Wishlist Wednesday: The Boy’s Christmas List

The Boy finally wrote his letter to Santa last night. Unlike prior years, he only asked for one thing: The LEGO Lord of the Rings Battle of Helm’s Deep.

LEGO Lord of the Rings Battle of Helm’s Deep, the only thing on The Boy’s list to Santa.

Yes, The Lord of the Rings is pretty big in my house right now, so much the he asked me if I had The Lord of the Rings series on my Kindle.

He hasn’t specifically asked for anything from Cute Husband, but he’s told me that he wants an acoustic guitar for Christmas. I made a deal with him: if he masters the F chord (arguably one of the most difficult chords to play on the guitar) and if he agrees to take lessons until he is 9 years old, I would get him a guitar. And look what he chose:

Martin LXM Little Martin Acoustic Guitar

Martin LXM Little Martin Acoustic Guitar

It’s a Martin & Co. guitar; no cheap toy acoustic guitars for my little man. And it will last him well past the age of 9.

A part of me thinks we got off easy this Christmas since we aren’t searching for specific Beyblades or scrambling to fulfill surprise wishes like we’ve had to in years past. But even though what he’s asked for is very durable and will last a long time, this is by far my most expensive Christmas yet.

I’m afraid to see what’s in store for me in Christmases Yet to Come.

A different perspective

Cute Husband took The Boy to Legoland on Sunday, primarily to look at the new Star Wars Miniland (but also to see some of the holiday stuff that was out).

The Millennium Falcon at a September press conference.

As soon as they got home, Cute Husband said The Boy made a beeline for his Lego sets and began recreating his version of Hoth. Indeed, when I got home from the post-NaNoWriMo dinner that night, he showed me how busy all of his Lego minifigures, his Star Wars Galactic Heroes, and even his green army men had been there on the Ice Planet.

What Cute Husband found especially interesting, though, is that The Boy has a very different view of the Star Wars universe than we do. In his world, Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader, and Darth Vader has always been Luke’s father. Naboo, Tattooine, Hoth, Coruscant, and Bespin all have equal billing in his mind. Gungans are nothing new, pod racing is normal, and a double-ended lightsaber is unique, but totally normal.

Of course, in a few years, we will take The Boy to see the next installment of the Star Wars saga. (It’s only good parenting, after all.) There, we will all be introduced to new characters, new planets, new stories, and new villains.

And I can’t help but wonder if he’ll have the same sense of awe when he sees the early previews that I had when I first saw Darth Maul activate his double-ended lightsaber. Or will he have the same feeling that Cute Husband and I have, that there is a pure Star Wars universe that existed pre-1999 and everything that came after it tries really hard but is just not as cool?

I really hope it’s the latter. And I have to admit that Cute Husband and I enjoying the view of the Star Wars universe from his perspective, even if I don’t think Naboo is as awesome as Hoth.

And that’s the end of that

I was at a birthday party tonight for one of The Boy’s classmates. I’d met the birthday boy’s father before, and the birthday boy’s mom and I had corresponded via email, so I was looking forward to going. The Boy, of course, was super excited about the party and talked about it non-stop on our way home from his morning guitar lesson.

The thing about these birthday parties, though, is that you will inevitably meet another mom who, for lack of better conversation, will ask, “Do you have any other kids?” or “Is he your only child?” Sometimes, this is a question posed by someone I’ve already conversed with for a while and with whom I’ve established some common ground. And to those people, I’m happy to say, “Yes, and that’s good enough for us!” A quick laugh later, and we’ve already found something else to talk about.

But then there are those moms (and sometimes dads) who brag about their other kids’ accomplishments and then ask if I have any other kids. To these parents, with whom I have little in common and who are generally not people I want to invite to lunch during the week, anyway, I’ve discovered the perfect response:

“Oh, The Boy is our only child, and we are so very grateful for him.”

It’s a true statement by all accounts. The Boy is our only child. Cute Husband and I are, indeed, very grateful for him. What others may interpret, of course, is entirely up to them. But I’ve discovered that after giving that response, no one asks why I won’t have another. And I can enjoy the rest of the party in a judgement-free zone.

Pushing on to 50K

Yes, I know I’ve already won NaNoWriMo 2012, but I have some writing buddies who still have note, and this post is written with them in mind. (I don’t even know if any of them will read it, which is probably the odder thing.)

Before The Boy was born, I used to meet with a personal trainer, Kennedy, three times a week. She was fabulous. She pushed me hard, she didn’t take “no” for an answer, and she was tough. And yet I adored her. I would go to the gym every day, even when I didn’t have a session with her, partially so that she could see that I was there. But then she moved back to Oregon, but I learned my lesson from her. She taught me how to push myself to that next level, because she believed that I could do it.

I have a few NaNoWriMo buddies that I follow and, for lack of a better word, nag. I’ve met most of them in my weekly write-in sessions, though there are some I just discovered on Twitter, but for the most part they know I mean well when I send them messages asking why they haven’t updated their word counts.

Last Sunday, at my write-in, I gave a bunch of people a hard time for being behind in their word counts. But to be fair, I also bought coffee for someone who reached 50K while she was there and promised coffee to two others. And I managed to inspire (?) two others to keep writing.

I don’t know why they find me so inspiring. I don’t think I’m particularly easy-going about the goals I set for them. (I told one guy that he couldn’t have a cookie until he’d written 2,000 words.) But the thing is, I know my NaNo buddies are all capable. I’ve seen their stats: some of them have eked out upwards of 5,000 words a day! So if I can finished 50,000 words, I know they can, too.

And maybe that’s why they are willing to put up with my nagging. Maybe it’s because they know I’m asking them to update their word counts and just write another 50 words because I believe in them.

Are all my NaNo Buddies going to make it to 50K in the next two days? Probably not. But I think most of them will get to the 50K mark at some point. They’ve told me that they appreciate my nagging and that they’re writing because they know I’m watching. But they’ve made me a better writer, too, if for no other reason than the fact that I’m not going to push anyone to work any harder than I’m working myself.

There are still two more days before the end of the month. Some of my NaNo buddies are positioned to make it to 50K; I’m happy to say, though, that none of the buddies who let me nag them are below 30,000 words.

So maybe my nagging is a good thing, after all.

What authors can learn from musicians

I was reading a rather intriguing article today on the Huffington Post site. In it, Steve Gottlieb, a fairly well known player in the music industry, talks about the need for publishers to embrace the digital platform when reaching consumers.

And as I read it, it occurred to me that there is another message within this article, but one meant more for authors.

What do I mean? Well, allow me to explain.

Bands don’t write songs and seek out agents and labels right away. Well, maybe some artists wait for their chance to be on X Factor or American Idol or something, but even factoring in those shows, musicians don’t just put something together and say, “Ooh! I know! Why don’t I find a label to audition for!”

And yet that’s what so many authors do. We write these fantastic books and try to get them out in front of people who can make or break our dreams, often without letting anyone besides friends and family read our work.

Struggling musicians try to find places to perform, seek out that feedback, work hard to build a fan base and interact with anyone and everyone who comes to their early shows because – hey! If that guy liked our show, maybe he’ll tell two of his friends, and they’ll tell two more, and they’ll tell two more, and the next thing you know, you’re filling tiny clubs to capacity and have A&R guys tripping over themselves to see why there’s so much buzz about you.

So, shouldn’t authors do the same?

(Allow me to make a shameless plug now for my own recently completed NaNoWriMo project tentatively called Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?, the second chapter of which is now up on Wattpad for your reading pleasure and feedback.)

I’ve currently sent out four copies of my first draft to friends with another going out this weekend, and I fully expect two of those copies to come back covered with red marks as I’ve sent them to teachers. (It’s feedback – I welcome it.) Two other copies are being read by my target audience and their mothers; I fully expect feedback there, as well. And the fifth is being read by my bestest friend from high school, mostly because she’s awesome like that but also because she’s the mom of middle school boys and can provide some feedback, as well, but from a slightly different perspective. (Note: No family has read this. Yet.)

What’s my point? Well, I’ve written something I think is pretty good, even if it is just a first draft. Yes, it needs some polish. But it’s kind of like a musician writing a new song. Is it going to sound exactly right when you play it for the first time? No. Is the crowd going to love it as soon as they hear it? Maybe, but quite possibly no. But that’s when you welcome criticisms and take them to heart and transform what is pretty good into something amazing.

And those people helping you along the way with criticisms? Maybe they’ll tell two friends that they like your work. And those people will each tell two of their friends. And the next thing you know, you’ve got a book that’s clawing its way up the Barnes & Noble and Amazon charts, and agents and publishers are now tripping over themselves to see what the buzz is about you.

So it’s not just publishers that can learn from the music industry. It’s authors, too. And while I can’t very well stand up and read the entirety of my 195-page novel (still can’t believe I wrote a novel) at an open-mic night, when I’m satisfied that my novel is ready, I can at least share copies in hopes that someone thinks it’s good enough to share with their friends or (gasp!) even post on Facebook about what an awesome book they just read.

Hey – a girl’s gotta dream, right?

50,000 words in 24 days

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve actually done it.

I’ve written an entire book – from start to finish – in 24 days. Fifty thousand words, all strung together to form a coherent story, and I did it in just about three and a half weeks.

I feel ridiculously accomplished.

(Shameless plug: If you feel so inclined to check out the first chapter of my novel, you can read it on Wattpad. Please feel free to critique my work and leave comments. Yes, even if it’s harsh. I can take it.)

What are my big take-aways from this experience?

  1. Writing 50,000 words really isn’t that difficult. Writing 50,000 words in a manner that tells a story is more challenging, but not impossible. But writing 50,000 words from the mindset of a naive 15-year-old? Painful.
  2. There is a certain kind of camaraderie among fellow WriMos that can’t be explained to non-WriMos. It’s almost like you have to live through the frenzied 30-day self-imposed deadline in order to fully appreciate the insanity.
  3. Putting the Calendar Widget on my blog was one of the best motivators to get me to write at least the minimum 1,667 words each day. I still had two yellow squares (not including today’s), but I would have had so many more if I didn’t feel like I would be judged by the four people who actually visit my blog.
  4. I like outlining and wish I realized it sooner. I certainly didn’t stick to my outline the entire time; there were still some twists I definitely didn’t see coming (and I’m the writer!). But it really helped me stay on track.
  5. It also helped that my friend’s 11-year-old daughter signed on as an early Beta reader and demanded chapters on a daily basis. You don’t ever want to upset an 11-year-old girl.
  6. I had a lot of difficulty silencing my Internal Editor (IE), but I also discovered that I rely on her a lot. Yes, I could have easily gone off on random tangents a number of times (and in my revisions, I may very well need to take some of those journeys to add descriptors to the story), but my IE kept me focused. And I welcomed that, especially since I had a Beta reader who just wanted to know what happened next. (See #5.)
  7. Writing a novel is a lot harder than reading one. But it’s infinitely more gratifying when you get to the end.

So, for me, anyway, my NaNoWriMo 2012 journey is finished. I’ll get my word count validated in the morning, receive my certificate, order my Winner’s Shirt, and bask in the knowledge that it’s done. Many of my fellow WriMos won’t be done for another week, though. Some may not even make it to 50K by the end of the month, but that’s okay. The important thing is that they’re still writing.

The important thing is that we are all writing.

But Camp NaNoWriMo begins in April, and I’ve got a character from this novel who is begging to have her story told, too. So as I wait for feedback from friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers on this novel, I suppose I can start the rough outline for the next. And maybe the one after that.

Because my biggest takeaway from NaNoWriMo?

I can do this – and I know I can because I already did it!

I’m Eileen Caines, and I’m a novelist.

Endurance writing to power through NaNoWriMo

Only 9,122 more words to go. That’s what the NaNoWriMo site is telling me.

I am exhausted.

Right now, I feel like I’m at that point of the race where you see that sign that says, “Look! You’ve only got 3 miles to go! That’s like a 5K! You can totally do a 5K!”

Now, I’ve only done two 12Ks, and at that part of the race, when I’ve already pushed through 7K, though my mind is strong, my body just wants to lie down and rest. Or maybe just walk. Yes, if I walk for a while, I’ll still move towards the finish line, but at least I can catch my breath a bit.

Only, with endurance writing (I love that term), there’s really no “walking”. You either write or you don’t. You may not crank out 3,000 words a day, or even 2,200, but you have to keep writing. And the best stuff doesn’t come out, and you start second-guessing yourself, and you just want so badly to get to the ending already though you know you have to pace it, but you just have to keep writing.

It gets hot when I run. I get frustrated when I write. My muscles ache when I run. My mind starts to wander when I write. My breathing gets labored and I have to slow down when I run. I fall asleep on my laptop and have to take a break when I write.

I don’t have any Gu to give me a boost of inspiration equivalent to the boost of energy it gives you on the track. But I can hear the metaphorical crowds just waiting for me around the bend, still cheering on the endurance writers who have finished before me, still waiting for me at that finish line. I can see my NaNo Buddies, most of whom are behind me in their word counts, and I’m yelling to them to keep going and not give up. And I can see other NaNo Buddies in front of me, doing the same for me.

I’ve got 9,122 more words to write. That means I’ve already written 40,878 words this month. That’s 40,878 words I’ve strung together to form a mostly-cohesive story. Is it a great story? I have no idea; I’ll read it when I’m done. Is it a good story? I’m not sure, but I have an 11-year-old beta reader who seems to thinks so. Does it still need a good dose of polish before I’m ready to submit query letters to agents in hopes they’ll help me find a publisher? Oh, dear God, yes.

But I’ve written almost 41,000 words in just 20 days. And I’ve only got 9,122 more words to go.

Yeah. I can totally do this.

Conversational Gems: 2012 November 17

Scene: In the car, driving back from the trip to see Santa.

The Boy: What are peds?

Cute Husband: How do you spell it?

The Boy: P-E-D-S

Me: Oh, it’s on a sign. Peds. That’s short for pedestrians.

The Boy: What are pedestrians?

Me: They’re people who walk instead of riding in cars.

The Boy: Why are you supposed to yell at them?

Cute Husband: What?

The Boy: It’s on the sign. Yell to Peds.

Opinion: What I think is wrong with the GOP

In ten words or less, I think the GOP has strayed from their roots.

Let me first just delineate – with bullet points – what I do not want my government to do:

  • Don’t tell me what to believe. Whether or not I believe in God (or multiple Gods, as the case may very well be) is my business. If there really is a hell and you think I’m headed there, don’t try to save me.
  • Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body. Sure, it begins with abortion, but it also includes tattoos, piercings, dying my hair, and/or anything else I want to do. Provided I’m not doing anything that can harm, maim, or kill another cognitive being, let me do what I want. (And if you really want to split hairs and tell me that early fetuses are cognitive beings, well, see the first point above. That’s a whole other discussion.)
  • Don’t tell me who I can and cannot love. I’m lucky. I fell in love with someone who loved me enough in return to marry me. The fact that he happens to be of the opposite sex is irrelevant. If you’re lucky enough to fall in love with someone who loves you back, go for it! Life’s too short to live in fear of recriminations in an afterlife. (Also, see the first point above.)
  • Don’t marginalize me because I’m different. I may not be white or male or a billionaire, but I’m still a person entitled to the same basic rights called out in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The points above represent a complete reversal of what the GOP’s platform used to be. Why do I say that? Let’s take a quick history lesson and review the Grand Old Party, shall we?

In my opinion, the Republican Party of today shares absolutely nothing in common with Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party. Back then, their slogan was “Free Labor, Free Land, Free Men”, and they were the champions of the Little Guys, the poor farmers who couldn’t compete with the rich plantation owners, the slaves who were treated as property instead of people. Back then, they worked hard to keep the government together and were in favor of adding federal laws that chipped away at the individual states’ rights.

They were the party that fought for the Little Guy. I totally would have voted Republican, all the way down the ballot.

After the Civil War, there was a split in the party’s ideology, where one side supported the greed and corruption that was rampant within Ulysses Grant’s presidency, and the other side demanded reforms. They’ve always supported business, but not just Big Business. In the 1890s, the GOP backed the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission, both designed to help small-business owners and independent farmers. Teddy Roosevelt supported laws designed to regulate business, and he promoted the Conservation movement, which Americans can thank for our National Parks.

Meanwhile, the other party remained elitist and exclusionary. Woodrow Wilson, a Southern Democrat, introduced segregation into the Federal government to appease his Southern friends. Jim Crow laws were prevalent throughout the South, and the Republican Party sought to fight these state and local efforts to discourage people, usually blacks, from voting.

The GOP was the Small Business party, and the party for disenfranchised minorities. I totally would have voted for (almost) anyone on their ticket.

Then came the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Teddy’s cousin and a Democrat, secured the “New Deal” in an 2-step effort to get the country’s economy back on track. Republicans were largely on board for the first New Deal, but they criticized the second New Deal, calling it “socialist”. What came out of the second New Deal, though, were laws no one would dream of overturning today, including Social Security and the Fair Labors Standards Act.

Not long after World War II ended, blacks were challenging the notion that segregation was constitutional, and it was ultimately struck down in the Supreme Court in Brown v. The Board of Education in a case ruled unanimously the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor and a Republican president’s appointee. Despite his decision to place Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II, Governor Warren supported the integration of Mexican-American children into white schools in California, and as Chief Justice, he later led the Supreme Court in decisions that outlawed school prayer in public schools (Engel v. Vitale) and revised the First Amendment to include a basic right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut).

And then there was the 1960s, ushering in a young President named John F. Kennedy and an eloquent Baptist minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., both talking about freedom, liberty, and equality for all.  It’s quite possible the tide began to shift before the 1960s, but this was when the GOP most notably began shying away from the ideals that it had when it was formed. It was no longer the party that opposed corruption and aristocracy; it became the party that some would arguably say defined it. Nixon’s Watergate scandal was synonymous with corruption; Reagan’s economic policies favored the rich, and the Bush presidents exemplified the Political Aristocracy.

The Tea Party faction seems to have come about as a means to cancel out the accusations of corruption, but their grassroots organizations promoted efforts to make the voting process more difficult, especially the poorer, marginalized Americans. Their elected officials use the political stage as a kind of pulpit, speaking out against things they consider immoral and “against God’s will.” I have nothing against religion; I was raised Catholic. But just because I believe something doesn’t mean that everyone else needs to, also. One of the greatest tenets of our Constitution is the freedom of religion, and the Founding Fathers considered that important enough to make it the very first law of our Constitution.

And yet, the rest of the Republican Party does nothing to keep the Tea Partiers in line. Rather, they seem afraid of them.

I fear for the future of the Republican Party. There are lots of good men and women who align themselves with the GOP, and there are lots of bad people who align themselves with the Democratic Party. But the Republican Party has presented itself as an exclusionary party, like the group of snobby popular kids in school who wouldn’t invite you to a party unless you were wearing the right clothes, drove the right car, and/or could get front row tickets to any concert at a moment’s notice.

Newsflash: There were always way more kids like me than there were kids like those, and there always will be.

So, to the Grand Old Party, you’ve got two years to sit in a corner and think about what you’ve become before the next mid-term election. Unless you want to lose more seats in the Senate and lose control of the House, I seriously recommend you consider retooling your position. You may also want to muzzle some of the Tea Partiers to make sure they don’t say anything that can and will be used against your party in the future, or you could consider asking them to leave your party and create one of their own. Since they seem so intent on dialing back the clock to the 1950s, perhaps they can dial it back further to the 1860s. And I would recommend enacting laws that benefit people instead of corporations because, although corporations can donate as much money as they’d like to your campaign coffers, they can’t vote.

And there are still more people like me out there than there are corporations.

Thoughts on dialogue (or wrapping up Week 1 of NaNoWriMo)

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ”
― Joss Whedon

There was an interview I read some time ago in which Joss Whedon talked about writing dialogue for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He said that when he was writing the first draft of the screenplay, he struggled a bit with dialogue and would go to malls and listen to teenage girls talk. When he realized they were all talking like Heathers, he decided to take a more natural approach to writing dialogue and just write the way he would talk.

And, fast forward a couple of decades, Joss Whedon is arguably one of the dialogue masters of his time. I mean, anyone whose name has become an adjective (“Whedonesque”, anyone?) is clearly deserving of that title.

Dialogue isn’t something I struggle with when I write. I hear conversations in my head and rush to get them onto paper (or the screen) as quickly as I can. I actually get tripped up when I have to add those identifiers so you know who’s talking, but conversations themselves kind of just flow.

And yes, I write exactly the same way I talk. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing dialogue for a computer geek, a high school quarterback, or a parent. It all comes out the way I hear it in my head, which is the way I would say it.

I love writing dialogue. But it has to be good, like there has to be a point to it. I think dialogue for the sake of dialogue is kind of lame. Yeah, we all like to hear ourselves talk, but unless there’s a purpose to what’s being said, people kind of tune out. I guess that’s why I’m really not a Tarantino fan. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were both full of scenes that contained, in my opinion, a ton of useless dialogue that didn’t do anything to move the story forward or establish character or even break up a scene with some levity. I think words are precious and should be treated that way, not just randomly tossed about.

I’m writing a Young Adult contemporary romance, and it’s full of dialogue. I’m a little concerned that it may not read realistically to my target audience, but I figure that as long as it sounds okay in my head, it should probably work on paper, too. And if it doesn’t, well, that’s why I have Beta readers.