Coming clean

This morning, I got up at 5:15 (as I do several days each week) and ran 4 miles through quiet, dark, pre-dawn neighborhoods. My pace was something over 11 minutes per mile, a time which would be pathetic for a gung-ho, competitive runner. For an overweight 46-year-old guy who otherwise leads a pretty sedentary life, it's still kinda lousy. Still, I ran it. No walking, no stopping to chat with other early birds or to pet their dogs.

I ran.

Despite knowing that the results would be nothing to win any awards or accolades, I ran. I ran until my knees crackled and my feet complained and my thighs ached, and then I kept running until my knees stopped crackling, my feet stopped complaining and my thighs... didn't ache quite so much anymore.

I sweated and stank. I gasped and plodded. I looked directly at the right hand turn which would lop a mile off my course, and I gave it a side-eye as I went past it and continued straight, up that one fucking hill that always kills me.

I ran.

So now let's talk about this novel I'm working on. I've been feeling for some time that my situation with this WIP is much like how I feel at 5:22 am. I silenced the alarm, got out of bed, dressed in the dark, and am sitting in a chair in my living room, ready to begin... but waiting.

Wearing my high-tech, odd-feeling, brightly colored running shirt is on my torso, wearing the extra layers suited to that morning's heat (or rain or cold or snow or...), wearing the surprisingly expensive running shoes, wearing my phone in a special holder strapped to my arm, wearing the earbuds so I can listen to the commands and reports of my preferred running app (and whatever audiobook I'm currently in the middle of), wearing an expression of mixed anticipation... I pause.

The run will hurt. The run will then stop hurting. I'll feel better when I've done it. I just need to begin.

Then I take a breath, step outside, and begin.

My WIP is with me now, the marked-up third draft, in a three-ring binder, waiting. It's an ugly, misshapen thing. The work yet to be done is daunting, to say the least. And when I'm done, what will I have? Something to win an award? Or something still kinda lousy?

I'll feel better when I've done it.

I'll feel better when I've done it.

I'll feel better when I've done it.

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"Depth and dimensionality" - a new review of Verbosity's Vengeance

In this new 5-star review of "Verbosity's Vengeance", my book is described as "a comic book wrapped in novel form". This is an insightful take, since I've had publishers suggest that my novel would make a great comic book or graphic novel. Maybe I should try describing it as the gripping novelization of a comic book/graphic novel/screenplay that exists only in my head?

From the review:
It [Verbosity's Vengeance] has the fast pace of a comic, the vivid action sequences, and the larger than life challenges and heroism. But, by having it in novel form, all of the characters and events unfold with far greater depth and dimensionality. Even the struggles of a burgeoning super hero class are illustrated by the mayor of Lexicon City not just having to have a specific super hero liaison on his staff, but in the difficulty of keeping the position staff. It is also a lens through which we can observe so some of the "little things" that super heroes would have to do in order to maintain their air of mystery, and shedding some light on the Pandora's Box which is opened when someone decides to take on a secret identity, and the many layers of secrecy that are required.
Did I mention that the book is only $0.99? At least for now? Get it cheap, while you can!

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Ideas that won't leave you alone

I've got an idea niggling in the back of my mind. It's not complete enough to even call it a scenario - more like a set-up that could be fleshed out into a scenario. No characters, no plot, just a string of events.

Who's the lead? What's the objective? What's the conflict? What's the knockout?

No idea. Maybe I should write it down and find out.

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Making mistakes in public

If you tweet something clever that gets picked up and retweeted by an account with 500,000+ followers, you may rest assured that it will contain 1) a spelling error, or 2) a mistake in your math.

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Twitter and the Ten Thousand Character Mistake

If Twitter is truly going to expand tweets to 10,000 characters, it will mean the death of the service. Brevity is not merely the soul of wit. It forces editing of any comment - funny, insightful, evocative, provocative, profane, or inspiring - into its purest form.

Limited space forces people to think carefully about word choice, about phrasing, about tone. Opening it up to a half-acre of text will encourage meandering, mushy, diarrheal verbosity. Verbosity is not necessarily the soul of poor speech, but it is certainly its handmaiden.

For example, here are the first 10,000 characters of a book you should buy, a book that has a few pointed things to say about verbosity and the type of people who engage in it.

“VERBOSITY’S VENGEANCE - A GRAMMARIAN ADVENTURE NOVEL” BY TONY NOLAND. Chapter One.  A gruesome sentence flew toward the Grammarian, blasted from the barrel of Professor Verbosity’s latest weapon, the Concept Cannon. Festooned with a dozen hook-like prepositional phrases, the complex construct spun widely to ensnare the superhero. Anticipating the attack, twin thunderclaps exploded from the Grammarian’s gauntlets as he fired a powerful pulse of parentheses from one hand and a simultaneous shower of semicolons from the other. The punctuations found their marks, creating nodal points that shattered the sentence into a cloud of fragments. With an electric shriek of memetic energy, the construct collapsed like an accordion. Discrete, unconnected phrases bent and flexed harmlessly around the Grammarian. “Give up, Professor Verbosity,” he said. “You should know by now that sheer weight of words is no match for the power of punctuation!” He shifted into a fighting stance and faced his opponent, who had backed to the far side of the room. Professor Verbosity lifted the Concept Cannon and pulled a lever. The barrel swiveled into an angular projection. Blue sparks shone along the length of the weapon as electronic circuits reconfigured themselves. “Is that so, hero? Let’s see how well you can withstand my Redundancy Ray!” “You need a new bag of tricks, Verbosity. I’ve already seen that a dozen times. Now, give up!” The supervillain smiled in response. “You always try to bluff your way out of difficulty, don’t you, Grammarian? I can’t say I don’t admire the attempt to win with words instead of brute force, but in this case, I’ll use both.” The weapon in his hand was now shaking with barely contained power, long plasma streamers flowing from end to end. “True, my Redundancy Ray is an old favorite, but I haven’t shown it to you since I added the Rephraser Refractor!” Blue lightning exploded from the weapon. In less than a second, a million microfilaments of memetic concept energy wrapped themselves around the Grammarian. Knocked to the ground by the force of the impact, he had no chance to react before the energy coalesced into a single, coherent sentence. Within the densely convoluted word-construct, the Grammarian was immobilized. It’s about time he pulled out a real weapon, the hero thought. If I’d had to duck and dodge much longer, he surely would have begun to realize that I was holding back. Professor Verbosity laughed in triumph, delighted to see his foe struggling in the grip of the memetic energy his weapon was projecting. The Grammarian struggled even more vigorously and threw in a growl of frustration to enhance the effect. For a moment, he thought he might have overplayed the acting, but the hero could see that Verbosity was convinced of his triumph. Supervillains are suckers for cliché, the Grammarian thought, every one of them. “You’ll never win, Professor Verbosity!” He spit his archenemy’s name with obvious contempt. Pinned to the floor under the weight and complexity of shimmering word-memes, he fought for breath as his bonds grew ever tighter. Now, his gasping was only partly exaggerated for effect. Although allowing himself to be captured was part of the Grammarian’s plan to trick Verbosity into revealing his latest plot, Lexicon City’s smartest hero feared that that he’d underestimated his foe. Professor Verbosity laughed. “Ah, my dear Grammarian,” he replied, “I have already won, insofar as the first and most crucial step in winning is to render you utterly and completely helpless. These sentences are not only long and complex enough to entangle you completely while you try to parse out subject and object amid the subtending and supporting prepositional and participial phrases, they are also perfectly correct grammatically, which renders you powerless to break free!” Under the triumphant gaze of his nemesis, the Grammarian was indeed struggling, completely snared in the thick ropes of words. He tried to find some flaw, some grammatical mistake that he could exploit. With all his super-powered lexicographical might, he scanned and rescanned the sentence, though it was blindingly painful to do so. Being captured was part of the plan; being rendered unconscious was not. He wanted some avenue of recourse if he needed to go to one of his backup plans. Unfortunately, Verbosity had gone to great lengths this time, figuratively and verbally. If only there were an inconsistent verb tense, a dangling or misplaced modifier, even an intransitive verb used transitively, but there were no grammatical mistakes to latch onto. The Grammarian needed to get to the bottom of his foe’s plot and time was running out more quickly than anticipated. Stepped up your game, have you, Verbosity? Well, you always fall for a taunt, you windbag. “You’re insane! When I break free of this sentence, I’ll put a stop to your criminal circumlocutions!” “Typically valiant words from my typically valiant nemesis, or rather, a defeated and broken man who once was a worthy adversary to my rhetorical skill and encephalitic eloquence... you mustn’t try to -” “AHA! An ellipsis! If only I can grab it in time!” “- struggle so, for as you can see, my confounding concordances of verbal envelopment are employed without flaw, a condition which encompasses the little ellipsis you spotted, as well as the en dash you forced me to use - entirely against my will, but without consequence to the strength of the bonds holding you - as well as the em dashes I just threw in, purely as a lark, not in the sense of a bird preparing to take flight, which would be completely inappropriate in this context, given your utterly earthbound condition, but in the sense of a jest, a jape, a witticism at your expense, Grammarian, for as my memes move to muffle the mouth you muster to mock me, you are now naught but an object of ridicule and contempt, the highest of the high made the lowest of the low, the mightiest of the mighty made the -” With a tremendous explosion, the skylight in the ceiling of the old factory burst inward, cutting off the flow of words threatening to choke the life out of the Grammarian. A gleaming, armored man did a graceful back flip through the rain of glass shards and landed perfectly in front of the supervillain. His sleek, silvery armor was airbrushed with an iridescent pattern that was part sunrise, part moonlight. Verbosity recoiled. “No, not you! Not when I was so close to -” “Yes,” the newcomer interrupted, “it is me, the Avant Guardian! Now, Professor Verbosity, face the might of the Champion of Chic! I’m here to stop your evil plans, whatever they are!” On the floor, the Grammarian was furiously trying to shout at the armored hero, to tell him that his interference was going to ruin everything. Unfortunately, as the Grammarian was completely muffled by interlocking clauses, sub-clauses and parenthetical asides, his words were unintelligible. The Avant Guardian glanced down at the bound superhero and puffed his chest out a little more. “I shall also rescue my colleague, the Grammarian. There’s no way to escape, Professor Verbosity! At all!” The villain sneered, but shifted his memetic energy projector gun away from the Grammarian to point it at the Avant Guardian. Without the flow of energy, the sentence-bindings lost focus, and the Grammarian felt the bonds start to loosen. “Au contraire, you metal-clad buffoon,” Verbosity cried. “Among the many ways to escape are -” “Save your speeches for prison, Professor!” Punctuation marks erupted from the giant hero’s silver gauntlets, a blinding cascade of periods, question marks, hyphens, and exclamation points. A glittering stream of memetic energy flew like a Pelikan blue-black hurricane into the sputtering face of Professor Verbosity; the venal viceroy of verbiage stumbled backward, shouting a short, sharp sentence. The great splash of punctuation rained onto the prone form of the Grammarian. With a crackling release of energy, the serpentine syntax snare fell apart into discrete phrases and clauses as the terminal punctuation marks lodged among the tangle of word-memes. Each new sentence fragment glowed and hissed with latent memetic energy. Verb forms collapsed from gerund to infinitive to simple, while prepositional phrases folded back in onto themselves and evaporated. The Grammarian diverted his intelligence to augment his physical strength, thrashing violently. If he could get a hand free in time, he might yet be able to salvage the situation! Verbosity crouched in a defensive stance and deflected another verbal assault from the Avant Guardian. With a snarl, the Professor responded with a tight string of overheated metaphors that caught the Avant Guardian in the thigh. His molecular-mesh nanotech armor flashed into a shower of molten metal as the beam raked across its surface. Sparks exploded as his armor short-circuited. The Guardian shouted and dodged, leaping sideways across the room. He landed heavily against a rack of tools and equipment, which collapsed on top of him. Professor Verbosity aimed his beam to follow, clearly intending to finish off the Avant Guardian. Before he could fire, he was knocked sideways by a wild accusation flung by the Grammarian. The Avant Guardian pushed away the debris and clambered to his feet. He drew a complicated-looking weapon and aimed it at the villain. “You don’t have a prayer against me, Professor Verbosity. And once I free the Grammarian with this sentence diagramming gun, you’ll be trapped good! And by that I mean bad! Trapped bad!” On the floor, the struggling Grammarian moaned with frustration. “Uh, badly! I meant badly!” His weapon hummed in a rising pitch as it charged, green and orange indicator lights winking along its length. Professor Verbosity didn’t respond, but swiveled his aim and blasted the floor underneath the Avant Guardian. A rebounding wave of energy threw the slab of concrete up to smash into the hero’s legs. He fell back into the debris as dozens of electric discharges erupted from the knee and ankle joints of his armor. The diagramming gun flew into the tangle of verbal bonds around the Grammarian where it was completely caught up in the argument. The weapon discharged, but with no rationality guiding it, the gun’s grammatical formalism only made the sentence structures more complicated without increasing clarity. Professor Verbosity aimed at the wordcloud and shouted quickly, pulsing memetic energy into the bonds to renew their strength. “Like two sides of the same coin, aren’t you? Two peas in a pod! Two birds of a feather! Well, this will take care of two birds with one stone!” Reinforced by the power of overused metaphor, the tangle of grasping memes grew heavier and more leaden with every second. The Grammarian tried to speak, but the tightening bonds were again crushing the breath out of him. From across the room, a wrench flew in front of Professor Verbosity’s face. Startled, the villain turned sideways, ducking under another flying tool. Half-buried amid the wreckage of the steel shelving and obviously not yet able to stand on his damaged legs, the Avant Guardian was grabbing and throwing anything within reach. A fusillade of hand tools rocketed across the room; Professor Verbosity dodged most and batted the rest away. His opponent’s concentration broken, the Grammarian felt the bonds around his arms shift. He clawed away the muffling memes that masked his mouth. Through a gap in the energy bindings, he brought up his right hand and shouted, “Full stop, Professor!” He sprayed a wide stream of terminal punctuation marks, striking the furious villain a glancing blow. The Avant Guardian took advantage of Professor Verbosity’s partial immobility to grab another tool and drew back for a throw. “Guardian! No!” The Grammarian’s shout was too late. The heavy framing hammer tumbled end over end, flying forward. The Grammarian shot another

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2015 in review

Time for the obligatory year in review post!

Writing I spent most of my writing time this year chewing through and revising the novel WIP. Not that there was a lot of time spent on it, certainly nothing like the amount that should be spent on it if I want to see it come to fruition any time soon. Mostly, the edits and rewriting led me to conclude that I need to make major changes to the main character. That insight is the good news. The bad news is that I need to change the MC to come from a perspective I don't know all that well. Difficult. Difficult enough, in fact, that I wrote up the first set of pages and set it aside.

Stories and NaNoWriMo were less than successful. The secret weapon that I thought would make NaNoWriMo work well was, at best, a mixed blessing. My schedule in November was really too horrible to make it work. That's one problem. The other was that, about 8000 words in, I realized that the book I thought I wanted to write wasn't the book I actually wanted to write, and it wasn't the book I was writing. That book went in a direction I wasn't ready for, and one I didn't understand. I hesitated, and the book withered on the vine. Very sad.

Still, both of these are there in front of me. In 2016, I'll take up the WIP again and see if the time away has given me a fresh approach to it. For this and for the aborted NaNoWriMo, I'm going to write with a larger measure of IDGAF, see if that helps.

Exercise Running has been pretty good. I worked my way up to longer and faster runs, with my best distance being a 7-mile stretch. I logged several 6s, many 5s, and more in the 3-4 range than I can recall. I'm thinking of doing a half-marathon in 2016, but not sure how firmly I can make that commitment.

Everything else Day job is busy, successful and fulfilling. Takes time and energy to keep all the plates spinning the way they need to spin, but so far, nothing has fallen crashing to the ground. Family is generally good, but various health issues have taken up a lot of brainspace, time, money, and focus. Stress and worry are the price you pay for caring.

All in all, 2015 was an active, complicated year, replete with many successes, a few failures, and plenty of intense emotion. Plenty to work with and anything but boring.

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NaNoWriMo 2015: This did not go well

There is a special kind of delusion that comes with November. This year in particular, it manifested itself as selective amnesia. In planning all kinds of writing I'd do for #NaNoWriMo on planes, in airports, in cars, at odd moments during travel, I somehow forgot that travel is pretty damned wearying.

If I'd been going somewhere peaceful and quiet - a mountain cabin, perhaps, or a camping trip in the middle of nowhere - I might have gotten more written, but only if the emptiness of the locale was matched by an emptiness of schedule. When your time is fully booked from sunup to sundown, every step of the way? When you are flung for a week across 14 time zones and back, turn around, and push yourself by car for a week across a thousand miles and back? Not so much.

Using my mechanical pencil and spiral bound notebook, I wrote a grand total of 6000 words this year. Was this a failure? Call it a mixed result instead. The words themselves are meandering dreck, none of which would survive an editing. However, they were enjoyable to write, and it reminded me of why I like stringing words together.

Moreover, the book I set out to write is not the book I found myself writing. That's a useful insight.

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A #NaNoWriMo Fraud

So far, NaNoWriMo 2015 has been a steaming pile of fail. Word count is barely 2,500. Not 25,000... 2,500. I'm planning on making up some ground in the next few days, and more during some upcoming travel. Lots of hours in the air, in airports and hotels, and even more on the road should give me ample opportunity to get many thousands in the bank. All the way up to 50K? Doubtful, but I'll keep moving.

But tomorrow, I face a moment of truth. Tomorrow, I'm going to visit an English class at a local middle school to talk about NaNo. The students are doing it in teams, and the teacher asked me to come share my NaNo "life story". How I got started, how (and why) I keep going, what NaNo means to me, how it's changed my writing, etc.

Never has Imposter Syndrome been so sharp-edged as it is right now. Who am I to talk to anyone about NaNoWriMo, let alone impressionable kids? I'm just a half-dead writerfish, flopping on the rocky beach of Real Life Lake, thrown there by an unexpected storm that has lasted for days and days.

With a 2015 word count that would be marginally sucky for Day 2, let alone Day 10, it's going to take some brass and brutal honesty to face these kids. I'm gonna say something like this:

Yes, I love the challenge of NaNo, even when I'm not always able to make it happen. It's why I keep coming back.

Yes, I wish I could effortlessly knock out 50,000 wonderful words without any angst or gnashing of teeth. So does every other writer. 

No, this year's is not going well for me. But this year isn't over yet. And even if I crash and burn this month? There's always December.

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Another 5-star review for "Verbosity's Vengeance"

Author and book blogger K Orion "Rion" Fray just posted a review of "Verbosity's Vengeance", giving it 5 stars. It's a detailed and informative review, so I encourage you to read it in its entirety. Some excerpts:

At a perfectly surface level, this is a fairly classic superhero tale. Graham is half Bruce Wayne, half Tony Stark, though he’s got more brains than the two put together. (Plus a few more for good measure.) We have the arch-nemesis. We have the Avant Guardian, the well-meaning but usually useless “helper” hero. There’s a girl. (There’s always a girl.) And we have a climax to blow the roof off of a tall building, with a lovely dash of betrayal mixed in. All the necessary pieces for the superhero genre.

What sets VERBOSITY apart is that it doesn’t rely too strongly on those tropes, while still acknowledging that they exist. Alex would most likely be perfectly happy to only be the antique book guy; he fights as the Grammarian because he feels he has to–because there is a debt to be paid, and he knows he can never truly pay it. Kate Hunter isn’t some damsel in distress; she’s a strong character in her own right, with her own plot twists to reveal that have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman or even a potential romantic interest. (Also, I like how she and Alex are handled at the end, but again, spoilers.) No one is introduced just to be introduced; each character serves a purpose–something I’m always very aware of, and appreciate when authors make a point of using each person intentionally.

However, Dear Reader, be warned! Rion goes on to say that "Verbosity's Vengeance" is NOT for the faint of heart, weak of mind, or tremulous of soul:

Because both the Grammarian and Professor Verbosity fight using language memes, it relies (logically) on grammar and sentence structure. My failing: somehow, through 2 writing degrees, I have never been made to take a grammar course. I never learned the words; I don’t have the vocabulary to follow. Also, Alex Graham’s IQ is over 200, and mine is decidedly not. In the simplest of terms: I’m not smart enough to keep up with Alex or the Grammarian. Part of me wants to critique that, and say that there is a certain level of arrogance in writing a book that is (somewhat) strictly designated for “smart people/readers” and saying to hell with the rest of us. The rest of me hates when writers dumb down to match the lowest common denominator, and thus I have no argument. So since this is a problem solely with me, I don’t fault the book for it.
But in conclusion, the book gets a thumbs up:
All in all, VERBOSITY’S VENGEANCE is a wonderful book with a fascinating main character, and I’d highly recommend it. And if you know grammar better than I do, well, then you’re probably more the person Noland would rather have reading his book.
You know who I'd LOVE to have reading my book? YOU! It's only $0.99, so why hesitate? After all, you might even like it! And if not, give it to your English lit professor, or the moderator of your MFA seminar series. They're SURE to like it!

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NaNoWriMo: The Secret Weapon

I've signed up for NaNoWriMo once again. I'm writing a sequel to the 2013 New York Times surprise bestseller, "Verbosity's Vengeance", which, as you recall, was made into a moderately successful indie movie of the same title in 2014. The book this year is titled, "The Secrets of Spectrum":

Kate Hunter is a woman with secrets, and the effort of keeping them from the people around her is slowly driving her insane. If her colleagues at the university knew about her superpowers, her career as a scientist would be over. If her mentor and friend, the Grammarian, knew about her true motives in pursuing a hidden life as a crime-fighter, he'd be forced to become her worst nightmare. And if the world knew her deepest secret of all, she would never see her family again. With time running out, she must decide which secrets to guard, whose trust to betray, and whose life to save.
It's an act of courage for me to sign up for NaNoWriMo. It requires me to ignore all the rational parts of my brain which, in looking over my schedule of obligations for November, goes utterly berserk with red flags, alarm klaxons, and dire warnings. They go something like this:

NaNoWriMo is a stupid thing to do! You don't have time for this!

To which I respond, that's true, rational brain, all very true.

No, you're not listening to me! Aside from all the normal STUFF you have to do in November, you're also going to be running your first 10K, traveling to Japan for a week, AND taking a week-long road trip to the Midwest for Thanksgiving! You will be overworked, worn out, jet lagged, and consumed with business, family, and social obligations for the entire month of November. Your wife is going to kill you! YOU DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!

Again, all of this is 100% true. I'm not denying any of it, nor am I contesting the premise that attempting NaNoWriMo is a horrifically dumb thing to do. However, what my rational brain doesn't seem to realize is that I have a secret weapon, one which will defang all the terrors that stand between me and success.

What could that possibly be? A time machine? A drug that lets you go without sleep for a month?

Nope. It's a fresh, blank notebook and a pen.

That's it. You've gone insane. You can't seriously be thinking of doing NaNoWriMo in longhand? How is that NOT a thousand times worse than typing it?

Simmer down, rational brain. You and I both know that I have semi-compulsive hypergraphia, right? Well, instead of writing out my usual stream-of-consciousness text, or notes ABOUT the novel, I'll write the novel itself! It'll be perfect!

You are an idiot.

No, hear me out. The one huge advantage of typing out the first draft is that the text is captured. You don't need to transcribe from longhand later. However, the problem with using a laptop is the bulky, cumbersome, slow startup nature of it. It's not amenable to odd moments in airports, or comfortably writing on an airplane tray, let alone in the passenger seat of a minivan. A notebook will be instant-on, infinite battery life, and silent.

Also horribly inefficient and messy. Plus, you'll just have to type it into the computer at some point. You're doubling your work! And do you really think you'll be able to do 50,000 words longhand? That's impossible! You type WAY faster than you write by hand!

Yes, it's messy, but no, I won't necessarily have to type it. When the draft is done, I'll eventually read it in, using the voice dictation function of my iPhone in Evernote. That'll transfer it to my computer, where I'll copy & paste into yWriter. And who knows? Maybe during the reading, I'll be able to correct the first draft on the fly, making it a revised second draft.

You're hallucinating.

And as for hitting 50,000 words... I'm not going to worry about it.

WHAT?!? The whole point of NaNoWriMo is WINNING!!! If you don't write 50,000 words, YOU WON'T WIN!!!!

Listen, rational brain... I've been meaning to have this talk with you for a while now. I think you might be taking things a bit too seriously. This year, I'm just going to enjoy the process of writing. In all the hoopla about publishing and sales numbers and such, I've kinda lost track of the fact that I just like writing. So I'm going to ignore the wordcount part of it, not worry so much about "winning", and be happy with what I can get done in the time available to me. I really think that -



So, anyway, that's me and NaNoWriMo this year. I'm taking a different approach - let's see how it goes.

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"Satisfying" - a new review of Verbosity's Vengeance

A new review of "Verbosity's Vengeance" is out. The choice bits:
"It’s an interesting take on a genre that Hollywood is wringing the life out of, and a good bit of escapism."
Can't ask for more than that for a $0.99 ebook, now can you?

The review also talks about:
"Grammarian’s inner circle, including his retired superhero mentor, a thoroughly irritating superhero friend, and a possible love interest, which gives us a storyline that takes a satisfying turn."
Love interest? Irritating superhero friend? With emotional evocation like that, how can you not give it a try? With this review, the aggregate score is 4.5 stars out of 5. Come on... you know you want to!

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Literacy is at the heart of everything good

I give to a number of charitable organization. One that I've supported regularly for many years is Reading is Fundamental, whose mission is to motivate young children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life, with a special focus on underserved children.

Those of us steeped in words often forget that for many people, reading is at best a challenge, at worst and insurmountable obstacle. The ability to read and understand the written word is what opens doors and enriches life. From basic life functions like reading and understanding a job advertisement and properly filling out a job application, to higher level things like having access to a wider world of ideas, or even just having a cheap, reliable form of entertainment, the ability to read, and to enjoy reading is one of the best parts of being a modern human.

September 8 was International Literacy Day. Especially in the connected, online, text-driven world we live in, literacy is a prerequisite for opportunity. Grammerly celebrated the day with a post and the statistical infographic below. They are donating to three literacy organizations: Reading Is Fundamental, First Book, and ProLiteracy. Because I reposted this infographic below, each of those organizations got $10 from Grammerly.

Reading is a good thing.

This infographic comes from


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The Hugos: "nerd-on-nerd violence"

Wired has a piece up about the Hugos - Puppies, Puppygate, SJWs, the hotmess of this year's slate, the No Award results, G.R.R.M., etc. It's titled, "Who Won Science Fiction's Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters". (The fact that the headline has to explain what the Hugos are is an indication of the audience this piece is pitched to.)

One chunk which particularly caught my eye was this:

As an aspiring lit-fic snob author, I can't wait to get out of this crummy neighborhood I live in. With my next book, I will completely turn my back on a genre that's given me tens of thousands of hours of reading pleasure. Within five years, Franzen and I will be drinking ice water together at a tastefully exclusive dive somewhere in Brooklyn, sneering at the proles. Count on it.

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Slow Death of the Fantastic Four

Why can't the studios get the Fantastic Four right? Three big-budget tries, three flops (or two disappointments and one dog, depending on how you look at it). They're a decent superhero team, with varied powers that are interesting. Moreover, they have a 60 year archive of story lines to choose from. Surely somewhere in there would be one that would work on the screen. My theory is that the writers are too focused on the set-piece trope of the FF vs. their most iconic antagonist: Dr. Doom.

One problem with movie adaptations of Dr. Doom is the same problem that Green Goblin had in the first Spider-Man movie: he cannot express much emotion under an obscuring mask. In the comics, this wasn't a problem, since the shape of the mask changes slightly to convey emotions. In a movie that's not possible. Iron Man's ostensibly fixed mug does the same flexible thing in the comics, but the movie solved that rigid face problem with the clever device of the in-helmet projection, which allows the audience to see the actor's face.

But beyond the muffled voice and flat face, Dr. Doom was a cardboard cutout supervillain for years before he grew into the remorse-driven, megalomaniacal dictator of Latveria with a meaningful set of motivations beyond I WILL DESTROY YOU REED RICHARDS AND TAKE OVER THE WORLD. A more complex and interesting backstory is tough to set up in a movie if you also have to spend a long time explaining why he wears the Doom armor.

So, when the high-level radioactivity of this year's terrible Fantastic Four movie cools off enough that another studio decides to take another crack at them (2025? 2030?), I hope the writers a) don't bother with an origin story beyond a three-minute opening montage, and b) ignore the siren song of Dr. Doom and go for someone like the Puppet Master or Annihilus.

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Fine, I'll Finish the Damned Book

The response to my last blog post gave me a lot to think about. I'll spare you the full color commentary on that thought process, but the conclusion of it is that I should set some deadlines and finish the book I have hanging over me.

Maybe it'll be great, maybe it'll be crap, but either way, it'll be better than what it is now: a wound that won't heal. Even worse, it's a self-inflicted wound. Once I dig into it, fix what can be fixed and stitch it up as pretty as I can, it'll go away and quit troubling me.

Plus, I'll have an interesting scar that I can charge people to look at. So there's that.

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Stuck in self-realization

I had a lot of thoughts to straighten out yesterday, so I spent some time writing in my journal. (I used to write in it a lot, but then I discovered that I could vent and whine on twitter.) What struck me about the most recent entries (aside from the increasing length of time between entries) was that their themes were so similar. Same concerns, same fears, same complaints, same aspirations.

I've kept journals off and on since ~1992. It's pretty clear to me that anyone who reads them in sequence would come away with the idea that I am a fragile, miserable, inchoate lunatic. This false impression is due to pre-selection of the data. When things are going well in my life, I don't sit down to write about it - I spend my time living and enjoying life.

The only things that I journal about are the difficult, painful, tangled thoughts that require the clarity of the written word to be processed, absorbed and understood. I don't know if other people do it this way, using their journals as a brain dump for the worst of what's going in inside their heads, but that's how I do it.

And what's clear from my half-dozen most recent entries is that my relationship to writing fiction isn't bringing me any satisfaction, let alone joy. How bad is it? When I initially wrote the first sentence of this paragraph, I realized I had to change "my writing fiction" to "my relationship to writing fiction", since I've done so damned little actual writing in the last year. I've spent some time understanding the draft novel I have waiting on my desk, and have come up with the crucial improvement that will lift it from mucky crap to a serious, potent work, one which I'm almost certainly not talented enough to bring to fruition. Those notations and a few pages of fresh prose to frame in the idea are all I have to show by way of progress.

Aside from that? I've been unable (or unwilling?) to write much of anything for more than a year. I occasionally scribble down ideas and concepts for new stories, but my heart isn't in it. There's too much noise, too much self-doubt, too much despair. In the bleakest moments, I feel that I've more or less lost the right to even consider myself a writer, let alone to call myself one.

Why do it if it isn't fun? Why torture myself with a Sisyphean exercise? Why not give it up and devote my energies entirely to something more productive? Why can't I just quit? I'm not getting anywhere, so why can't I quit?

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Why exactly did we go to war?

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty - perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:
Column 1
   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton
Column 2
North Carolina:
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
South Carolina:
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton
Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton
Column 4
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean
Column 5
New York:
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark
Column 6
New Hampshire:
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
   Matthew Thornton

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