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The Curses/Blessing of November

November 13, 2014
Yup.

Yup.

NaNoWriMo is kicking my ass this year. (And naturally I feel the need to declare that publicly. Because.) Even though I got off to a decent start (by my standards), I haven’t been able to maintain the pace, which wasn’t especially fast to begin with. Try as I might for the next 17 days, it’s looking like I may very well not finish in time. It’s just a tad frustrating, because I’ve successfully finished before. It just wasn’t during NaNoWriMo proper.

November is a tough month for trying to write every day, let alone 1,667 words every day. There’s damn good reason that the last time I tried this, I chose March. I mean what the hell ever goes on in March? (Ok, I had two friends get married in March this year, but that’s about it.)

Add to this, I’ll be attending LosCon at the end of this month. So, that big holiday weekend following Thanksgiving that all those more sensible NaNoWriMo participants will have for finishing their novels just before the deadline? That’s a Saturday and probably most of a Sunday I won’t have.

Writing on Thanksgiving? We’re hosting a family/friends dinner in our apartment. (Don’t ask me why.) Slim chance of having any keyboard time that day before the food coma settles in.

I’m not giving up in the slightest,- don’t make that mistake! A 50,000-word book is not an end goal. Only a milestone. This latest book is one I’ve wanted to write for while. I envision it as the beginning of a series. It will have a life beyond this month regardless of the wordcount on December 1.

Besides, you can’t really “lose” a contest where your only competition is yourself. For now, I will keep plugging away (when possible) and try to leave as much brain juice on the page as I can squeeze out before midnight on the 30th.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, feel free to leave your own laments, complaints, or whatever in the comments. (Misery loves company and all.)

Here, Have a NaNoWriMo Excerpt

November 5, 2014

As my country votes resoundingly for two more years of pissing into the wind, I find that I’m glad that I’ve chosen to write light-hearted fantasy this month. Working on my darker, more dystopian book would just feel a bit, I don’t know, too much on the nose maybe?

Anyhow, here’s a little excerpt of what I’ve been writing. This is rough, rough draft material, filled with excess for the sake of wordcount, and in the NaNoWriMo spirit, I will be trying my damnedest  to avoid revising until after Nov. 30. World, meet Valyssa, one of the Three Scholars.

Val paid her coin for the booth in the water merchants’ tent, and made herself as comfortable as she could on her makeshift couch of old tattered pillows. Since her flight from Larh, acquiring enough money for food and basic needs had not been a serious problem. In the two weeks time it had taken her to find her bearings in the villages of the Fringelands and join a caravan to traveling to the Tents of Xel, she had been able to find short-term work first as an interpreter for a Gedlander merchant, then as an identifier of salvage from one of the many dig sites at one of the many ancient villages that were found along the Fringelands caravan routes. Her knowledge of spoken Geddish was rough (her accent was atrocious, she was told), and most of the salvage had been scrap barely fit for recycling (a box of ancient pistol ammunition and a tarnished silver necklace were the notable exceptions), but combined with the money her father had provided her with, she had been paid well-enough to eat, drink, and rent a riding gecko for her trip to the oasis town she presently found herself in.

Val was thankful that some of the esoteric knowledge she had been forced to accumulate in her life actually had a practical value outside the walls of Lahr. The rural Fringelands that separated the city-states of the Civil Coast from the wild Madlands were constantly being traversed by those seeking to profit from the knowledge and treasures of the Earth’s obscure past civilizations. This happened to be something of a specialty of the religious orders headed by each of her parents. These skills also enabled her to perform just enough research to learn that an Inokian vault had been located some months ago in the Madlands, not far from the Tents of Xel. Without having any other vector to pursue, it seemed as good a path to follow if she was to attempt to aid her family in any way.

The worst part of her flight from Larh had not been fear of providing for herself, except in the very beginning. But after the paralyzing terror of her first night camped outside the walls of Larh alone (in a storm no less), Val resolved to enjoy her freedom. It certainly seemed to her that it would be temporary. Her father, and especially her mother, were masters of their city’s political scene. How long could their persecution possibly last?

Val considered the worst parts of her last two weeks to be a dead toss-up between the lice she acquired from the inn she had stayed at on her second night, and the lusty leering advances she had to endure from the men of questionable hygiene she had encountered on her travels. It was enough to make her reflect fondly on her Kellian, even as she remembered how stoic and boring he could be.

The Tents of Xel, an oasis town settled by a tribe of nomads who one day decided that an oasis was a suitable place to change their lifestyle, and now named for it’s de facto mayor, had proven to be the least civilized place Val had encountered yet. Which she supposed made sense, considering its location. Quickly discovering that her previously profitable talents were less in demand here due to local competition, she turned to her skills in mathematics, particularly her knowledge of statistical probabilities. She knew that some on the losing side in a game of chance might consider her use of these skills to be cheating, but, she reasoned, that was only because they were on the losing side.

I’m only about 3,000 words short of today’s target wordcount. If I can avoid falling farther behind, I’ll be in good shape.

How’s your November going?

NaNoWriMo Is Nigh! (Yup, I’m In.)

October 30, 2014

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

It’s not official if I don’t make the announcement somewhere. For those of you also participating, you can find me over on the official website for National Novel Writing Month under the name ‘Garrett am Writer’. (Garrett W. and it’s variations were apparently taken.)

Structuring writing time is always a challenge for me, so I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMo to give me some momentum, even if it’s short-lived. The Wasteland novel is being put on hold temporarily. Instead, in just 30 days, I’ll be endeavoring to complete my science-fantasy “Madlands” novel that I’ve been planning. I’ve got a far future Earth setting, I’ve got my main characters, I’ve got my central conflict, and I’ve got lots “candy-bar” scenes in my head (the scenes you most want to write). I’ve got one character that was inspired by a rabbi from the Babylonian Talmud, and another character inspired by a Judas Priest song. (No, it’s not the Green Manalishi, but that would have been my first guess too.)

Do I completely know what the hell I’m doing? Of course not, but that’s part of the fun. Is November going to be full of unavoidable distractions? You bet, but knowing me I will still likely be the cause of most of my distractions. That’s way it goes. I’ll try to update this blog with a weekly post or two while pursuing this mad quest, but as usual, no promises.

Let’s do this thing already!

Also, lest I forget to mention – have a happy Halloween everyone! And remember, he who dies with the most candy, still dies.

Wishful Thinking: My Choice for a Deadliest Warrior Match-up

October 29, 2014

Even though it’s been three years since Deadliest Warrior failed to earn itself a fourth season, I still get a little bummed out when I think about all the great historical match-ups that we’ll probably never get to see portrayed. Sure, the show was kind of cheesy, the first season took serious liberties with history and science, and had weapon “experts” who didn’t know the first things about their weapons, but it was always fun to watch. It gave history and martial arts nerds plenty to hypothesize about and to criticize.

If I had my choice of historical generals to match-up for a new episode? I would have to go with

Gustavus Adolphus, the king of Sweden who turned his nation into a military powerhouse and wreaked some serious havoc during the Thirty Years War at the beginning of the 17th century,

vs.

Oda Nobunaga, the ruthless samurai warlord  who paved the way for the unification of Japan in the late 16th century (and who would have most likely succeeded if he hadn’t been betrayed by one of his allies ).

Think about it. Both men lived, fought, and died within 100 years of each other. Both men ascended to power at age 17. Both are responsible for outright massacres of civilians. And the firearms used by both armies should be fairly comparable in terms of range and reload times (I think). How close to call would that battle be?

So tell me fellow history nerds, who would you pick to win a five-on-five squad battle led by these two generals? How about a 100-on-100 battle? 1,000-on-1,000?

Yes, you are allowed to do some research first.

 

Hurray, It’s a an Update! – Plus NaNoWriMo and a Panda

October 17, 2014
Even if they're born in the U.S. like this little guy, they go to live in China once they reach a certain age. I choose to believe that it's for kung-fu training.

My poor neglected blog… <sigh>…  Well, what’s it going to to do, run away to another writer?

It’s been a busy month since I last posted. Things like Jewish High Holidays, Fantasy Football (I’m 6 and 0 going into this weekend!), the release of Wasteland 2 (I backed the Kickstarter), the Ninja-Wife saying “hey let’s go to the San Diego Zoo for a day and see koalas and pandas” (how do I resist that?), and the 40th anniversary party of the oldest homebrew club in America (they started four years before brewing beer at home became legal) are just some of the things that have gotten priority over blogging.

But you can understand why, right?

Even if they're born in the U.S. like this little guy, they go to live in China once they reach a certain age. I choose to believe that it's for kung-fu training.

Even if they’re born in the U.S. like this little guy, they go to live in China once they reach a certain age. I choose to believe that it’s for kung fu training.

Also actual writing– of stories that I hope to sell in the not too distant future. There’s been quite a bit of that over the last several weeks. I’m a bit worried about having a particular piece of my current novel project ready for a group critique in mid-November. That should be more than plenty of time, except that I may not have time to actually work on it in November. That’s because I’m seriously considering participating in NaNoWriMo.

But I’ve been there, done that, right? That’s what that disaster-piece of a first novel is doing linked here on this blog, right?

Nope, that was completed during my own personal declared novel writing month. That month was actually March, which has one more day than November, no holidays that demand family get-togethers, and no NFL on Sundays. It’s a different kind of beast, for me at least.

Well, surely I can use NaNoWriMo to complete that dystopian western wasteland novel I’ve been slowly working on for years, right?

Nope again. Besides that the whole idea of NaNoWriMo is to start and finish a 50K-word in one month, I have too much emotional investment in that story to give it the NaNoWriMo treatment. (It’s a problem, I know.) Do it the right way calls for a new story. Something with only a bare outline will work best. Though having no outline worked out for me the last time, it also left me with a mess that I still haven’t revised into something commercially viable. I’m hoping that this time around I get a higher-quality yield for my efforts.

I do know the story that I want to give the NaNoWriMo treatment. I actually have the main characters and some important pieces of background fleshed out for it. You might call it something of a far future science fantasy romp. It should lend itself well to the brutal pacing demands of NaNoWriMo.

Writer-blogger Kristen Lamb has been churning out a series of blog articles (here, here, and here) lately on the whys and hows of participating in National Novel Writing Month. If you’re at all interested, I recommend following the links to her site and reading up.

As to whether or not I will actually attempt the mad mad marathon that is NaNoWriMo this November, I will decide for certain probably only the week before. I’ve got other things to work on in the meantime. (That may or may not include posting interesting blog content.)

This picture is here for no other reason except that I like giraffes. I mean, who doesn't?

This guy is here for no other reason except that I like giraffes. I mean, who doesn’t?

Oh, by the way, if you’re curious, the vanilla porter has finished conditioning in the bottles, and it tastes positively delicious. The final gravity in the fermenter was higher than I was aiming for, and so it’s only about 4.5% ABV, but that hasn’t hurt it the taste one bit.

Porter in the Works

September 9, 2014

When the going gets tough . . .

Beer_9-8-14-02

. . . creative types need to take a break and make use of their other outlets. This will become a vanilla porter after I transfer it to the secondary fermenter in a day or two. It’s a partial extract, single infusion mash. Original gravity: 1.052.

Due to a mishap at the hombrew shop (ok it was my fault), I had lots of extra malt extract syrup left over once I made the wort (pre-beer, before the yeast is added). Some of the extra malt got baked into brownies that made use of the spent grain, courtesy of the Ninja-Wife, and my friend who was over to hang out and help out.

BarleyBrowniesIMG_20140907_203712_339

The remainder of the spent grain was combined with black beans and corn, and baked into veggie burger patties. Between the spent grain brownies and spent grain burgers, one turned out to be a delicious treat. The other, a noble experiment, never to be repeated. Never.

Barley_BurgersIMG_20140907_203718_923

Guess which was which.

The rest of the malt got sent home with my friend so he could make ice cream out of it. I haven’t tasted the ice cream yet, but his girlfriend texted me the other night to say how insanely good it is, and to practically demand that I hook him up with more malt in the future.

Our apartment also smells like a brewery, but that’s per usual.

I need to force myself to type up the story material I’ve handwritten lately. So of course I said to myself, naah, I think I’ll do a blog post instead.

The Day Job: Saving the Environment Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

August 28, 2014

When I’m asked if I like my job, I answer truthfully. “It has its rewarding days,” I say.  I often feel as though the job that pays me  is a distraction from what I should be doing; writing down things I made up. Strange isn’t it?

Seen just outside my office mate's window one afternoon.

Seen just outside my officemate’s window one afternoon.

When most people ask that inevitable question “what do you do?” they’re usually asking about the daily activities that you perform to pay the bills and keep yourself fed. When they ask me, I could choose to re-interpret the question and answer “I’m a writer”, or “I brew beer, train in martial arts, go on hikes whenever possible, and try advocate for fairness and justice wherever possible”, or I could even choose to be crass and answer “my wife”. But usually I end up giving them the answer they asked for, even though it’s one people don’t usually expect, and tell them the name of the local government parks and conservation agency I work for.

To be more accurate, I usually tell them the name of the State agency; one of the three parent agencies of the joint powers authority that actually pays me, because that’s the organization that people in the Los Angeles area are more likely to have heard of. I think less than half the new people I meet have actually heard of us in some way, never mind that the names of both agencies are all over the signs at parks and trail heads throughout the Santa Monica Mountains range, and many other places within Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. (For those unfamiliar with So Cal geography, that’s the mountain range that runs from Point Mugu in Ventura County to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and separates the San Fernando Valley from L.A. City.)

Occasionally I get questions like this: Where are the mountains? You see those big things over there? The most prominent natural feature of the Los Angeles area? You drove through them today on the freeway. You might have noticed them propping up the Hollywood sign at some point. (It’s hard to answer questions like these without being snarky.)

Many people, however,  follow up with the sorts of questions that indicate they want to know more about what I do. Essentially I work in land conservation for a parks agency. And so I tell them that, no, I don’t get to work outdoors all that often. That my office is in a scenic location, but one that’s an hour’s drive each way to and from my home, if traffic isn’t unusually terrible. That what I do is, in theory, to try to conserve land to either keep it as permanent open space, or one day turn it into parkland. That what that entails actually changes day to day, sometimes hour to hour. Yet it almost never offers any kind of excitement. I can’t say it’s fulfilling, or even satisfying work. It’s a job.

Unless people really push for the finer points, I tend to leave out the details of what I do, because frankly, much of the time it’s boring, and it takes hours of explaining the minutiae of my atypical day-to-day to make most people understand what my days are really like. The one constant thing that I end up doing is drafting comment letters for my boss, or for the chairperson of one of our boards to sign. So many, many letters, on so many, many projects. This often goes along with photoshopping explanatory diagrams and maps to go with these letters, and sometimes running around to public hearings to be a voice and face for the agency I work for. Sound thrilling?

(For any Libertarians reading this, know that I don’t get paid with taxpayers dollars. Voter-approved purpose-specific dollars cover my staff time and that of my co-workers.)

How’d I land this swanky gig? My degree in Biology and a couple of internships working with threatened and endangered birds were apparently my chief qualifications, but there was no training that prepared me for what I now do five days a week. I’m a bureaucrat and a public servant whose main function often seems to be complaining about what folks in the private sector want to build. The usual reason is because of where they want to build it.

As you might expect, pissing people off comes with this territory, but making developers angry doesn’t bother me much. It’s actually the monotony of my job that gets to me. I go to work most days thinking about the great stories in my head that I will write down soon, just as soon as I have a free moment. By the time I make it home, after a day of staring at a computer screen, and an hour-long return commute (broken up some days by a stop at the gym) I find that my will to write anything more is sapped. Some weeks, the front of my head aches from eyestrain at the end of my day. (Yes, I have seen an ophthalmologist about this. It is not a problem with a long-term fix. At least not until my eyes deteriorate enough that I can actually use corrective lenses.)

People who believe in the work I do have told me that it’s important. That we needs more parks. That we need more open space for wildlife. That we’re saving the world for future generations. Some passionate folks have even told me that I’m doing God’s work.

Intellectually, I know what I do has an important impact. But that doesn’t make it feel like any less of a fucking job. A low-paying job at that.

I know a could command a much higher salary working for a private environmental consulting firm, even without going back to school for a master’s degree. Except private environmental consulting firms work for land developers. I’ve seen how that sausage is made. In fact, I spend a good deal of work time pointing out just how shittily that sausage is made.

I used to think that was the kind of job I wanted. I spent more than a year applying and interviewing for those kinds of jobs before I was offered the paying internship that led to the job I have now. But knowing what I now know, I just couldn’t do it.

I have other options of course. I could get over my miserable academic experiences as an undergraduate and pursue a graduate PhD. (If I want a life in academia and don’t mind acquiring student debt.) I could pursue work outside the realms of either biology or conservation. (If I knew what. No, I don’t care to hear the suggestions that you can pull out of your ass.) I could sell illegal narcotics for a living. (I’m white, so I might never be caught. Though my social worker wife might have a problem with this career choice.) I could do a lot of things, none of which I would find remotely fulfilling.

So for now, I continue to lose two hours of my days driving each each way to work at job that bores me, because I know that what I do is meaningful, even if it rarely feels that way. For now, writing stories is my hope for myself to have a meaningful and fulfilling future.

Yeah, I know; first world problems and all that.

 

Can you guess the name of the park this  shot was taken from? I bet you can't.

Can you guess the name of the park this shot was taken from? I bet you can’t.

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