Camp Nano Cabin Quest

The ideas have sizzled and slipped through your mind until you finally decided to reach out and grab one. You have committed by taking that step and creating your story on the Camp Nano website, and you still have the rest of the month to plan and prepare for the coming adventure. But something is missing- you haven’t dared search for that illusive ‘perfect cabin’ to lay your virtual head. The quest for a cabin can be an undertaking all on it’s own.

The people that you choose to embark on this daring adventure with can make the difference between crossing safely through the Misty Mountains or getting trapped in the Shire with nothing to do but repaint your door. There is really nothing worse than being forced to admit to yourself that half of your cabin is dead on arrival after five days of virtual silence. And forcing conversation online is just as awkward as real life- take my word on that. So, how do you find the right group when you don’t have Gandalf marking you each for mutual adventure?

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Truthfully, my methods seem to be hit or miss. Although I must say, I am not a huge fan of being randomly sorted. I had expected that it would be like Hogwarts- but in reality there was much less magic and a lot more voids of awkward silence with cabin mates who couldn’t be bothered to log back in once we hit the first of the month when we were set to embark. I have been a firm ‘custom cabin-er’ since they first started to allow them. The big problem though? Everyone is excited before the first day hits, they are full of a bright enthusiasm for their project. But once you get a few days in, the reality of the mountain you face starts to set in. People don’t want to give up their lives for an entire month. So they disappear into the ether- if they even show up at all.

Going through the message boards to find a new group is like combing through the classifieds looking for a blind date (that’s probably an outdated analogy- umm- tinder, is that what people use now? Swipe left…or is it right?) Most people are pretty specific- age limits, geographical boundaries, genres- I even came across one person who was making every prospective cabin mate fill out an application and copy an oath to participate as a binding cabin contract. Obviously, this is a person who had been burned by the MIA cabin-mates before. Now me, I don’t think I want to be that extreme- I understand the desire to find others as serious as you about their work. But Nano is also meant to be a fun experience. I don’t want to worry about ‘conversation quotas’ in my cabin chat room, or be biting my nails and in fear of a request to leave when I decide to take a weekend off from my writing. I want the balance. I want to enjoy this.

So, after combing tirelessly through the message boards and finding a few that only partially fit, I decided to try delving into other areas of my life first, on the search for the perfect cabin. I have a few writing groups I frequent, all Facebook-centered at this point. One of them was actually created by a group of us who met during Nano a year or so ago- it had been a good season. I posted in my groups and waited. I was surprised to hear that one of them had quite a few people who hadn’t heard of Nano before. I managed to get a couple who were interested. By no means do I have a full cabin, but it’s been fun sharing something that I deeply enjoy with these new people who just might catch the nano bug like I did.

So I would like to extend my invitation here- if anyone feels like joining a cabin for camp nano- leave me a message. All projects are welcome; we have novels, blog projects, possibly some editing work- our doors are open if you care to embark on a daring adventure with a group of humble writer/bloggers. What do you say? Do you feel like being brave this July?

Urban Fantasy

I’ve done it! After hours of internal debates over several days- I have finally decided what my Camp Nano project will be. In the spirit of my goals for this year- I am trying something new. That’s right, I am dropping my security blanket and venturing out onto new literary avenues. This nano, I will be delving into the world that is: Urban Fantasy. I’ve done straight fantasy, futuristic dystopian-style works, regular fiction: I’ve followed down many of the other branches, but the urban style was new to me. In fact, it is actually fairly new to the literary world in general; it did not become an acknowledged sub-genre until the late 80’s to early 90’s.

Urban fantasy is a very specific collection of works in which the piece itself is set primarily in the ‘real world’ with paranormal/fantasy elements. A few examples would be: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grimm, Supernatural, The Belador series, The Mortal Instruments- the list goes on and on. Now, it’s not a necessity that these stories take place in contemporary times; any futuristic or historical setting is also acceptable.

Personally, my biggest question about this genre: how is it different from Paranormal Romance (because to be honest, a lot of what I’ve read looks like it could fit in either category). As it turns out, about 90% of the elements of both genres are fairly intertwined; these are the fraternal twins of the written world. The key difference: if you remove the romantic element, do you still have a story? If your answer is no- you are well within the boundary of paranormal romance, but if you said yes- then you still stand a chance. A paranormal romance focuses on the relationship itself and how the outside forces effect it, whereas urban fantasy can survive even if that relationship is edited to become a platonic one.

It’s grown momentum rather quickly in the modern era, where we are so quick to welcome any escape from the trials and tribulations of our daily lives. After all, don’t we all secretly wish we could gain some kind of power, transform into our favorite animal and slink off on an adventure? Or perhaps find ourselves entrenched as a key party to a subtly fought war between vampires and werewolves (this is where the paranormal romance aspect starts to look good). I will have no shortage of inspiration as I begin my trek down this winding path. Perhaps this will be a niche I didn’t know I belonged in. There is only one way to find out.

 

Introverted (I’d love to hang out, but…)

It’s a frustrating paradox that the most fulfilling moments in my life happened when my stomach was twisted with nerves, my anxiety was at a fevered pitch, and every synapse in my body was firing off warning signs, begging to understand how I could have possibly been so stupid as to agree to the activity at hand. So many fond memories that I am so proud of now, moments that have been able to enrich my body and soul- what would have happened if I had been too afraid? The white water rafting trip, jumping off that bridge into the river, telling that one special man that I loved him, getting on that plane to Vegas, pushing off on that zip line, going in for that job interview, going out to that one happy hour with the friends that feel more like family now- everything that makes me who I really am happened in these moments. So why do I fight them inside on such a fundamental level?

I am an introvert to a textbook degree, I practically embody that definition. I prefer my solitude- books are my constant companions, I would choose staying at home and watching my newest Netflix obsession in my pajamas with my fiancé over going out with a group of people, without the slightest hint of hesitation. I crave my down time, my moments spent lost in my own thoughts, not having to constantly analyze the social cues of others. I get invited to social occasions- and in the moment that I agree I am so excited, but five minutes after the person leaves, I am plotting the most inconspicuous way of getting out of it. And it’s nothing against them, though I’m sure they wouldn’t understand that if I tried to honestly explain it. That cliché line of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ doesn’t seem to go over very well. A million possible excuses start dancing through my mind- can’t say I’m sick, it’s too transparent, and besides, I used that last Wednesday. How about broken leg? I’ve never broken my leg before- yes, that one could work. But would it be painful or expensive? (For those of you without social anxiety, you are probably wondering why on earth I could ever be considering actual threat of bodily harm to get out of something that you wouldn’t even think twice about doing. Then again, those of you with it will probably be nodded your head in understanding and pointing me to the nearest staircase to throw myself down).

I get anxious in social situations, deeply uncomfortable with small talk. Perhaps its deep-seeded insecurities rising to the surface, perhaps I’m just wired differently. Don’t get me wrong- I can still go out and have fun, I have a group of friends who I adore, I look forward to my happy hours just like everyone else. I’m not like Sheldon, I can read social cues as well as the next person, and 95% of the time you wont even be able to tell that I’m uncomfortable. It’s an internal battle I’ve learned to mask over the years. I have a Batman exterior over my Bruce Wayne inner thoughts. No one will see what I’m really feeling unless I decide to show them. So when I go out, I am fine, I smile, I joke, I laugh, it may seem that I just take a bit longer to test the waters. But inside I am weighing every word I just said, watching your reaction and calculating what every twitch of your nose might mean. And when the night of fraternization is over, I will be exhausted right down to my core. Again- it’s not you, it’s me.

So here is the ultimate dilemma of the introvert, the socially awkward, the one who’s tummy ties itself in knots at the thought of small talk with someone I’m not already intimately familiar with: do you step out of that box and join the rest of the world, in spite of your flat lining comfort levels; or do you stay at home and plan for the ‘next time’ when you will be brave enough? Or perhaps simply plan to tackle that adventure solo. I know which one I would like to be, but I am also painfully aware of which one I really am. For those of you who live for the social scene, I am sure that this will sound strange to you- the way that someone like me can fear and simultaneously crave these moments that you live for.

It gets exhausting, letting those ill-conceived phobias rule you. I am a firm believer that the more you push yourself outside of your own comfortable little box, the easier it will be. So this year I’ve decided to challenge myself to say yes more- and actually follow through, no matter how much the insecure little girl inside wants to throw herself on the ground kicking and screaming until she is allowed to just stay at home. The best parts of life are when you are dangling out on that limb. But today I need a reminder of that, of why I am trying to make myself painfully uncomfortable all of the time.

And so I look back at the past few months, at all of the good things that happened because I chose to be brave instead of comfortable. I applied for a new job within my organization- and I got it. I love it, there is not an ounce of regret when I look back at that decision. I went to a dealership and bought a car that wouldn’t threaten to break down on me every other Thursday (to someone with social anxiety- stepping into the car dealership is like Harry Potter entering a Death Eater nest- you know going in that it will be ugly, and will not be over quickly). I went on a trip to Vegas, something completely new for me. I went zip lining down Freemont street. I put myself out there and started this blog- and people are actually looking at it on occasion (still blows my mind). All of these things have happened in the past few months alone. I have been trying so hard.

I have come to a conclusion in the past year, one that was painful to accept; these feelings that I get- they wont ever go away. No matter how hard I try to overcome them, pushing myself out of my comfort zone over and over again in the hopes that I will learn to stop being afraid of social situations- that will never happen. This is a war that has to be fought one battle at a time. I have to deal with my phobias head on one moment at a time, blow by blow. I have to struggle, I have to fight the inner child constantly reminding me that one trip down the stairs could solve all of my problems. I have to fight to say ‘yes’ and then build myself up until I actually follow through. I will always be awkward, I will always feel stupid at the end of the conversation, I will always feel my heart start pounding in a panic when I agree to do something new. But I have to keep doing it. Not to make it easier in the long run, because the individual decisions will never be easier. I have to do it so that next time I want to say no, I will have one more reason backing up my decision to say yes. I will have one more memory of a time I decided to be brave and had an adventure. After all, what is life worth if you are too afraid to experience it? I cannot let my fear dictate my actions anymore. I will be brave- awkward, yes- but brave.

 

 

Things I Learned from my Dog

In honor of best friends day, I have a confession to make. You were bound to find out sooner or later, I would much rather be up front about it. I am one of ‘those’ pet people. There, it’s out! Wow, does it feel like a weight has been lifted or what? I will admit, I like putting Easter bunny ears or Santa hats on the dog when the correct season arrives. And there is a slight possibility that I have a picture of him sporting a human jersey for my favorite football team (I’ll leave the specific team anonymous for now- I think it’s best that I only throw one bombshell on you at a time). And really, he doesn’t seem to mind; after all, I do occasionally make him his very own cake (Okay- I’ve only done it once, and it was when he turned a year old- that doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me, I think I’m quite tame for a pet person). Now the cat- he’s the smart one, he’s managed to escape all of my photo sessions simply because, well, he has discovered how to use his claws. That’s a battle I only fought once- I learned my lesson. The cat rules our roost. But really, I’m not that bad. I just love my critters. In my mind, pets are a part of the family. A large part of the family.

When we brought home the little ball of fur that has since morphed into a 75 lbs mass of muscle and sloppy kisses, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I had expected that I would be teaching him; how to come, stay, roll over, don’t bark, eat the burglar, do not eat the mailman (no matter how tasty he looks). I never expected that I would be learning so many lessons from him. Here are just a few of them:

  • Always be excited to see your people. ALWAYS. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a rough day, or they didn’t change the toilet paper roll (or they moved the bone that you finally managed to hide in the perfect spot under the covers)- be excited to see them and you will brighten their day.
  • A walk will fix everything. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Link is always quick to give me a little yip when the sun is shining and I have spent too long working on my laptop. Sometimes all you need to push that reset button is a breath of fresh air and some sunshine.

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  • Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, because looks are often deceiving. Link is a German Shepherd- he is supposed to be tough and scary. But, as I’ve learned- sometimes it is the ‘toughest’ ones that actually have the biggest hearts. And sometimes those who give the appearace of being unusually serious are the biggest goofballs of all.
  • Respect the ‘little guy’: treat everyone equally, whether they are a Grate Dane or a little Chiuaua, treat them well. You’ll be much happier making friends than enemies.

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  • Just because someone barks at you, does not mean you have to bark back.
  • Down time is important. When you feel overwhelmed, sometimes the best thing you can do is find a quiet corner and chew on a bone
  • Be slow to anger and quick to forgive: It’s okay if the cat thinks its funny to bop your nose and run away when you want to nap. And if he gets you with his claws on accident, why not answer him with a big sloppy kiss instead of a nip. After all, he does let you chase him sometimes. He can’t be all bad.
  • Work time is for work, and play time is for play. You need both to feel happy and fulfilled.
  • When you are in a bad mood, sometimes all you need is a snack. And if a snack doesn’t work- a nap is usually the perfect trick.
  • When someone is sick or sad- cuddles are always the best medicine.
  • Never be embarrassed: who cares if you ran into the wall? You were busy staring at that suspicious squirrel on the fence.
  • It isn’t whether you win the game that counts, as long as you play. Missing the ball just means you get the added adventure of sniffing it out.
  • If it seems like the cat is doing something naughty- he is. Whine and alert the humans immediately.
  • Always be willing to make new friends, but be wary who you allow close to you (anything with shooting quills is usually a bad idea)
  • Always trust your intuition, it is usually right.
  • Be ambitious- why settle for a stick when you can take the whole log?

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  • Be curious about the world- there are so many new things to learn, taste, see, smell. You will never learn unless you try.
  • Be passionate- always. The world is an exciting place, if you are willing to embrace it.

 

 

 

A Villain is a Victim…

A villain is just a victim whos story hasn’t been told.”

I seem to have a knack for finding (and liking) what winds up being fairly controversial quotes in the writing world. I must admit, I didn’t expect some of the vehemence I have come across when touting a few of my favorite lines- these are words that I have plastered all over my writing desk to give myself inspiration. I should have known better- writers are generally passionate people (how could they be anything else, you don’t do this work for the glamor it provides), so why was I surprised that their passion extended as far as inspirational writing quotes about the craft itself?

Viewing a villain as a possible victim: there are people out there who get so enraged with writers who follow this piece of advice that they feel the sudden urge to catapult their book at the nearest wall. It seems like a strong reaction, I know- but that was exactly what I was told the last time I tried to post it to a writing website I used to frequent. In fact, the person in question was really unhappy with anything I could have said on the subject, and was rather angry that I brought it up at all (I obviously ruined her otherwise perfect day). Her stance was that real villains exist in the world and that no amount of coddling will change that, and ‘acting in a vile manner’ was a choice. She was a firm believer that evil is evil, and that claiming victimhood was merely an excuse. She despised writers who attempted to make their villains as anything but what the stereotype suggests- evil for evil’s sake.

Now, I have a very different interpretation of the quote- I guess that is the beauty of the written word- you can have a million people read the same words, and they will walk away with a million different viewpoints on it. In a literary sense, I view the ‘villain as a victim’ quote in a less literal way. My intent with my writing is never to coddle them or turn them into the ‘good guys’ in some fashion. For me, this quote was always a reminder that my characters- especially my villains- are three dimension creations. I like to remind myself that my characters need a motivation, a purpose- even the ‘evil’ ones still need a story to explain their actions. I want all of my characters to have a purpose, a reason for acting the way that they do- not just out running amok doing random evil deeds just so they can twiddle their mustache and laugh maniacally about it later. I don’t want to insinuate that they are necessarily innocent in any way, but I do believe that adding an edge of gray to a standard cookie-cutter character would add a new prism to view your writing in.

Let’s take a famous piece of literature for example- one I hope most people would know is Harry Potter. The villain- Lord Voldemort- there is no question that he is a truly evil villain. But, at the same time, he doesn’t do his evil deeds for the sake of evil- he does them because his belief system (as faulty as it is) tells him that the magical world is being tainted by impure blood, and he wants a superior race of pure bloods to be in charge. He goes about this personal mission in a variety of very dark and, yes, evil, ways. Now, they don’t delve too deeply into why his views go this direction- most likely it was his muggle father whom he hates, or the orphanage where he grew up- but no one reads that and says ‘aw poor little Vordey, we forgive you for all you’ve done’. It’s simply a fact- a piece of his backstory that motivates his later evil deeds. I don’t think villains should be coddled, but perhaps a bit of understanding is in order to make a truly realistic character. No one will look at the actions of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and forgive them because of his past- they simply provide the motivation for why he is doing the heinous things that he does.

It is all about perspective, after all. I love the concept that most villains don’t view themselves as villains. I like to add shades of gray to my stories, I have never been a fan of straight black and white. I want to invoke deeper feelings and thoughts about my characters apart from plain love and hate. I want my readers to feel something, to be forced to think and really look at characters I have created. And yes, I want my villains to be victims who haven’t told their stories- because that means they still have a story to tell, another dimension to color them. That is what makes a realistic piece of work- the colors that shade it.

I Suck at Decisions (Picking the Nano Project)

As the title suggests- I suck at decisions. I promised myself that I would have my Nano Project picked out by the end of the weekend, it wasn’t an unreasonable goal. The issue is I have far too many choices jostling for my attention. Currently sitting on my shelf are about 10 binders- each one containing the innocent beginnings of a new novel- partially planned out and awaiting my attentions. And then in the desk drawer below that I have a folder filled with a few dozen snippets of ideas that haven’t fully formed yet. These stories also run the gamut of genres. I’ve never liked working in a box, so I have made it my personal mission to attempt them all at least once. Though the majority of my work falls into the general realm of fiction, with a few dabbling into fantasy. Like I said- picking just one to focus on is not an easy task. I keep on bouncing between a few possibilities, and each time I decide that I am going to stick with it- but two hours later I’m floundering again and thinking that perhaps the other idea would be the right choice.

The two main contenders both fall into the realm of fantasy, which, as I said, is a bit unusual for me. The first is a complete re-write of a story I wrote a few years ago. It is best described as The X-Men meets Divergent. The pros: I already know the characters and plot, I just need to re-do it all. The cons: I am worried that the original draft will get distracting and that I will burn out before I finish it. 

The second choice is something I have never done- it falls in the realm of paranormal romance. It’s a Seattle Vampire story that would be most akin to The Vampire Diaries. That’s right, I said it- vampires. This is something completely new, it would stretch my writing muscles in directions they have never gone. It will include a lot of history, a slight romance, a mystery that needs to be solved, secret cults, etc. The pros: it’s a clean slate and something to really test myself with because I have never done a project like this. Cons: I have only the vaguest of ideas on what plot points I want to hit, so it will take a bit longer to prep for, and I am worried it would be very easy to run into creating a cliché piece of work.

So that is the current decision that I am trying to sort through. I can’t really delve into any of my prep work until I make a final choice. So yea- I suck with decisions. The struggle is real. If anyone has a vote, please- leave me a comment, I will take any advice.

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VS

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Planning or Pantsing?

As another Camp Nano draws near, the epic battle of the Planners vs the Pantsers is set to commence. For those of you who count yourselves amongst the proud ranks of the Nanoers- I am sure you have your own strong stance, ready to charge into this battle with pens uncapped to slay your enemies with valiant verbosity.

Now, the Planning vs Pantsing debate really boils down to how you decide to write. Do you like to plot out your story in advance and follow an outline, or do you prefer to wing it, to ‘fly by the seat of your pants?’ Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’ve tried both over the years.

When I started writing, I was a tried and true pantser. Planning seemed like an imposter’s role- if I had every detail plotted out, then what would be the fun in telling the story? I wanted to feel the natural twists and turns, and I balked at the idea that of writing within the confines of a plan. After a few novel attempts I learned a few things. Number one: When I pants, I am far less likely to make it past the first ten or fifteen pages. I run out of steam without my direction, I don’t know which scenes I have to look forward to, and I lose interest constantly having to rack my brain for the next mini adventure. Second- when I did make it past the ten pages- I rambled. A lot. I would fill the void when I didn’t know where my story was going, in hopes that my character’s sudden bout of extended dialog would give me a clue about where they should be going next. Out of that period of my life I think I wound up with one finished project- and about two dozen partially started seeds. They were promising seeds, but without proper care, they were simply languishing on my shelf, just one more item on my to-do list.

I knew it was time for a change, if I ever wanted to feel like an accomplished writer, I needed to mature my style a bit. It was time to level up: it was time to plan.

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I was a born planner in my personal life. As nerdy as it may sound, I get a thrill from crossing off items on my daily to-do lists. And I go to bed in shame when there are inevitably a few unfinished items still staring up at me, with what I assume is judgement in their i’s. (See what I did there? That pun is gold- go ahead, feel free to laugh heartily). Planning would be a piece of crumb cake, I would be a natural. So I went out and bought all of the organizational tools I could think of. Binder, loose leaf paper, sticky notes, binder dividers, colored tabs. I was ready to go. I planned everything, running through my story from start to finish, attempting to nail down every little detail. I was excited, it felt like I was adulating all over the place.

And then I started to write. It didn’t take long to realize the error of my ways. You see, in all of my time planning, I had thought of my characters and what they would do in my imagined scenarios. But I had never ‘met’ my characters. Thinking about how they will be, and then seeing how they translate on a page are two very different things in my experience. Through my writing I discover who they are. This method didn’t allow for those variations in personality, nor did it give much credence to any spur of the moment creative decisions that I love to make to develop my story. Planning was a bust. I had tried too hard, I had overshot the goal.

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Back to the proverbial drawing board. This is the moment when my true style came into being, the hybrid that has served me well for many years now. I am more of a pantsing planner now (or a planning pantser?). I still have the binder, I still have it sectioned out between my character analyses, world building, and the plot points. But before I start, I only write down the bare bones of the story, a few key plot points that I know I will want to hit, the rest of it remains blank. Think of it like a road trip: I mark the cities I want to stop in at, but I’ll choose which roads to take me there as I’m driving. I get the best of both worlds: creative freedom to follow the story where it chooses to lead me, but I still have a roughly drawn map in my back pocket when I find myself mired down in the pits of writer’s block. If things aren’t lining up perfectly, that’s okay. I will take the time to close any gaps and make stronger connections between a few of those dots when I run back through for editing.There is no right or wrong way to work through your story. You have to experiment and find what works for you. It took me years to find my perfect balance, but I couldn’t be happier.

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So where do I fall in the epic battle? Somewhere in the middle- the peace negotiator who needs both sides to survive. So please, my friends, stop throwing pens like they’re arrows, they are much better used on the blank page. What about you? Leave a comment with your own personal style.