#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 17: Ipsento

I’m writing this on top of a door that’s now a table wrapped around a pillar. 

There’s a metal plate with a spot for a doorknob and keyhole to my right, a couple nasty scratches to my left, and a latte with honey and cayenne pepper just behind my tablet. Someone with my name just ordered a slow-drip coffee, and I could hear the barista call out for them, even from back here. I started thinking how the first thing I’d do with telepathic powers would be to transmit a drink order from my spot here at the door-table so I don’t have to stand in the long line at the front.

A woman behind me just explained the show Friends to her friend, who kept insisting she knows the show but just didn’t ever like it (I can relate). There are two students studying for an exam on Marriage and Family Therapy — at least, that’s the textbook sandwiched between the coffee table and a blue mug while they scroll through each other’s Instagram accounts (I can also relate).

A woman in a stained ivory coat sits on the same bench as them, styrofoam cup on the table next to her and white plastic bag of belongings on the floor. Her New Balances are clean white, I notice, as she gets up to leave after having sat, either contemplating the room or getting lost in her thoughts of what could have been.

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#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 13: RIP Stan Lee, or A pause for Excelsior

We all knew it was coming. Unlike his characters, Stan Lee was going to fade away eventually.

Yesterday we said goodbye to the man who created the entities that inspired a lot of us to build our own worlds and imagine our own heroes. And he did so in a way that was motivating, inspiring and — perhaps most of all — inclusive.

I’ll admit that I’m one of those late-comer geeks who got heavily into the comic book scene once the zeitgeist said it was OK. (Harry Potter was far more my thing.) But once I discovered this magical world that was Stan Lee’s Marvel comics creations — starting with Iron Man and stretching both forwards as the MCU unfolded and backward as I discovered his original work — I put him in the pantheon of great creators, not just of the 20th century but of all of literature.

I’m not afraid to say that Stan Lee is the Shakespeare of this epoch. Think about it: His numerous characters are canonical to our society, and their stories often convey greater meaning than what’s simply written on the page. They seek truth and justice, but are inherantly flawed, and those flaws are what make them relateable and likeable to us. They might have superhuman powers, but they’re still human under all of it. 

Obviously Stan Lee and Shakespeare aren’t the only ones who figured out this magical formula for timeless, applicable characters. But they are in a limited class as far as how many they were able to create, how many iterations those characters have been able to endure, and how they’ve entered our common language. “To be, or not to be” is right up there with “Don’t hulk out on me.” 

(OK, maybe not. But wouldn’t it be great if it was?)

Last year he released this message to fans, and it has stuck with me since I first saw it:

“(Our) stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or color of their skin,” he says. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry.” 

The message of inclusion is right up there with my own credo to make my work for everyone and representative of anyone. I wrote a whole book with a character who could be cast with any actor, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or age — the point being to make it so anyone could see themselves in the narrator’s place. While Stan Lee’s characters were more concrete, being drawn on a page, he preached the message to the end that anyone should be allowed to connect with them, enjoy them, and share that passion with others. 

To me, Stan Lee’s breadth of creativity is enough to immortalize him in our minds’ hall of  Great Literary Figures. But his insistance that everyone be allowed to adore and adopt that work is what makes him one of the greatest figures, period. 

Excelsior!

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 7: Better ideas persist

As I work on Nobody’s Hero this National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been pulling from material I have already written. (Don’t worry, I’m not counting any of it in my 50,000 goal.) It’s funny how some darlings you love become obsolete when a better idea comes along. Take this piece I discovered — and essentially rewrote — on Monday:

“The Mornays knew how to show up in style, with Darin in bespoke Tom Ford and Lilah in a crimson evening gown that strategically hugged in some places and flowed in others — Dior had won her business for this year’s gala. Around her neck glistened a spectacular diamond necklace that was so heavy it had once almost caused a cracked collarbone. But Lilah contended the twice-weekly pilates and calcium supplements she was taking had solved that problem.

“Meanwhile, Pru fidgeted in an emerald satin dress with an attached translucent cape. It was overly dramatic and not at all her style, but it was the only gown Dior had in their Centropolis storefront that would hide the bruises from her last night out fighting crime. Her mother had raised an eyebrow, made a politically insensitive allusion to the Muslim community’s dress code, and eventually thrown her hands up with an admission that ‘It’s your money and your body, so dress how you want.'”

Since deciding that Pru’s gala ensemble would be a high-tech hostess coat developed by Foster, the Q to Pru’s James Bond, the final paragraph not only describes the wrong clothing but also robs me of being able to paint a maddening but funny scene of when Pru’s Dior-draped mother sees her daughter role up in pants to an old-school charity gala. And let’s face it — it’s always better to show, not tell. 

Better ideas persist!

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 4: “The Haunting of Hill House” and a fear of sequels

Followers of this blog know my writing kink is telling tired stories from fresh perspectives. That’s probably why I loved Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, which looks at the lives of five adult siblings who spent a summer surrounded by ghosts and evil spirits. Each character gets an episode to show their experiences how it affected their adulthood, and the way their perspectives link together in the end is a triumph in miniseries screenwriting.

Which is why I hope they never make a second season, though unlike “limited series Maniac,” they haven’t confirmed HoHH is a one-and-done show. I recently read the fourth Millennium series book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, and wish the author had never picked up a pen on continuing Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. I love Lisbeth Salander as much as the next closet goth-punk badass who doesn’t know how to code let alone hack, but deciding to continue her story in the way this new author did cheapened her.

Maybe that’s why I’m so averse to writing books that require a sequel — or reading books like that, even. It’s like going to a menu tasting and loving the first thing you eat: I’m in the camp of people who look at the chef and say “what else do you have?” rather than “more of that exact same thing, please.”

This is…NaNoWriMo 2018

Happy Nov. 1, everyone! While Americans binge on turkey, us writers purge on paper in an effort to compose 50,000 words’ worth of a single project in the 30-day period known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Many of us will make it, but we’ll sacrifice sleep, socializing and sometimes sanity to do it.

Last year I worked on my now-represented novel, Omaha, in an effort to get it ready for my agent. This year, I’m settling into a different kind of story — a Chuck Palahniuk-style satire called Nobody’s Hero that examines identity through the lens of an accidental vigilante — and I can’t wait to see what my uninhibited fingers type out.

Like most years, I’m not alone in my struggle. Tim Harnett, author of Reve and my writing buddy of the last three NaNoWriMos, plans to work on the second book in the series he began writing last November. I’ve hopefully convinced Cody Bridges to devote some energy this month to either Gin or The Phrenologist, two books he’s talked about writing for a while now. Partnerships during the month are almost requirements for success: No one quite gets the fervor of the month like someone in there with you. Plus, I’m competitive.

Luckily, those in my life who aren’t NaNoWriMoers also understand how much energy 30 days of creative outpour takes. Last year my friend Ally let me work for eight hours straight at her office in Seattle on Omaha (you could say it was partly born in the same place as Jeff Bezos’ rockets). I have a long list of people who wait to read the final product — though after edits, that means it’s April by the time I’m comfortable with them taking a peek. The Man with Time on His Arm has already offered to spend a quiet “creative day” with me and asks routinely if I’ve been writing. After all, he’s inadvertently helped me figure out a few plot points. Mom and Dad are used to my phone going straight to voicemail some November nights.

This year I plan to post every day on Convincing the Muse. They might be excerpts of what I’m working on or something completely separate that came to me. Maybe it’ll just be a song I’m using to set a mood when writing or a vignette based on a photo I took while daring to take my hands off the keyboard. All I’m saying is, stay tuned.

And let the writing begin!

Vignette: “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”

They killed him because he defended his wife from their slander.

They beat his skull in and threw him in the snow because he spoke up when one of them said his wife, Shelley Duvall, worked for the local brothel run by Julie Christie and Warren Beatty. And that scene just got to her. The rest of “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” was weak as far as Westerns, New Cinema era films, Warren Beatty projects and movies about prostitutes go, but that scene? What an indictment of modern man. Modern men.

Watching a man’s brain turned to pulp because he dared to speak out against liars wouldn’t have had as much an effect on her if she hadn’t spent the previous day watching a woman’s brain be probed, questioned and discounted because she dared to speak out against a liar. Meanwhile, the accused’s friends allowed him a platform where he could cry, yell, wrongfully define the law, and contend that the system is rigged against him, when all he’s ever done in his life is take advantage of a system built by men who look like him, for men who look like him.

No wonder the back of her neck tingled with rage as he brought up his daughters praying for “the woman” — not even “the Doctor,” yes, “Doctor Blasey Ford.” He couldn’t even grant her the humanity that a name and title afford, even though she was forced to speak his name again and again throughout her testimony.

Suddenly that movie from 1971 seemed to predict 1991, which reappeared in 2018 and would, inevitably, end the same way. Anyone who dares speak in defense of a woman against vicious lies gets left in the snow to die, and the animals that laid him to waste get to walk free.