier Beck. I mean, I don’t really have an excuse for not. I’ve got all his stuff on my hard drive.

  16. Tatu – All The Things She Said – And on this note, we’ll bring this to a close. This song is currently on my short-list of songs to use in the intro / intermission set for the play “Closer.” Assuming I ever get around to directing that thing.

Good night! Stay safe!