Saturday, October 31, 2015

It's NaNo time!

It's 9:30 PM on Halloween night and I'm at Denny's. NaNoWriMo* begins at midnight and the regional NaNo group has gathered to socialize, play games, and then get down to business on their next epic masterpiece. I'll be gone before then, of course. There's church in the morning and my poor wife is at home sick from an illness I gave her. It can wait until a more reasonable hour.

The woman at my table is twice my age. She wears a leopard print shirt with a thickly knit scarf wrapped around her neck. Giant pumpkin shaped bells dangle from her ears. She says she's done this four times before and that she writes "historical fantasy." When asked to share an interesting fact about her, she tells us her house is haunted. And when it comes out that I'm a Mormon she promises not to make any Mormon jokes. I like her.

The head of the NaNoWriMo group is dressed in Hogwarts Robes and her curly hair is tinted purple where it falls on her shoulders. She's pacing between the tables and booths, chatting to the dozen or so NaNos like she's an extrovert. I find myself admiring her enthusiasm and positive attitude, and each time she offers me a chocolate from the giant candy dish, I feel I have no choice but to comply.

Some of these people are dressed in Halloween costumes, though I can't be certain it's not their everyday atire. It's an interesting group and as strange as I feel admitting I'm here among these huge nerds, I think it's about time I grow up and embrase the crowd. As I peer around the room I feel the need to stand up and apologize for my insulting and condencending perception of them. Instead, I'll keep my mouth shut and focus on the things we have in common. For one, we're all at Denny's on Halloween night, super stoked to get started on a story we'll likely never publish. Maybe they're writing super nerdy stuff about dragons and magic but I'm the big tool writing about mermaids. Who's the loser now, Ben? Who's the loser NOW?

I am a writer. These people are writers. All of us dream of emulating our heros and someday becoming real** writers. I am no different than them.
It's now 11:30 pm and I'm heading home. Everyone has their laptops out and are typing away at a writing prompt. When I tell them I'm leaving they pause everything to take a group photo. They want to make sure I'm included. I guess that makes me a part of the team now.

The majority of them will be there until 2 or 3 AM, surviving and persevering on cheap Denny's coffee and passion. One thing I honestly admire about them is that they all take this way more seriously than I do. And that's my problem. They're working hard at chasing their dream, but I can't help but feel like I'm still just dreaming.
It's time to get started.

*NaNoWriMo is a terribly unfortunate acronym for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is for aspiring to gain experience by committing to writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. For those who don't write full time, it's a huge committment.

Monday, October 19, 2015

I am not a writing nerd...I am a PUBLISHED writing nerd.

This is the first revamp of the GOATS IN THE ATTIC blog since my declaration that "I am not a nerd!" back in May 2013. A lot has changed since then.

I live in New York now, I have a real career in sales, I'm a father of two amazing little girls, and I am still not a nerd. I'm being published again too! Awesome, right?

Rather than the GOATS IN THE ATTIC blog focusing on the mundane and superficial garbage of life, I'd like to start talking about my writing more. I've decided that in my pursuit of a writing career I've been doing it all wrong. Because of my "not a nerd" mentality, I've withdrawn a bit from the creative side of my psyche. I've refused to do certain things that are vital to my progression as a writer; like meeting with nerdy writing groups, reading nerdy stories, and actually writing the nerdy stuff I want to write. It turns out I really enjoy those things and if I want to be a writer I need to suck in my un-nerdy-like pride, accept that inner nerd, and start writing from the heart.

Finding time to write is the most difficult aspect of writing. When your family, job, and church responsibilities take up the majority of your time, it feels selfish to sneak away for a few hours a week and play with imaginary worlds and their silly imaginary characters. Sometimes it's difficult just finding the energy to write. Weeks can go by without writing more than a few paragraphs of revisions. And sometimes I'll hash out a few hundreds words on my lunch break only to forget about them and abandon the project. It's frustrating.

Her are a few excuses for why it's taken a decade to get this far.

I don't have time.
I'm tired.
I don't feel like writing sometimes.
I need to carve pumpkins with the kids.
I'm tired.
I'm in church and my wife is glaring at me because my writing notebook is open.
Now my daughter is trying to steal the pen from me.
I'm tired.

These are common excuses for any artist, so don't feel bad for me.

Now I'm going to share a semi-random story because I don't know where to go with this blog post.

I "decided" to become a writer in 2005 while living on a friend's couch in Salt Lake City. I wouldn't write my first story, Happy's Nest, until 2007. For the next three years I wrote nothing but story lines for projects I'd never finish and revised Happy's Nest a dozen times. After chickening out at the deadline, twice, I finally submitted my story for publication in February of 2010 to Utah Valley University's sci-fi/fantasy journal, Warp and Weave. When I learned it had been accepted, I felt like a rock star who, after producing their first moderately successful hit, was truly destined for fame! Over the next few years I wrote a series of short stories that would all be rejected by Warp and Weave. In all seriousness, Warp and Weave is not a prestigious publication. No one outside of the English department at UVU and the families of the published writers will ever read it. If your prose is coherent and your story is remotely interesting, they'll probably accept you. That being follow up work must have been atrocious. And I'm being harsh on W&W. I was accepted out of 200+ submissions so it's not like they're choosing the best 12 stories of 12 submisssions.

I've read and analysed Happy's Nest dozens of times in an attempt to uncover what it has that my other stories have lacked. The answer? Coherent prose, an accidentally structured and engaging narrative, and (most of all) spot-on humor.

Have you ever watched a sitcom tackle a dark story line like death, and still manage to make you laugh? Sometimes these jokes are the funniest because they're completely unexpected. Let me tell you why the humor in Happy's Nest worked. I'll explain by describing the crowd's reaction when I read the story at the release party.

Happy's Nest opens with a scene of chaos and riots. The world is about to end. It's interesting enough to get the attention of my audience, but light enough that they're not thrown off by what happens next - a joke. I get a chuckle from the audience. The story continues with more explaination about the character's situation and then there's a knock on his door. Who could it be? Someone to hurt him? Someone to rob him? The suspense builds as he opens the door. Oh, it's just the neighbor and BAM! another joke. The crowd laughs, this time with more than a chuckle. This scene carries on for a page or two and is littered with jokes, including the line, "What does Jesus have to do with dinosaurs?" The audience is roaring with laughter now and everything seems to be funny, even the bits that weren't intended to be. Then, in the next scene, my character moves back to the original setting and sees the horrifying aftermath of the riots. The character is startled by what he sees and the gravity of the situation sinks in. The audience is at the edge of their seats now, wondering what's going to happen next. I'm sure that some of them expected me to end it there, which I almost did. But what did I do instead? I toss in one last joke and the crowd goes nuts. I'll be honest, when I was writing it I didn't think it was that funny so their reaction threw me off. I follow the joke with a calm, retrospective moment and a embarrassingly cliched ending. Then the crowd applauds and I sit down. I don't win any awards but, man, I felt like a great writer.

The story is not as good as I make it sound. The prose is weak and cliched, and I felt embarrassed that it was included with work from more experienced writers. But the humor was perfect - a fluke maybe, but perfect. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was enough to add a publishing credit to my name and on my first attempt too.

My first truly completed piece since then is a short story titled HEADS, and it will be published in Warp and Weave's Fall 2015 edition. This story came from a dream I had about being abducted by aliens and having something implanted into my brain that took control of my body. Funny side note, when my alarm rang and I awoke from the dream, I was startled to find both of my arms asleep. It was terrifying and there's a moment in the story where I hope to convey that moment.

The story went through many drafts, some I liked more than my final draft. But I'm happy with what I created and I guess it was good enough to be published. I think the story is exactly what it needs to be for the intended publication and I can only hope it turns out as good as Happy's Nest.

I'm excited about it, though I wish I could be there to read it at the release party. I'm curious to see how the audience reacts to the "brain matter in the pancakes."