31 October 2009

NaNoWriMo Minus 1

Having a few hours to kill in an airport and on a plane, I made use of pen and paper to begin planning my NaNoWriMo project. As I understand the rules, prework is okay before November 1st, and since I've never written a novel before, I thought I might at least explore a few ideas.

Yesterday, I saw a televised interview with John Irving. One things that Irving said that intrigued me was that he doesn't start writing his book until he knows the last sentence. It was, he explained, the only way he knew how to begin a plot driven work.

I'm not going to doubt a best-selling author's process, just as I would not doubt someone who had written several unpublished works, because I really haven't a clue how one writes a book. What I think the follow up questions should have been, though, was this: how often does that sentence remain the last sentence?

I wrote a last sentence and it isn't too bad as sentences go, but it really was no more than a prompt. It started me thinking and, although it was a workable sentence, potentially a poignant last sentence that with lots of work might be within reach of Fitzgerald's green light Gatsby close, I quickly realized that I probably didn't have a book. So much for that idea.

The fun part about imagining is not knowing where your brain is going to take you. I continued to write down ideas, drifting away from my last sentence. Soon I had several seemingly unrelated ideas, but I saw a pattern revealing itself.

So, while I think that there is more to the pattern to be found, and that the discovery will come in the writing -- and more certainly in the editing to follow after Nov 30 -- I now have a core idea. Nature, time and place will figure prominently in this project. What I'm envisioning is a series of loosely related stories. I've outlined the chapters and have given them working titles. The titles will serve as writing prompts. For about half of these, I already know either the characters or the plot. Some characters will be recurring, but in some chapters, place and nature/season will be what ties the piece to work as a whole. It may not work out, but it's where I'm headed right now.

I don't know why I feel compelled to put the working chapter titles here, but in some ways it makes it seem more real. If I focus on one of these a day for the next 30 days, I should have at least something of length, even if not of significance by the end of NaNoWriMo. This list is in a vague thematic order that is more or less seasonal, but it is not the order that I think that the book will actually be.

The Map
Driving Lessons
The convertible and the tree
A Tale of a Bird Watcher
Ah, Pioneers
Flower and Patio
If It's Worth Building
Summer Storm
Getting Glasses
Home is not home if there are no oak trees
Fireflies and fireworks
Spook Spoof
Putting Dad to Bed
The Greenway Trial
Cowboy Camp
Deerhunters and the Tea Party
Fire Sale
Selling the Farm
An Accident
5 Cents or The Dr. Is In
I'm Older than John Glenn
It was colder than this in 1875

As I actually get some words down on paper, I might be willing to share some of this with readers I trust. Let me know if you're interested...I probably will not look at specific criticisms until I'm ready to begin editing in December, but I'll take any encouraging words throughout November.

30 October 2009

I will blame Courtney...

Courtney unsuspectingly put the bug in my head a few days ago. I'm going to attempt to expunge a poor first novel by writing it during NaNoWriMo. We'll see how far I make it. I haven't posted here much this year, so there probably won't be much change in what is posted here for the next month. Wish me well.

This may be one of the pictures I gaze upon when trying to find new ways to procrastinate -- err, I mean -- write.

28 October 2009

Book Review: It Happened in Italy

It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust, by Elizabeth Bettina, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2009.

This was a selection for my book discussion group this month. I was intrigued by the subject and was expecting something more than I got from this book.

Bettina, in this book, tells about how she learned, unexpectedly, that her ancestral town in Italy, where she traveled frequently as a child, had been the site of a Jewish internment camp during World War II. Even more surprising, though, was that this camp was not like the horrible death camps run by the Nazis. Unlike their fellow Jews in other parts of Europe, most of the Jews in Italy survived. The survivors documented in this book repeatedly talked about the generosity of the Italians who treated them humanely, and, when the Germans came, saved them by hiding them.

This sounds like a great story, right? I thought so, which is why I was so disappointed in this book. Great stories don't always make good books if the writing is not good. The book was more about the author's journey of discovery than about the survivors. As such, it was repetitive and boring. The book is desperately in need of very serious editing. If any chapter was submitted as a draft in a college writing class, I imagine that 'Show; don't tell" would be written across the pages.

Still, many of the photos and documents reproduced in the book are fascinating. It is uplifting to know that there were good people who worked to save their fellow human beings. The author writes about how she and her colleague videotaped the survivors of the Italian camps that they met. I'm sure that a documentary of the survivors would be much more interesting and I would watch it if it were available. Nowhere in the book does the author indicate that it has been distributed. Too bad. I think it would be more interesting than her story of finding these individuals.

26 October 2009

Dusting off the cobwebs and ....

...chasing out the ghosts on this blog to actually respond to a tag. Emily has tagged me for her Haunted Halloween meme and I thought I'd do it rather than risk being cursed by spurned spirits.

1) Which urban legend ghost scared the bejeezus out of you when you were a kid? One could have scared me with any of them, but the one that frightened me the most was a local one: The House of Blue Lights. Living only a few miles away, I was both excited -- and terrified -- by the thought of a nearby haunted house, illuminated with blue strobe lights where some crazy old man kept the mummified corpse of his wife, buried in her wedding dress, in a casket. There were many versions of the story of how she died and none of them were pleasant. The land was donated to the city many years ago and is now an urban nature park with forest and prairie plantings. I still live nearby the area, and I have no idea if school children still tell tales of The House of Blue Lights, but if they went on a walk through Skils Test Nature Park, I'm sure they could make some up when they came across the occasional reminder that there was once a house on the property.

2). Which horror movie has the best premise? Hands down, the best is Hitchock's The Birds. Scared the birdcrap out of me the first time I saw it. And the second. And the third. And many times thereafter when seeing a flock of nasty, cackling crows. The only time seeing the movie didn't scare me was when I watched part of it through a store window on a foggy night in Lucerne, but that probably had something to do with the beer I had consummed.

3) What is the most disappointing "treat" to receive in your bag on Halloween night?
Necco Wafers. I detested the chalky circles that always reminded me of an old granny's handkerchief drawer. It was such a disappointment to find them in my trick-or-treat bag. I was always suspicious that they were tainted with some foul-tasting substance that was probably good for you, like cod-liver oil. I'd always grumble about who was the cheap old meany that passed them out as treats. The mother of a friend loved Neccos and at her wake a few years ago, her granddaughters passed out wafers to everybody. A few weeks later, another friend and I were walking along the greenway and I realized that I had them in my coat pocket. As an odd memorial to our friend's mother, we opened the pack and popped some of the dusty wafers into our mouths. A few seconds later, we both spit them out, laughing at how horrible those nasty smelling things are.

4) What's the best non-candy item to receive? The smiles on kids' faces when they're having fun on Halloween, especially the little ones when you remark about their costumes. Or when you tell them you weren't expecting trick-or-treaters so you'll have to give them money. I guess that might be the best non-candy item to receive. It's worked the few times that I've been caught without candy.

5) Did a monster live in your closet when you were a child? I sometimes thought that the monster that lived in the hallway in my aunt's house sometimes visited my closet, but I was quite happy when he would return to her house and the creepy long, windowless hallway that lead from the front door to the butler's pantry. I didn't know what a butler was, but his ghost frightened me. Worse, we weren't' allowed to go through the living room in the morning, so the hallway was the only way to get to breakfast. If you made it to the end of the dark hallway, you had to open the creaky door with the stubborn doorknob quickly, because the butler's ghost might have made a trip to the basement and catch you by the stairs before you escaped into the safety of the kitchen. No wonder I started drinking coffee at an early age: needed it to calm my nerves!

6) Which supernatural creature sent chills up your spine when you were ten and still does? I had enough fears embedded in my young brain by the nuns and I so feared vengeful angels would scatter my sinful soul to the four corners of the earth that those other creatures didn't faze me. Come to think of it, maybe the nuns were the supernatural creature that sent chills up my spine!

7) Which supernatural creature makes you yawn? Vampires and werewolves.

8) What's your favorite Halloween decoration? I don't decorate for Halloween, but the best decoration when I was a kid was my neighbor's house. They would have candles lining the driveway and walk, a coffin on the front porch, and a gigantic spiderweb about 10 feet across, reaching from gutterline to front walkway that you had to walk under to ring the doorbell. The neighbor would dress as a witch. Creepy music would play. Unsuspected trick-or-treaters would be startled as she slowly raised herself from the coffin, or jumped out from behind the bushes to deliver candy. She always wore ghoulish costumes. Her daughter was always dressed as a fairy princess. Is it any wonder that I occassionally have dreams where I'm running through suburban yards and suddenly realize that it is that house?

9) If you could be anywhere on Halloween night, where would you be? At home. If not there, somewhere where nobody teepees your trees, smashes your pumpkin, soaps your windows, graffittis your car, or drinks beer as they escort their kids through the neighborhood. That describes my old neighborhood and it makes me happy that we've only had a handful of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood in the last 10 years.