Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: October, 2010

Monsters Need Love, Too

So it’s Halloween and usually it’s around this time that I start waxing nostalgic about my childhood when being scary was not mutually exclusive with being silly.  There was also the funness factor, too–of dressing up and collecting candy.  The last time I really had much fun on Halloween was my freshman year of college when I was part of a group costume and got into a contest for which group could get the most candy of all.  It seemed like we scoured ever single house in Pasadena–except for the first year chemistry prof’s house.  We were sure he was going to criticize us on our costume.  No one wants to listen to a lecture on bond lengths on Halloween.

Back to being scary and silly.  I would not consider myself a true horror fan.  I really dislike the splatterpunk genre as I think it is to horror as Britney Spears or the Jonas Brothers is to pop.  Instead, I like stories with horror elements. It could be Lovecraftian or psychological or things dealing with the occult.  Far more subtle things.  And then there is the mixture of comedy and horror where things weren’t exactly subtle but the fear was still complex–not something so blunt and unidimensional that it is only used to cause shock.  I think there’s something to be said about laughing at things that frighten you because it makes one realize that a lot of fears are silly and irrational.  And if you really want to do anything about them, one should take action rather than running about uselessly wasting your breath screaming.

When I was around five or six years old, I watched Mr. Boogedy and Bride of Boogedy.  The first movie didn’t make so much an impression on me, but I absolutely loved the sequel.  My dad had recorded Bride of Boogedy one Halloween and I ended up watching it all the time, wearing out that VHS tape until it was on its last legs.  One thing I loved about it was that it was so ridiculous.  There were gypsies, gags, ghosts, and people blowing up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float.

But as a kid, I never really analyzed why I loved the movie.  But now I realize that the silly stuff alone would not have made it stick in my head this long.  There was a more serious side of Bride of Boogedy, one of obsessed and unrequited love.  There’s something sad about the monstrous Mr. Boogedy who would never get the girl–even in the afterlife.  It’s something that anyone can empathize with–because at one time or another, everyone feels like an unloved misfit.  The true horror of the film was not about some crazy ghost terrorizing modern townspeople. It was the fact that Mr. Boogedy represented the consequences of going too far just so he wouldn’t be alone anymore.  Maybe this is one reason why paranormal romances are so popular now.  Because in those romances, the monsters and misfits do get the girl (or guy) and live happily ever after without the dire consequences that Mr. Boogedy reaped.

Anyways, thanks to YouTube, we can all watch Bride of Boogedy.  Which pretty much means I don’t have to fiddle with the horror of VHS tapes anymore.

* * *

Bride of Boogedy: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

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No One Is Entitled to Special Notes from the Editor

One hope I have for my cranky future self is that I would still be flexible enough to accept useful new technology and not be dated to, say, 2010 by refusing The Newfangled Thing of 2038 which will Revolutionize Our Lives*.  Bill Morris in The Sorry State of the Rejection Letter sounds exactly like the future self I would not want to be by decrying e-mail rejections and extolling snail mail.  He has this notion that in the Good Old Days, editors actually paid attention to rejected writers.

I’m always suspicious when someone pulls out the Good Old Days Card.  Memory tends to filter out all the bad and boring stuff.  The reality of the old days is, I suspect, less cozy then those armchair reminisces.

I first started submitting stories when I was a teenager, in the late nineties.  At the time, I did not have access to the internet as my parents thought it was still too expensive.  So I did a lot of research on writing markets at the library.  I would copy all the relevant markets into a separate notebook, make sure my stories were formatted correctly, and then send them off to the addresses I had along with a SASE**.  All of this was done with some stealth as I did not want my parents to question me on why I was wasting paper, printer ink, and stamps on a quixotic endeavor.

And then the internet came along–in the form of free access for university students on campus.  I discovered that there were markets which accepted electronic submissions and I decided: no more snail mail.  As a college student, one is always conscientious about where one’s money is going.  If I had the ability to send off a submission for free, then why not?

Then, there is the actual technology on which one does writing.  While a typewriter is quaint, I would not want to actually use one.  Correcting typewritten things seem like a pain. (Who the heck wants to retype an entire page anyway?)  Computers make all of this easy.  And if someone develops a piece of technology in the future which will make this even easier, I would at the very least try it out.

As for the rejection letters, I had the impression that editors were too busy to write detailed ones.  I had always believed that form rejections (if I got anything back in the first place) was standard operating procedure.  They get tons of submissions and it is just not logically feasible to send actual letters to everyone.  An editor’s job is to pick out the good stuff for publication–not to baby bad writers.  Morris has this notion that editors should give out critiques on stuff that’s been rejected so that he can learn from the writing mistakes he has made.  But is that really part of an editor’s job description?  Editors are more like gatekeepers, not teachers.  They are under no obligation to give you anything else if you’ve sent them an inferior piece of writing.  If Morris wants critiques, he should ask an actual writing teacher or critique partner.

This could be compared to other kinds of jobs.  Let’s say you submit a resume to apply to a job position and then later get a notice that you didn’t get the job.  You can’t expect the company to also send you a letter telling you in detail what it was on your resume (or what wasn’t on your resume) that made them reject you as a job applicant.  That’s just plain silly.  If they’ve rejected you, that meant that either you weren’t right for the job or there was another applicant who was just plain better.  All you can do is apply for the next job opening.

At any rate, I do not think that writers are entitled to anything, let alone an editor’s critique, just because they got up the nerve to submit something.

Perhaps Morris is disgruntled because the form rejections give one the impression that the publishing industry is a factory where things get constantly churned out in quantity if not necessarily in quality.  He argues that publishing should slow down and publish fewer books and concentrate on quality–however that may be defined.  But as a reader, I would be much saddened if there were fewer books in the bookstores.  As an independent-minded person, I really chafe at the idea that the publishing industry can be trusted to cherry-pick a few books that they think will be good for me.  I want the ability to choose what I like.  Sure, I might get overwhelmed at times, but for me, if I’m overwhelmed it’s more about the state of my mind than the actual presentation of choices.

And as a writer, I hope that one day I’ll find my niche audience.  Rejections of any sort are useful because it tells me that the market I’ve submitted to was not the correct one–in other words, it was not the correct audience.  Of course, the rejection may also indicate that I’m just an awful writer, but hey, at least I tried.

*Given that it’s not too expensive.
**Self-addressed stamped envelope.

Procrastination and Nanowrimo Don’t Mix

Yesterday, I gave a talk about Nanowrimo to a writing group at a local community college.  Although I qualified my statements with the fact that every writer has their own way of doing things, one of the points I emphasized is to not procrastinate.  Especially in Nanowrimo, your goal is to write 50,000 words in a month.  If you leave everything until the last minute, the results are going to be disastrous.

So it was with interest that I read this article on procrastination.  Research showed that procrastination happens because people favor doing good and easy stuff in the short term–even though intellectually they know that if they do the unpleasant stuff now, they would be rewarded even better in the future.  To beat procrastination, you need to somehow trick yourself into doing what is rationally best for you rather than what you feel is best.

I personally don’t have much of a problem procrastinating on Nanowrimo.  It may be because I don’t have a television or a habit for playing computer games.  At the moment, I don’t even have internet access at home.  So no silly and pointless YouTube videos for me–unless I happen to have ten minutes free in lab.  But honestly, I don’t think it’s the lack of distractions that force me to write–it’s the fact that I don’t have to be forced to write.  Writing is my compulsive hobby.  It’s what I do in my free time anyway.

For other people, writing may not be so easy.  Instead, it’s torturous work.  They want to get that novel by the end of the month, but the very action of putting words onto paper is not a happy prospect for them.  All I can advise, in that case, is to write as much as you comfortably can each day.  And it’s important that one does this regularly.  If you skip a day, things are going to go that much faster down the toilet.  If you have dreams of being a full-time writer (or even a serious part-time writer), you have to think of this as training.  It’s impossible to be a writer if you don’t write.

* * *

I’ve been brooding lately on the position of the Moscow, Idaho municipal liaison for Nanowrimo.  It will be inevitable that I won’t be ML for the region some time in the future and I am kind of worried that the Moscow group will fall into neglect once I’m gone.  The worries stem from the fact that over the past couple of years, I’ve exerted a not negligible amount of effort to expand Nanowrimo participation in the region.  And unlike other regions, I haven’t had much luck with co-MLs*.  They tended to ditch Nanowrimo after the first week in favor of Real Life Stuff.

When I first stepped into the position of ML, I pretty much had to start from scratch.  The previous ML had given me little, if any, useful guidance.  The previous ML had specifically stated that she was rarely online–which to me seemed completely counterintuitive.  Nanowrimo is the phenomenon it is because of the internet.  Of course, there were offline things like how to convince a bunch of independent writers to meet at one place without tearing your hair out in frustration–but that was mostly out of anyone’s hands. Then there was figuring out how to write encouraging e-mails without sounding completely crazy.  This actually did not turn out to be too hard.  I had already started mentoring newbie Nanowrimo participants online a couple years before.

And there was the practical stuff.  Like where to hold write-ins.  Which locations had space?  Outlets for laptops?  Which places were generally friendly towards writers?  And this year, on top of all that, I had to figure out how to coordinate a book drive.  And somehow, the whole thing has exploded across state lines, encompassing two university towns.  So where am I able to leave boxes?  How can I coordinate pick-up and delivery?  How are we supposed to store and sort the books?  I’ve never done anything remotely like it before.  I mean, yeah, when I was in grade school, I was forced to do fundraising stuff, but I just mostly sold stuff to my parents.

Dammit Jim, I’m a microbiology student, not some non-profit organizer grand poobah.

So yeah, it can get hectic.  But in some ways, it can be rewarding, too.  On an intellectual front, you’re helping people write the novel they’ve wished they’d written but before had just put it off for some reason or other.  On a social front, you’re offering opportunities for writers to get together.  And because there are always a disproportionate number of younger people signing up, it’s something to let them know that they aren’t alone in their writing obsessions and geekery.

Anyways, back to the ML position.  I’m thinking about writing a guide specifically tailored toward the Moscow ML so that the person after me doesn’t have to start from scratch.  The guide will have things like lists of places suitable for write-ins.  A list of places not suitable for write-ins (with the reasons why).  The time table for when I start organizing things (particularly when I start advertising for Nanowrimo, when I place reservations for meeting locations, and when I start posting particular pieces of information on the forums).  Copies of previous regional e-mails for pep talk ideas.  And my philosophy for MLing in general.

If any other MLs (or potential MLs) happen to be reading this, feel free to chime in with additional suggestions and/or criticisms.

*All MLs have their own style at organizing their regions.  Although I feel that I’m fairly open to suggestions, it could very well be that my former co-MLs were put off by my management style.  I have plans for things and I generally expect people to show up at the very least.  They don’t even have to do anything else if they don’t want to.  But even showing up, it seems, can simply be too much for some.

Steam in the Pigeon House

In The Hard Edge of Empire, Charles Stross laments the current glut of steampunk which is all about aesthetic, adventure, and nostalgia rather than the social realities and consequences of anachronistic technology in the 19th century.  In other words, what’s selling is the “steam” rather than the “punk” and the genre purists are getting into a snit about it.

I think what Stross and his commenters are forgetting is that marketing and literary intelligentsia are two completely different things.  If they happen to overlap, then it’s a happy coincidence.  But most of the time, they don’t.  This happens in every genre.  Steampunk is not an exception.  Marketing departments are going to slap the label “steampunk” on anything with a airship.  They don’t care about the fine distinctions.  It’s like lumping a pair of flip-flops with a genetically engineered rabbit that glows in the dark because both of them are green.  As long as you know how that part of the publishing industry works, then you shouldn’t be surprised that a novel labeled “steampunk” is drastically different than what you imagine a steampunk novel should be.

If you pride yourself on being a so-called well-informed reader, then do your homework before you buy the book.  And if you just pick up a book randomly based on cover, well, you know that old adage.  Books aren’t immune to fads and I think the best way to counteract them, if you really don’t like them, is to not buy the fad books.  (And, you know, if enough people don’t buy fad books, they’ll go away because they’re not making the publisher any money.)

That said, I really like steampunk.  I’m not so much into the sociological aspects of it (or the aesthetics, come to think of it–sometimes it can get downright annoying), but I do find the addition of anachronistic science fascinating.  The fascination probably began even before I knew what steampunk was.  When I was in my first year of high school, it was the reason why I picked a hefty biography of Thomas Edison for the book report of my choice.  My fascination continued to be fueled by an awesome history of science class I took when I was an undergrad where half of the semester was taken up talking just about steam-powered engines and similar machines.  But even with my science-centric view of things, I don’t think steampunk is just about nuts and bolts.  I’ve tried my hand at writing steampunk and I’ve included gaslight fantasy to more traditionally sci-fi oriented stories.

Should it matter how steampunk is defined?  Should only stories containing the tropes on a purist’s list be considered steampunk?  Or can anything ranging from squishy to hard be included under the umbrella?  It depends on your point of view.  The answer to “what is steampunk?” is an opinion, neither right nor wrong.  For me, as a reader, the very notion of steampunk–or any genre for that matter–is irrelevant.  The individual elements of a story that indicate genre is like the facade of a house.  It’s not going to change the underlying foundation or the story itself.  And the story is the key, not the genre trappings.  What I really want is a well told story, whether it’s a social commentary featuring underfed workers revolting against the mechanical loom overlords or a swashbuckling tale of zeppelins and zombies.

I suppose one could argue that I’m completely missing the point by emphasizing the story over the genre.  But even if you do add all the hardcore steampunk elements to your writing, you have to ask yourself, why are you really writing in the first place anyway?  And why are your readers reading your writing?  And most importantly–especially if you want anyone to read your stuff in the first place–do your goals for writing align with the reader’s expectation?  It’s not going to do anyone any good if all you want to write about is steampunk philosophy while most of the readers come into it expecting to be entertained, difference engine or no.

The Wall of Fail Is Built of Cookies

I may have gone overboard on the cookies.

So later this morning, another grad student in the lab is going to have her thesis defense seminar and the lab decided to get the refreshments for her.  I got tasked with getting the cookies.  But when I got to the grocery store last night, for some reason, I got completely overwhelmed with the choices even though it was only a few days ago I went there to get cookies for the Nanowrimo kick-off party.  I kept thinking that no matter what I chose, someone was going to hate my choice in cookies.  Because some academics can be a little strange and quite blunt when they encounter something they don’t like.

I ended up getting a lot of cookies.  There may be ten different varieties.  Or eleven.  Or twelve.  I’ve lost track.

If you’ve been following my Twitter stream with any regularity, you would have noticed that lately, I’ve been attending a lot of defense seminars.  And frankly, it’s getting a little depressing watching all of your friends graduate while you’re stuck doing the same-old same-old.  It’s one of those moments when you wonder why the hell you’re doing any of this at all.  When I was much younger, I thought I’d have a PhD by the time as I was 25.  Well, that birthday has come and gone.  I spent my twenty-fifth birthday being rather depressed about my prospects, actually.  I wrote little in the blog that year and the only bright thing in my life, it seemed at the time, was writing the Nanowrimo novel.  Thirty will inevitably come and go as well, so maybe I’ll have to revise my goal to graduating before I’m 35.

It’s extra depressing when I realize that the person having her defense today will have obtained three degrees the entire time I’ve been here.

Standing in that cookie aisle, everything sort of just crashed into me.  I mean, what’s the point of doing all of this when in the end, all you’ll get is a bit of paper that nobody gives a damn about anyway?  It won’t guarantee you a job.  And what’s the point of staying in lab over the weekend and overnight when all you have to show for it on Monday morning is a failed experiment?  I’ve had many, many failed experiments and there are times when I wonder if I’m working hard enough, if I’m even remotely competent in my job, or maybe if I just had the very bad luck of choosing a project that will never yield easy, simple answers–even if ten lab teams were working on it night and day.

Some people like to describe themselves as life-long students because they’re always eager to learn something new.  I’m all for learning.  I know that for everything that I do know, there are a kazillion things that I don’t know.  But I don’t want to be known as a perpetual student. It will be as if I’ll never grow up–with none of the positive and all the negative connotations that go with it: irresponsibility, ignorance, immaturity.  I want to be good at something, but realistically, all I can hope for is mediocrity.  (Sometimes, I don’t think I’m all that good with writing, either.  Especially while I’m looking at all the rejections I’ve gotten.)  And I will have spent most of my life doing absolutely nothing that will have any significant impact on anyone.

Anyways, back to cookies.  Even though some people tell me I’m good at cooking, I’m not. I think they just say that in an attempt to make me feel good.  I don’t have enough chances to practice.  And I’m pretty much a failure at making cookies as any efforts on my part have resulted in burnt smudges.  Although I suppose one could make the argument that it wasn’t a complete failure. I didn’t set my apartment on fire.  As for the grad student who’s getting her third degree?  She’s won stuff for cookies and cakes that she’s entered at baking contests.  Another prof once remarked, she might as well get another degree for baking.

I guess what really annoys me is that I keep on trying things and nothing ever works or ever comes to fruition.  For other people, it’s easy and effortless.  And it just makes me feel that whatever I do, it’s going to be wrong.  Maybe I should just give up and give my finger to the world. I’ll do it by writing the rest of my dissertation as if I was Hunter S. Thompson on cookies*.  It’s not like anyone’s going to read it anyway.

*Not acid. That would be too easy.

This Is How My Mind Works

The other night, I dreamed about being on a rescue team that was going to rescue a sentient mechanical doll from some bad guys.  I remember that the other team members and I were heading to the airport and we were trying to figure out how to get through the TSA without them mucking everything up.  We had frying pans and rubber kitchen utensils.  And I was going to use the rubber kitchen utensils like ninja throwing stars.

In the second part of the dream, I was observing a scene at a department store.  The toymaker who made the mechanical dolls was carting them around in a box.  Each of the dolls were dressed up in different ethnic costumes from around the world.  A woman who looked like Angelina Jolie (but wasn’t her, really) came by and picked up a doll dressed up in a traditional Chinese costume.  The toymaker warned the Angelina-look-alike that the doll needed to be fed or it won’t move and that punishing it would make the doll cry.

Angelina-look-alike seemed genuinely puzzled with the directions and asked “Why?”

“Well, it’s a person,” replied the toymaker.  “You wouldn’t punish a child just because you could.”

“But it’s not a person.  It’s just a doll.”

And the toymaker went into a fit as the Angelina Jolie look-alike made the doll wear western clothing.

I woke up wondering, philosophically, what really defines a person.  I’m thinking that a person, someone who has awareness, is not necessarily the same thing as a human being.  And if, say, these mechanical dolls in my dream had awareness, we would probably be obligated to treat them on equal footing like every other sentient person.  I don’t think the simple fact that something that doesn’t have the same DNA as we do is grounds to treat them less “humanely.”

* * *

This afternoon, I went to someone’s master’s thesis defense seminar and ended up thinking about nanobots.  I swear that I was not daydreaming.  This has relevance to this person’s master thesis.

Anyways, the thesis dealt with cow reproduction–particularly using hormones to control the bovine estrous cycle.  This is useful for agriculture because this would allow cattle operations to efficiently manage their animals–i.e. they can control cattle reproduction to fit their schedule and the demands of the market.*  This totally reminded me of a book I recently read (I may also end up reviewing this book, too.  But no, it was not this book), where human reproduction was controlled by the bad guys with nanobots.  The nanobots were hidden in the sugar supply so that everyone got inoculated. And whenever they wanted to stage an orgy, all they had to do was turn on the control tower.

And I was thinking: this is exactly like that book.  Except with cows and hormone injections.  And we humans are the “bad guys” – relatively speaking.  If the cattle had any sort of awareness about this going on, wouldn’t these animals be rather disgruntled to learn that we were in control of their love lives?

*At this point, you may wonder why a microbiology student is even at this seminar in the first place.  Well, I know the person who was defending and I went there to support her–even though I was mostly clueless about her research.

A Bad Beginning

Last night, I started reading a book that is very popular and has had a movie made from it fairly recently.  The reason I decided to read the book was because people in lab have raved about it and I decided that the next time a conversation springs up about it, I wouldn’t be relegated to the sidelines in ignorance.  (In any other subject aside from microbiology or books, I’m okay with saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t have any experience about that”.)  The last time I tried a fiction book that other science people were raving about, I found it mediocre.  And as for this time?  Well, let’s just say I’m going to try to stick with non-fiction recommendations from now on.

Keep in mind that I’ve only read three chapters so far.  Normally, I toss a book if it doesn’t interest me after the first chapter, but I’m determined to finish this even if it mentally kills me.  As someone who has perused submission guidelines in a serious way, I know that writers–if their initial query gets through–submit the first three chapters of their work to the agent or editor.  If the first three chapters don’t pass muster, then there’s no chance that the agent or editor will want to see the rest of the manuscript.  With that in mind, I expect the first three chapters of every fiction book on market to have certain strengths that would make an agent or editor go “yes!” even if the subject matter for me, personally, does not appeal.

This book that I’ve started does not have the yes-factor.  Nothing happens in the first three chapters.  I have no sense of the setting–which is something I discussed in the previous post that I think is critical for a great story.  I can’t relate to the characters and the writing is, well, stylistically incompetent at best.  I had to put the book down after three chapters because the writing itself was giving me a headache.  I’m still giving it a benefit of a doubt, though.  There are plenty of books that start out slowly.  Maybe the characters and plot become more interesting later even if the writing itself is a trainwreck.

I’m not going to reveal what the book is just yet although you can probably guess what it is already.  This book has sold millions and I’m trying to figure out what it has that makes it sell–even to people who don’t normally read.  Maybe, if it’s not a literary factor, it’s due to marketing.  (If it’s just due to marketing, then the publishing industry should be able to sell any sort of dreck it churns out.  But this can’t be solely the case because sometimes bestsellers are well written with little marketing push.)  And once I’ve finished, I may have to write a review of it–mostly for myself to define where the boundaries of my tastes are.

The Aesthetics of Setting

One characteristic of a great story is a memorable setting.  It isn’t required, of course, for a story to have any sort of setting at all–especially if your aim with the story is to focus on the characters rather than the background–but a setting is definitely something that helps one become engrossed in the story.  Sometimes the setting itself can become a character, especially if the plot is basically a man versus nature story.  And even if it isn’t nowhere near the status of character, setting has an indelible influence on characterization by challenging the actions and reactions of the other characters.  Setting dictates the aesthetics and style of how the story is told.  At the very least, it helps ground the reader into the where of the story–which is not the where of the reader’s location.

The example that comes to mind is not surprisingly one of my favorite books, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.  The heroine finds herself out in the middle of nowhere in a colonial outpost, a fish out of water in a hot, desert setting.  The setting itself–implicitly savage and desolate–allows the rest of the story to flow.  It seems perfectly natural, then, that a barbarian king would kidnap her in the middle of the night, that she would sleep in tents and wear flowing garb, that she would fight with swords rather than pistols.

So I’ve been thinking about setting in regards to my upcoming Nanowrimo project.  But, you may say, you’re essentially doing space opera.  There will be spaceships and ray guns and alien parasites bursting out of people’s stomachs.  Who cares about the setting when you need to pay attention to the plot and the science?  Sure, the plot and the science are important–but those two things are intertwined with the setting whether I like it or not.  And no one is going to care about the plot and the science if I can’t even getting the setting right.

Spaceships and ray guns, in of themselves, are merely tropes and clichés in the space opera genre.  In order to incorporate them into the setting without being lazy about it, these items need to be designed with a certain aesthetic.  It’s kind of like in Star Trek when the characters are aboard different vessels.  There’s different design aesthetics which let you know that yes, a Federation ship is not the same as a Klingon ship and also that both of those aren’t a Borg cube.  I guess my aim for the setting in pretty much any of my stories, regardless of genre, is to depict it in such a way that it seems real in an almost tactile way.  I read about a lot of writers saying that they see their stories like a movie in their head.  It’s not like that for me.  And even if it was, I’m not sure that I would even choose to write it that way.  I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, even if I enjoy a movie, there’s a detachment about it because I’m watching, not doing.  Yes, you the reader can still be the observer–but it’s the difference between sitting comfortably on the couch in front of a screen and sitting outside on the sidelines while the sun is beating down on you and being able to just reach out and touch what’s going on in front of you.

The reason why I think I can get away with contemplating aesthetic for a sci-fi novel, rather than designing something that could realistically exist in the future, is that my focus is not on the technology*.  Even though on the face of it the whole premise sounds like an adventure (documentary team travels the galaxy to find alien foods!), I view sci-fi as a reflection of contemporary society rather than what it will really be in the future**.  I might end up exploring themes of priviledged excess, jadedness and ennui due to overstimulation, and self-destruction from an obsession with materialism.  Pretty heavy stuff to be thinking about–and I might not even get to it during November.  But one thing I think will help me weave these themes into the narrative is the setting aesthetic.

So what sort of aesthetic am I going to use?  Well, think of the 1970s western lifestyle and its design aesthetic (or lack thereof).  Now put that into space. Yep. Put on your shades cause there’s going to be sparkly uniforms, mustachioed aliens, shag-carpeted captain’s chairs, and Vogon-grade disco dancing for good measure.

*There’s a difference between technology and science.  I don’t care so much about the whiz-bang gadgets of technology.  But whether anything is actually scientifically plausible?  Yes, that would get the scrutiny from me.
**I suspect the future will be at the same time as banal as today and something so different that we cannot even yet imagine.

Are You a Nanowrimo Fangirl?

Way back in 2007, I discovered the Chris Baty fan club thread.  At the time, I thought this was both disturbingly hilarious and a one time thing.  Well, apparently not.  Kelly Lynn Thomas observed that when she went to the Night of Writing Dangerously (a Nanowrimo fundraising event), “Authors at the event literally squealed when they met Nanowrimo founder Chris Baty.”

Sushi, a prominent poster on the Nanowrimo forums and the founder of Wikiwrimo, further expounds on Thomas’s idea that Nanowrimo is a fandom.  I will take her word for it that all the activity surrounding National Novel Writing month–the drama, the “fan conventions” in the form of write-ins and other Nano get-togethers, the Nano metafiction, the Nano spin-offs, and others–are hallmark characteristics of a fandom.  The closest I’ve ever gotten to fandom is of the periphery sort, like figuring out what “slash” meant or going to a science fiction and fantasy convention and finding out with some frustration that everyone there were silly gamers who had no idea who any of the attending award-winning authors were.

As someone who has the tendency to Only Take Serious Things Seriously, I usually shake my head and leave the fans to do whatever they wish to do.

But by participating in Nanowrimo, does this make me a fan?  Some people might say so.  I often say that ever since I started participating in Nanowrimo, I can’t really imagine not doing it.  But even before Nano, I’ve been writing because it’s my compulsive hobby.  I don’t view myself as being fannish about Nano because I use Nano as a means to an end.  A fan, I think, would view Nano as the end, not the means.  Usually, when I play the “Grumpy Old Wrimo”, it’s not because I think people should do a Nanowrimo-specific thing a certain way. It’s because people don’t use their common sense–regardless of the situation.

Then again, I have a slightly different perspective about this as both a long time participant and a municipal liaison.  One could argue that the ML would be considered the uber-fan.  But to be honest, in the beginning, I didn’t even want to be ML (if I did, this would be my ninth or tenth year of MLing, not my fourth).  I only became ML for my region when it became clear that no one (not even the ML at the time) was willing to schedule regular write-ins.  One could argue that I did this because I was a bit set in my ways.  I came from regions where the MLs* did an excellent job of organizing things and in some ways, I felt that Nanowrimo wouldn’t be Nanowrimo if events weren’t scheduled.

Then again, you could argue that taking over a role that nobody else wanted is the strongest indication that I am a fan.

Anyways, I’m not a demonstrative sort of person so it would be difficult to tell on the outside if I were a Nanowrimo fan.  While I do buy Nanowrimo merchandise, I rarely wear it or show it.  In some respects, I’m kind of like the collector who keeps things in mint condition and in their original boxes.  (All the Nanowrimo posters I possess are still in their original mailing tubes.)  I have my own personal Nanowrimo site where I post my novels, prep work, and links to other Nano-related sites.  I’ve kept it up since 2001. (I have every single page I’ve made for every year that I’ve participated–even if not all of them are easily accessible.  Which is more than you can say for even the official Nanowrimo site.)  I’m not sure if anyone has an older fan site.  Maybe mine’s the oldest there is.  At any rate, it’s evidence of my obsessiveness–another fannish trait.

But that said, even if I’ve been around for a while, that doesn’t mean that anyone knows I exist.  Very few people visit the site, even during November.  I might say I have the awesomest Nanowrimo user ID number in the universe**, but that means nothing to most people–except other fans.  So maybe I’m a fan. But like everyone else, just one obscure one among many.

*New Hampshire and Nashville if you’re curious.  Those groups have awesome MLs and I look up to them as role models.  Count yourselves lucky if you happen to live there.
**The answer to life, the universe, and everything.

From a Late Afternoon

On Sunday, I randomly meandered around town and took pictures. People walking their dogs or their girlfriends or both looked at me strangely. Good thing there weren’t any cops around to cite me for being weird.

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