Posts Tagged ‘NaNoWriMo’

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.


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?


St. Mary’s College of California:


Mitali Perkins:




Grand POOBear:

Long Hiatus

January 23, 2012

Dear Readers,

It has been a long time since I’ve posted–or, at least, a long time compared to the previous string of posts. My writing momentum hasn’t exactly picked up since the post-Nanowrimo lull, but I have managed a few thousand words here and there, and estimate that my second novel is still 85-90% away from completion. At least, I hope so, and I hope things eventually pick up. Stewie Griffin aptly called one of his intellectual peers “Phony Curtis” in reference to Tony Curtis and the Alan Alda character from “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  I hope that this doesn’t sound like the half-sincere ramblings of “Phony Curtis” when I say that a finished manuscript is coming soon.

My wife suggested that I do a personal FebNoWriMo to get the project done. I’d be surprised if it took me another 50,000 words to get this done, as I’ve planned for about 15-20k.  However, you never know.  At least I won’t have the latest Stephen King book, 11/22/63 staring me in the face.  At the same time, I need another book to read, and I’ve read a great deal of what King has to offer. I’m not quite sure what my next great read will be, as I haven’t really found any authors that match the tone, narration, and scope of the King novels that I adore.

I enjoy reading King, that’s for sure. After all, that’s where I was, reading King, wondering what it would take for me to take my writing to that level, and that’s what spurred the yarn that I want to share with you this evening. Reader be warned, this may be a bit of a ramble.



They say that you can learn a lot about writing from reading, whether it is good writing, bad writing, or somewhere in the middle.  As far as Stephen King’s 11/22/63 went, I won’t pigeonhole it into any of those categories.  Suffice it to say, while it wasn’t my favorite of King’s books, it definitely wasn’t bad, and it definitely wasn’t his worst.  Rather than evaluate it on a “I give this x amount of stars,” allow me to give a rundown about what I liked about it, what I learned from it, and what I think it needed in order to improve.

11/22/63 is a tour de force, and other bloggers in the blogosphere compare it favorably with “The Great Gatsby,” which I wonder how many 20th Century diarists privately complained that Nick Carraway’s character didn’t interact with Jordan or Mr. Gatz or Owl Eyes like he should have.   a King’s epic about a man who enters a 2011 diner and escapes into a 1968 alley is indeed an enjoyable read.  The main character ‘s attempt to stop the Kennedy Assassination–and, by transference, avoid MLK’s, RFK’s, and the entire Nixon administration–follows the hero’s journey, including gate keepers, monsters, and travels across time and country.  From Derry to Dallas, with Florida and Fort Worth in between, Stephen King has created an odyssey that spans two centuries.  Jake Epping is a modern day Homeric hero, but that label extends only so far.

You learn to like the character of Jake Epping.  He’s very similar to other likeable characters in the King universe. He’s an outsider, who is bound to be silent because of what he knows, and who tends to get in trouble when he forgets about that point.  It’s hard to say just where he fits though.  He has all the resources laid out for him, but he isn’t as resourceful as the main character from Cell, Clay Riddell, or the mute Nick Andros from The Stand.  However, when he rids Derry of their violent butcher (is there really any other kind), he shows that he isn’t entirely dependent on having a map to get where he needs to go.  In fact, he proves himself pretty darn ruthless.  At the same time, Jake becomes a likeable character.

One of the tools that King uses to accomplish this likeable character is the use of the first person narrative.  Since Jake knows what is going to happen, he actually moves towards a third person omniscient POV.  One couldn’t say that he is omniscient by any stretch of the imagination, but his ‘map,’ which allows him to foresee the events stretching from ’58 to ’63 accomplishes much more than a normal first person could.  11/22/63 clocks in at over 800 pages, which is quite a lot–and is significantly more than my first novel–but if you’ve seen and sensed the pace at which King writes his novels, you wonder how he could fit 5 years into 800 pages.  After all, many of his other works of that length span a year, maybe a couple of years on the outside, but Jake Epping’s journey covers 5+ years and a half dozen different continuities.  The sense of pace was something that I admired as I read through this book.  Epping might be the first person narrator, but he doesn’t linger long on details that are more or less incidental.  For example, though King creates two sets of teenage characters that serve as dramatic foils to Jake and Sadie, and several other adult relationships that also comment upon Jake’s relationship with Sadie, he only lingers on one other relationship, that of Lee and Marina Oswald.  All of the other potential foils flicker in and out, false green lights and eyes in fading billboards.

I could learn a lot from that pace, that first person narrative, and that likeability of character. Jake talks about the past harmonizing, and leaves it at that.  The two Als, the two teenaged couples, and the two estranged couples that end in death are all evidence of that harmonizing, that pacing, and that will that King has to get through 5+ years in less than two reams of paper. In my latest attempt at a novel, my characters always seem to rise.  At one point, some 110,000 words into the novel, I reintroduce the main character’s mother.  I seriously feel like including the commentary “and my mother? Remember my mother? The last time you saw her, I was in high school” into my text.  I could get away with it–I think.  After all, it’s a first person narrative.  But WWJED?  What would Jake Epping do?  Jake pines for Sadie when she’s not there, he compares her to his estranged ex-wife, who never actually gets any time on stage, and he doesn’t ramble when a character gets re-introduced after not appearing since 1958.

However, like that of Odysseus and Aeneas, Jake’s likability wanes.  Rather than 1400BC, Jake’s starts going south around November of 1963.  Jake, who always seems to do things based on the presumption that what he is doing is for the betterment of all mankind.  When things start to indicate that they will be any different than just that, he starts to come across as selfish.  It’s realistic, in a sense, because everyone seeks to preserve self, just like everyone changes.  If Jake didn’t change in the five years of literary time, I would have been a little disappointed.  However, even with the change, I remain a little disappointed in Jake because of the way in which he changed.  Jake, who had thought of himself as thoughtful and careful starts coming across as brash and reckless.  His motives appear to change in a manner that clashes with his original directive. Because of that, I think that the character arc for Jake Epping is what really needs improvement.

King did everything else well.  As someone who never lived 1963, I came away from 11/22/63 feeling like I understood it much better than any history book would allow.  I learned more about Oswald and Jack Ruby–though I know that the historicity of the characters is immediately called into question due to the fact that this was a work of fiction–than I’d ever learned in Mr. Mullen’s or Mr. Newell’s.  However, when it came to Jake Epping, I put the book away, wondering if Jake Epping was more Nick Carraway or Holden Caulfield. I sympathized with Jake, but started to wonder if I could trust him.  While Odysseus makes his triumphant return to Ithaca, and Aeneas triumphs in the Rome of antiquity, Jake is robbed of his triumphs every step of the way, to the point where you wonder if Jake was the instrument of change, or merely that guy that ends up coughing all throughout John Cage’s 4’33”.

I don’t want my readers to come away with the same feeling about my Tadashi Mori.

There were some lovable characters in 11/22/63.  High on my list, Deke and Sadie both take their turns as ascended secondary characters.  By the end, Sadie is probably right below the protagonist.  However, when it matters, Deke seems to go the same way as Ms. Ellie and the kids lindy-hopping in Derry’s park.  It’s not King’s fault.  Perhaps I’m projecting my own wishes for my characters onto Deke.  By the end of the novel, Deke is thirty-years gone and Jake has aged five years in a day.  I’m still left to wonder if Jake has learned his lesson  I suppose I am learning mine; if I want sympathetic characters, I need to make sure that they remain true to who they are when I introduce them.

With the rant out of the way, and the writing outlined before me, I return to my own novel, hoping that it will one day leave some blogger (or Twitter) discussing/ranting/ruminating (about/because of) it.  I leave you with these two polls.  Thanks for reading.

Rounding second, on my way to third…

November 12, 2011

Last night was productive. Sure, the night ended sometime after 2 a.m., but by the end of it, I realized that I was closing in on 30,000 words for the month and had already surpassed 3,000 words for the night/morning.

Last night, I achieved a goal when I finished the suite of chapters that I had been working on, but I was wired. I could’ve written 3,000 more words without tiring. While satisfying, I will probably be unable to finish all of the suites of chapters at this rate. 29,4xx words to complete two suites that were supposed to be 7,500 each. I have 19 days if I want to wrap everything up by the end of November. Whoa. This may hurt a little!

There was a lot that came out of my characters last night, particularly an old man (perhaps the wise old man trope comes into play here) and the thorn in my main character’s side.

Today and tomorrow will likely be the first days in which I haven’t written (aside from this blog.) I wonder if I’ll feel antsy by the end of them, or if I’ll feel wholly recharged.


In the meantime, I’m hoping for a miracle when it comes to my other obsession.  Take the poll.

Belated Week One Update

November 9, 2011

Last night I completed what is effectively Day 8 of NaNoWriMo, making it over a quarter of the way through the chronological challenge. With 23 more days left until the challenge ends, I am in pretty good shape, chalking over 40% of the minimum word count in that time. As far as the outlining that I’ve done, my actual first draft is by far outpacing what I expected. An outline that should’ve taken me an estimated 7,500 words instead brought me all of the way up to 19,000. The next suite of chapters is going faster than that, but I haven’t yet reached some of the meatier sections. Though I was hoping that this month would lead to me finishing Novel #2, I’m reading these numbers as an ultimatum: “either increase the story’s pace or increase the word count pace.” That’s the problem.

Though I I’ve seen mention of others who are writing at faster rates, some of which I view with a degree of incredulity, I am quite pleased (surprised, actually) that I’ve been able to keep ahead of the NaNoWriMo prescribed curve. I’ve spent anywhere from two to four hours per night trying to get through the first two suites. With seven total suites of 7,500 words (or that’s what they should’ve been), I should be starting Suite #3 today. No such luck. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to start Suite #3 this weekend, but I’m having too much fun elevating one of my secondary characters.

At any rate, sorry for the numbers session. At least I haven’t noticed if some guy from the Indian subcontinent is again at half a million words after a week.

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…

1,667 Words…

October 29, 2011

I can do it in twenty-five minutes! Eighteen! Forty-five!

No, I am not talking about a 10k race—though watching someone do 6.2 miles in 18 minutes would be a sight to behold. Nor am I talking about fishing stories or measuring contests of ill repute.

No, no, no. Let’s talk about the NaNoWriMo daily goal. 1,667 words. Not bad? Eh? That’s, give or take, a six page essay, typed and double spaced, or ten pages when you try to make the fonts that much bigger and the spaces two and a quarter rather than a simple double space. The wholly holy 1,667. It’s the sign of the beast meets Scheherazade; it’s the truly answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything; and, over the course of the past few weeks, I have seen people make various estimates, many of them well under an hour, of how long it will take them to meet that goal.

Can it be done in under an hour? I’m sure. After all, it is under 28 words per minute for an entire hour, without stopping. I’m not a particularly fast typist, but I know that I can type at that rate. However, what happens when people claim forty-five minutes? Twenty-five? Eighteen? Those who estimate that they do it in eighteen minutes write at a rate of 93 words per minute. That’s 1.6 words per second, 1,080 consecutive times. Sure, it’s still doable. Time yourself. Write anything. Go ahead. Sure, you can type that fast, but can you sustain it?

NaNoWriMo has these mini-challenges, called Word Sprints. In a Word Sprint, the goal is to beat the other person’s speed as a typist. At the end of a predetermined period of time, the two (or more) combatants then have their word counts checked by a judge of some sort (or not), and one of them is proclaimed the winner. I have no objection on the grounds of fair play or morals or anything like that, but I wonder what the experience does for someone that can conceivably finish NaNoWriMo in 25 hours or less. Philosophically, it isn’t what I strive for as a writer, and I don’t think that I’d be able to maintain the rate of speed to do something like that, let alone the presence of mind to write something cohesive and coherent.

Stephen King—who is, let’s face it—my idol, said that he could sometimes get his 2,000 word per day quota before lunch, but that he would sometimes get stuck in his study until tea time. Assuming he took his sweet time to get up in the morning, we’re probably talking about 3 hours of ass time devoted to writing. I’d have to go back and research it, but I don’t think that he was particularly writing to meet that quota, either. Instead, I think it was more along the lines of a way of meeting an arbitrary count to say that he had been productive on that given day.

When I wrote my first novel, I found that I’d sometimes pass that 2,000 word mark before lunch—sometimes overwhelmingly so–, but that my lunch would sometimes fall around 1pm. On other occasions, I would set the text aside and return to it in the evening, after my wife fell asleep. The problem was, I was no more a master of the amount of time it took me to write 1,000 words than I was the master of the time that it took me to commute to Morgan Hill during my first year of teaching. In theory, an hour is doable—especially, in the case of driving, if the trucks in the slow lane are still going 10% over the speed limit.

However, there’s always that potential that you’re not paying close enough attention, that you get in an accident, that you slip into a bit of a lull, that you have to pull off to the side to dial your buddy about Baron Davis’s missed three, or that there’s a roadblock ahead. I could be talking about writing or I could be talking about driving over the hill here, but the principle is still the same. Sometimes, what they have to say on the radio is so much infinitely more interesting than keeping that constant speed or rhythm throughout your journey—and the TV, well, good luck meeting your quota with that thing on! Sometimes, you’re looking at a nearly blank computer screen with the same line repeating over and over again (if not actually on the screen, then perhaps in your imagination): Willy Wonka traveled to Oompa-Loompa Land… Willy Wonka traveled to Oompa-Loompa Land… Willy Wonka traveled in the fourth quarter… As a writer, you have little more control over this than you would over a semi overturned at the Summit before the Woodwardia Highway. Tough breaks, commuters!

But, that isn’t to say that it couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be done. There’s always Soquel-San Jose Road, or 152, or 129, or (Heaven forbid) Salinas Road. Similarly, there’s always that little side trek that can boost your word count, or always that walk to the beach that will make you come back to the keyboard with fresh fingers. Twenty-eight words per minute is not half bad. A dozen years ago, I witnessed someone triple that rate without even breaking a sweat. If I have any luck, he’s reading this right now. However, it’s quite easy to write quickly when you’re typing from a script that has been spell-checked and proof-read and planned. What happens when there is no script, there are no players, and God only knows where there’s a stage?

I propose that writing is like driving through a completely foreign town, city, state, or country. Of course, you have to go at the rate of traffic, and sometimes thoughts are running so rampant that you wish you are Ganesh, or Shiva, or some multi-armed deity, but sometimes you just have to sit back and take it all in. Was that your stop, or is it the next one?

Over a month ago, my wife and I drove into Monterey. We were late for a function on Cannery Row, and I was driving, so we were getting later by the millisecond. I, of course, missed what may have been the only turn to get from Highway 1 to Cannery Row, so we instead tried working our way through the surface streets to get back on course. If you’ve never had the chance to visit Monterey, then you’re really missing out. On our way through the town, we went up and down hills, saw plenty of “one way” signs that were pointed the wrong way, and plenty of other dead ends. We saw old cars, new cars, expensive cars, and do-it-yourself custom cars. We even saw a guy on a tryke that was make up to look like a great white shark. However, the one thing that we did not see was a way of getting from up by the Presidio to down by the Aquarium. Since we had been to the aquarium before, and since I was in the mood for a wicked strolling buffet, we were both eager to get to our destination.

The aquarium would ultimately provide a lot of memorable experiences. Of course there was the food, the people, the food, and the giant octopus that woke up to say hello. However, what I took away from that little driving miscue was also memorable, if not entertaining, in its own way, and I wasn’t necessarily peeved that it cost us precious face time with the clam chowder.

All of those side-steps, those missed turns and trips down roads that had a Clippers’ chance in hell of being winners, and those people who were wondering what the hell we were doing, were the atmosphere that helped pull the Aquarium out of a vacuum. Similarly, all of the missteps in writing are just means of rummaging around, finding what works and what doesn’t, and sometimes adding to the atmosphere of your main plot points. Does it matter that underage bit player Jack is drinking beer at work? No. Does it add to the atmosphere? It sure does.

Though I have sat here on my soap box—okay, my wife’s piano bench—for over a thousand words at this point and have spoken as if I am some sort of font of knowledge on the subject, I’d like to think that, having written one book, I can speak with the voice of someone who has at least experienced a bit of the writer’s process and the writer’s struggles. Out of curiosity, I once tried calculating the amount of time that it took for me to actually write my first novel, and I came up with between 75 and 100 hours. Considering that it took me roughly a year to complete, I doubted the truth in my calculations. After all, my average speed is 30 wpm (at least, it was 12 years ago), and my novel was somewhere upwards of 183,000 words. Assuming that my rate has stayed the same, that would be 101 hours minimum. Assuming a 10 wpm increase, and… well, you get the picture. Not that it matters.

With that theory thrown out the window, I thought about it from a different perspective. When I was jobless, I treated my writing like my work. No, not the long, sleepless nights of my teaching career, but the forty hours per week that the average person works in an average week in their lifetime. Of course, I couldn’t write for forty hours a week, but my 7am to 12pm (roughly) sessions did amount to 25 hours a week. When you throw in the hours that I spent thinking about what I was going to write, researching the Michocan Indians, the terrain around Landers, and the roles that the Franciscans (Order of Friars Minor) play in the Catholic Church, it is quite possible that I tallied a 40 hour work week. Not that it matters.

I want to end on these three points. First, paraphrased by a video game (and thus cementing my sustained nerd-dom), it isn’t the amount of hours you put into the words, it’s what you put into the words. Secondly, amended to Mark Twain’s commentary, golf is a good walk ruined, but keeping score is a good golf game ruined. Thirdly and finally, I am finishing this as of 12:25 on Saturday morning. It has taken me about 66 minutes, and I have written almost 1,800 words. I guess that means that I can write 1,667 words in an hour. However, these words are not fiction, they are not part of my narrative, and they are not as coherent as I’d like. Not that it matters.

Spiritual Traction

October 24, 2011

“We are here to make spiritual traction. Not to be slipping and sliding, shucking and jiving”

– Carlos Santana, in an address to Mission High School, San Francisco, CA 10/24/2011

I promised my wife that I would get to bed earlier tonight, but on the way home from basketball, all of twenty minutes ago, I heard this sound byte over the radio, and it was one of those sound bytes that I think should be pasted all over the internet. So far, I haven’t been able to find it, as Doug Sovern’s byte on the KCBS website is not the same as the one they just broadcast on the air. Unfortunately, the real meaning is at the end, and it is slightly different than what Santana posted on his Facebook earlier this year.

I’ve done a lot of planning for NaNoWriMo, and have been thinking about plans for both writing and for life. A lot has changed since the last time I stepped into a classroom, but when I was teaching, it took every waking moment just to accomplish that task–and it became just that, a task. My apologies to my former students that read this and think whatever they may think. I appreciated you, but I didn’t have the rest or energy to fully appreciate you, and I didn’t have the atmosphere to let the real stars shine. My Fakin’ Bacon students (especially, but not exclusively) will someday shine because of their hard work, intelligence, and intellectual curiosity. They were all my favorites, and I am glad to be able to check in with them every now again via Facebook. I can’t wait to someday see their names behind the honorifics of “senator,” “Pulitzer Prize winner,” “Nobel Prize Winner,” or “Professor,” because I know that they have it in them.

I have always wanted to write, to spin stories, to share tales, and to entertain through words. I have gained my “spiritual traction” (if one can call it that) through a series of hesitant first steps. I hope that someday I can have the authority to share something as profound as what Santana shared with the Mission High student body. In the meantime, may I merely suggest that you all follow your passions, gain that spiritual traction, and strive for your goals.

In 7 days (and something like twelve or eighteen hours), I will embark on my second NaNoWriMo with the intent of winning the challenge again. To all of you out there that are doing the same, best of luck. We share a common passion.

Honey, I’m coming to bed soon. I promise.

–Jim Owen, Author

Edit: And, to throw a wrench in the works, I may need to remind a few of you of the almost non sequitur that Carlos Santana gave during a broadcast of a Giants baseball game a couple of years ago. His comment, “hate and fear are so costly; love is for free,” was ridiculed on the air by several different stations.  It was part of a greater monologue that involved discussing Santana’s charity interests, but it was fairly clear that the monologue itself was not quite what Miller and Fleming expected.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

October 20, 2011

In past posts, I’ve mentioned NaNoWriMo, and my attempts to make the whole NaNoWriMo experience easier this time around.  With just over a week left until the big event, I am starting to feel more secure in my planning.  I still need to organize my random notes, but I have at least a hundred individual notes that will need addressing.  When you spread 100 notes over 50,000 words, that comes out to 500 words per item (and falling).  That’s not that much.  In fact, that used to be the golden rule for the amount of words that fit on a page. Though I’m almost through the second novel of my adult life (and the third overall, but let’s bury that other one somewhere beneath the surface of the earth), I can already tell that it isn’t necessarily true.

My current document averages nearly 600 words per page.  That might seem like a lot of short words, and it is. Most of these pages contain dialogue that is written in the style of Arthur Miller–that is, playwright style.  There are rarely any dialogue tags, and the action is kept to a minimal.  I needed to get through the chief points of the scene, and I will try to fill things in later.  Stylistically speaking, this is a rather large departure from the manner in which I used to write. One writing teacher–I’m not sure if it was Adam or Leslie, but I’m almost certain that it wasn’t Wesley–said that it was almost as if my characters were mutes.  There was a lot of description, a lot of action, but not much in terms of speech.  He told me to look at an action film, and that the characters were almost always chattering.  When I think action, I think Stallone and Schwarzennegger. Next time you’re watching an action sequence in First Blood, count how many times John Rambo actually says something.  Don’t worry, it won’t be too hard. At the same time, Schwarzenegger movies go from hardly any dialogue “doe, buck, what is it with the genders of the species?” (paraphased from Hercules in New York) to all of the quips that he gives in True Lies.  In other words, I’ll have to find a medium between the Arthur Miller school of dialogue and a discipleship in James Michener description.

Have you ever noticed how characters seem to surprise you, no matter how simply or complexly you’ve described them?  I’m noticing that with my characters.  Eleanor, the “eye candy” of the story, started out as a character that was more or less a character tag for another character (who as of yet is not satisfactorily named). After a while, she received speaking lines, and pretty soon those speaking lines became plot points.  All of the sudden, she’s not a secondary, but perhaps a tertiary character.  Perhaps the best way of thinking of it is as how Pomona Sprout is essentially background in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and then has speaking lines in “… Chamber of Secrets,” but then becomes active in “…the Deathly Hallows.”  Similarly, Eleanor has had little to do in the first 70,000 words of my novel, but she is beginning to become more relevant. If I add a few more elements to my rough outline, she might even become important.  I am still working on shoring things up, and still need to complete the narrative leading up to NaNoWriMo, but it feels a lot better to have direction. I would like to have the luxury of doing a writing burst by the seat of my pants again, but for the time being, I might as well be content with the opportunities that I’ve created for myself.

There’s still that little matter of the title.  I’ve thought of another potential title, “Beneath the Surface,” but I am still juggling these others around.  I would like to get a good title ready by the end of October, so that I can potentially go about designing a cover.  What do you think? Polls are still open!

Squick Moment #1

October 16, 2011

As of tomorrow, I will have two weeks to prepare for this year’s NaNoWriMo. As of today, I realized that close to seven hundred words from the fourth section of my book have disappeared. That’s about a page and a half that no longer exists. I don’t know exactly what happened to it, but I’ve gone through my backups and realized that my last back-up was on July 5. I completed that section on July 14. In other words, I should’ve backed up sooner. Oh well, maybe it will be better the second time around! By the way, I backed up today. And the moral of the story, with apologies to Mr. Hawthorne and Ms. Weigel:

“Back up, back up, back up. Click freely on that save button, if not to your thumb drive, yet some other means where everything can be repaired!”