Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Names as First Names as Last Names

What have I been up to? After completing my novella roughly a week ago I've done some small stuff; worked on a couple pieces of flash fiction, which makes a nice change of pace from a big long project of 20,000 words.

I've also been preparing and sending out a bunch of short stories; I think I have a half dozen floating around in various slush piles across the fiction-reading world. And every different market has a different format they want to see it in ... if I get any news on those it will be in weeks or months. I suppose I could write another novella in the meantime to keep myself busy?

Besides this I am reading the same book of dark fantasy I was a week ago. Which is just fine except for a problem I had with one of the stories that perhaps no one else in the world would even notice. You could say it's a pet peeve, but I simply don't understand stories in which the main character, being a normal everyday fellow (because it's never a woman) is referred to throughout by his last name. As in, the character's name is John Doe but the narration goes, 'Doe got up, Doe went to the door, Doe realized no one had even knocked.' 

If the character worked in a place where he was always referred to by his last name--in the military, for example--maybe this would make sense. But I think not. Does anyone in the world think of themselves by their last name? And isn't the narration of the story supposed to let us in on the main character's point of view? There's just something very distancing about a main character whose last name is used as a first name.

And notice I say above that this is reserved for male characters. Of course! Because if I wrote 'James got up, James cartwheeled to the door, James forgot it was locked before cartwheeling straight into it,' you wouldn't be able to think of this narration as referring to a woman, although that's my last name. I don't cartwheel into doors, but if I did it would be Marissa, not James, and I tend to believe this would be true for pretty much everyone in the world, male or female.

Now, someone out there may be thinking along these lines: the last-name-as-first-name thing is meant to distance the reader from the main character, to create a barrier or rift between them, or to signal that the main character is the kind of person who would be referred to by last name by others. Maybe. But there are other ways to do these, I think, that don't sound so uncomfortable to my ear.

Any other opinions or comments on this topic? Because James would like to know if she's the only one in the world who's even noticed this as an issue. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


Yay! A little more than two weeks into the epic novella writing quest, I've done it! Came back from a ridiculous 9-hour shift at work, had dinner, and wrote (typed, technically) the final scene. Everyone lives happily ever after--at least everyone I choose.

It probably helped that I sat at the library for four hours the day before to flesh out the ending, during which I accomplished six pages because, let's be honest, no one at the library is going to bother you, talk to you, read over your shoulder (especially when you have that surly, intent look on your face) whereas, living with three other people and a whiny cat spells constant distraction whether they intend it or not. More so when they're trying to vacuum the floor underneath you as you attempt to remember what was supposed to happen next.

So, I'm feeling as happy as a particularly cheery clam. Step 1 down; now to let the story brew for about a week, then give it an edit or two because there are things I know need to be cleaned up (I have a list; that's the thing about speed-writing) and then I can send it off to the place it's meant to go.

I want to start something new today and there are various ideas bubbling through my mind; we'll see what comes of them before I have to go to work.

What I'm reading: I just finished Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale, which was good. Not what I'd expected after reading his short fiction and being a big fan of Bubba Ho-Tep, both the story and film. But I have another collection of his short fiction on hand so I'm happy about that. Also reading an anthology of dark fantasy--strangely, I had a much darker vision of what the term 'dark fantasy' included. Maybe I'm thinking Lovecraftian? Or maybe I'm overly demanding?

I also just recently rediscovered my copy of Abbey Road and have been listening nonstop to that. Yep, this here is one happy clam.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

So, six days into the great novella-writing quest, I'm feeling good about the progress.

Like a caffeinated chimp at a typewriter I've managed to bang out over 11,000 words so far--with a minimum of 17,500 expected. True, I have not quite made the 2000-words-per-day goal, but quality over quantity, right? And yes, that thing called a job that I have, it does interfere now and again.

As I noted in the last post, I don't really work with an outline. I have some scribbled notes, mainly because I'm writing at speed and won't have as much opportunity to go back and edit as I'd generally like. And also, I usually write short stories; with a smaller arc it's easier to keep track of everything in my head.

The remainder of the story has been roughed out in my mind; I know where I'm going, how I'm getting there, and pretty much when I'm going to arrive. And for me, a little vagary isn't a bad thing. So what if I don't know the exact details of the finale yet?  I've got a good idea of how many more words I'll require to tell the story--from experience, I can estimate that based on the number of scenes, and how long they'll be, and what's going on ... and then I can add maybe 2000 words on top of that guess. From experience.

Still, I'm pretty happy with the progress, and if I can keep up this rate of production, I'll be done this time next week (!). Amazing to think a chimp--properly caffeinated--can thrash a novella into existence in two weeks!

Since the last post, I thought maybe I'd like to add a 'reading list' to the end of my posts, to give an idea of not just what I'm up to, but also what I'm digesting at the moment. So, without further ado...

What I'm reading: Yes, I have given up on the book with the flaming horses and epicness, though I'm a little sad about that. Instead, it's been short stories by Louis L'Amour (they're all the exact same length), short stories in my first copy of Shimmer magazine (which is delightful and now I know why they named it Shimmer), and other random short fiction on web magazines. Oh, and copious amounts of research on Wikipedia relating to the topic of my novella. And an archaeology magazine, because I've got to stay on top of the latest developments in the neanderthal-as-artist debate.

Friday, August 3, 2012

I have decided to complicate my life.

Not too much, and not forever, but this week I discovered a call for novellas of a certain theme, which will be closing at the end of next month. Having a good idea on the theme bouncing around in my head for a while, but not a single word started, I have decided to try and belt it out--a minimum of 17,500 words in five weeks? That's not really a lot, mathematically speaking; heck, if I can write 2000 words a day--which I know I can do--I can be done in ten days. Wow! Doable! Now, as long as working a real job doesn't get in the way, and minor details like the fact that I don't use an outline but just whatever's been straightened out in my mind, we'll be set.

I've heard authors say that writing fast, at a steady clip, is the best way to do it, and I agree. It keeps your enthusiasm up and you're able to focus on getting it done, rather than quibbling over stupidness like 'what was Ralph's eye color on page 4 again?--let me go look it up.' Just recently I went on vacation with a story 4/5 of the way done, came back a week later and griped to myself all the way through the last few pages because, well, the story had worked itself out of my system, I guess. Would that one have turned out any better if I'd got it all done before vacation? Honestly, I don't think so. It would have been about the same but, to me, reading back through it, I remember the enthusiasm that came with one page as opposed to another. Let's hope I'm the only one who can...

On an unrelated note, I think I have given up on the book with the heroically flaming horses on the cover. Not because I don't like it, since I've always been a fan of the author, and not because it's over 700 pages though I generally only have the patience for around 250-300 at the most. No, it's because it's 700 pages with teeny margins and pt 8 font and my eyes can't bear the attempts at reading it. Nor do I feel any great sense of accomplishment when I've been reading for a long time and have only finished ten pages of ant-tracks. I'd rather have the book around, say, 1000 pages that I was capable of reading without eyestrain. That's all.

1200 words down on my novella--got to get back to work!