Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Urge to NaNo

NaNoing in the writing world has nothing to do with the study of very small things. NaNoing has an entirely different meaning and, ironically, entails the production of a large set of words within a short time period. If you participate in National Novel Writing Month, you are NaNoing.

Last year, I NaNoed (is the slang annoying you yet?) and attempted to write my last Musketeer novel in the month of November by hammering out 1600+ words a day until I reached the 50K-word mark. I fell 15K words short. (This very day, I'm about 13K short. I know, I know...) Thanksgiving arrived, and that put a meat fork in my productivity.

The exercise challenged me to not belabour any details and keep moving. My crit group read sections as I moved along, and the story almost moved along too quickly. It seemed to keep the same pace as the month, fast and sloppy. It's an attractive exercise in no regrets, no layers. You just go for it. I've heard lots of names for this type of writing: stream of consciousness, downloading, free writing (which can be more personal), or the ever popular, puking on the page.

Now that fall has come back around and the days are closing in on Nov. 1, I'm thinking again about whether to give it another try. My story could use an ending and NaNo focuses the mind on the task: writing the draft. This is such an important, crucial step in a book. You have no book if you don't have a draft. That idea gurgling around in your head? All you have is an idea, mildy formed, amusingly mythical, until you put words on the paper. Then you have something. It might be trash, but it's trash in actual black and white that can be edited, revised, manipulated. In my case, layered. I need to add layers and details and give the story a little heft.

Maybe the turn of the season or the way light is starting to diminish more each day causes NaNo to pull at me a little. C'mon, Do It. The challenge and the companionship (because there are thousands participating and a networking website) change the lone-writer reality into a competition and a virtual party. That said, I don't think I'll ever write a book in a month. My habits (bad, maybe) and thought processes don't support a high daily word count. I like thinking about my sentences/plots, and finding the best way to tell the story and its nuances. I'll sit for 10 minutes on one sentence. It's not painful. It's particular. I want to tell the story the way I feel the story.

But, boy, NaNoWriMo makes you write. And right now, I could sure use a little virtual party and an ending to my book.   

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Your Digital Footprint Or Finding Brad Land

Writers of fiction generally try to build a platform somewhere online. Be it Goodreads, a blog, an active Facebook page, a smart-ass Twitter account. But then there are the ones who don't. If I could ask Brad Land why he's not online, I would, but he's not online to send him an email or a snappy tweet. He has no digital footprint. Or he doesn't have one that I can find. He might be lurking under a psuedonym, like my kids do on Tumblr, but again, no one can find him that way.

Granted, a few interesting articles are available online about this enigmatic writer, but much of it is old, from when he became well-known in the literary world. He wrote a best-selling memoir in 2005, Goat, published by Random House about young adulthood and violence and two incidents that shaped his life. First, he was abducted and beaten by strangers from a party he attended; then he was hazed at Clemson University while pledging his brother's fraternity, Kappa Sigma. I read the slim, brooding book last month, and his writing threw me back to my own angst-ridden college experiences of trying to fit in (I rushed one fall but didn't pledge. It was a stomach-churning mistake, and sorority life wasn't for me.)

Land wrote his memoir while nearing the end of a graduate program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. It became a national bestseller and next month, a movie will be released based on the book. I didn't know any of this while I was reading the book, but as I was reading, I wanted to know more about Brad Land and his more recent work. So I started to do what anyone in 2016 would do to find a person: google him.

Mostly, old press from Goat populated the search but nothing about him recently. None of my searches on Facebook or Twitter turned up anything, so I tried emailing the publisher. The only email I could find for Random House Trade Publications was to request review copies of books. I sent an email with a subject line, "Interview with author Brad Land," but I got a disheartening generic robo-reply that said, basically, tough cookies.

In a lucky twist, a writer friend of mine said she had interviewed Land once after a reading he gave in Asheville. A review she wrote about his second book, which is still posted online, gave me the best leads. It sent me to an old website of his,, which must have been Land's attempt at the time of Goat's release to hurry up and put up a web presence. The site has some helpful links, but it's also a convoluted, writer-be-damned, who-gives-a-shit site that really doesn't mention Land by name. One of the links goes to an obvious Q&A about the book. I tried the email address on the site. My mail bounced back, undeliverable.

The last place he was known to have lived, according to my online search, was Carborro, NC, where another writer friend of mine also lives. My friend says that he remembers meeting Land once briefly around the time of the memoir's release. But has heard nothing more.

Why did I go through this rigmarole? Because he was from South Carolina, went to grad school for an MFA in creative writing in NC, and wrote a damn good memoir. (His second book, Pilgrims Upon the Earth, was not commercially well-reviewed.) I thought, why not find him and find out what he's working on and see if he can spare some insight on this writing life?

But he's off the grid. Which made me also wonder why so many of us want to be ON the damn grid. Who wants to be an open public record? Who wants to have to continually market or sacrifice privacy for the sake of the constant need for sales or to create searchable content or to feed the public's hunger for the dish? Not that Land is a celebrity, but he certainly made a splash and the subject matter of his book is intriguingly harsh, and the way he wrote the narrative is worth studying.

I had to stop when I felt the urge to google his obit. He's out there, just not interested in the rest of us.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Why Writers Need Each Other

It's official. I now have more writer friends than any other kind. Bully! This means maybe, just maybe, I have a chance at making it.

Here's why: Writers pull other writers outta the gutter, the place we trip into regularly, absolutely sure that's where our work should be, and, oops, there we tumble over our shitty drafts. Once we're soaking in the sewage and our pages are illegible, sometimes we feel that's just where we should stay. But it stinks in the muck. Then look up, and lo, see all the other writers who just climbed out of the same stinky gutter but were cleaned off by a good, hard rain. They're offering you a hand up. Jeez, thank you.

Take the help. Squeeze the mother-loving milk out of it and wait for the next rain to rinse off the stench. You'll need that gang of travelers again and again and again. The gutter has a funny gravity and the road won't be any less slippery. My turn comes to extend a hand.

This year, in addition to launching a micro-press, I feel a need to start a patronage circle for working writers and artists in my community. We all need help, usually in the form of money, and wouldn't it be good to raise a few bucks for CREATIVITY'S SAKE?  Not for a political agenda, or a church, or a disaster fund, but for people who make art and take risks to expose the human condition, entertain us, and make life a lot more interesting.

Nina Hart is our guinea pig. Nina and I met years ago in a group called Women Writing in Asheville. She read these wonderful vignettes that elaborated on quirky characters and situations the likes of which I had never imagined. Her quirky stories of strangeness usually left us all a little excitedly befuddled and wanting more. She kept working on her craft and decided to start her own business,, to encourage other creative writers. She's been at it for three years now and wants to go to the next level by taking an intensive, yet expensive, training course. I say, let's help. We'll be having a party for her in the coming months. We'll drink, be merry, talk, recite some lines, and generally make life easier on some level for Nina.