National Novel Writing Month 2011 Ends

National  Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for 2011 is over now, and a lot (thousands? millions?) of writers have accomplished the 50,000-word goal. I completed mine, with a few hundred words to spare, and even though I didn’t write every day, and even though I didn’t make the daily wordcount every day, I had enough inspired days where I wrote twice the number of words to make up the difference.

It’s a way to encourage authors, both first-time and those who’ve done it before, (I will refrain from using the term “experienced”) to get it down on paper, whether or not it’s ready for prime time. And it’s likely that it won’t be ready, when writing under a deadline like that.

I’ve been writing on a deadline for several months now, with this blog, so I was fairly used to it, and I have come to realize that yeah, it’s probably going to suck, the first time you scratch it out, but it will get better and better as you go along, easier for the words to flow onto the page. And the bad stuff can be changed later.

I had a head start anyway, because my novel, Perigee Moon, was already in outline form. I pretty much knew what would go into each chapter, yet I did find that some chapters needed to be split up, as I was writing. I completed 17 chapters out of 38 so I’m nearly half way, and I’m aiming for a 120,000 word count or less, so it fits.

Going into December, my personal goal (without the NaNo people to keep urging me on) is to do the next 50,000 words and wrap up the first draft by early January. I’m aiming for completion at the end of January in order to submit it to the ABNA, in which I will once again no doubt be thrown out in the first round, because my short descriptions are never any good.

One thing that is troublesome, is that once again, the story is chronological, and I fear that may be amateurish, to have a story start at the beginning and end at the end. It’s one of those baby boomer stories too, and so it goes on for a really long time. But I wanted to chronicle a relationship that began very early (age 9) and develop it through the years, and couldn’t see how to do it other than as it happened, step by step.

I really enjoy writing, and thinking about the people I’m constructing makes me happy, but I seriously wonder if it’s not just a hobby. There are just too many great authors out there, and it’s too easy to get a book onto a Kindle or into print, for me to ever make a difference in the literary world.

Perigee might be my last effort, or I might take one more on, at the suggestion of a couple of friends, and write about a group of us, and the different directions of our lives with some fictional intrigue to make it more interesting. Kind of a joint effort, basing characters on real people. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’m plotting on.

How I Found My Voice

Voice is the distinction that makes your writing unique to you. When writing women’s fiction, it’s everything. Readers can forgive a lot, if you tell a story in that particular voice they have come to expect.

There are four authors that I have talked about before, reviewed their books, what I liked or didn’t like. They are (in alphabetical order), Elizabeth Berg, Jonathan Franzen, Scott Spencer and Anne Tyler. These are all authors of great fiction, women’s fiction or everyone’s fiction, and if presented with a paragraph from any of these authors’ writings, I believe I could tell you which of the four wrote it, because I’ve studied each one, and can recognize his/her voice.

Voice comes from that unique combination of environment, and time, and geographic location, along with a bazillion other things that make each writer different from the next. Add to that, the traits of each individual, how one might be introverted and a deep thinker, one might be gregarious and the life of the party, and varying degrees of each of those traits. One is artistic, one is pragmatic, one is a story teller, one is a good listener. One is beautiful, one is plain, one is brilliant, one is of average intelligence. On and on.

Add to that the difference in values over time, the changes in attitude, over the course of, say, the last fifty years. The generation of our parents (“our” being the baby boomer generation), from their constricted you-made-your-bed-now-lie-in-it values to our free love “me” generation. From before women’s lib to after. You can see how the voice of an older person might be way different from the voice of a person thirty years younger.

Each person’s unique experiences add to their voice: the dialects of their birthplaces, the way they were brought up, their education, friends, spouses, children, pets. Their attitudes and beliefs. When you think about that, how every person has a unique set of experiences and traits and environmental factors, then it’s safe to say that every person has a voice, and that voice is different from any other’s.

You just have to find it.

With practice, I believe writers find what works for them and what doesn’t. The first novel may not express it, the second may be a bit better, hopefully by the third, the writer can identify the sound that identifies his or her unique sound, without trying to mimic others. Their tone, cadence, rhythms, choice of words and expressions. Their politics, internal thoughts, hangups and peculiarisms.

I think I have identified mine. From my third novel Perigee Moon (I dropped the “The”), this is a paragraph about Abby, who has recently reconnected with Luke, and they have just had their first, wonderful weekend together, discovered they live within thirty miles of each other, and he has asked her for her contact information. And so she waits for him to call, because she is a product of her time. Who among us women of a certain age can’t remember that angst, waiting for a call that may or may not come?

Abby wishes she’d have asked Luke for his numbers too. It is 2011, after all and women are allowed to call men. She works outside in the garden for an hour or two each day, then goes inside. Maybe he’s called. She checks voicemail, checks caller id for a number which could be his. Monday goes by, then Tuesday. How long did he intend to wait? Maybe he’s had second thoughts, which was always the problem, people had second thoughts, decided no, that hadn’t really been such a good idea after all. By Wednesday, she decides, figures out, that he probably won’t call — if he’d been serious, surely he’d have done it by now — but still she hopes, and when the phone rings after dinner and caller id says “Private” she feels hopeless but answers it, just in case. It’s possible, people could be “Private” too, isn’t it? But it isn’t, it’s the Democrats asking for donations, time or money. No, no! She wants to yell at them. Leave me alone, just don’t ask me about this stuff right now, I can’t think about it. She feels like crying, she’s that disappointed. She pours a glass of red wine, lights several candles in the bathroom and soaks in the big tub until the water goes cold, so she lets some out and adds more hot, something she would never have done, under normal circumstances. Normally, she is conservative, about everything except politics. Conserving water, and heat, and gas, so she doesn’t consume  more than necessary. Recycle, recycle. Recycling is a way of life, preserve the earth, leave it in as good shape as possible, don’t be conspicuous in your consumption of anything.

My style would be longer complex sentences, that sometimes dart off in directions, as sometimes people’s thoughts do, mixed with shorter sentences. I wanted to show the internal conflict of Abby, and how she keeps hoping while feeling it’s pretty much hopeless. She thought he’d call right away, but since he hasn’t she thinks he probably didn’t feel about the weekend the way she did. The author’s voice (mine) comes out because these are things I have thought, and so I think it’s a good example of the disappointment, confusion, and a bit of politics thrown in, to describe Abby and what kind of person she is.

I liked this paragraph after I wrote it. It’s me, it’s my voice. If others don’t like it, that’s all right. People who read different genres may alternately think it’s too brittle, or too sappy. But I’m guessing there are a few who will like it. And that’s what I’m counting on.

My Top 40 Favorite Corporate Buzzwords

There are so many great, fun buzzwords, it’s hard to pick my top 40. I’m interested in corporate nonsense, the character in my next book, February Moon, will be too. He’s an “I’ve seen it all” kind of guy, who isn’t impressed with EYMs any longer (Earnest Young Men. You know the type, the twenty somethings who regularly congratulate others on what a “good job” they did doing whatever it is they do.)

Our hero may have been an EYM in the past but he certainly isn’t any longer, having age and experience in his background. And in fact, he and his likewise jaded friend coin their own phrase to see how it takes off and a funny meeting ensues as they discuss “storming the glass castle”, which is met with blank stares by the other meeting-goers who know they should know what storming the glass castle means, but don’t.

Here’s my Top 40 and their definitions (according to me):

1. At the end of the day – The realization that one can plan and plot, figure and reconfigure, all day long, but nothing will change.

2. Bandwidth – As in, do we have enough bandwidth to accomplish this? Or, how many people can we force to work overtime to get it done?

3. Bio break – Visiting the restroom.

4. Blue sky thinking – (See thinking “outside the box”.) The person who comes up with the most bizarre solution wins.

5. Bobbleheading – Mass nods, agreement with the boss, even though he may have his head up somewhere dark.

6. Challenges – Things we suck at.

7. Change management – Forcing objectionable ideas down the throats of customers / employees without them noticing.

8. Come up with an action plan – A “to do” list, but action plan sounds a lot more businesslike and so much cooler.

9. Customer-centric – The pretense that everything we do is with the customer in mind, usually said to the customer.

10. Deliverables – Things that need to get done and stuff that needs to happen, which may or may not, get done or happen.

11. Drink the Kool-Aid – Hold your nose and suck it up until you can collect early Social Security.

12. Empowering our employees – Getting them to work on the weekend.

13. Goal-oriented – Being committed to a future event or future competence, as in “my goal is to end world hunger” or “my goal is to win the lottery” or “my goal is to make it to the weekend”.

14. Going forward – The act of putting bad news behind you so that no one talks about it anymore. Politicians like to use this phrase after they’ve been seen shirtless on YouTube and corporations like BP use it so people will stop talking about how they have totally screwed up our environment and instead start talking about how the price of their stock has rebounded.

15. It’s a new headwind for us – We suck at this.

16. Knowledge transfer – What you do when someone in India is taking your job.

17. Lessons learned – All the stuff that went horribly wrong, and how to keep it from happening again, which of course you can’t because next time it will be new stuff that goes horribly wrong.

18. Leveraging – Stealing someone else’s ideas or expertise, usually without his or her knowledge and in the unlikely event that it is with his or her knowledge, is documented in the form of an email to that person alone where you acknowledge the leveraging but don’t copy anyone else. You rely on the person’s unwillingness to forward the email at the risk of drawing attention to himself and not appearing to be a “team player”.

19. Low-hanging fruit – Stuff that is really easy to do, which has a lot of eye appeal – usually things like papers flying into folders, spinning icons, and mouseovers with a hint of humor.

20. Managing expectations – Being very careful to point out what the project won’t do, so, by contrast, what it will do, will seem awesome and like, totally amazing.

21. Moving the goal posts – Changing the rules midstream as soon as you know that the project is doomed to failure. See “Managing Expectations”.

22. Multi-tasking – Able to walk and chew gum, simultaneously, or able to debug a Java class while listening to Foo Fighters.

23. Next steps – What you propose when your one-hour meeting is up and nothing has been decided.

24. Offline – As in “let’s take that offline”, which means, shut up and I’ll call you later. Only I won’t.

25. On the same page – Oh, groan. Does anyone still say this? It was cute the first time someone thought it up, but now saying it risks corporate shunning. It means having the same tired, slanted, prejudicial corporate mindset as everyone else.

26. Open door policy – The pretense that someone, usually a manager, will actually listen to someone who reports to him. It sounds good in an email, but is a dangerous activity to actually attempt.

27. Think outside the box – Having an original idea, as if anyone could in corporate America. Figuring out new ways to do something, which accomplishes the same old results. This one too, is pretty tired and worn out, so use it with caution.

28. Outsourcing – Elimination of the American middle class.

29. Ownership – Shifting responsibility to someone else so you don’t have to be bothered with supporting it, as, “I’m giving you ownership of our bankrupt client backlist”.

30. Paradigm shift – A new way of thinking about an old, tired subject. Commonly used by dumb people who want to sound smart (note the silent “g”).

31. Proactive – The main ingredient in buzzword soup. A high-scoring word that no resume or project proposal is complete without, at least once in every paragraph. The opposite of reactive, which is bad. Basically, it means, after the meeting, I will get my email out first because I type faster than you, thus, making me “proactive”.

32. Repurposing – The after-the-fact redefinition of the goal of a process or project to comply with what has already been developed, not necessarily what anyone actually wanted.

33. Seamless – The act of incorporating change that is invisible to the naked eye, unnoticeable, a “seamless” transition, until 2:00 AM when all hell breaks loose.

34. Skills transfer – (See outsourcing, above.) When what you do well is given to someone else to do, and you are given things to do that you do, not well.

35. Singing from the same songsheet – Being able to mindlessly reiterate all corporate buzzwords and bs, as if you had thought of it yourself.

36. Ten-thousand foot view – The big picture, i.e., having a lot of grand ideas with no clue as to how to get any of them to work.

37. Touch base – Sending a CYA email to someone to let them know that you haven’t yet done anything, and, in fact, have no intention of doing anything, about a problem to which there is no solution.

38. Transitioning – (See outsourcing, above.) The opposite of a promotion, a lateral move, which is on a gradual, slight decline, usually resulting in the elimination of bonuses or salary increases. As in, “I’m transitioning from Corporate to the Mayville branch.”

39. Win-win – Management wins, customers and employees lose.

40. Wish-list – A well-organized spreadsheet of nice-to-have items, usually prepared by clients, that would increase productivity and improve accuracy, and which they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting.

It is important to note, that “buzzword” is in itself a buzzword, making it iterative and circular. And totally confusing.

Please comment with your favorite buzzword!

The Almost Perigee Moon and Inspirations for New Writings

We’ve been hearing about the perigee moon for the last week, when we weren’t hearing about what’s happening in Japan and Libya. I haven’t paid too much attention to this phenomenon in the past, but now that I’m interested in all things lunar, I am learning all I can about it.

The moon hasn’t been this close to the earth in eighteen years, and it will be eighteen more until it happens again. I caught the one-month-prior-to-perigee, last month in Clearwater, Florida. At least I think that’s how it works. Seems like it would be a gradual progression for nine years to the blue moon, or apogee, moon, and then back for the next nine, and in 2029, we’re scheduled to see the Super Moon again.

For the last several months, I’ve started to plot my next book. The first chapter is the night of the perigee moon. Actually, it’s the month before, the February Moon. I like that much better than March Moon, and I don’t want the title to be Perigee Moon since some readers might not know what that is. I like January Moon too, but think I’ll go for February. Last time I had the book, but not the title, this time I have the title, but not the book. At least, not yet.

Chapter One:

Our hero, as yet unnamed but let’s call him Luke, wakes to see it, moonlight so bright it streams into the room. Luke is interested in astrology, the stars, and the moon, and he stumbles around, finding his camera, turning on the light, to find his clothes so he can go out to take a picture of it. He is also an avid photo-taker.

He wakes his wife, and tells her to look at the moon. She mumbles at him and calls him an expletive. She has to work in the morning, she says, he should leave her alone. He goes outside and takes his pictures, but after he’s done that, he sits down on the patio and contemplates what just happened.

He compares his life with his wife (for now let’s call her Kate), which started when they were children, to a football game.

The home team never quite lives up to the expectations set for it each year, but still the fans are hopeful, so hopeful. This could be the game. This could be it. It’s a home game, and the weather sucks and the home team is used to that, and none of the players have been hurt so far this year, and the QB is in great shape, completely recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered last season. It’s a very important game. Win it, and the home team still has a shot at getting into the playoffs. Lose and it’s a no go.

At halftime, the home team is down by two touchdowns and hope is waning a little, but there’s still plenty of time. It’s only half time after all, and maybe the coach will pull off a miracle in the locker room, and the team will come back rejuvenated, competent and confident. Evidently, the opposing team coach did the same thing because no points are scored until about a minute before the third quarter ends, and the home team makes a field goal. Hope returns. Now they are only eleven points down. Two scores could win it, or a field goal and a score with a two-point conversion could tie it up, and after that it’s a new game. Overtime. Yes, there’s still time. The fans are on the edges of their seats.

The fourth quarter is agonizing, offense sucks, defense is good, lots of football players ending up in big piles. At the two-minute mark, our team is still eleven points behind, but there’s still time. A miracle could happen. One of those games maybe, that’s talked about for years after. Fourth down, got to go for it, the QB falls back and it look like it’s sack time, and he wings it. It’s a high flyer, a regular Hail Mary, the crowd holds its collective breath, and moves as one as each pair of eyes follows the ball.

It’s intercepted.

And at that point, everyone in the stadium knows what the outcome will be. Hope is gone. There’s no way for a recovery after this. It won’t happen. It’s not possible. The fans start to leave, so they can get out quickly, to avoid the parking lot snarl, get to the bars and restaurants sooner.

Luke thinks about his relationship with Kate, and the February Moon was the interception. All the past hurts he’s built up, and stored away, weren’t enough to do it, but the February Moon was the tipping point. It pushes him over the edge. There’s no hope left.

He remembers the time they hosted a Fourth of July party, and he’d come into the kitchen where Kate and other women were gathered, and when she saw him she said to her friends, “Don’t you think my husband is cute, in a duh kind of way?” The women laughed, and Luke stared at his wife, hoping to convey to her that he was mad, hurt, upset. She laughed at him. He figures that was about halftime.

He thinks about a glass with water dripping into it, drop by drop. There’s plenty of room, plenty of room, and finally the water reaches the top and the drops keep coming, and it seems as if the liquid bubbles up over the rim of the glass while it hugs the sides, hanging on, straining, until the last drop falls, the one that causes the contents to spill over. The February Moon.