WARNING: May contain naughty language.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nanowrimo: Where it All Started For Me

November is approaching and with it comes the gauntlet of National Write A Novel Month ("Nanowrimo"); a keyboard-pounding, hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing exercise in willpower, wherein participants are challenged to write a complete novel in 30 days.

I succeeded in 2010 and have no plans to EVER do it again. But had I not participated 2 years ago, I doubt I would be writing today.

I'd always had a interest in writing, from the time I was in high school and even through college, going so far as to take a couple of creative writing classes. I'd crank out shorts left and right, giving them to friends and local publications as "filler" material. Nothing serious, just something to occupy time between classes, studying and drinking.  When I moved on to "the real world" I stopped writing. Period.

For 15 years I didn't even try to create anything. I was too busy working, getting married, raising kids and so on.

But in 2010 a friend of mine suggested giving Nanowrimo a shot. I figured I'd accept the dare and give it a try. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed the experience and finished close to 90k words with 11 days left in the month of November.

I really haven't stopped writing since then.

I "punished" my friend (sorry, Steve!) by asking him to read the work I produced. I think it took him most of the summer to struggle through the piece. When finished my manuscript looked like every page had contracted a terminal case of chicken pox.

In the words of Edward Gorey it was "Dreadful. Dreadful! DREADFUL!"

I'm still buying him rounds of beer for that extraordinary act of valor.

But it did jump start my long idling creative engine and I can't thank Steve or Nanowrimo enough.

I'm still never, ever going to try it again. Once was enough.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Viable Paradise XVI

Last week I attended Viable Paradise, an intense, week long workshop for writers of speculative fiction. I've had a number of friends and family ask how it was.
Viable Paradise: A Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop

I don't have an answer yet. My mind is still sweeping up the pieces, trying to make sense of the lessons provided. I'm told that will come in time.

Here is what I do know;

- within the first 24 hours of the experience I realized just how much I have to learn.
- everybody in the "Tribe" suffers from Imposter Syndrome at some time.
- there can be no external locus of motivation for a writer.
- in the 3 month period preceding VP I read over 40 "suggested" books; I now have 37 more...
- I have permission to suck, as long as I improve a little bit each time.
- the staff & instructors worked twice as hard as we did.
- "However tough the peasant in his heart, every writer needs people who believe in him, give him a shoulder to cry on, and value what he values. If the writer doesn't get it, he might try changing friends." (John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist) [Okay, so now I have 36 books to read.]

I have found my friends and we choose to WRITE.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Most Disturbing Halloween Decoration - EVER!

[For the full story please refer to my previous posts prior to reading this]

Bold Possums
Cars 1: Possums 0

Even though Halloween is still more than 3 weeks away, my neighborhood has gone ALL OUT in the decorations department and I'm just as guilty as any of them.

Yesterday I braved some serious gusts of wind and a nasty damp drizzle to finally get the rest of our Halloween crap out of the basement and into the light of day. So now skeletons are dangling from tree limbs, a petite graveyard (complete with a giant rubber rat) dominates the front yard and numerous ghosts hang from the shutters. Not too bad.

My wife took the kids to see some new cartoon movie so I was on my own for the evening. Just me and the dog.


I microwaved a pizza, tossed down a couple of Miller Lights and caught up on some recorded shows. The dog started whining at around 8pm for her nightly constitutional. Or the "shit walk" as I call it.

This time of year it's not so bad. All the Halloween decorations are out in full-force with each neighbor trying to out do each other. Plenty of good stuff to see.

Man, some folks have got way too much time (and $$$) on their hands!

One house was completely covered with that fake spider silk and no less than nine giant arachnids clung to the exterior. Another neighbor had an inflatable tombstone, at least eighteen feet tall, towering in the front yard.

Of course, Joe MacGregor had nothing going on in his yard. He was the kind of guy who turned off the lights every Halloween and refused to answer the door when the ghosts and goblins came by.  A real pillar of the community. As I walked past his house I noticed the front door was wide open and a gust of wind had blown the screen door right off its hinges. Being the good neighbor I am, and perhaps, feeling a little guilty about the injury he got yesterday while disposing of the "possum pancake", I walked across the yard to shut the open door. My dog, Juno, refused to get anywhere close and pulled hard against the leash. A couple of seconds later I figured out why. The odor wafting out of the modest home was absolutely vomit-inducing! Stale cigarettes, rotting food, raw sewage and other less discernible aromas assaulted me. I held my breath and quickly slammed the door closed.

Maybe Joe should spend a little more time cleaning the inside of his house instead of the landscaping!

A few blocks away an army of life-sized skeletons was stationed around another home, guarding it like a phalanx of soldiers. Next door an animatronic Freddy Krueger leered from inside a bay window and scratched the window with plastic knife blades.

Each year it seems somebody has to go one step too far. And this year was no exception.

Juno and I were headed home when I heard the screams.

I took off running with the dog in tow. As I turned the corner, I stopped short and cursed under my breath.

The Nelson's house was decked out like nothing I'd ever seen before.

Orange and yellow spotlights illuminated the yard. At least a dozen tombstones dotted the front yard. A fog machine was going full blast, spilling a thick grey cloud across the entire plot. Giant bats and spiders dangled from every tree branch and full-size statues of ghosts and ghouls glowered at onlookers. Blood-chilling screams and moans, rattling chains and eerie howls pulsed out forth from expensive outdoor speakers. The whole setup had to have cost at least a couple of grand, probably more.

But the masterpiece of Halloween decorations writhed and struggled on the driveway. A still figure lay prone on the blacktop and crouched over it was a fully articulated, animatronic zombie, tearing its hapless victim to pieces. I watched as one hand dug greedily into the corpse and pulled away sticky pink tendrils of tissue and shoved the morsel into its mouth. A spreading pool of black liquid covered the spot and slowly crept towards the street like a dark tide. Tom Nelson was definitely winning the decoration contest this year. The zombie robot plunged its entire face into the abdominal cavity and started chewing.

I was starting to get a little pissed off. I'm just glad I didn't take the kids on the walk with me. This was just over the top. But then I started to laugh.

Tom Nelson had a helluva good sense of humor.

The headlights of a passing car illuminated the scene long enough to make out more details. The "victim" was wearing one of those realistic self-mold masks and I could clearly see Tom's own face on the decoration, mouth open in a frozen scream of agony and eyes glazed over.  And the "zombie" was clad in the infamous red flannel pajama bottoms of my own neighbor, Joe MacGregor! The only thing missing were his equally notorious slippers. The zombie sniffed the air and turned its head towards me. The face was a ruined parody of my neighbor, Joe. An eyeball dangled by the optic nerve and was stuck to a grey-fleshed cheek. His tufts of white hair were streaked with blood and chunky bits of meat, probably hamburger or something. A low moan issued from animatronic decoration before it turned back to the simulacrum of Tom Nelson and dove in for sloppy seconds.

I don't know how anybody could possibly beat Nelson for best decorations this year!

Juno started straining at her leash and her entire back was covered in hackles of raised black fur. She whined piteously and wanted nothing more than to go home. Right. Now.

I chuckled once more and headed back. Trish and the kids were still gone so I figured I'd kill a half hour by writing this down before I forgot all about it.

Geez, like a dozen cop cars just screamed by with full sirens and lights!

I hope Mabel's kitchen didn't catch fire again. She's a great lady, but when you're over ninety-five years old, you sometimes forget about the stew you're making and take a nap instead.

God, I love the suburbs...


Friday, October 5, 2012

Cars 1 : Possums 0

Okay, so my last post described the deranged, hyper-aggressive critter which took up residence under my tool shed in the backyard. That was yesterday.

Apparently there is a little more room under the shed as of today.

I was getting the paper this morning, after my "jog" and I noticed the smell first. Imagine a trashbag full of dirty diapers, spoiled milk and rotten vegetables left to stew in its own juices for the entire month of August. That would give you an inkling of what I was smelling.

I assumed it was a skunk or something but then I noticed a squishy, grey and white furred object in the middle of the road, fifteen feet from my driveway, weakly squirming about. I took a closer look and recognized the beast which had menaced me the day before. I didn't think it was possible, but he looked even worse now. Apparently he wasn't fast enough crossing the street at some point during his nocturnal wanderings and a car had driven right over him.

It was disgusting. The force of the tire going over its body stuck it to the asphalt like a pancake. But the SOB was still alive. That nasty worm-looking tail clutched at the air and the possum struggled to raise its head. His needle-like teeth were stained a deep crimson from the severe internal injuries it suffered. But it still wanted a piece of me! Its jaw opened and closed repeatedly in my direction.

"Whatcha got there, neighbor?" Scared the crap out of me.

There was Joe coming out of his garage with a garbage bag in one hand and a shovel in the other. Thick workman's gloves covered his hands. I guess he'd done this sort of thing before. The rugged, blue collar effect was spoiled by his red flannel pajama pants and open-toe slippers.

"Morning, Joe. Just saw this poor thing now. Looks like you're on top of the job."

He chuckled at my discomfort.

"Yep. Somebody's got to do something about this mess. And I didn't figure it would be you."

He opened the garbage bag with a practiced swish and started prying the remains of the possum right off the street with the shovel. The possum wasn't ready to give up yet and thrashed madly, snapping those tiny, sharp teeth at the old man.

"Do me a favor, Chris. Let me know if you see any cars coming. I don't want to end up like our friend here."

My neighbor plucked the dying animal up by the tail and moved it towards the open garbage bag.

Joe whistled loudly. "Damn, but does this little bastard reek! Smells like the time our septic tank..."

I was saved from yet another tale of Joe's glory days when the possum split in half at the middle and Joe found himself holding the rear portion of the animal while the business end landed on his left foot with sickening splat - like throwing a wad of wet paper towels on a linoleum floor.

Joe cursed and kicked at the remains. We were both amazed to see the thing was still moving after all that.

From now on possums are going down in my book as the toughest creatures on earth, no contest.

Joe raised the shovel over his head and smashed the head of the struggling creature as hard as he could. That seemed to do the trick. He scooped the dead animal into the bag and headed back up his driveway with nary a word. Wordlessly he tossed the bag into his garbage can.

"Thanks, Joe. You okay?" I noticed tiny drops of bright crimson on the cracked concrete in his wake.

"Just stubbed my toe, son. Nothing to worry about. And do you mind telling your kids to stop screaming and running around after dinnertime? Gives me a damned migraine every goddamned night." He disappeared into his house and slammed the door behind him.

I've got the bestest neighbors.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bold Possums

I've got a pretty big backyard with a single, enormous tree towering overhead. Its a beautiful silver maple at least eighty years old. The price I pay each year for that tree is picking up the tons of leaves it drops every Fall. On a good day I can get it done in about 90 minutes, knowing full well I'll be back at it again the following weekend.

I was putting the last bag of leaves into my ramshackle tool shed in the back corner of the yard when I heard a loud hissing sound underfoot. Well, I jumped at least three feet in the air and looked around for whatever snake I'd almost stepped on.


I heard it again. The sound was coming from under the shed. I dropped down and peered underneath the tiny building. It was dark and shadowy but there was definitely something in there.

I grabbed a flashlight from the shed and looked once more, waving the beam around. A single yellow-pink eye glared at me. I could just make out the hairless pink tail and matted greyish white fur of my unwanted guest.
WAY better looking than the one under my shed.

Great. Possums. This happened last year, too. I guess the bottom of my tool shed makes a great hideout.

No wonder our dog, Juno, was going crazy every time we let her out in the backyard for the past couple of days. Not that she'd know what to do if she ever caught one.

The hissing continued with greater volume and I'm not going to lie. I was a little creeped out.

Last year the animal had just moved on and I figured there wasn't any need to mess with it. Just warn the kids about it and keep a close eye on the dog.

The shape started moving towards me, a slow ungainly swagger like a drunken sailor.  It was absolutely silent. Possums are nocturnal so I guessed there wasn't much of a chance it would come into the light.

I was wrong. Man, that thing was NASTY looking!

Not the most attractive of animals on their best days, this specimen had apparently picked a fight with something a lot bigger and meaner than itself. Pus and crusted yellow scabs covered its face and I swear one eye was completely gone, just an empty socket. The thing was literally pulling itself forward on two broken limbs and it looked like half its tail had been gnawed off.

I screamed (yes, screamed like a six-year old girl) and dashed back to the safety of my patio. Thank God that the beast retreated back into the darkness under the shed.

"Problems, Chris?" came a voice from over the fence. To add further insult, my neighbor, Mr. MacGregor had seen the whole thing. He was an okay guy for a neighbor. About seventy or so with tufts of white hair sticking everywhere. His face was lined with wrinkles and he had a perpetual tan from spending every spare minute working on his yard in his pajama pants and slippers. He was a former Marine and proud to let everybody know it. I always got the sense he rolled his eyes or snorted with disgust when he watched my amateur efforts at lawn care.

"Oh. Hi, Joe. Just a possum under the shed again."

He nodded and gave me that look of faint disdain with a touch of amusement.

"You know, Chris, they might have rabies or something. Not safe for the kids. Wanna borrow my .22 and take em down? Got some rat poison, too."

"Naw. Thanks, though. He'll probably just move along when he feels like it.

He nodded once more and turned his attention back to pruning his flowers.

Sometimes I really HATE being in the suburbs!

(Look for Part 2 on Friday, October 5th!)