Friday, October 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo, Here I Come!

If you're anything like me, you felt a change in the air on October 1. Something shifted in the artistic atmosphere, something wild and crazy that send a rush of adrenaline pumping through your veins. All over the world, writers began whispering, anticipating and feeling marvelous excitement at what was just around the corner. And if you listened carefully, you could hear the collective sound of shiny new story ideas being unwrapped and plunked down into eager waiting minds.

It was a moment of inspiration. It was the beginning of NaNoWriMo season.

What is NaNoWriMo, you ask? To put it succinctly, it is glorious literary abandon. You see, in the writing world, the entire month of November has been designated National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. "NaNoWriMo," or simply "NaNo," depending on how lazy you are). Participants have from midnight on November 1 until midnight on November 30 to pen 50,000 words or more (about a 175-page novel), which translates to about 1,667 words per day.

Now, let's be clear about one thing: If you're the type of writer who simply must make every phrase sing before it hits the paper or computer screen, this event is not for you. This is your excuse to write absolutely unpublishable garbage, because, as the folks at NaNo's Office of Letters and Light like to say, "It's all about quantity, not quality." It's a time for writers everywhere to tie up their Inner Editors, put duct tape over their mouths and lock them in a closet. After all, there's gotta be a diamond in the rough somewhere, right?

Writers sign up from literally all over the globe to join in on the chaos; over 165,000 took part last year! Not bad for a gig that started out with a mere 21 brave souls back in 1999 :)

So, as you've probably already guessed, yours truly will be geared up and ready to go come November 1. This will be my third year participating in NaNo, and I'm more excited now than I've ever been. I've never reached that elusive goal of 50K words, but I have a good feeling that this third time will be the charm. Why? First, I've got a shiny new idea that's a doozy, if I do say so myself! I've gotten great feedback on it so far. Second, this year I discovered that when it comes to NaNoWriMo I'm definitely a "plotter," not a "pantser" (Want to know what those are? Stay tuned!). Finally and most importantly, I'm kind of a poor loser, and I really don't want to go through all of the late nights and caffeinated beverages it takes to survive November without having my 50K to show for it.

Whew! If you're new to the game, consider this your official introduction to National Novel Writing Month. If you're a bit of a veteran, now's the time for you to jump in and share your words of wisdom with the newbies. What are your secrets to reaching 50K? How do you stay motivated during the tough times? And of course, the most critical question of all: which snacks do you reach for when hunger strikes?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My First Book Review! Lockdown (Escape From Furnace 1) by Alexander Gordon Smith

I've never done a book review before, but I figure 4 years spent writing essays as an English major in undergrad makes me fairly qualified for it. Methinks the book review will be considerably more fun ;-) Alrighty then, let's get started! Here's the lowdown on Lockdown: Escape from Furnace 1 by Alexander Gordon Smith:

Fourteen-year-old Alex Sawyer is the bully on the playground you were terrified of as a kid---lunch money stealer and all. He and his best friend Toby make it a habit to break into peoples' homes and steal whatever strikes their fancy. One night, however, their heist turns lethal when Toby is gunned down in cold blood by gigantic men in black suits and creepy strangers wearing gas masks. Alex didn't do it, but with no one to back up his story, he's found guilty of the murder and sentenced to life in Furnace Penitentiary, the world's worst maximum-security prison for teenage criminals.

On the surface, Furnace is kind of like a teen version of
Oz; the days are long, the work is hard and the food is terrible. There are a few minor differences, though, like the seriously gross-looking mutant dogs that run around hoping for a bite (or ten) of human flesh. There's also the blood watch siren that sounds at night, which causes kids to get snatched from their beds and disappear. So yeah, Alex wants out, and he's determined to find a way to escape. There's only one problem: no one has ever escaped from Furnace.
Okay, let's start out with the positives. First of all, the book is chock-full of tension. I had a moment in the bookstore when I was trying to decide between this book and another one that was pretty similar. The reason this one won out was because it hooked me like a baited fish right from the first line. The opening scene has Alex running for his life with mutant dogs hot on his tail, and it sets your pulse pounding as if you're right there in the prison with him.

That brings me to the second main strength of the book: great imagery. Smith does an excellent job making the world of Furnace come alive for his readers. You can literally feel the heat in the air, taste the grainy, disgusting prison slop and hear the wild shrieks of the gas-masked creatures echoing in the night. Reading it is truly an intense and viseral experience.

Now it's time to discuss the novel's weaknesses. Although I enjoyed the page-turning aspects of the story, I was turned off by Smith's tendency to spell everything out for his readers. Remember the old adage, "Show, don't tell"? Well, Smith does a heck of a lot of telling in the story. When every other sentence drives home just how horrendously evil and awful Furnace is, that's just overkill. I know the guards are mean; you don't need to use the words "malicious" and "cruel" every time you describe them, you know?

This flaw made the characters problematic for me as well. I never felt any real connection to most of them because they were all put in boxes. As in, characters A, B and C are good, while characters X, Y and Z are eeeeevil. Alex was the exception, an anti-hero if you will, but I would've preferred if all the characters had been that way. It was too black and white; I needed more shades of gray.

The Bottom Line: If you're looking for a fast-paced thriller that doesn't require you to think too much, Lockdown is for you. It wasn't fabulous and it wasn't terrible, just pretty decent. There were some frightening supernatural elements in it, so it's not for the kidlets, but anyone middle-school aged and above should be okay.

Lockdown is the first book in the Escape From Furnace trilogy, with Solitary and Death Sentence due out in 2010 and 2011 in the U.S. (both are already available in the UK). I'm interested in seeing how things pan out Alex and his friends.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars (worth grabbing on
Time for sharing now. What do you think of my very first ever book review? Love it? Hate it? Utterly indifferent? Let me know your thoughts!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Facing Your Fears (Part 3)

Ugh. I've avoided writing this post for a long time because I was afraid of it. Yup, you read that right. I've been afraid of writing a post about facing your fears. Go figure.

I suppose what's made it so difficult is that at the end of the day, I don't have the answers, only the questions. Scoff if you like, but at least you know the truth: I've been writing for years and there are still plenty of things I don't have figured out yet. I'm like many of you---just stumbling around and trying to find my way. And how do you give advice about something you can't do yourself?

That, in essence, is the whole reason I started this series in the first place. As with my writing, I blog from my life, the good, the bad and the ugly. For better or worse, I put my struggles out in the open because I never want to give the impression that this stuff is effortless. That doesn't help anyone. Writing about the challenges forces me to work through them, along with reading advice from my wonderful followers :-) I love getting different perspectives on the issues we all face in our craft.

So, how do you face your writing fears? What do you do when that huge, horrific monster rears its ugly head and gnashes its razor-sharp teeth? At this point, the only answer I've come up with is that you suck it up and make yourself write anyway. Scared you're out of ideas? Start writing about the room you're in and what could happen there. Seriously. Scared you'll never get published? Give yourself a deadline to finish a story and then start querying, no matter how crappy it is. Scared you'll get published and your novel will flop? Write another book that's better than the first one so more people will want to read it.

I know you were looking for something fabulous and profound, something that would totally blow your minds, but right now that's all I've got. Other writers have said the same thing far more eloquently, but this is my version of it. The longer I write, the more I realize there are no easy answers to being successful at it. You just have to do it, and do it, and do it, and do it some more. Then one day, some glorious shiny day that's as bright as a new copper penny, it pays off. And man, is that payoff ever sweet when it comes.