Random Thoughts on NaNoWriMo, Day 03

Jumble of Creativity

Word count stands at 6192.

And I feel bushed. And I feel satisfied. Enough creativity for one day.

No *extended* excerpt today, mostly just reflections.

I confess that this morning I once again wasted a bit of precious writing time with reading an article written by Laura Miller for salon.com.

I could not resist. Well, I didn’t want to resist; because Laura’s article was a diatribe concerning the reasons a writer, a real writer, should *not* participate in NaNoWriMo.

Waste of time.

For amateurs.

Crappy first drafts ain’t worthy of the literary landscape they seek to occupy.

My tail feathers trembled. My neck hairs bristled.

And my sense of guilt haunted me.

Yep, I’ve been a gruesome naysayer where NaNoWriMo is concerned. Cheesus, the last couple of years I refused to shut the hey up and let people enjoy themselves.

I sounded then much like Laura Miller sounded this morning.

And my true reasons for pooping on the parade? Lack of self-confidence. Envy. Refusal to take risks.

I’m sorry. Bless me Father. Now I’m gonna exit this confession booth and get back to work.

I’m no longer filled with envy, except where Mr. Gene Chamber’s NaNoWriMo project is concerned. Have you read his excerpts? He’s damned good. And he had the nerve to threaten to quit the effort before he began? Dammit, Gene. Stop writing so well, for my sake. Please. Or else I’m coming to Tucson with the boys.

Meanwhile, I left my protagonist, Wallace Tarlow, gumshoe, at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in Weston, West Virginia, having spent the previous night at a cheap motel in Hagerstown, Maryland. He’s on his way to Jasper, Indiana in the Year of Our Lord 1958, where he hopes to find LunaMae’s overbearing Ma and paralyzed preacher of a Pop. Tarlow’s crackin’ wise and he’s trying unsuccessfully to be funny, in spite of the fact that I insisted that he jam his butt into serious second gear. I, the not-so-famous author, feel embarrassed by my output today. But embarrassment won’t stop me, and neither will Laura Miller (or even the talented Mr. Ly Chambers).

The Walt Whitman bridge into Philly looked the same chalky shade of blue as the wintertime sky. He crossed without incident, enjoying the buzzing sound as the Ford rattled its way over the center metal grating. Continuing south on Route 40, into Delaware, he pulled in just once, to pick up a cheap bottle of booze at Lew’s Liquor Establishment. Back on the road after two hot swigs, Tarlow felt almost alive again, alive enough to see his way north of Baltimore, Maryland and then make the push into the dusty burg of Hagerstown.

The Oglethorpe Motel was the first he encountered, and since he was feeling more tired than particular, and since the joint looked run down enough to own reasonable rates, he eased the car into the parking lot.

The man at the front desk had the same pale, clammy and pockmarked face that all motel clerks in black-and-white film noir flicks wore.

“Want a room for just the night, or you plannin’ on stayin’ with us longer, mister?”

“Wouldn’t dream of inconveniencing you for longer than I have to. How much?”

“Does it matter?”

“No, come to think of it, no.”

“Then just slip me four bucks and we’ll call it even.”

Tarlow slid the cash across the counter, and the pockmarked creep grabbed it in exchange for a rusty key.

“Key’s filthy, but then so’s the room. They both look to fit your personality.”

“You don’t know me, mug, so clamp your cave and I’ll see you in the morning. Better yet, I’ll make this the last time you see me, so grab a gander while you can. And if anyone else comes in asking for Tarlow, say you don’t know no Tarlow.”

“What about your dirty Ford? You don’t think the jugheads who are chasing you will notice that it’s the only dead car in the lot?”

“I’ll pull it around back. By the way, ugly little man, you hooked up with a wife?”

“What’s a wife gonna do with a creep like me?”

“I’m not a mind practitioner.”

“Big word, that.”

“Got a big dictionary.”

“You can’t be that desperate for fame.”

“You’re right about that, creep. I’m saving myself for LunaMae, which is another name you should claim ignorance of ever hearing should anyone ask you. Got it?”

“You know anymore the caliber of LunaMae? She sounds delicious.”

“You’re just hungry, maybe starving.”

“We’re all born with appetites, brother?”

“I ain’t no one’s brother, brother. Gimme the frigging key.”

The room clerk, foul-mouthed cretin that he was, was an honest man. The room was musty, stained, gray and otherwise dingy and depressing. The bedsheets stank of perspiration and indiscriminate sex. The windows owned prison bars instead of curtains. A murky print of an oil painting depicted an Indian tribe being slaughtered by American cavalry troops, who in turn were being scalped by noble savages, hung crooked beside the dresser’s muddy mirror.

Tarlow tossed a bathroom towel on the room’s one stuffed chair and fell asleep.

Sometime later, how much time he never would know, a knock at the door startled Tarlow back awake. He stumbled his way across the room, grabbed, twisted and pulled the knob.

“You’re Tarlow. What’d my boys back in AC tellya?”

The punch to his gut came as no surprise to a private dick whose office door held a pane of pebbled glass lettered with black, flaked paint. He fell backward and banged his head against the motel room’s dank and moldy wall, which caused the Indian painting to fall away and onto him.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Tarlow.

“Carl. Leave my mother out of this, or next time I’ll kill you.”

“You haven’t the steely nerves necessary for killing anyone, little man. You probably borrow your underwear from your sister.”

“Well, that may well be the case, seeing as how I’m a disgusting drunk who doesn’t own a weapon other than his now-sore fist. But LunaMae’s my courageous sis, and she’s a real bitch, buster, bucko, fucko private eye. So just watch where you’re slapping those gummy shoes of
yours, or else.”

Tarlow didn’t bother with trying to mutter the “or else what” line, because he already knew the answer to that question.

They’re Only Words: NaNoWriMo Eve

Happy HalloNaNoWriMoween

At 12:00 midnight, November 01, 2010, I shall begin to write my bad NaNoWriMo novel. Notice how, in the spirit of the spirit of the thing, I use the word “shall” rather than “will.” I shall complete my 50,000 word execrable monster of a book by 12:00 midnight, November 30, 2010. During that time I might find it necessary to write nothing else of literary worth, not even here on the ever-famous Spilled Beans site. I have owned the Spilled Beans domain name for many years now, and only death shall steal that name from my grip.

“Why?” you ask. “Why no stories here that might be worth the effort to read them?”

“Well, I might post brief excerpts of my novel here, all according to the philosophy delivered to me by the Great God NaNoWriMo: After all, they’re only words. One word follows the one before.”

So onward. Today’s reflection is not an excerpt, because I obey the Great God’s invocation not to begin my bad novel until the hour set in stone tablets at the mountaintop once scaled by the intrepid apostle Chris Baty.

Wallace Tarlow shot Mr. Chadwick Bakey of Jasper, Indiana on a late November afternoon in 1958 after the two men argued about the price of a pane of pebbled glass. Tarlow used what he thought was a snub-nosed thirty-eight caliber revolver to do the deed. But then Wallace Tarlow knew nothing more of guns than that which he read in detective novels of the 1930s and 1940s.

Mr. Bakey stared wide-eyed at the sight of black-and-white blood spurting from his suited chest, and then he fell to the dusty wooden floor of his office, shivered and died. Tarlow shook his head back and forth because the sound of the gun firing deafened him and left him with a headache.

Harvest Lane was, at the time of this gruesome crime, a quiet street, a sharp turn off West 47th Street and not a long walk from the post office on North Portersville Drive. Tarlow looked right and left as he departed Bakey’s Antique Shoppe, the pane of pebbled glass awkwardly poised under his arm. He expected that the gunshot’s shock would draw the ever-curious crowd of cliched onlookers, but in 1958 there were no crowds to be had anywhere in Jasper, Indiana.

He opened the door of the 1946 Ford he’d bought to suit the plan for mystery and romance he had in mind, wrapped the thing in a chenille bedspread, tilted it at an angle between the car’s back and front seats so as to secure it against breakage, and sped off for home in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Ohio Avenue — pronounced Ohiuh Abna by the locals, close to railroad tracks that saw little use except in summertime, when a flood of blue-collar tourists descended on the boardwalk city. Number 2472. A vacant office that once was home to a tired accountant named Tiny Battaglia. Tarlow eased the Ford onto the gravel driveway, slipped his treasure from the car with great care and carried it inside.

He looked around the premises and saw that all was good. Except, that is, for the rectangular space inside the inner door, the one that required a pane of pebbled glass.

“It has to be pebbled glass, cut close to the following dimensions,” said Wallace Tarlow to countless real estate agents, estate sale managers and antique collectors for almost a year prior to this day.

“I have one that approximate size in milk glass.”

“How about a translucent window designed for a bathroom?”

“What the hell is pebbled glass, and why do you have to have that kind?”

“It must be pebbled glass, or she won’t come,” said Tarlow. “I can apply the black, flaked paint later on.”

It had been a long and trying year for Mr. Wallace Tarlow, but persistence paid off in the end.

Rather than attempt to cut the glass and thus risk cracking, Tarlow lined the surrounding wood with pencil and sawed. He slid the pane into the door and applied the putty in long, smooth beads. He outlined the letters to spell “Wallace Tarlow, Private Investigator,” and filled them in with quick-drying black paint. With his fingernail, he created flaking.

Next, he entered the inner office where he expected soon to meet her, sat down in the wooden swivel chair, snatched a swatter from his desktop and pretended to slap a green-head fly. He stared at the fly’s remains, picked it up from the floor by its one remaining wing and tossed the mess into the metal wastebasket.

He imagined that the telephone rang, and so he picked up the receiver.

“Mr. Tarlow?” she whispered.

“Yeah, who wants him?”

“Well! How rude of you to ask! I don’t think I want to hire you, not if you’re going to be fresh!”

“Look, you called me, sister, so you must need help. Where are you? Are you, by chance, standing in the telephone booth across the street?”

“Gosh, you are a detective then. How else would you know that I’m almost close enough to touch me?”

“Hey, babe, trouble is my business, but I know where you are because I already read the book several times. That’s your cue, by the way, so get your cute hiney over here so I can flirt with you while you tell me all your problems.”

“Well! I don’t think I want to hire –“

“You’re repeating yourself, sweetheart. I’ll leave the door unlocked, but obey the script and knock anyway.”

She had the face of a mid-western angel. No makeup, hair arranged in a librarian’s bun that begged to be undone, and a twenty-four-inch waist just big enough to handle the grip of a five-foot-six-inch short private detective.

“Sit down,” said Tarlow.

She sat on maybe two inches’ worth of the chair’s edge and wiggled her butt.

“So, you come from Jasper, Indiana. Your brother Carl’s gone missing. Your father was a paralyzed preacher who was brow-beaten by your overbearing and sexually frustrated mother, and you want me to find Carl before we go to bed together.”

“Well, you are a detective then.” she said.

“You have a have a habit of repeating your lines, but I’ll forgive you because you’re cute and delicious, and because this novel won’t go anywhere if we don’t soon get to the point.”

“Is this the part where I ask you how much you charge?”

“Yeah, babe, and I tell you forty dollars a day, which is up from the twenty-five dollars a day of preceding novels, and then you pinch open your change purse and smooth your one, wrinkled twenty-dollar bill out onto my desktop, and –“

“And then you slip the money into an envelope that you in turn slip into your desk’s top drawer, and then you ask me a lot of leading questions about my brother Carl.”

“You forgot the part about your eyeglasses.”

“Go on.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you’d look good in a pair of those cheaters that tilt toward points and make a girl look downright Oriental?”

“I think Asian is the acceptable term nowadays, Mr. Tarlow.”

“Asian, what will they come up with next? Anyway, nowadays, according to my script that is, is 1948. Post-WWII. Black-and-white film noir at the height of its popularity. You get the idea. So we’ll stick with Oriental. Tell me about Carl.”

“Carl’s a good boy, Mr. Tarlow, but he has a temper.”

“That’s good. His temper bodes well for the conflict and mayhem to come. I think we’ve got our readers hooked by now. You see, I began with a murder, not just first-page stuff, but the very first line.”

“Like I said, Carl’s good, but he ran away from our boring neighborhood in Jasper, Indiana. He ran even faster still from the overbearing mother you mentioned a few lines ago, and I can’t find him without your help.” she said.

“Oh yeah, what’s your name. I was supposed to ask you that a few paragraphs ago.”

“LunaMae Chest.”

“No. I guess LunaMae’s just quirky enough. But the Chest part is too damned obvious. I mean, I like the way you’re stacked, but both of us can be more subtle in the way we show, not tell. We’ll call you LunaMae Lanthrop. Now how about you breathe heavy because you’re nervous, and I watch your breasts pumping up and down?”

“Well, I’m not sure I want to hire you, not if you’re going to be so rude.”

“But you will go to bed with me if this novel hits the best-seller list, right?”

“For forty bucks a day?’

“Plus expenses.”

“What kind of girl do you think I am, Mr. Tarlow?”

“Whatever kind I tell you to be, because you have to get this much clear from the get go. I’m the author of this novel. You’re just a bit player from Jasper, Indiana.”

“And I’m still a virgin!”

“Well, okay, we’ll let the reader believe that. It’s probably good for sake of carnal titillation. But let’s not the two of us go overboard while we rehearse.”

“You’ll call me tomorrow with results?”

“My phone call will begin Chapter 2. But right now I want you to leave me, a shy but sly grin on your pretty face, so I can tie up Chapter 1 by pulling a pint bottle of cheap liquor from my desk drawer, swigging a slug straight up and back, wincing man-like, and contemplating the criminal underbelly aspect of Atlantic City, New Jersey.”

Well, readers, that makes 1667 words’ worth of story. That’s one day’s NaNoWriMo requirement. So you’ll have to wait for the rest.

NaNo Novelty

Tabasco Sauce and NaNoCaffeine

During the past few days, I’ve spent time fiddling with Literature and Latte’s “Scrivener” software for Windows, Beta 1.0. The program feels stable, so I plan to use it as I write my NaNoWriMo novel. Much more than a word processor, Scrivener offers a writer free choice as to how to organize a project. Index card approach. Vanilla outline. Straight text. Chunked into the shape of scenes, chapters, concepts, any way you might like to approach the fun.

For my NaNoWriMo project, I’ll create a new section for each day, thirty days, thirty sections.

Why try new software now? Why not trust the tried and true? Because the “newness factor” lends itself toward both inspiration and motivation.

I bought my first computer in the early 1980s. At that time, I was part of a critique group whose members met one evening per week, inside a dark-shadowed house that sat beside a reed-choked bay, a bay that after sunset treated us to feathers of fog laced with the pungent scent of sulfur. Hard-boiled eggs anyone?

I was busy that year with sliding daisy wheels into a word processing machine that owned a narrow window that in turn revealed two lines’ worth of dim green text as I typed. Tap, tap, tap, then a one-button push and last an obedient and noisy clack, clack, clack as my manuscript printed.

Tales of horror, that’s what I penned in those days. If you were alive and reading cheap paperback books during Ronnie Reagan’s reign, then you’ll recall the fact that Stephen King was, well, king. Dean Koontz stayed close on Stevie’s tail as they headed toward the finish line. Shirley Jackson rose from the dead for a brief comeback performance. Across the pond, Ramsey Campbell reminded us that gore was an international affair. And Anthony V. Toscano clacked his minor tales into small-press magazines, elegantly formatted and pressed to foolscap rags in the blurred purple shades that only a mimeograph mother could love.

My career was lagging as I entered the dusty living room for a fateful critique session on a cold November night. Our host’s wife served me a limp cupcake, and I stared at the twelve-inch monitor that twitched and twittered a parade of orange letters.

“It’s just a tool,” said our leader. I think his name was Don. He worked days at a hospital for the criminally insane, and spent his spare time penning a mean expose of the institution that fed his bank account.

There may have been six of us sitting round the circle that night, and maybe a platter piled high with malformed cupcakes on the coffee table. One of us, I’m almost certain, went on to authorial greatness.

But all I could manage that evening was to puzzle out a jumbled series of mathematical calculations that led to my purchase of one of them there computers the very next day.

One megabyte hard drive. Two hundred-fifty-six kilobytes of RAM. Microsoft Word on fifteen floppy disks. Aldus PageMaker on fifteen more. Oh, and on my way out the shop’s door, I asked the proprietor, “What’s that?”

“A modem, 300 baud.”

“I’ll take one of those, too.”

Back at home, sitting at the same desk where this minute I sit before a monster machine and her brood of baby peripherals, I sucked down several quarts of coffee, stayed up the entire night, yelled yippee when my $3500 laser printer shot out her maiden manuscript, hooked my mind up to CompuServe for a mere twelve bucks an hour — no World Wide Web had yet come to fruition — and decided that the horror genre was no longer my limp cup of cake.

Over the course of the following year’s worth of days and weeks and months, I became an overnight literary sensation to rival Rilke and surpass Saul Bellow.

Novelty led to novel after novel. Fascination led to fame.

And although the price has come down since 1982, I haven’t changed a bit. I’m still inspired by innovation. I’ve yet to yell my last yack yack. My clacker has yet to clack her last clack.

So look out world, cause here I come. NaNoWriMo, I’m still young. Well, sorta.

NaNoWriMo Coming On Strong

So, where do you get your ideas?

I’m all tuned up like an old, acoustic guitar for NaNoWriMo (yes, in the good ole days I strummed the strings and warbled in South Philly bars). I have only a foggy notion of a plot in mind for my novel; the “genre,” if you will; a main character; a cast of colored shadows; a quest; a background score of trills and trembles. But then I’ve never liked working from more than a scribbled set of wobbly notes; formal outlines drag me backward toward university days, trailing blood all the way from here to then and there.

Inside the wooden file cabinet that stands stiff as a constipated soldier beside my desk, I’ve stored a vial filled with an odorless liquid, a compound of potions from the past that when applied to the keyboards of cowards erases punctuation marks for a “period” of thirty days or 50,000 words, whichever comes first.

Today I prayed to the unsuspecting spirits of several friends. I begged each one of them not to give up. I insisted that if they abandon me by way of backing out of this commitment, I’ll haunt them till they shiver and shake with more violence than Poe’s raven might have inspired. Yes, that means *you*; no hyperlink necessary; you know who you are, and we’re in this one together. Back out now, my friend, and the cacti that surround you on your daily walk will shoot espinas aimed directly at your arse.

After all, they’re only words. One word follows the one before.

Possible roadblocks for me:

1. The aforementioned, keen attention that I usually pay to periods. Solved. The vial of potions bubbles.

2. Losing my already lost plot. Solved. I’m good with dialogue.

3. My writer’s tendency to avoid conflict on the page. Solved. Whenever narrative description takes command, I’ll shove the lot into the same room and watch as they fight each other.

4. Fatigue. Solved. I donated my bed to a charitable organization — The Tired Journalists Association — and stuffed my pillowcases with gravel.

5. Overeating. Solved. I wrote a memo and tacked it to the board that hangs behind my computer monitor: Dear AVT, You’re old, wrinkled, and gray enough that no one any longer stares at the pudgy gut that once made way for your weapon of love.

6. A sense of frustration when the novel seems to go nowhere. Solved. I lined up the last ten novels I read, placed them between cheap, metal bookends that I purchased at a local drug store — the same super-pharmacy where I always buy my anti-senility medication and hemorrhoid salve — and realized that none of them goes anywhere either.

7. My desire to hear my own music when I write. Solved. This morning, I sang Fly Me To The Moon into my digital recorder. Next, I tapped the button labeled “Just Listen To Yourself, Fool,” and although my rendition is better than Sinatra’s, it still ain’t all that good.

8. Loneliness. Solved. I wrote to a friend and asked her to to set up a forum on NaNoWriMo‘s site for members of our online writers group. Kind lady said she would do so. Thanks. Hubba hubba.

9. Lack of time for writing. Solved. I harped on this one for many years, but I’m retired from the workaday world now.

10. There isn’t really any number ten, but as we self-isolated Americans live in a base-ten society, I figure that I should make this article seem even to my many fans and check #10 off as solved.

One last item:

Just for sake of staying honest and courageous, I plan to post sections of my bad NaNoWriMo novel here. Good for the soul, in that the effort should serve to eliminate pride.

Bury Me With My Keyboard

Move Over, Mr. King

I am nowadays in the midst of my own, real-life tale of terror. So why not write a fictional version, in the spirit of the season?

So for the past few days, I’ve tried my best to write through and beyond my minor experience of what seems real (role over Plato). I spent time — what’s time? time to what? time to live and then to die? (role over Cornell Woolrich) — at the keyboard composing a “scary story.”

I find it easy to feel frightened, but frightening others in print is a difficult task. When and where to begin the chill? Foreshadow this? Fold in that plot detail? Move a character over here, only to discover that he’s a stubborn man who insists on going there?

“All right, so you refuse to budge. Instead, you defy me, your king. Well, go ahead then, ride that line toward oblivion, because I’ll get you in the end. There’s no escape.”

Maybe all this thinking, all this second guessing, all these creases and corners into which I force myself, or he forces me; maybe all these things together join to ensure that every story I write is long. I cannot write short. So your guidelines say no more than 789 words? Well, do without my formidable talent then; you’ll be sorry someday. If you outlive me, that is. And these days I remain uncertain as to how long my life on Planet Earth is bound to bleed (yes, I know, none of us knows the moment of Death’s arrival, but I’m old and weak with disease).

So I just keep writing. I hope my tale will scare the shiver out of you, because the story underneath the tale — the one that breathes between the keyboard’s letters — sure is haunting me.

I thought to re-read some of the nightmare master’s stories; yes, Sir Stephen, the man who fails to recognize the meaning of the word “awhile” in every story he publishes. He misuses that word, and so where the hell are his editors? You mean to tell me that the members of his critique group have not yet pointed out to him the error of his ways? What’s that you say? Sir Stephen needs no editors, and critique groups are a waste of time in his opinion? He’d rather be strumming a sad guitar by the side of the road than meeting Robert Frost at the fork?

Okay, okay. Relax and read ahead.

On re-reading the master, I discovered that his stories aren’t scary; instead, they’re funny. Laughing out loud hilarious. Frogs attacking a town every seven years, an obvious theft of Daphne Du Maurier’s “The Birds,” but with Sir Stephen we laugh at the absurdity of toads consuming bloody human flesh, even as we cringe at the gore. Whereas with Daphne we are left spooked and lonesome.

I’m off soon for another meeting with writers more talented than I. I’ll feel glad for the diversion. But on my return my tale will await me to finish her off.

I pray to the master that he shall bless my effort with my spooky story. Yesterday, I reached the story’s climax, the most difficult scenes to compose. But the tale lies on its canvas, as the saying goes; and I am a painter, brush in hand, with darkness as my companion. Just you wait and see. You won’t laugh at me or at mine.

And I am ready for my beginning on November 01, 2010. I have my NaNoWriMo tee shirt, my NaNoWriMo coffee mug and pen at the ready. I’m writing fast and carelessly in preparation for the bad bad novel I will consume as it eats me. No flesh-hungry toads inside those pages.

See you on the battlefield of ill-repose. If I should die before that morning, then bury me with my keyboard.