Archive for the ‘NaNoWriMo’ Category

Mr. Owen Ventures into Podcasting

July 9, 2017

Author’s Note: Apologies for the delay.  The July 4th holiday (America’s Independence Day) has fouled up my schedule, and I am trying to get back on track.  This coming week is going to be very busy for me, but I hope to post another author website feature on Wednesday.

Jim “James” Owen’s podcast appeared on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.  To hear it, click here.

Four months ago, I answered a post on Nanowrimo about being part of a podcast.  A few missed connections later, I was moving forward with my first foray into voice media since I was broadcasting basketball games at my college’s radio station.  I was on my way toward being a guest on The Modern Meltdown (For more about the Modern Meltdown, click here), an entertainment website that has scores of podcasts about everything from books and movies to video games.

It was not necessarily an easy process, as The Modern Meltdown is Australian, and Holly Hunt, the host of the Beyond the Words (click here) podcast, resides in Canberra. Canberra is seventeen hours ahead of the Bay Area, my stomping grounds.  Thus, 12:05AM Thursday here is 5:05PM Friday there, and 7AM here is 2AM the next day there, and so on.  Due to this significant time difference, and the fact that we both work more or less regular hours, either a Skype call or a phone interview would be out of the question.  I had to get creative, as I was looking forward to this opportunity, and I wasn’t about to let a time difference get in the way.  Thus, I had to make my own recording studio.

My Makeshift Recording Studio

Over the years, I have also done some recording for my company’s webinars.  Through this process, I’ve grown accustomed to using Audacity.  Audacity (click here) is a free, open source digital audio recording software package that has editing capabilities.  Designed and released in 2000, this package may not have great aesthetics, but basic capabilities are easy to find and intuitive to use.  All I needed was a microphone.

One of the problems that I’ve noted is that a lot of computer microphones don’t pick up bass nearly as much as they pick up higher registers, which makes my voice sound nasally.  When I was working on the webinars, the best microphone I’d used was a lavalier microphone that we’d simply used as a computer microphone.  Somewhere, I also have a wand microphone, but I haven’t bothered to look for that in years.  The microphone on my laptop picks up too much sound from my fan, and my phone?  Ha ha ha, that’s a good one!  I had a few other workarounds that I couldn’t get working, so I was left with a few interesting alternatives.  By using the microphone on my camera (very good quality sound), and capturing myself on video, I was able to pick up a broader register of sound.  I used another program (Lightworks) to separate the audio from the video by converting an .MP4 file to an MP3, and then used Audacity to clean up the audio.

This still left me with the issue of where to get the optimal sound.  While working on the webinars, our recording studio is an office with paned-glass doors and windows.  No matter where I sat in the room, the audio would pick up the sound of my voice bouncing off of the glass, giving everything a slight echo (or, if not, then the sensation that I was recording in a tunnel or a bathroom stall).  Luckily, my home office has two small windows and a great deal of solid wall.  Thus, while recording, the only things I needed to worry about were my voice, the content, and my cadence.

I was tasked with addressing the very beginning of a story.  How do I construct an opening?  Well, that’s a long story for me, but Holly Hunt (click here), a fellow author, was kind enough to provide me with a few questions so that we could play off of each other.

For my podcast debut with the host, Holly Hunt, please click here.

What I’ve Learned

Through this process, I noticed a few things:

  1. Mapping this out allowed me to be much more succinct with my answers, and (hopefully) more informative.

2. It’s hard to sound like an authority when the item over which I have authority, my book, is not even published yet.

3. I had a bit of trouble anticipating my audience, as my only experience with Aussies has been discussing basketball video games (as well as a few web comics I’ve followed over the years).  Was I over-explaining a little by describing The Scarlet Letter as if they’d never heard of it? I don’t know.

4. I think there was some broken communication about the intent of the questions, and a few questions were not as I remembered them (funny thing, memory).

5. Ultimately, Holly Hunt was great to work with, and I feel like she did a great job of putting together the final product.  It was an experience that I’d definitely take on again.

I listen to a few podcasts, and one thing that I notice in those podcasts is sound quality, but another is the amount of energy that the participants bring to the table.  If they bring too little, it makes me feel a little bored, but if they bring too much, it’s like listening to monster truck commercials for half an hour.  I think that both Holly and I brought the appropriate amount of energy, and I’m fairly certain that our Audacity-augmented process helped.  What do you think?  Did we do well?  Is there anything else you’d like to know surrounding getting started with a novel?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Did you miss that link for my turn on Holly Hunt’s Beyond the Words?  Click here.

About Holly Hunt:

Ms. Hunt, host of Beyond the Words on The Modern Meltdown, is a Canberra, Australia, -based author.  She has published a dozen graphic and written word novels spanning the fantasy and horror genres.  In July 2017, Ms. Hunt published The Devil’s Wife (Click here), a print novel in which Lucifer is alive and roaming the streets of New York City.

About James (call me Jim) Owen:

Mr. Owen, a native of Santa Cruz, California, is an author who is looking to take flight.  Absconded by Sin, his first novel, is currently in closed beta.  A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California (with another stop at UCSC), Mr. Owen has spent the past 6+ years in market research.  Prior to that, he taught high school English… and lived to tell the tale.

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Writing, Basketball, and Other Things

June 26, 2017

Author’s Note: For those of you looking for another website tour, don’t worry! One will come.  I will continue my website tour on Wednesday, as I evaluate the website of author Suzanne Collins, writer of the famed Hunger Games trilogy.

As writers, we are so fortunate.  We get to share our thoughts with the World.  The format doesn’t matter so much. Poetry, songs, prose; blogs, flash fiction, novels.  They’re all what we get to do.  Often times, they are what we must do.

On Saturday, poet Stephen Kessler (link here) shared his poetry with us at the Santa Cruz Community Writers monthly meeting.  He shared the circumstances of his poems (a nice glass of pinot noir, if you go for such a thing), the places that inspired his poems (the San Lorenzo River, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center) and the feelings that he had that inspired his poems.  He is one of those authors who likes to write in crowded places, and he would bring his notebook to Kuumbwa to write before, during, and after concerts.  He gets to write in the places that inspire him.

I’ve enjoyed blogging, as I get to share my thoughts with you.  I’ve also enjoyed sharing my work with the Santa Cruz Community Writers, a group that I am beginning to feel comfortable calling my own.  I am also learning, time and time again, that I need to work on my skills as an orator.  When I read my work, I often go too fast.  I just need to remember the lyrics to “Feelin’ Groovy.”  I need to record myself in order to better understand my pace and my diction.  It’s the easiest way of overcoming my chronic speed-speech.

At some point, I will share my fiction with you, dear readers, so please be on the lookout for when that time comes.  Right now, my work is in beta, with another work still months away from reaching my alpha reader.  I am glad that I get to share my fiction with friends, and greatly anticipate the day that I can share these with the wider world.

I don’t have a long, semi-connected diatribe to share with you today, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts about things going on in and around my life.

Editing

I’ve been editing my latest work, Their Sharpest Thorns.  It has not been as consistent as I’ve anticipated, and I might not finish this editing effort until the Fall.  Nevertheless, I have a few long weekends in front of me, so I might be able to carve out more than i think I can.

New Projects

I’ve begun work on an untitled project that is classic horror, with particular emphasis on body horror.  I’m thinking of making it more comical.  My primary focus right now is world-building.

Podcast

I will be featured on an upcoming episode of The Modern Meltdown’s Beyond the Words, and would like to thank Holly Hunt for putting this all together!  I will provide a link in a bonus post this week, once it hits the Internet!

Camp NanoWrimo July 2017

I’ve toyed with the notion of completing another Camp Nanowrimo next month.  Given the season, and the fact that I have a lot of other projects going on, I don’t think that I will participate in July’s event, even if I can manage a sizable word count.

The NBA Draft

If you came here for the writing, then I’ll bid you farewell until next time, because the rest of this is all basketball!

Ever since I was young, the NBA Draft was like Christmas in June.  When I was at the height of my basketball fanaticism, I watched easily 60+ Warriors games per year (I’d say more, but let’s play it conservative).  I awaited the NBA season, wondering if Antawn Jamison would go for 50 again, wondering if Adonal Foyle would find a bigger role in the offense, and wondering if Donyell Marshall would put it all together.  I rejoiced when the Warriors added names like Tony Delk and Muggsy Bogues, and lamented the trade that sent Jamison, Fortson, Mills, and Welsch to Dallas for Van Exel, Popeye, and cap relief.  Whether the Warriors were rumored to draft Todd Fuller or take a flyer on Chris Porter, I was inspired by all of the potential that these young men held.

Many professional basketball players come from dire circumstances.  They do not come from the suburbs, or even those penthouse apartments overlooking the Embarcadero, they come from the projects, the rural country bunkhouses, and the oppressive city.  Regardless of race, religion, or national origin, these players often come from places where they have to live in fear of the bullet, the switchblade, or the needle.  They have friends, brothers, and neighbors that have succumbed to addiction, joined gangs, or been gunned down in a case of mistaken identity.  It’s not all bad for these players, as many come from loving families, with dedicated mothers and fathers, but it can get so much better for those who click in professional basketball, either in the NBA, or the many esteemed overseas leagues.  Players sometimes find their niche in places like Iran, where they use basketball to overcome prejudice and preconceptions, and live within a society that many of us might consider hostile to Americans.  Even if players do not “make it” in the NBA, they OFTEN get to make it somewhere else, and get to spend ten years out of their lives doing something that they love for a living.

I didn’t have much of a horse in this race for the 2017 NBA Draft.  My cheering interests didn’t have many NBA-bound players, and my teams didn’t have many (or any) picks.  There’s a few players that I really wanted to see go to certain teams, and certain teams that I really wanted to see do well.  Here’s a few quick hits:

  • I feel like both the Celtics and the Sixers got what they needed out of the trade of top picks, and that the Sixers have really hit a home run.  They’ll be exciting for years to come, provided they’re all healthy.  If the Sixers are healthy, they should be a playoff team this year.  If the Celtics are healthy, they might take down Cleveland this year.
  • I’m happy to see the Suns get a star.  I have a feeling that Josh Jackson will be the best player out of this draft.
  • De’Aaron Fox and Jonathan Isaac went to the exact two teams that I wanted them to go to.  I have a feeling they’ll be great fits, and I’m glad that the Kings got a high character guy.
  • Speaking of the Kings, I think that they have two immediate starters that come out of this draft, and two more that will eventually become major contributors in the NBA. I’m just not exactly sure who that second immediate starter will be.
  • Thank you, Philadelphia, for breaking the streak of players that I’ve heard about all year long. Anzejs Pasecniks, I hope to one day pronounce your name correctly.
  • Jordan Bell!!!! Jordan Bell!!! With the Warriors getting Bell and signing Chris Boucher, I think that they’ve come out as real winners in a draft where they didn’t even have a pick!
  • Nigel Williams-Goss and Jabari Bird were vastly underrated.

Some Suggestions for More Robust Characters

April 3, 2017

Author’s Note: this started like an excerpt from a memoir, but eventually turned back to some fair reminders for characterization.

There are two aspects that are powerful when writing about characters, as everybody can relate to them on some level: nostalgia and jobs.  Everybody has their moments when they think back fondly on some period of their life, or when some aspect of their life reminds them of the way things were. Everybody has worked, does work, or will work at some sort of job, even if the job isn’t exactly the paying kind.  In order to create richer characters, and in order to draw readers into your characters’ world, bring relevant aspects of the characters’ pasts, as well as their roles in society into your narrative.

I’ve been pretty nostalgic lately.  Today, we went on a hike that reminded me of when I was first dating my wife.  We discussed her grandmother and her childhood friend, who are both since deceased.  Those memories spurred more memories, and so on.  I was fortunately enough to know her grandmother before she passed, and discussion of her grandmother hiking that trail reminded me of seeing this woman, then over 80, cutting the rug with her granddaughter at our wedding.  Aside from that, some alfalfa sprouts in my sandwich reminded me of sandwiches that my father used to order when I was a kid; I don’t know why he stopped having them, but you never see alfalfa on the menu anymore.  After that, tortellini with pesto reminded me of my childhood friend.  The point is, memories can flare and smolder like a campfire, depending on the kindling.

When discussing a character, and having that character advance through that plot, nostalgia doesn’t need to play a prominent factor.  However, consider all of the times you’ve been rolling down Broadway and you remember that swing-set that was there when you were a kid, or how that old theater reminds you of your first kiss.  Your characters aren’t going to reminisce of times passed when they’re busy hunting a serial killer, nor will they necessarily reminisce of times passed when they’re waiting for the bus, but there should be something there that hints at a time before your story began.

I’m in my early 30s.  My tenth college reunion is in the rear view mirror, and I’ll be closing in on forty by the time my next reunion (high school) takes place.  What this means, of course, is that I am part of our nation’s workforce. Regardless of what adults do in the workforce, from custodian to CEO, work takes up a great deal of their time.  How they go about their work, and what they feel about their work, is an important part of their character, as well.  My father repeats this one-liner from a movie (I think it might be the barbershop scene in Gran Torino) that goes something like “real men complain about their jobs.” It’s funny, but we all have stories from our jobs, whether mild frustrations or flat out grievances, peppering a character’s conversations and thoughts with complaints, worries, or even successes in their jobs makes for a more believable characterization overall.

For all of my fellow writers who are out there trying to paint a picture, use these thoughts and experiences to shape your character.  Is your character a former high school footballer who is stuck in the kitchen at the local diner?  Put in a little something about him grumbling about the big game.  Does your character know she is paid less than the manager’s underqualified nephew?  Add an interaction between the two of them!

Writing: A Little Gael Pride

February 20, 2017

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my alma mater: St. Mary’s College of California.  A sophomore in the Integral Program called me to learn about what I’ve done since college, and to try to convince me to donate.  She was an outstanding representative of the college, and knew that the best means of encouraging an alumnus to donate is to get them to reminisce and to talk about themselves.  Over the course of the conversation, it came out that the student had participated in JanNoWriMo during St. Mary’s College’s Jan Term course.  In that month, her professors set a goal for 32,000 words in a month.  This is well short of the 50,000 words that participants in NaNoWriMo target, but it is a great target for a college student.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past six years.  In that time, I’ve worked on a different project every year.  Two of those projects have completed drafts, and I’m finally making a push to publish the first one, Absconded by Sin.  In each of those years, I’ve made an effort to knock down at least 1,667 words per day in order to get to that 50k.  During some years, that has been easy.  I’ve knocked out 5,000 words in a day before.  If word counts are the object, then that puts me well in the black (as opposed to the red — accounting analogy).  As my faithful readers have seen in my other posts, a long story doesn’t make a novel.  So, whether 50,000 in a month or 32,000 in a month, it’s quite a task to get the right words on the page.

When I went through Jan Term at St. Mary’s, it wasn’t always about the classes.  Yes, some classes were amazing.  Adam Desnoyers gave us a truly memorably short story writing class in my first year.   As a senior, my ’60s in Film class was also amazing.  Learning about the whole vampire mythos and C.S. Lewis was fun as well. However, I could probably speak for many in my social group to say that Jan Term was also the biggest social month in the school year, and there were tons of distractions to keep me away from my studies.  Every week was a four day week, meaning Friday and Saturday would often be a combination of trips to the City, hikes behind SMC’s cross, and late nights with the gang. If I had NaNoWriMo to look forward to (I hadn’t heard of it at this point), I would have been the most antisocial person during the most social month at SMC.  To borrow from Carl’s Jr.:”don’t bother me, I’m writing!”

To say that 32,000 words in a month is NOT a challenge would be a grave mistake, particularly when your world is full of distractions.  To all of those SMC students who hammered out 32,000 words during their January Term, I salute you!  Even starting a novel during the most distracting month of the year is quite a task!  Mitali Perkins, facilitator for JaNoWriMo, this was a great idea! I wish I had that push when I was at SMC!

My distractions usually come from being too tired (as I suppose they did back when I was in my early 20s).  When I get home from work and have dinner, the call of YouTube is frequently very strong.  As a slightly-reformed gamer, I’ve been getting into the “Let’s Plays” that appear on the Internet, and watching the likes of WhiteHawke, NintendoCapriSun, CarlSagan42, and Grand POOBear play Super Mario Maker over the past year.  It’s a nasty habit, and I initially started this in order to better capture natural speaking patterns (believe it or not) through hearing individuals say what they will when they’re relaxed and focused on something else.  Nevertheless, as I have come to learn, good writing cannot continue when distractions sap what little energy you have.  I am trying to cut the LPers out of my habits, particularly as my dream of being published seems so close.

Interested in anything I’ve said above?

NaNoWriMo http://www.nanowrimo.org

St. Mary’s College of California: http://www.stmarys-ca.edu

JaNoWriMo: https://www.stmarys-ca.edu/january-term/course-listings

Mitali Perkins: http://www.mitaliperkins.com/

WhiteHawke: https://www.youtube.com/user/WhitehawkePAUNCH

NintendoCapriSun: https://www.youtube.com/user/NintendoCapriSun

CarlSagan42: https://www.youtube.com/user/CarlSagan42

Grand POOBear: https://www.youtube.com/user/nilladh

A Story about a Stag Party

April 10, 2016

About a week before my wedding, I had a bachelor party.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – but the only pasties that were involved were the five of us up in the upper deck, and the only booze that was imbibed was whatever beer was on tap – and I don’t think all of us had imbibed.  As far as I know, there are only a couple of blurred pictures of us sitting in O.co Coliseum.  In typical Jim Owen fashion, my bachelor’s party amounted to hiking, burgers, and a ballgame. You need to worry about this guy; haven’t you heard he’s a wild man? Sure, it was a subdued affair, but it was one last hurrah before I became a married man.

What does this have to do with writing, you might ask?

The rise of the modern bachelor party in the 20th century probably has little to do with the festivities that Spartan soldiers held for their comrades in the 5th Century B.C., but the modern bachelor party has become a time when the bachelorette conveniently looks the other way on her future husband – and vice versa – before the big commitment.  That’s one night in which Mike Tyson may sing Phil Collins, Ed Helms may get a face tattoo, and even you might be left atop a Las Vegas casino.

And this is where I get to the writing.

Today, I took my second step (or first, in a roundabout way) toward publication.   In September, I’d reached out to a publisher about getting my first novel published.  In many ways, I like what they’re selling.  However, they didn’t have the “bandwidth” or the “manpower” at the time, and encouraged me to look elsewhere, while still leaving the possibility open for me to join their stable.  Things got busy, and then they got very busy.  Less than a month ago, I began to see openings, wherein I could potentially take the time and reach out to agents – the first step in getting published by a major imprint.  Today, I finally took the time.

So, you might ask, does this metaphor of a bachelor’s party extend any further?

It might.  My first query letter to an agent is the equivalent of the intrepid bachelor going out to a club and then hitting on the most attractive woman in the room.  Is it wise? Probably not.  Does success with this agency mean something? Yes, it probably does.  Unlike the ill-formed decisions of a bachelor at his own stag party, the first signs of this success will not happen right away.  Heck, these signs probably will not happen within a few weeks; the auto-reply message stated that I will likely have to wait eight to ten weeks for a reply, if I hear a reply at all.

In the meantime, I have missed the start of Camp NaNoWriMo by ten days, and was thinking of playing catch-up this weekend.  That’s right, I was thinking of writing 16,670 words in two days.  I’ve heard of far worse, including people who somehow manage to hammer out more than 50,000 in just a few days, but this would’ve nearly doubled my daily maximum for two consecutive days.  Committing 8,000 words to paper in a day is not a laughing matter, and may also be ill-advised, or at least ill-formed.  With a goal of so many words in so little time, you might be left to wonder just how many words I managed to eke out.

The answer is zero, my dear readers, as in even less than one.

Coincidentally, that’s the number of drinks I’ll have during this literary debauchery.

NaNoWriMo – Challenge Met

December 1, 2011

I would imagine that the news has already passed among my most faithful readers through other means, but for those of you who may have missed it: I finished my second NaNoWriMo challenge a little over a week ago, on November 23, 2011.  I don’t know exactly when it happened, because I updated my word count at 11:47 PM and it was already there–50,147 words.  In all, I tallied 2,622 words that night, in one of my strongest and fastest periods of sustained writing this November.

I now run into the problem of trying to wrap everything up.  In terms of my outlining, I’m 80% of the way done with the book.  In terms of NaNoWriMo-dedicated outline, I’m 57.1% (give or take) of the way through that outline.  As of this writing, it is December 1, 2011, and I haven’t written anything of substance since Sunday.  All things considered, I’m fairly pleased with my progress and my writing from the past month.  Editing will be interesting, but I’m possibly another 25k from that.

At any rate, thank you, gentle reader, for being patient with me as I continue my drive towards novel #2.  I am still trying to find the right title for it, but as it stands “Big Man” is most in line with the topic and the theme.  I’d like to expound a little upon topic and theme, as it has been drilled into my head through teaching and reading, but I also want to be brief, as I am itching to dive back into my 12th of 15 sections.

Stephen King isn’t alone when he says that theme is best left to editing, as with symbolism.  Others believe that theme should be the first thing you have, before you have a story. What is a theme?  Well, it is a good guide.  The only issue is this: if you start out with a theme in mind, what happens when your characters defeat your theme, flout it, or do nothing more than go about proving it?  King deals with theme admirably, though he also has Mother Abigail serve as a ‘living’ reminder of the theme of “The Stand.”  He isn’t always that transparent, and even though Mother Abigail discusses the theme of The Stand at length, a tome of that tonnage has room for more than one theme.  Some tales don’t delve into the theme, and that seems to become more and more prevalent as time marches on. Perhaps that is preferable to Hawthorne, whose themes were always discussed in essay-like detail at either the beginning or the end of his romances.  All of this ranting serves one function, me thinking out loud: how do I deal with theme?  How would you, gentle readers, if you were to write a novel?

For quick reference: I’m using “theme” in the sense of ‘what an author has to say about a topic.”  Themes are not definite, though some authors will make themes overtly definite (“Be True! Be True! Be True! [etc] for example]; there can be more than one theme, but there has to be evidence to support each.  e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird’s theme might be “Prejudice condemns innocent men,” as Tom Robinson is condemned because he was a black man who felt sorry for a white woman, which ruined what little chance he had of being acquitted by a white jury.  

Don’t Panic!

October 31, 2011

Well, in less than two hours, it will be here: the main event. I’ve been itching for NaNoWriMo and fretting about the timing of it all for months. For those of you who have come to expect some very long posts from me, this individual post, and the ones in the month to follow, will certainly buck the trend.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tropes and archetypes. While I’ve tried to deviate from archetypal characters, they seem to creep into my stories here and there. I’ll create a poll about that in a second. In the mean time, I’m winding down from what has been a pretty quiet Halloween. A big thanks to my wife and Carol for making it entertaining.  Also thanks to my wife, who will be putting up with my antics until December 1–and for many years thereafter.  Hang in there, champ!

In addition, thank you to those of you who read this blog and wish to remain anonymous, and Benn, and my original ML, Lise. Thank you for your support. By the way, I’ll also give a brief shout out to S.G. Browne. No, I’ve never met him, but his book “Fated” was well worth the read.

To all of you NaNoWriMo folks out there (prematurely): To your marks… set…