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NaNoWriMo 2017: A Success

December 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Do you know what I like best about National Novel Writing Month? It really forces me to take the time to sit down and get a new idea out of my head and on paper. Well, not really paper but you get the idea. So far I’ve managed to get out four novels of at least 50,000 words. They’re not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re really good starts for ideas that I’ve wanted to develop for years. Life gets in the way sometimes, you know?

I have a notebook full of ideas that I want to develop into novels or short stories, and the latest story I wrote from NaNoWriMo was taken from it. I think I’m up to 67 ideas that I’ve come up with? Either way, if I come up with an idea that I think is worth remembering and developing, and I don’t have time to work on it right then, I write it down in that notebook to get back to later. I called it “Zombie Projects,” because they’ll come back from the dead some day.

After two years of not participating in NaNoWriMo I managed to hit the 50,000 word mark on my fourth novel, and I did it in about 28 days. Technically it is actually 21 days since I didn’t write for seven of the days for various reasons. I finished the contest on November 28, with no small amount of relief. I really do love to do this, but it’s a lot of stress and pressure, and I always end up writing many more than 50,000 words because I will completely rewrite entire sections, which means that I probably came closer to writing 75,000 words in 21 days.

The story I wrote–and am currently in the process of writing, still–is called The Road That Leads Home. If you want to see the details of the novel as they exist on my NaNoWriMo profile, you can click here. There’s a brief synopsis (which needs to be updated a bit), and a rough draft excerpt of one of the important parts of the novel.

So what is it about? Well, I had this idea to write a science fiction novel about a half-human / half-alien girl who had to grow up on Earth, surrounded by people who hated her for merely being only half-human. For the longest time I had no idea how to approach it, but two things really fell into place that helped to finally launch it. The first was attending a panel at the science fiction convention Escape Velocity, in which one of the panelists asked if we could get into touch with the “other” within ourselves in way that doesn’t honor our humanity or humanism, but changes and transforms us. In other science fiction aliens embrace the human within them or human ideals to resolve conflicts of identity.

Take, for instance, Commander Spock from Star Trek. His cold, logical alien demeanor is constantly pitted against the empathetic humanism of Doctor McCoy. Conflicts between them, and those of identity that Spock experiences personally, are often resolved by Spock getting in touch with his human side, and holding as a virtue the ideals of humanism. It seems as if Spock needs to abandon his alien parts. Aliens in science fiction are meant to destabilize our own identities, to throw our own views of ourselves into question. We can use them to analyze our behavior and our philosophies, but because we think so inwardly when we think of aliens we never really imagine something truly alien.

My story was not an attempt to imagine something truly alien, but to look at the development of Spock and say, “Huh. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a character who specifically rejected humanity and humanism?” Could we maybe use that as a way to move beyond self-congratulatory–even conceited–celebrations of humanity and explore someone coming to terms with their identity by embracing the otherness within them?

So how do I get there? The second thing that fell into place was attending a lecture by N. Katherine Hayles called “Why We Are Still Posthuman.” I had heard of posthumanism before, but never really explored it in depth apart from one aspect of it called transhumanism. This lecture really helped me to connect to dots that led me to develop the central conceit of The Road That Leads Home. Being human is contingent; it’s an historical and cultural construct. What a human is, and what it takes to be one, changes over time–it’s constantly in flux. Humanism is often constructing and bounded–in the world we live in now, one with cyborgs and Google Glass and other technological wonders, our definition of what makes a human is expanding every day and we’re not even aware of it.

So I wanted to write a story that deconstructs the boundaries in humanism, exposes its limitations and its prejudices, and tries to find something beyond it. In my novel, humans don’t really react well to that, and why should they? They’re being asked to abandon the idea that they have a special place in the universe, or that there’s something special about them in their very nature. The very existence of my protagonist is one that is a threat to them and any philosophy that puts humans front and center.

What’s funny is that this is happening today, even as you read these words. It’s unavoidable, and as we explore the impacts of technoscience on how we imagine ourselves and our place in the world. The emergence of new technologies that connect us to each other via social media changed us. The medical science that allows for organ transplantation changed us. The fact that we acknowledge the sentience and intelligence–not to mention rights–of animals besides ourselves is changing us. And this will only accelerate as time goes on. Humanism will not be able to keep up with that, which is why posthuman schools of thought (like transhumanism, for instance) are becoming more attractive to greater numbers of people.

We’re entering a brave new world. I think we should embrace it.

Before I close out this post, I want to include a small excerpt from my current rough draft of The Road That Leads Home. It’s written to be like a biography / autobiography, sourced from different types of media and put together to form a narrative of the life of my protagonist. Her name is Freya Jameson, and the excerpt is televised interview between a journalist and Freya’s fully human brother, Scott. Please keep in mind that this is a rough draft, and as yet contains rather blunt, unsubtle references and language–I’ll clear that up later. I just wanted to get the general scene written.


Charles: Welcome back to Detroit News Now. Sitting with me in the studio is the brother of Freya H’val r’ Earth’van, a member of the first generation of Human Hybrids. Scott, thank you for agreeing to speak with us today.

Scott: No problem, Charles. I’m happy to clear things about and set the record straight.

Charles: It’s good that we’re launching right into this, because I have a hard question right off the bat. What happened to Freya?

Scott: Can you clarify? Lots of things happened to Freya.

Charles: Why did she renounce her humanity and leave Earth?

Scott: Because she wasn’t human.

Charles: It’s a matter of record that she was a Human Hybrid. Her father—

Scott: Let me stop you right there, Chuck. Can I call you Chuck? You call her a Human Hybrid, not a human. Her whole life she was essentially told ‘you’re not really human.’ And people act surprised when she finally agrees with them?

Charles: Don’t you think that’s a little unfair? Not everyone feels that way about them.

Scott: No, absolutely not. You might not have directly caused her harm, but you are part of a media organization that breathlessly and repeatedly reported on the so-called ‘Hybrid Crime Wave.’ Don’t deny it, Chuck. For years you could turn the news on and the first thing you would see is one of your anchors reporting on some minor crime by one of the desperate people that were rejected out of hand by our society, next to some scary graphics, as if they were out in gangs, roaming the streets, murdering people.

Charles: The reporting on those crimes was problematic, yes, but that doesn’t—

Scott: Don’t give me that. You can lie to yourself, but we both know what it was. Tell me, Chuck, did you have to clean up your sister’s busted lip after some jerk broke it open with a rock to the mouth? Did you have to endure the scorn of other people merely for having a sister that was a little different? Did your grandparents tell you that they wish you had died in the womb? Don’t tell me this isn’t about how much we pushed her to that.

Charles: So you’re saying that she blames everyone but herself for what happened to her.

Scott: Excuse me? I’m sorry, it sounded like you were implying that Freya was responsible for what we did to her. Are you going to blame her for almost being raped next?

Charles: What I’m saying is that we know she was radicalized at some point in her early twenties. There is evidence that, for a time, she advocated for violent separation from the human race for all Hybrid Humans. Are you denying that she became a public danger?

Scott: Absolutely. See, this is so like you [censored]. She didn’t advocate for a violent separation, and that you’re still claiming that tells me you never actually cared to listen to her.

Charles: Well, then, tell us, Scott. What did she advocate for? What did she mean by, ‘we must free ourselves of the shackles of humanism, forced on us against our will by circumstance of birth. This isn’t a struggle for human rights—a racist term—it’s a struggle for the rights of all thinking and feeling creatures in this Silver River. There will come a time when we all must ask ourselves if we prefer benevolent subjugation under the yoke of humanism or the bullet.’

Scott: Can you finish that quote, please?

Charles: Don’t you want to answer that?

Scott: If you don’t want to finish the quote, I will.

Charles: Answer my question. What did she mean by that?

Scott: I’ll finish the quote.

Charles: Answer my question.

Scott: Don’t interrupt, Chuck. That’s rude. Here we go: ‘…humanism or the bullet. If we can’t free ourselves of the chains imposed upon us by those who would call us Hybrid Humans while denying our humanity, we must cease to be that which we are now, and through the violent revolution of the self, set out on our own. Henry David Thoreau once said that ‘we need the tonic of wildness,’ and I am here to tell you my brothers and sisters of common heritage that we are athirst of home, country, and community. We need to drink of the tonic of wildness and discover our own country in the stars.’ Where do you see a call for violent separation of the human race?

Charles: She literally mentioned a bullet.

Scott: Obviously a reference to Malcolm X’s speech ‘The Ballot or the Bullet.’ The second part of the quote, which you refused to read to your audience—which I find both unethical and dishonest—gave it context. She wasn’t talking about a violent overthrow of government or attacking people in the streets. She was talking about a radical reinvention of the self, embracing the otherness that had for so long been forced on her by us. She said, ‘if we’re to be dismissed as other, let us embrace the otherness. Let us show them it won’t be an albatross around our necks, but an identity. We’ll define ourselves as other than human. I’ll define myself as other than h’tro. What will you drop in order to embrace the otherness in you?’

Charles: And you don’t see how that makes her look bad? You don’t see how that might turn people against her? Doesn’t that, in actuality, confirm people’s feelings about her?

Scott: Do you know what Freya would say to that?

Charles: Please enlighten me.

Scott: She would say that what they fear the most, what they find the most repulsive, is that she turned her back on them—on humanism—and embraced something foreign and strange. It was a rejection of the very thing that they denied her, that they constantly told her she wasn’t good enough to possess. It’s not about her, Chuck. It’s about them. It’s about you and me, and your audience sitting at home. They constantly said that Freya wasn’t like them. All she did was embrace that.


Thank you for reading!

NaNoWriMo 2014

January 13, 2015 2 comments

I almost decided not to participate in the National Novel Writing Month this year. I missed over a week of writing time due to the elections (I was very busy for the first few weeks of November taking care of campaign-related issues). At the last minute, I decided that I would give it a try.

I chose to write a fantasy story that I came up with by accident. I can’t remember the exact details, but I was playing some kind of game with a group of my friends, and due to my sloppy handwriting, they read the title of a fantasy novel I might write wrongly. Thus, Ser Darkthor’s Court was born; a novel about a Knight Errant who travels the realm and solves crimes. It was envisioned as sort of a Sword and Sorcery version of Sherlock Holmes.

Here’s the synopsis that I put up on NaNoWriMo when I started to write it:

Jesper is a class of Knight Errant called a Red Moon. They are tasked with policing the realm of Ser Darkthor, First of His Name, Honorable and Wise Leader of (Insert Name of Place Here). Jesper’s travels take him to a small village which appears peaceful on the surface, but hides a dark secret that could change the balance of power or something like that. Jesper begins an investigation in a Sherlock Holmes-meets-medieval fantasy novel, and uncovers a conspiracy that does something. I’ll flesh it out. It’ll be great. I promise.

The story, obviously, is much more developed now. Th good news is that I plugged away for the three weeks that I participated and I managed to win! Yay! It’s the third time in a row that I’ve won, and it always feels like I’ve climbed a mountain or explored a new planet.

I’m going to finish this story, clean it up, and probably serialize it on my fiction blog, Fictional Heuristics. Look out for that when it happens, because I happen to think it is an interesting story. It’s not the best fantasy, and I might have borrowed a teensy too much from Scott Lynch and George R.R. Martin, but I had a lot of fun writing it and I definitely think it is worth sharing.

I’ve actually thought about starting a patreon or something similar to that in case people wanted to chip in a few bucks if they like my fiction. I don’t have a lot of time to write, but if I can make some money doing it I’d carve out a niche for it. I think that’s something to think about for the future, if I can ever manage to get around to doing half the things that I say that I want to do.

Anyway, I hope that my fellow writers found success with NaNoWriMo last year, and I hope they continue to find success in the coming years.

NaNoWriMo 2013

November 29, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve finally crossed the finish line for National Novel Writing Month and it feels good.  Well, emotionally I feel excellent, but my body is protesting. My knees hurt and my legs ache and I think my eyes are bleeding (not really, artistic license).

The novel I’ve been working on, which I titled “The Rebel Thief” in a fit of dramatic flair, isn’t complete yet. I think I have about 50,000 more words to go before it’s finished and I’ve already planned out two more books to really take advantage of all of the energies I’ve put into worldbuilding (which have been considering since I’ve made five distinct political systems and civilizations that span the known galaxy).

I looked back at the original synopsis I wrote for the story when I began writing, and it still amazes me what the story has grown into. Here it is:

In a galaxy teeming with guilds of professional hit men, thieves, and mercenaries, Clark stands alone. Known as The Rebel Thief, he scratches out a living stealing identities, running cons, and simple fast-finger work. Clark has been running from a dark past while dodging authorities from the ever-warring Five Great Civilizations.

His past eventually catches up with him in the form of Alex Lumens, his former subordinate and lover. When she barges into his life carrying a shocking secret, Clark realizes that his activities have drawn the ire of one of the biggest guilds of thieves, Temorous Guild.

To save his own skin and, perhaps, Alex, Clark has to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that could alter the balance of power in the galaxy.

The story only resembles this in basic plot facts: the guilds are there, as well as Alex and her back story. I completely eliminated the last bit about a conspiracy and expanded it into something that’s less like a conspiracy theory but just as mysterious. Temorous Guild is now Temerous Guild because of a typo, but I’m okay with that.

Suffice it to say, however, that this synopsis no longer fits what the story has become and I’m very proud of that. There’s something majestic when you can feel creative energy flowing through you, feeding on the original spark of creation and growing into something much more meaningful than you could have imagined. I just love it when a character starts as a mere sketch on paper and becomes a living being with a psychology that responds naturally to any situation. It got to the point where I could write Clark’s dialogue without thinking.

This is really what I love about writing, apart from the process. The story is alive, in a sense, and the writer is the conduit for that.

Anyway, I’ve got some other things to write for this blog and I’m sure you’ve had enough of my tired philosophical waxing (and waning). I’ll try to participate next year, and who knows? Maybe I’ll write something that isn’t science fiction.

2013-Winner

NaNoWriMo and other miscellany

November 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Well, my birthday came and went. I’m another year older as far as my physical body goes (my mind is still the young, chaotic thing it always was). I’ve come to realize that what I find most appealing about my birthdays is the camaraderie, which stands in stark contrast to what I liked as a child, which was presents and ice cream. It goes without saying that as much as I don’t want to really admit it, I have grown up.

I don’t know how other people feel when NaNoWriMo comes around, but I notice that the one thing that’s a pain in my ass is literally the pain in my ass. Sitting and writing and sitting and writing and taking a break by watching Stargate Atlantis and writing and more sitting.

But the end result is very satisfying.

The time for taking my Certified Nurse Aide test is coming up as well. I’m nervous about that because it feels like an extreme monolithic task. I really enjoyed the clinicals–it was a a vastly rewarding experience. The job is tough, and at times, extremely frustrating, but I like caring for people. Hopefully I’m still on track to get into a physician’s assistant program, but I’ve been a bit listless lately.

I can’t help but wonder if part of that isn’t because I’ve grown disenchanted with certain things lately. Politics, the news, certain branches of philosophy, the list goes on. Maybe it’s a natural consequence of critical thought and introspection. Maybe I feel restless and caged, and these old ideas are no longer appealing. What I can say is that I don’t find metaphysics too terribly interesting in anything outside of fiction, and only find epistemology a satisfying subject in the wide world of philosophy  (outside of science, that is).

I hope that I’ll be taking up blogging more regularly, but I’ve said that many times in the past. I’ll try to stick with it this time, though. I’m serious.

The Challenges of Writing

December 6, 2012 Leave a comment

For as long as I can remember I have loved words. Whenever someone asks what my hobbies are the first two which spring to mind every time are reading and writing. Over the years I have read more books that I can remember and I have dabbled in almost every style and form of writing. I eventually developed my current writing style, which, through many nights of torture at the University of Michigan, I have come to love. I think that word that best describes it is unassuming.

Basically, I write what I mean and I mean what I write.

Though I enjoyed every minute of writing to meet the goal of 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month, I have to admit that I faced a lot of challenges. I haven’t ever held myself to a daily regiment of writing every day for a month before. I couldn’t conceive how difficult it would really be.

I didn’t have to start from scratch with this story. I hadn’t previously written any part of it, but I had a very rough idea of what I wanted it to be about. I called it “L’oiseau Libre” and envisioned a story about an extremely stratified society that encompassed an entire planet. The planet was fiction, and orbited a binary star. Almost everyone on the planet lived in mega-metropolises that spanned miles and reached high into the sky. The main character was a disgraced detective who was offered a chance to redeem himself.

That synopsis misses a lot of what the story ended up developing into. Through the writing process of changed my mind on a lot of things, including things like character sexuality. I was surprised to see how those kinds of changes, which seemed to be minor at first, had a huge ripple effect that changed how the story would develop later, sometimes unpredictably.

I’m not finished with the story yet. I’ve added a few more thousand words, but I’m grappling with the feeling that it might be getting too long for the kind of story it is. I know that the best thing I could do is just to keep plugging away but those doubts keep nagging.

That brings me to the next challenge: doubt. It claws at you the entire time. Is this character behaving realistically? Does this make sense? Is there a sense of logic to how the events are unfolding? As I write I never have an answer to these questions.

The only way to deal with them, I’ve found, is to just keep writing. Keep it going. Let the story and the people take on lives of their own.  The editing process comes later. That’s when you’re absolutely brutal to your own creation. But tearing it apart comes later; before you can even begin to think about what should stay and what should go you simply need to write it.

The last challenge I want to talk about is creative energy. The first fifteen days were simple compared to the last fifteen days. As the month dragged on I found it harder to focus on the story and, at times, I feel like I was losing control of the plot. Sometimes writing that 1500 words a day felt like torture, but worse than that I couldn’t feel the strands of life in the story.

Looking back on the bits that I had written during those times I see that the characters seem flat and their dialogues seem uncharacteristic. I don’t think I’ll change those parts until the rough draft is done, but when I really feel like the story is flowing organically from one point to the next, even without my input sometimes, I sometimes think back to those parts and grimace.

But all of that is part of the writing process. And in the end I revel in all of it.

Plus I just bought a box of red pens and I can’t wait to go through them.

Noveling!

November 30, 2012 1 comment

Well, I’m back after a long break from this blog. It wasn’t exactly a planned break, but as I’ve said this blog is updated sporadically.

So I decided that this would be the year that I successfully finished NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words. After a month of struggling with both the novel and some fairly difficult science projects, I am pleased to announce that I was successful.

NaNoWriMo 2012 Winner

NaNoWriMo 2012 Winner

The final stats for the contest were: 50,021 words, 165 pages, and about 3/5 of a science fiction story written.

I haven’t yet finished the entire rough draft. I think by the time I am satisfied that it is finished I’ll have around 70,000-75,000 words. I think that the story turned out better than I had planned and I really like it. Maybe I’ll even seek to get it published somehow.

I’ll write more about that later. For now I just want to give my weary fingers the rest they deserve.

New Page: Writing Contests

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve decided to add a new page for writing contests. I don’t have many listed yet, and two of them are only for undergraduate students, but I’ll add more as time goes on.

I encourage all aspiring writers to enter writing contests of all kinds. It goes without saying that the publishing industry is very tough to get into.