NaNo Week 1: The Fervor

NaNoWriMo Week 1 has commenced. Here is what I’ve experienced so far.

1. Week 1 is the time to get ahead.

Invariably, the feverish enjoyment you experience in your characters will dim slightly as November hits the double digits. Use the Week 1 excitement to get massively ahead! On Day 5, and I stand 17,000 words into my story. I wrote 5,000 each for Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 1 and 2), and have written 2,000 each for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 3, 4, and 5). On Tuesday the awesome @NaNoWordSprints led me to write an extra 1,000 words which puts me at 17,000 (+change).

2. Be An Overachiever

A lot of people that I’ve seen on Twitter seem to hit their word count and then call it quits for the day. They call it reaching their goal, but I call it doing the bare minimum. We can all be honest: 50,000 words does not make a book. 50,000 words is 2/3 of a short-ish book or 1/2 of a long-ish book. Yet, everything all over NaNoWriMo’s site talks about writing a book in a month. I’m trying to accomplish a bit closer to this. Sticking to my goals, I should write about 70,000 words by the end of the month (even including all of the stuff that has gotten in the way.)

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3. Things will try to stop you. Don’t let them.

On October 29, my Grandpa passed away. He was very important and very special. We knew it was coming for a few months, which helped, but it would have been easy to say, “well that’s it. NaNo over.” Luckily, I didn’t. I channeled my upset into the story and told myself that I’m writing a story he would have loved. (Though he probably would have waited for the movie version to hit theaters, rather than reading the book!)

So now, in November, here are all of the things that are trying to take my writing time/focus:

  • my birthday
  • my parents and grandma coming into LA to visit me for 4 days
  • my grandpa’s memorial service, which I have to fly to and miss 3 days of work
  • thanksgiving
  • extra busy work schedule, because we are shooting our final episodes of the season (we’re talking working 14 hour days busy)

Any one of these things probably could have derailed me, if I chose to let it, but I’m not. And I’m even ahead on word count.

4. Use the sprints!

I mentioned above that the sprints bought me an extra 1,000 words after my 2,000 word weekday goal. However, it also pushes me through moments where I want to say, “Hmm… I’ll stop and think about how I want this to sound for a while.”

I particularly like the #1k30min sprints, which are targetted to get you 1,000 words in 30 minutes. No, this is not easy. I usually hit around 960 words in 30 minutes during these sprints, but the exercise is totally worth the time!

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Above all, guys, just enjoy NaNoWriMo! It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And you get a book at the end, instead of an ugly Christmas sweater!

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What I’ve Learned: Editing Book 1

When I sat down across from my beta readers after they read an early draft of my first book, I expected that I had already fixed most of the major issues. I was prepared for “more about X, less about Y, why does Z do this? I don’t get it” kind of comments. Instead, I got something wonderfully enlightening: I had made consistent, stupid mistakes. I knew I wasn’t happy with my first 50 pages, but I couldn’t have told you exactly why. All I knew was that it needed to be ‘punched up.’ Instead, I found that I made a few crucial mistakes, like overuse of the word ‘had’ and the fact that NO ONE had a conversation in my first TWO chapters. Yes, that kind of bad.

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Looking back, it’s terribly obvious. But as you write your own book, you will miss major errors like that. You’re focused on the idea and the feeling, less on the wordy minutia. I went through the book once after I wrote the wrote the first draft. I wanted to do my own revisions before I gave it to my beta readers. I caught some smaller issues and added some excitement in the middle of the book, but I missed SO much. I should have taken a month break away from it before I edited it.

Enjoy the experience with your beta readers, take criticism and keep in mind, your beta readers don’t have to be writers, they just have to read and pay attention!

What I’ve Learned: First Draft, First Book

I am currently deep in editing for my first complete novel, an epic fantasy called Burn Like Stars. I conceptualized the book for about eighteen months before I began writing. The writing itself took me seven months (some of this time I was between jobs and ultra-dedicated to word count), and editing has so far been taking me three months, but I think it will take me a total of six. The process has been lengthy, and I haven’t even started querying yet, but I have learned a lot! Here are a few major lessons:

1. Go for a walk.

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Stuck on an idea? Go for a walk around the block. Leave the headphones at home and bring a notepad. Stay focused on the story. I always have my best breakthroughs while concentrating on the idea as I walk around the fountain near my apartment.

 

2. Everything can be unwritten.

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Have fun and write what you enjoy. So what if you have a ridiculous amount of self-analysis in your first two chapters? You’ll take it out later. For now, your only task is to get your thoughts down on the paper!

 

3. You’re never too good for books.

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Reading books on writing is often scoffed at by true artistes. However, I always read them with a particular story in mind and always come out with more ideas! I am currently enjoying Writer’s Guide to Character Traits and Bullies, Bastards and Bitches.

 

4. Give yourself a break.

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Once you’re done with your first draft, give yourself time. If you’re like me, you want to plunge right into editing and get it done! However, you won’t be able to see your own mistakes clearly without some distance. I waited 6 weeks after my first draft to begin editing and I caught mistakes I was shocked I didn’t see when I read through it after the first draft. You will be surprised at your own crazy typos! (My favorite of mine- I spelled ‘the tree’ as ‘three.’ Talk about lazy!)

 

Have a great NaNo! I’ll be working on my Space Cowboy project, tentatively titled Outworld. Follow my tweets at @camerynf. 

NaNo Prep: Trudging through October

I am participating in NaNoWriMo for my first time this year. While I’m still editing my epic fantasy novel, Burn Like Stars, I decided to take off the month of November so that I could write the Space Cowboy idea that is currently burning a hole in my brain. (It’s tentatively titled Blackout.) I’m in love with Firefly, Star Wars and Doctor Who, which left me with a burning desire to contribute to my favorite genre. (I’m being Kaylee for Halloween– I will share pictures soon!)

Here’s how I’ve been preparing this October:

1. Notecards

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Ah, notecards. The end all be all of my outlining strategy. I have a massive cork board that I threw the basic points of my story onto, using purple notecards. After this, every time I have an idea, I throw it up on a green (side plot/character growth) or yellow (small moments of major events) cards. It’s been incredible. Now all I have to do is periodically glance at my board while writing to make sure I’m on track!

2. Listen

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I’ve never written to a playlist before. However, the time pressures of NaNoWriMo have me branching out into areas that I wouldn’t normally use. A lot of people say that playlists keep them going. So, I set out to create the perfect playlist for my Space Cowboy novel. It’s a mix of rock and electronic. Check it out here.

3. Errands, errands, errands!

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I work twelve hour days. I have no time. I will not waste precious NaNo time on grocery shopping when I run out of coffee and toilet paper. I am stocking up before hand on Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend, apple cider scented candles from Anthropologie and Bath and Body Works, and new PJs.

4. Reading

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I’ve been dedicated to reading books on writing, such as First 50 Pages and Bullies, Bastards and Bitches. I always read these books with a particular story in mind. This helps me come up with small moments and ideas as I read.

5. Watching

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Space Cowboy is much more of a film/tv genre than literature, but I couldn’t resist expanding the market. To prepare, I watched all 13 episodes of Firefly, watched some Star Wars and Doctor Who as well.

6. Character Profiles

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I’m much more plot focused than character driven, which is unfortunate because I love unique, detailed characters, like those in Firefly. To prep myself, besides reading Writer’s Guide to Character Traits and watching every episode of Firefly, I made detailed character outlines, so I will know how all of my characters should react when I sit down and start writing them on November 1st!

NaNoWriMo Playlist: Space Cowboy Edition

For NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I set out to do what I’ve never done: write to a playlist. A lot of authors swear up and down to designing a playlist for your story, but I’ve never tried it before. Usually because I just want to delve into writing. This year, as I carefully prep for maximum NaNo effectiveness, I sat down to design the perfect Space Cowboy playlist for my story. The real thing is over 50 song long, but I picked 13 to share.

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Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Love Like Winter by  AFI

2. Around the World by Daft Punk

3. Going Down in Flames by 3 Doors Down

4. Hanging On by Ellie Goulding

5. Icarus by Bastille

6. Serenity by Afternova

7. Epichords by Alex Metric

8. Cities by Alvin Risk

9. Still Loving by Andrea Roma

10. The District by Andrew Bayer

11. We Will Become Silhouettes by The Postal Service

12. Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down

13. Drops of Jupiter by Train

Writing Sci-Fi? Give my playlist a shot or make your own! Let me know what you end up working with.  Follow me on twitter @camerynf for more NaNoWriMo updates.

What the Hell is Steampunk?!

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 “Steampunk is…a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!” -George Mann

 I have long been fascinated with steampunk culture. So imagine my surprise while sitting at a table with six other people of varying ages and backgrounds, none of which had even heard the term “steampunk,” much less knew what it was. I was even more surprised that I could not, at the time, come up with adequate words to describe the complex and unique cultural movement. After some time and consideration, here is what I have come up with regarding the basis of steampunk culture, what you may have already seen that is considered steampunk, and how to get involved.

 

So I think we better start with the basics. Steampunk, originating as a sub-genre of science fiction, has become a full-on subculture in the nerd world.  Heavily influenced by the Industrial Era and steam-powered technology, it is a kind of retro-futurism that has nothing to do with the Jetsons. Babbage’s Analytical Engine, designed in the early 1800s as a theorized, but not put into practice, precursor to the computer, is often incorporated into steampunk works and is an inspiration for advanced technology powered by steam. 19th century retro-futurism is distinct because it is not their future as we have witnessed it, but their future as 19th century people might have imagined it. Therefore, the style of the era is heavily incorporated into steampunk architecture, art and fashion.

Most of the movement is inspired by the 19th century, including the fashion. Corsets and top hats are common, but are often commonly mixed with gears and brass for a technological touch. Long skirts for girls are the norm, and full double breasted suits for the men. Steampunk can be modernized, featuring “slutified” versions of the outfits for women and more casual alternatives for the men. Goggles on your top hat and mechanizations with brass and gears on an arm, leg, or your face are also common additions to separate you from a period dresser. These technological additions are most often completely fictional and serve no true purpose other than a unique appearance.

 

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 Cult animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender is a unique case of the steampunk culture. The original series showed a fictional nation known as The Fire Nation, with some steampunk technology. Later, in the next generation series, currently airing, Legend of Korra, the story takes place in Republic City, a city where all nations have come together and formed a futuristic outpost. Technology has massively moved forward, due to the end of The Hundred Year War, and Republic City is the evidence of that. Featuring early cars, planes and factories galore, Republic City is a heavily Steampunk environment, with an Asian twist.

 Popular web series The Guild features a season taking place at a gaming convention. One character, Clara, if fascinated by a steampunk booth and is determined to be accepted into the culture. Joss Whedon’s sister-in-law Maurissa Tancheroen is the guest star playing a snobby steampunk queen. Check out the clip below:

Steampunk is a lot more common than you think! Many popular authors feature steampunk technology and 19th century retro-futurism in their works. Everyone has heard of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, whether or not you have read their works, The Time Machine and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Some modern authors are considered steampunk as well, such as Philip Pullman. The fictional world is often an alternate 19th century, with advanced steam-powered technology, or a future world where steam-power has reemerged as the only practical technology. Popular role playing games, such as MMORPG World of Warcraft and classic nerd game Dungeons and Dragons, incorporate steampunk elements for certain characters and cultures within their fictional worlds. Howl’s Moving Castle, a popular anime film by Miyazaki, features steampunk technology, including the titular steam-powered walking house shown below.

 

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Love a good Con? SalonCon is a recently invented Steampunk Convention that has taken place a few times with no annual date, yet. Not to mention the most popular of cons, San Diego Comic Con, where the Saturday of the yearly July convention is often known as Steampunk Day, culminating in some pretty crazy group photos. If you feel like you want to take on a fashion element from the culture, check out Clockwork Couture online or stop by Pasadena, California’s store Gold Bug for some really interesting steampunk art collections and other paraphernalia.

 

How to Become a Superhero

Raj: “You’re so arrogant! If you were a superhero, your name would be Captain Arrogant. And you know what your superpower would be? Arrogance.”

Sheldon: “You’re wrong again. If my superpower were arrogance, my name would be Dr. Arroganto.” – The Big Bang Theory

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Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy a monstrous success. The Thor franchise and Batman franchise are doing as well as ever. And with the immediate success of Gotham, the superhero must be feeling pretty good about himself these days. With the superhero owning popular culture and with Halloween around the corner, it got me wondering: what makes a superhero a superhero?

There are many traits that define the majority of superheroes. Whether from another planet or formerly regular humans, superheroes generally have a tragic past. Filled with accident and incident, superheroes suffer from all kinds of complexes due to death and tragedy in their youth. Spiderman, for instance, realizes his responsibility after the death of his Uncle Ben. The phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” was then coined and has now become just as famous as Spiderman himself. This is another important superhero feature: the moral code. Superheroes fixate on their moral code and often constantly focus on saving their city over saving themselves.

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All superheroes of course have some form of powers through massive amounts of money and technology (Ironman, Batman), a scientific accident (Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Catwoman), or alien powers from another species (Superman, Green Lantern, Thor). These powers usually capture the attention of the damsel in distress, winning the superhero a girlfriend. This girlfriend sometimes isn’t aware of who the superhero really is. This is because the superhero has a secret identity. Bruce Wayne, the rich magnate of Wayne Manor, becomes Batman, the Dark Knight and vigilante hero of Gotham City.

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So how do superheroes keep their secret identities?

The Costume

Let me first say that not all costumes are meant to protect the superhero’s identity. A few superheroes don’t bother to keep their identities a secret. However, most superheroes employ secret identities to keep themselves, their friends, and families safe from the villains or, in Spiderman’s case, the police.

Almost all superheroes have spandex outfits. This is supposedly for maximum freedom of movement. They need to run, climb, and jump however is necessary. Female superheroes such as Catwoman and Wonder Woman have costumes that are very sexy and leave little to the imagination. Male superheroes tend to have costumes that show off their bulging muscles.

 
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Superheroes are all supposed to be sexy. Yet, how is underwear over your pants sexy? For a long time, no one seemed to know the answer, only that Superman and Batman had always been that way. This part of the superhero world has been widely mocked for years. My personal favorite example of this is the 1990s cartoon Doug, where the titular character dresses as Quailman, tighty-whities over cargo shorts and all. Recently, the Huffington Post suggested that early color printing techniques of the 1930s and 1940s offered a blurriness problem that often resulted in the characters’ figures being unclear. If Superman did not have red to distinguish from the blue, he may have appeared to have nothing there. Any black definition in that area would have likely been deemed offensive at that time. Today, as printing technology has become much better, some comics have moved away from the look. However, some traditions die hard when it comes to the fans. 

As Halloween approaches, the streets will run rampant with fans-turned-superheroes. Let’s discuss the average human’s superhero costume options that aren’t made from some kind of Kryptonian fabric.

  1.     The Lazy Superhero Costume

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Thinkgeek, a wonderful website for the nerd in all of us, has devised Halloween costumes for the laziest superhero-loving men and women out there, who perhaps like Halloween and like to dress up, but don’t have any particular time or money for an elaborate costume. Throw on this caped tank top or a sweatshirt: voila, instant superhero!

  1.     The Handmade Superhero Costume

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Oh, the handmade costume. This can range widely from Comic-Con sewing masters who spend months handcrafting amazing costumes or as a t-shirt with a cut-out batman symbol sewn to it and a mask made from a paper plate. More labor intensive and less appreciated than other costume options, the handmade costume is the unsung hero. This photo from Raising Hope is of Jimmy, who dresses as a homemade, last-minute Batman to impress the girl of his dreams, who dressed as Robin. (Women often gender-bend to play their favorite superheroes on TV and film. Men dressing as female superheroes is less common, but not unheard of.) Sabrina’s boyfriend Wyatt showed up in a different take on Batman. He went with the “Expensive but still Cheaply Made Costume.”

  1.     The Expensive, But Still Cheaply Made, Costume

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Everyone at one point or another has stood in a costume shop and ogled the insane price of a simple, polyester costume.  Some costume shop costumes can be more elaborate, seen above, with fake pectorals and all. But for one night, I never seem to think spending too much is worth it. That’s probably why I usually laze out and just buy some cat ears, put on a red dress, and call myself Hello Kitty.

This Halloween, celebrate the strangle-hold superheroes have on pop culture. Take any route you choose to be your favorite superhero! Just please, no tighty-whities over your pants. Unless you’re going as Quailman, that is.

 

Ramblings on Writing