Month: November 2010

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

As promised, and I’m sure you are all nervous with anticipation, some general thoughts and reflections and musings on my NaNoWriMo experience.

First off, the 50,000 words came quite easily. I stuck close to the suggested daily word count, which worked for my rather open-ended story idea and daily schedule, but each time I sat down and focused on my story, I could pretty easily get 1000-1500 words knocked out in 30-45 minutes. One or two more brief sessions got me to the magic 1600-2000 word level for the day. It helped, of course, that I only had a basic idea for a story, wasn’t adhering to some rigid outline, and that my idea was loosely biographical. On the rare day when the words were tough to come by, I could just recall to another event that happened to me and turn that into a fictional scene. Basically they were fictionalized blog posts on those days.

I tried not to sweat the details. I had characters who I called different names at different parts in the story. I made illogical jumps in time and space. I began threads that I discarded and did not return to. My focus each time I sat down at the keyboard was to keep the cursor moving to the right with a wake of text behind it.1

I worried going in that this loose idea I had been playing around with for nearly a year would peter out at some point, and I’d find myself sitting at 23,000 words and having no idea how to progress. I didn’t come close to having that problem. In fact, had my focus been pushing forward with a legitimate first draft rather than just hitting my daily target, I can see this easily stretching to at least another 25,000 words. In a way, that’s heartening. The big stumbling block to writing a book for me has always been the idea of getting all those words out. In a 30-day exercise, I proved that I can do that.

Of course, what I wrote isn’t truly a novel. It’s an arbitrary number of words in an arbitrary number of days. There’s a big jump from that to getting something that I could confidently send it off to whoever it is that helps you get published. It does feel like I cleared a mental hurdle, though.

I have a couple friends who are novelists. One has been published once and has been working on a second novel for some time. Another has produced a couple decent manuscripts, at least decent enough to get an agent, but hasn’t had any luck getting picked up by a publisher. Both of them told me the key was to get the idea out. Don’t look back while you’re writing, just move forward. Take notes about a change you want to make to chapter one, but if you’re in chapter 13, stay there. When I first got that advice, it made a lot of sense but seemed unwieldy in practice. After going through this, though, it seems like the best path towards successfully putting together a first draft.

And that’s what I have: a clumsy first draft. Could I get to the end and then go back and clean it up? I suppose. If what I produced over the last month has a kernel within it could become a successful story, I think it would take a total restart, more planning ahead of time, and a better idea of where I wanted to go. It’s one thing to take a bunch of disparate memories from grade and middle school and write a story about a kid’s summer. It’s another to make that story coherent.

But I’m not sweating those details now. I just cranked out 50,000 words in a month and while I won’t compare the output to something a real author would do, I am pretty pleased with myself for getting through the process. If nothing else, I’ve learned that a modest investment in time and a little commitment can result in a large piece of text.

And no, you can’t read it. Sorry. I promise all my loyal blog readers will get a discounted copy of my first novel.

  1. One famous person, at least in geek circles, likes to call this making the clackity noise. But my modern keyboard is nearly silent, so as much as I like that description, it doesn’t quite fit my process. 

Gobble Gobble

Wrapping up the weekend while watching the predictable destruction of the Colts by San Diego.1

First off, we had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, and hope you did, too. We had 20 people in our home Thursday for dinner. I cooked two turkey breasts2, brought in a ham, and then added the usual trimmings. Other than that mad dash in the last hour to try to get everything cooked and warmed in one oven, I thought we pulled it off successfully. The girls were reasonably well-behaved and our guests seemed to enjoy themselves.

Perhaps the highlight of the day came while we were eating. Poor L. was a bit overwhelmed by all the excitement and our many guests. Shortly after we put a plate in front of her, she decided it was naptime. Poor kid. Naturally, I took a picture. Father of the year!

No Thanksgiving is complete without popping disk two of my Cheers Season Five DVD set into the player and watching the “Thanksgiving Orphans” episode. 24 years later, it’s still a fine piece of television comedy, especially when coupled with a fine Scotch. Then came the big bonus of the first USA Network showing of Elf for the season. I was full of holiday cheer (and scotch) by bedtime.

I think Black Friday is my least favorite day of the year. You can’t take the kids to the mall or restaurants, since they’re overrun. So you’re stuck in the house with a bunch of hyper kids who are excited about not being in school. Throw in cold weather, and we were locked in the house trying to figure out how in the hell to entertain these monkeys. We broke down and unpacked some of the holiday decorations to distract them. I went into the front yard to put up our lighted Santa. Sadly only two of Santa’s three segments will light up. I spent 30 minutes in the cold swapping out fuses and trying different cords to no avail. So we have an unlit Santa in the yard, much to the girls’ chagrin. The rest of the decorations inside did keep them occupied a bit, though.

Saturday we bought our tree and put it up. The girls were very excited to help, and placed about 30 ornaments on the same three branches. It took some parental clean-up to properly distribute the ornaments.

We put the kids to bed Saturday and I had a couple hours to waste before the KU-Arizona game began. What better way to fill that time than to finish my novel? Well, I finished the 50,000 word requirement for NaNoWriMo, but I wouldn’t say I finished the novel. There’s still work to be done, even for a clumsy effort like this. But I knocked out the words and claimed my digital prize. I’ll offer some more detailed thoughts on the process later this week.

Sunday we attempted to take pictures for our Christmas card. It’s always a tough job trying to get three girls to focus and smile and keep their clothes in decent shape. Sunday was apparently the wrong day to try. My sister-in-law shot over 300 images, and none were perfect. Much of the 30-45 minutes we shot included some kind of pleading/yelling/shouting at the girls to sit down and look at the camera and smile. Someone was always refusing or standing up or messing with their sister or pouting or making a stupid face. I think we have a cute card, but it could have been cuter and the frustration of fighting the girls had S. and I agreeing afterwards we won’t try this again for a few more years.

And that was Thanksgiving at the B’s’.

  1. I don’t bet, but seriously, is there an easier bet in the NFL than the Chargers beating the Colts? It doesn’t matter which team is better. The way they are currently comprised, the Chargers are the worst possible match-up for the Colts. Throw in a shit-load of injuries for the Colts and I kinda seen this one comin’. 
  2. To perfection, to be honest. 

Some Notes

It’s hoops season, bitches.

One more week of half-assed posting while I write my “novel.” 40,000 words down; 10,000 to go.

I hit a couple games in the county girls tournament last week. One was a blowout, as expected. It was 10-0 after a minute and never got closer. The other looked like a great match-up on paper. It was a dud. Both teams played like ass. The team that won has a lot of talent, but just play ugly. Their best player, who is a D1 recruit, fouls all the time. They have a couple good guards, another player who is above average at four spots on the court, and a couple shooters. But for some reason they can not run an attractive offense and are forced to win ugly. They ended up winning the tournament in another ugly game. I cover them again this week, and they play a team that was very good last year but lost a ton of talent. I feel an ugly loss coming on.

Speaking of Brandon Rush, I’ve actually watched a few minutes of Pacers basketball this year. It’s still hard to watch them, but the Darren Collison acquisition last summer was the first reasonable move they’ve made in years. It’s not enough to make them good, but at least it’s generated a little interest. My man Brandon got the year started off right with a five game suspension, earned for flunking a drug test three times. THREE TIMES. No one ever accused Brandon of being the smartest guy in the world, but once you get caught twice, don’t you put the weed down until the off-season? Not the best way to start off your make-or-break year in the league. Fortunately, he’s come out playing solid ball so far, and the Pacers even picked up his option for next year. I still contend he should focus on being a lock-down defender who can hit the open three. I just think he’s miscast as a scorer at this level. It’s just not his personality.

The big news of the weekend, at least from my perspective, was the NCAA finally offering a verdict on Josh Selby’s eligibility at KU. He has to sit out nine games and pay some money to charity for some “extra benefits,” but the dude gets to play. KU is going to be very good whether Selby was eligible or not. Not many teams are going to be able to guard the Morris twins, Tyshawn Taylor seems to have his head in the right place, and there are a lot of other pieces to work with. But Selby is a difference maker. The expectations just went up three or four notches, and my stomach began to hurt at the prospect of another Missouri Valley team in our bracket in March.

Oh, and I know every basketball columnist in the country is already working on the “KU deferred to Sherron Collins too much last year and they’re better without him” column. I expect to see them start trickling out in early January. There’s truth to that, but it ignores the fact KU would not have been 32-2 and the #1 overall seed going into the tournament without him.

A bad weekend for football. KU hung around long enough to get me stuck to the couch Saturday before the inevitable ass kicking began. Not looking forward to this weekend’s game. That seems like perfect Christmas tree putting up time to me. Colts go down at New England. I gave up when they went down by 17. I took the trash out and marveled that it was 65 at almost 7:00 on a late November night. I came in, did some things, and checked the score. Down three, with the ball, driving. As soon as I began paying attention, another pick for Peyton. I still don’t think the Colts are going deep in the playoffs – and with the AFC South falling apart I don’t think the Colts miss the postseason – but that performance should give the team some hope. If they can just get healthy and stay healthy for a couple weeks, they could win a game or two in the playoffs. And I watched my first Arsenal game of the year Saturday. Predictably, with a chance to go top of the table, they blew a 2-0 home lead to their bitter North London rivals and lost.

A quick baseball note: rumors are flying about the Royals listening to offers for Zach Greinke. If the offer is right, I say take it. One floated today had the Rangers sending a bushelful of players to KC for Zach. If there’s any truth to the offer, Dayton Moore should jump all over it. Greinke’s value is at its peak and the Royals aren’t going to contend in 2011. But getting the kind of prospects who will be ready in a year or two, and join the flood of young players nearly ready for the bigs, could be the final step in finally turning the Royals around. Which means it won’t happen.

Manic Monday

A few Monday notes to kick off the week.

  • Today I should cross over the halfway point in my NaNoWriMo project, keeping me exactly on schedule. Last night I got up to 24,491 words, which according to the stats-o-matic tracker on the NaNoWriMo site, would have me finishing one day early if I continue my pace.
  • NFL. Who in the heck is the best team in the league? The answer was Pittsburgh coming into this week, and then New England made them look silly last night. I still don’t trust New England’s defense, though. The Jets really should be more dominant to make the claim they’re the best. The Giants? Not after yesterday. There’s something about the Chargers’ balance that makes me think they should get the nod.
  • The Colts got a huge break with Tennessee and Houston going down yesterday while they limped to a weak win over the Bengals. Now they have New England and San Diego in the next two weeks. As banged up as they are, I can’t expect wins in either of those games. If they can get healthy for December, I still think they’re a playoff team. But they’re clearly a notch below the Pats, Steelers, Ravens, and Bolts right now. Unless something crazy happens, it’s looking like a Wild Card weekend season-end for the Colts.
  • First stomach virus of the year hit the house over the weekend. Somehow we managed to have only one sick kid, although I’m fearful of getting a call from either M’s or C’s school today with news it has hit them. It’s always fun to get puked on. L. doused me pretty good Friday afternoon.
  • Last week was a big transition week for me, professionally. The previous Friday (Nov. 5) I covered a football sectional final game. It snowed that night. The following Tuesday, I covered a girls basketball season-opener. It was 70 that day. Weird. We still have one team left in the football playoffs – this week is semi-state – but I won’t get that game. So my football season is over with ten games covered this year. It was a lot of fun, but I am ready for basketball.
  • KU plays Valpo tonight in college hoops. I remember, before I moved to Indiana, I thought Homer Drew was a great guy. But when I moved here, it seemed like no one in the state liked him that much. I’ve heard some stories, I’ll leave it at that. Then his son Scott took the Baylor job and became the most hated coach in the Big 12 with his Eddie Haskell act. I hope we kick Valpo’s ass.
  • Some ideas that are percolating that I hope to get to at some point, between kid duty and cranking out the NaNoWriMo words:
  • Athletes on Twitter
  • Turner Gill (This one has been brewing for awhile, and has changed from week-to-week. I think it’ll become a post-season post, now.)
  • Why I wish I was filthy rich. It’s not what you think.
  • A review of a new piece of hardware I’ve added to my collection.
  • Some other stuff.

And that’s that. Happy Monday.

New Man Plan

A few years ago, a friend of mine instituted a New Man Plan for the New Year. It was his clever name for the annual adjustment in eating and drinking habits, workout regimen, etc. most of us start January with. I’ve always liked that name, and use it anytime I’m making even minor changes in my life.

It might be early, but I seem to have gone full-New Man Plan for November. Examples:

1) NaNoWriMo. Writing a novel, even under strict rules like NaNoWriMo’s, is a big deal. So I’ll count this as a big life change. Week one went smoothly. I did my best to follow the advice for first timers: just write. Don’t worry about gaps in timeline, inconsistency in characters, and so on. Get the words out. As of this (Monday) morning, I’m sitting on 12,144 words. As I expected, the story sucks. I think a couple characters have multiple names because I’m focused on moving forward rather than making sure everything matches up. But I’m on schedule through week one. Now if I can just stretch it out for three more weeks.

2) As I mentioned, S. and I signed up for next year’s Indianapolis Mini Marathon. It’s too early to launch into a big training program, especially when I haven’t run consistently in ages. So that’s been my focus: running 2-3 times a week, very modest distances, and hoping to stick with that through fall and winter so I can start a half-marathon specific program in the spring.

3) I’m letting my hair grow out. After 5+ years of keeping it buzzed down, I decided it was time for a change. It’s been four weeks since I cut it, and it is still growing out.1 I forgot how carpet-like my hair is. Each hair sticks straight out rather than lies down, so even after a shower and ripping a brush through it, it has a mind of its own. Not that I’m complaining: having a full head of hair at 39 is a good thing.

It’s also reached the point where I can see the lines where the clippers went through during my last cut. I have a ridge running through the center of my head where everything is a tad longer than the hair around it. One side of my head swirls the wrong direction because of the last clipper pass. A couple more weeks and I can go get it cut by a professional and smooth out these rough edges. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it. I’m certainly not going to let it grow out as long as it was ten years ago.2 But neither is it going to be buzzed down completely.

4) New glasses. A very minor change, but after two years with my current frames, some new ones are on order. You may recall I switched to glasses two years ago in hopes of getting corrective surgery and ditching contacts and glasses all together. Sadly my corneas are too weak to handle surgery, so I’m stuck in glasses. The crazy thing is we’ve discovered contacts were horrible for my eyes. My prescription was constantly changing because of the stress contacts put on my corneas. Two years in glasses, though, and there’s been the tiniest change in prescription, and instead of getting worse, it has gotten slightly better.

Mostly small changes, but when you throw four of them out at once, I feel like a New Man!

  1. I accidentally buzzed my hair down once in college. In four weeks it was ready for a family picture. My hair still grows fast, but not quite as fast as it did 20 years ago. 
  2. M. calls my hair in our wedding pictures my silly hair. 

Reader’s Notebook, October 2010

I slowed down a little last month. Not much, though.

The Shallows – What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains – Nicholas Carr. The internet and high tech are changing the way we access information. And anyone who spends even a little time surfing the net has stories about how their attention span seems to be shrinking, or how they can read something on their computer screen and have trouble retaining it afterwards.

Carr explores these phenomena in this interesting work. He dives deep into the science, laying out the history of brain and memory research before sharing how memories are made and how our brains adjust due to different stimuli. Piggybacked with that is a look at the history of reading and printing, and how they changed civilization.

The concern, according to Carr, is that the flood of stimuli – constant hyperlinks, sounds, graphics, etc. – on each web page are changing the structure of our brains. The quiet, deep reading periods that allow our brains to relax and process are disappearing. Our brains, in turn, are changing to cope with the torrents of information we immerse them in. Are we losing something along the way? Carr thinks so, and some of the research supports him.

I tend to think it’s too early to say that the overall effect of the Internet on our brains is negative. But this is a pretty sobering read, especially when you spend as much time on the Internet as I do.

Darkness on the Edge of Town – Brian Keene. This was sitting in my queue of cheap/free Kindle books and October seemed like the perfect time to read it, since it’s a horror novel.

One day residents of a Virginia town wake up to complete darkness. The power is off, no radio, television, or phone signals are getting through, there are no clouds or sun or stars in the sky, and just beyond the town limits is an impenetrable darkness. A team of firefighters enter the darkness to get news from nearby towns, but they disappear, screaming in horror, and never return. Over the next few weeks, the town slowly disintegrates into chaos as the darkness turns the people against each other.

There is no happy resolution. In fact, there’s no resolution. It’s a pretty solid horror page-turner, though.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War – Karl Marlantes. Best of 2010 lists are starting to pop up, and this is listed prominently on many of them. Marlantes was a Marine Lieutenant in Vietnam, and this novel is loosely based on his experiences. It hits many of the themes other classic Vietnam works have addressed: the morality of the war; the conflict between the troops in the field and the brass far from the battlefields; the conflict about the war back home; the ambition that clouds many officers’ judgement; and the overt and covert racism American troops constantly battled.

Matterhorn is terrifically written. The characters are rich and interesting. We constantly feel the boredom and terror and hopelessness the soldiers faced. The battle scenes are ferocious. This is simply a first class accounting of the Vietnam War and a classic in the genre of war novels.

Eddie And Fame

The next installment in the AV Club’s look back at 90s music is up, this time focusing on my favorite band of the era, Pearl Jam. It’s a fair and comprehensive look at the band’s creative highpoint: 1992-1995. I still love them, and buy each new album as soon as it’s released. But there’s no doubting they’ve been, mostly, cruising along for 15 years without much heavy lifting.

It is sobering to read through the comments and see the one that says, “My dad is a huge Pearl Jam fan…” Yikes! We are old.

Pearl Jam’s ability to sustain a career for nearly two decades on its own terms is admirable. But this is still a band that hasn’t engaged with mainstream pop culture in many years.

<a href=”,47099/”>The Perils of Fame and the Trouble With Avoiding It</a>

It’s not quite <a href=””>Paul Simonon destroying his bass</a>, but this is a pretty iconic rock picture.

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