Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: November, 2009

Ode to the End

I just realized: Beethoven, a secondary character in this year’s Nanowrimo novel, wrote nine complete symphonies. Winter on a Watch Glass is my ninth Nanowrimo novel. I wonder if the choice of Beethoven over other composers was partially based on the unconscious recognition of this coincidence.

It is the last day of November and I am sure many people are cramming in those last minute words. I’m worried about other deadlines at the moment, but for Nano, I’m finished. I passed 50k on the twenty-first but I kept writing because the story wasn’t finished. And I harbored the hope that I would beat my record in 2005 of 74k.

I typed in the last word on 1:00 pm, November 29. According to my word processor (Open Office), I had over 90k words. However, due to a discrepancy between Open Office and the validator, I “lost” two thousand words. So officially, I only have 88k words. But still, that’s more than 74k.

So what was different this year compared to the previous years? I’m not quite sure. The beginning of the month was somewhat rough emotionally. I knew that if I had decided to quit right then, no one would blame me. There are many things in life that are more important than writing a novel. And I’ve proved that I can reach 50k eight times already. I technically had nothing else to prove.

But the critical question was, why not? Every year is a challenge of one kind or another. Unless you set out to write the same sort of novel every year, the challenge will always be different. The time is somewhat scattered, but there were six entire days in which I wrote nothing. But skipped days never bothered me before. Why should it now? Besides my grandmother, a stubborn woman herself, wouldn’t have wanted me to quit. In a way, Nanowrimo is about persistence. You have to ask yourself: are you persistent enough to keep going even when everything seems bleak? Or are you the sort of person who drops out at any opportunity? I do not quit at things in real life–otherwise, I wouldn’t be where I am now–so why quit now?

Another thing that I attribute to my increased word count this year is Twitter and the recently instigated word sprints. Eventually, I did my own self-imposed sprints that were more conducive to my schedule, but I think this actually helped me increase the number of words I got in an hour (along with a little typing game that I had started playing). Where in previous years I averaged about one thousand words for each hour, this year I cut that time in half. There were even times when I wrote more than one thousand words in thirty minutes. This also resulted in chapters that were twice as long as the ones in previous years.

And the story itself? I’m not really sure what to say about it at this point. I think it’s a little too close to the time I finished it to have anything about it sink into me. Was I passionate about the story? I’m also not quite sure what to say to that either. However, I knew that I wanted to see the end to it. I think there were times when it was obvious that I was flagging–especially when zombies started appearing. Otherwise, everything in the story was either planned or already simmering at the back of my mind.

So the end result? A historical dark fantasy located in a thinly veiled early 19th century Heidelberg with necromancy, poisonings, zombies, and death by belly dancing. Napoleon is also involved somehow. It’s here, which can either be read in installments or downloaded in its entirety.

(Cross-posted at Writing Sya.)

Twenty-Nine Invisible Balloons and Back to the Holiday

Sometimes, it’s awkward having a birthday during the holiday. Particularly if the holiday isn’t, well, a cheerful one. Pull out the balloons or the blue suit? Since I don’t have any balloons (I gave all of mine away to the local Nanowrimo participants at the kick-off party), I suppose I’ll just go on about my day as if it weren’t my birthday. I think that would be more appropriate to those who have made more sacrifices than I have (or ever would, probably).

A Blogiversary

It was eight years ago that I started this weblog on the now defunct Geocities using Blogger. Mostly, I’ve used this day to rant about something. Today, I’m just feeling tired and busy because events in the last two weeks pretty much upended my schedule. But here’s to another year of, hopefully, more frequent blogging.

If I Could Show Her These Photographs

Last week, my grandmother passed away–a little over a month after her ninety-fifth birthday.

I had planned on going up to Richmond, BC to see her during this year’s winter break before my sister and I headed off to tromp around the Canadian metropolitan hinterland, but to say the least, my visit across the border came much sooner than expected.

My maternal grandmother was a stubborn and tough lady. Why just this summer, when she attended my cousin’s wedding in Ohio, she humored us with her vocal dislike of all the American food at the reception. She was also quite healthy–so it was a shock, for everyone, when she died. If only I had known that the last time I would say good-bye to her was at a dinky Dayton airport…

I met up with my parents at Sea-Tac before driving up to Richmond.* My sister came down from Vancouver. Two of my uncles (“Big Uncle” and “Sixth Uncle”) came over from Taiwan. For the few days that we were there, we stayed over at my other uncle’s house (“Fourth Uncle”). The funeral and my grandmother’s final resting place were western in the basics but strong with Chinese sensibility. I hope she would have approved.

Knowing that I am an inveterate scribbler and that I was doing Nanowrimo this month, after the funeral service, my father suggested–not for the first time–that I write some sort of epic saga about my grandmother’s generation. My grandmother had seen a lot of world changing stuff in her time and it would be fitting to dedicate something like this to her, but while I think this is a cool idea (if I can put my own spin on in), I am afraid I can never do such a story justice.

While we were in Richmond, we went to the Continental Seafood Restaurant for dim sum. There are many, many dim sum places in this area, but this was particularly special because this was the place my mother and Fourth Uncle took my grandmother to eat about a week before she passed away. (Dim sum pictures on my Flickr account are located here.)


That evening, we also had a Vietnamese style dinner which my father, my sister, and I prepared while my mother and uncles were out shopping. This might seem a little strange at first glance, but I think it was very appropriate. My parents and my uncles grew up in Vietnam and I think, in a way, the dinner was a nostalgic reminder of their childhood–when my grandmother struggled as a single mother after her husband, my grandfather, also passed away very suddenly. (Pictures of where we shopped for dinner are here. Ingredients for a Vietnamese style dinner are here.)


And, just for kicks, here are some photographs of my cousins’ cat Muffin, a.k.a. Mao. He’s up to his usual antics, completely unaware that anything has happened.


*Tip for those of you planning a real vacation: this is cheaper than flying directly to Vancouver.