Friday, October 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo, take three.

November, as many of you already know, is NaNoWriMo, or "National Novel Writing Month". It is an online challenge to write 50,000 words in thirty days. This will be my fourth year participating in the challenge. Both of my novels started life as NaNobooks, so I obviously am a big believer in the challenge as an excellent motivator toward getting your first draft out of your system. I recommend the challenge for any aspiring writer, to help develop a writing habit... for more info, check out

A Few solid tips for surviving NaNoWriMo...

1) 1600 words a day really isn't all that much. (It's like 2 pages, or six solid paragraphs) Depending on how fast you write, most of us only need an hour or so a day to meet that goal... and when you are on a roll, you will write more than that.

2) Take advantage of the week one momentum. That first week, you are pumped. You are psyched. Use that energy to get ahead on your word count. I AM TERRIBLE AT THIS. I always tell myself that this will be the year I pad my word count, but I never seem to do it.

3) Understand that NO ONE writes every single day for the entire month. Your life will get in the way, but it's not insurmountable. Give yourself permission right now to lapse on game day or whatever. It will help keep you sane. (Particularly when you're trying to write and your spouse starts screaming "WHO DAT!" at the TV in the next room every time the Saints gain a yard.) Just also give yourself permission to come back to it the next day.

4) Understand that not all of your friends and family will understand your need to do this, or accept "I can't baby-sit/go out drinking/cook dinner/second line, I have to get my word count up" as an excuse. This is particularly relevant when your uncle wants you to help him fry a damn turkey for the first time.

5) Give yourself permission to be crappy. Bad writing comes hand in hand with good writing. It can also lead you in funny, clever directions you never expected. Think of it as your mind suddenly ducking into a seedy bar in the Marigny to avoid the rain, only to find that it's the coolest place you have ever been in your life.

6) Take advantage of our local food culture. We NolaWrimos have a distinct advantage over Wrimos in other cities in that we have great, pre prepared meals on every street corner. Seriously... there are entire sections of the national forums dedicated to casseroles and crock pot recipes for NaNo. Screw that! Get a Shrimp po-boy on your way home and call it a win!

7) Take advantage of our local meet-ups. I can't speak for everyone, but nothing gets me typing like Shannon and Suzy glaring at me about my word count. Knowing that tehre are others around you facing the same hurdles in plot, protagonists, and squirrels of mass distraction WILL help you finish.

8) (Suggested by Shannon, the NOLA ML) Don't underestimate the power of small writing times. Five, ten, and fifteen minutes really add up over the course of a day.

Good luck, WriMos! See you at kick off!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Writing Prompt...

This is the first in what I hope will become a new series in which I pick a writing prompt from my various sources online, and then do it... The writing prompt is a great exercise for even the most experienced writer because it forces your brain to think in different directions than it might be used to. It's also a guaranteed way to get your daily words on the page by giving you an "assignment" to write about. I have the hardest time forcing myself to write on Fridays, so it seemed like the logical day to do it.

Today's prompt: "Close your eyes, turn your head to the side, and count to five. When you open your eyes, write about the first thing that comes into focus (for at least ten minutes)."-from's iPad app.

The dark blue Kia sat quietly in the parking lot outside the bank, its silvery undertone picking up the bright sunlight and scattering it in all directions. The polished chrome roof rack glinted a reflection onto the nearby office buildings, blinding at least a secretary or two. Its short rubber antenna jutted harshly up just above the rear hatchback, the stubby afterthought of a Hipster car designer that listens to all of his music on MP3 instead of the barbaric practice of pulling frequencies modulated through the atmosphere. While the unused roof rack spoke quietly to the world of outdoor adventure and trips across the Sunblessed warmth of the American plains, it was obvious that everything about this midget of a sport utility vehicle was put in place to cut its occupants off from the world around them. Tinted windows, climate control, suspension, and plush leather seats all intended to make your transition between location and destination as unnoticable as possible.

I was blessed to grow up in a time in our history when every trip in the car meant feeling the sights, smells, and character of each neighborhood you passed through on the way to your realitives house. If I was to lie down in the back seat, I could tell by each bump, turn and sound around us where we were in the city. Traveling was different then. Now, my kids largely ignore their surroundings, their faces buried in whatever technological contrivance they currently favor, their memories of the journey replaced by images of Spongebob and Minecraft.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

CONtraflow 2 and the Fermi Paradox

This past weekend, I was a guest at CONtraflow here in New Orleans. (More specifically in Kenner, less than a mile from Casa Cerio) And had an absolute blast. The folks at CONtraflow really know how to throw a good, fun, literary convention.  I was on a number of panels, including one about my participation in the 48hr Film festival, and the ever-popular "Super Heroes and the Law" panel. The highlight of the con for me, however had to be the fantastic panel given by Author guest of honor Vernor Vinge, Tom Trumpinski, and NASA scientist Les Johnson about the Fermi Paradox. Mr Vinge, for those that don't know, is one of those guys that the government calls when they need a "Futurist", and to hear his ideas about it was facinating. Tom Trumpinski has written a lot about the subject, and Mr. Johnson's view on the topic from having worked with NASA just made for a killer panel about a subject I love hearing about.

For those that don't know what the heck I'm talking about, the story goes something like this... one day, a bunch of supergenius physicists were sitting around having lunch and discussing the possibility of alien life in our galaxy. One of them did some quick calculating and realized that with our current understanding of physics and engineering, it would take a Von Neumann style probe approximately 100 thousand years to completely explore our galaxy. At this point, Enrico Fermi said "Well, then where the hell are they?" His point being that if intelligent life is commonplace in the universe, then where are the aliens? Humanity has only been technologically aware for about 10,000 years, and capable of leaving the planet for a little over 50. Surely there must be more advanced civilizations out there by now, right? So where the heck are they?

The question quickly became known as Fermi's Paradox, and is a great subject that all science fiction authors ask one another from time to time, so I loved hearing the insights of men really qualified to discuss the subject. There have been dozens of suggestions as to why the Paradox exists, but I think that it really boils down to what are the top :

1) Intelligent life isn't as common as we think. Meaning that we may indeed be alone, at least in our galaxy. Les Johnson pointed to the fact that it was such a crazy string of events that led to humanity's rise as a technologically advanced species that it may be pretty unlikely that it happens elsewhere. Random asteroid wipes out the dinosaurs, big moon and system gas giant protect us from similar impacts, we develop opposable thumbs and the brains to use them... it is pretty amazing that we're here, when you think about it.

2) The distances are just too great. The nearest star is 4 light years away. The nearest star with anything interesting around it is at least 20 light years away. A light year is approximately six trillion miles, which means it would take our fastest forms of propulsion something like 200,000 years to get there. Those are numbers so large that it's really kind of impossible for the human mind to conceive of them. To put it in perspective, if the sun was a grain of sand on home plate of a baseball diamond, the earth would be somewhere between home plate and the pitchers mound. Dwarf planet Pluto would be somewhere around shortstop, and the nearest star (Alpha Centauri) would be something like the gas station three and a half miles down the road. Gliese 581 would be the McDonalds about 17 miles away (in a different direction). That's a long way to go for a cheeseburger, folks. I bitch to Silverfox when she makes me take the trash down to the dumpster.

3) We're under quarantine. This is my favorite, and I've actually played with this concept a bit in my short stories. It's entirely possible that there are aliens, and they view us as very dangerous creatures, or so different that we could pose a serious problem for them if we found out we weren't alone. I personally think that the aliens interviewed Betty and Barney Hill, and realized us for the war apes that we are. It's also been suggested that they may have a non-interference rule like the Federation Prime Directive.

4) We are the first. This is actually the saddest to me, because I think that the universe is a whole lot of wasted space if this is the case... But it also means that we need to make damn sure we stay around for a while.

Whatever the reasons, it's possible that we will never know the answer to Fermi's Paradox. We will either encounter extraterrestrials or not. It's still fun to consider the question, don't you think? If you'd like to discuss the fermi paradox further, please feel free to hit me up on Facebook!