Saturday, December 1, 2012

#Nanowrimo Fails

Yesterday I consoled two friends who failed to write 50,000 words in a month. Just as I finished comforting one, the other IM’d me. After three hours, I think I ran out of patience. It’s for the hysterics I both witnessed and heard about yesterday that I’m writing this today, to reminded you that National Novel Writing Month is imaginary and you’ll all be fine.

There are a few dozen professional authors with whom I speak regularly. None of them were doing #nanowrimo the way it’s intended. Most didn’t do it at all; I didn’t either. A few used the community aspects and inspirational messages to psych themselves into getting as many words as they could for their own novels – most of which, I think, are going to finish at double or more the 50,000-word goal line. This is how they pay their bills, and they just wanted progress on hard projects.

I frame this in terms of what they did to ask you something simple: what did you want out of this thing?

Did you want a publishable book? Bullshit! Almost no one in the history of almost everywhere has ever written a decent novel in one month. Maybe Stephen King, maybe once, out of a career headed for triple digits.

Did you do it for camaraderie with other writers? Then it only matters how you bonded. And good news: those people are still around, so you can still talk to them, encourage them, and share your work with them.

Did you do it to start writing again? Then you did, and if this art form expressed something from within you that nothing else reaches, you probably ought to keep going. Maybe writing this, maybe something different, maybe something shorter. Maybe December is your Short Story Writing Month, where you nail a smaller thing that squirmed out of the novel, to feel that you can conquer an idea. Or maybe you just keep pace until this novel itself has an end.

Did the high demand stress you out, wreck your outline, or otherwise leave you unable to work effectively? Then start over with a more generous time table. There are eleven months before the next November, and many talented people will be writing during those, including every single professional author I know. It is actually legal to keep writing today. You have my permission.

Look: 50,000 words in a month doesn’t make you a novelist. Unless you were contracted to someone for a manuscript by today, you haven’t failed at jack shit. You will only fail if you don’t embrace what you wanted out of this before you die.

Also, take it for granted that if you die, there’ll be greater concerns than word count.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Exorcising Mother

It’s still surprising Mom lived so long. She was a sweet lady, always donated to UNICEF and Make-A-Wish. She worked as a maid at one of the Chicago Hyatts for thirteen years, and again at the Radisson for eighteen more. She cleaned rooms, folded toilet paper into white roses, and occasionally spiked visitors’ medications or the minibar with untraceable chemicals. As Aunt Theresa put it, she was a prolific but unassuming professional.

When she died, it wasn’t by a hitman. It was liver failure. I was there, bawling my eyes out, and the only assassins to blame were diet and genetics. She’s why I eat so many salads.

She’s also, I think, the reason why all my ex-boyfriends are dead. As far back as I can think, Mom was very supportive of who I was. Dad still doesn’t understand – he thinks I can just like girls if I try hard enough. Mom understood and coaxed me to love who I loved, though she refused to lower her standards. The boys I liked weren’t good enough for her. When I was dating Micah, she actually went to his concert to watch how he behaved. I saw her halfway through his set. She made a little “swish” sign at her neck, which meant I wasn’t seeing him again. Like, romantically again. She didn’t kill him. Heroin killed Micah. I’m pretty sure heroin killed Micah.

It was a month after Mom’s funeral that I noticed a problem. I was with… Jake. It sounds tackier than it was, but Jake was a Canadian brewer hoping to turn full-time hockey player. I know, it’s terrible, but he was so earnest. Or he seemed earnest. Actually, he was an asshole who called that he was sick the morning of Mom’s funeral, and it turns out he was actually drunk with his team. I saw the pics on one of their Facebook Walls. I was so mad, and I was plotting to dump him via that same Facebook Wall when other status updates came in. Jake, who was almost born on ice, had slipped in his shower that night and broke his neck.

I was devastated. Like, Aunt Theresa and my friends thought I was going to kill myself. These two girls from Mom’s church actually drove me to grief counseling sessions, to and from, and took me out to lunch afterward every time. Mom knew really nice people. I mean, except for the mob ties.

It was at one of these sessions that I met Hunter. Hunter. God, I can’t believe I ever dated someone named ‘Hunter,’ and that name hurts twice as bad in retrospect. It turns out he would go these sorts of grieving sessions to prowl for easy lays. I kind of suspected it, but he had the nicest hands I’d ever seen. Hands are a thing. Don’t judge.

Anyway, Hunter tried to sneak out of the house with my wallet and was, by means I still haven’t figured out, decapitated by the screen door. You probably read about it. It was kind of a big deal in the newspapers. I hear it made the front page of Reddit for a minute.

Then there was D’Angelo. He restored vintage cars, and we made out in the back of the only Rolls Royce I’ve ever been in, and a week later a pneumatic press broke and the Rolls fell on him. And then Gustav and Aleksei, who I wasn’t really in a thing with, but they both fell through the same patch in the ice. I remember them because right before my cell rang, I swear I saw Mom in my mirror. She looked like she was cleaning the frame.

Am I crazy, or is my mom’s ghost killing all my boyfriends? Dad said he still feels her presence, but I don’t have the balls to ask him if that presence feels like it strangles people. He’s lucky that he doesn’t want to date anymore. It’s also frustrating, because if he would, and those women died, I’d know Mom was looking after me. I mean, stalking after me. Poltergeisting after my sex life, because it isn’t hard enough being gay in America.

It’s super-weird, but I moved twice, and it hasn’t stopped. I could probably get the people arrested as an accessory at this point. Last week a cute guy cut me off in traffic, and ten minutes later I drove past the smoldering ruins of his car. “Afternoon Delight” was on the radio. That was Mom’s favorite song.

I once saw a psychotherapist to find out if Mom is just a useful delusion, expressing latent telekinetic abilities. What if I was actually killing all of those people with mental powers, and schizophrenically projecting it onto my late mother? The doctor thought this was all a scam to get prescriptions. He’s dead now.

It’s lonely. I mean, I guess Mom is stuck in a homicidal purgatory which is probably pretty lonely. I still have friends, and Aunt Theresa, and Dad, while Mom doesn’t even have Twitter. I’ve tried telling her, and praying to her, and praying to God to maybe finally take her away, but if you believe that omen on the turnpike, it hasn’t taken yet. It feels too harsh to have my mom exorcised, especially just for my sex life. I don’t know. It isn’t fair.

So now I just tell people the truth. Nobody believes my cute maid of a mom is now snapping necks from beyond the grave, and I need this stuff off my chest. I don’t know. What would you do?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Decent Proposal

“Madame, I will be the first suitor today to speak honestly with you. I wish only to marry you for your money. Now, every man who’s come in here before me has had the same intentions despite what he says, but you might consider them more polite, or playing some social game that has appeal. I think not, I think you’re cleverer than that, which is why you’ll see that I am the best suitor for your estate, not because of honesty, but because of what I’ll do with your holdings.

“I work at the local bank, where last year I turned nine-hundred-thousand pounds in portfolios into two-point-three million pounds, and if they don’t touch those accounts, it will be ten times that in a tenth the effort in less than ten fiscal quarters. I’ve been trained by the best tax liars: the revenue services themselves.

“I’ve got scandalous connections in both mercantile and caravan industries, two which you are likely sick of dealing with. These people need ports; they are ultimately vulnerable to their shape and ownership. Your family gives you one port and your late husband provides you two more. You are many things: eligible, wise, but foremost to these people, you are the definition and portrait of ‘international.’ I know who of these businessfolk are the most vulnerable, the easiest to bend, and where they cheat. You are set for life, but I can guarantee our children will be rich for all of theirs, and I brought the projections to prove it. All it will cost to see them is a simple, ‘I do.’”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Author Opportunist

So this author and his wife are departing his favorite grocery store. Their cart is overloaded with shredded miniwheats and celery, yet over the bags he spies a familiar dust jacket sitting on a passenger’s side seat. It’s his own.

He stops the cart and peers through the window of an old sedan. Indeed, it’s his book, left in a car parked on two over from his own. Looking around the lanes, he hopes to find a fan out in the parking lot, but most everyone seems to still be inside, browsing the discounts on ice cream. He entertains a two-second daydream where this reader loves his book and brings out a pint of Ben & Jerry’s to thank him for his literary brilliance.

His wife complains they should go; her rice milk is dangerously close to room temperature. Well, he thinks, October had been unseasonably warm. And there was no telling when this reader would finish his or her shopping. But he had to do something with this unique promotional opportunity.

Swallowing, he pulls a notepad from his rear pocket and tears off a sheet. He makes his Alpha Signature – the impressive one with all the cursive loops – and writes a tidy note beneath.

“Thrilled to see you have my book here. In case you like it, here’s my autograph.”

He almost rambles longer, but sanity and his wife elbowing him jar the author back into life. He quickly concludes:

“And in case you hate the book, there’s still my autograph. You can burn it.”

Then he hustles to pack the groceries: cold stuff in the back seat, stuff that could wait in the trunk. Heaven forbid the rice milk hit room temperature outdoors.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: 6 Badass Revolutionary War Alternate Histories Nobody Uses


  1. The U.S. is overwhelmingly victorious. How overwhelmingly? They’ve invaded England. They don’t have a lot of industry yet, and frankly, the U.S. sees something in this “Military Industrial Complex.” It could take them places. Shocked by the new nation’s early defeat of British troops, the Germans refuse to extended Hessian support to the King. At the same time, Wales and Ireland hate England and lend themselves as naval bases for the biggest invasion of the British Isles since the Vikings.

  2. One colony (pick your favorite) decides not to fight the war, but rather sits it out. After the U.S. declares independence, this colony declares itself a sovereign nation and freely leases land to the Brits who still want to do business in sub-Canada. It rapidly turns into the most passive aggressive shopping district in North America, with revolutionaries and loyalists constantly running into each other at the vast array of neutral boutiques.

  3. The world really is flat. George Washington and is fellow homies plot to trick the world’s greatest navy into sailing off the edge of the planet by setting up a fake continent and drawing them into a war that isn’t there.

  4. Ala the end of The Hobbit, in the middle of the bloody Revolutionary War, a third army arrives to interrupt. But it ain’t the goblins: it’s the Mayan Apocalypse. It turns out all those calendars won't run out for a few centuries, but humans won't be around for those years. Soldiers of both sides are suddenly united in their desire to get the heck off of the continent before they’re all consumed by a regional end-times, and to warn Europe of their impending doom.

  5. The Vikings realized the Jersey Shore was more amenable that the tundra of northern Europe and simply moved here. With a few hundred years of radically superior weather and vaster terrain, they’ve really leapt forward as a culture, putting the Enlightenment to shame. Their only real rivals are the Native Americans, who think Vikings are crazy for putting so much emphasis on Physics, and have developed their own more holistic curriculum. Red Cloud invents the first affordable family-sized Sedan around 1776, when Europe arrives and awkwardly demands land rights. It’s a lot like getting robbed by a kid with a cap gun, but the Vikings and Native Americans are too nice to just ignore them. It’s really less of a “war” and more of a “long sigh hello.”

  6. Benedict Arnold is gunned down by fellow colonists for his perceived betrayal. Blown to needless bits, he is narrowly saved by the cutting edge of science at the time, with his missing limbs replaced by a steampunk nightmare. He becomes the 1770’s answer to RoboCop, mindlessly following the Prime Directives of the Magna Carta in his pursuit of bringing down the rebels. But are the emotions that once harbored in Arnold’s breast really dead, or does his soul lurk within that cog-powered body?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: What ‘Earth’ Means Abroad, OR, Monologue for Sinestro

“I’m not going to earth myself. I will deal with the real threats to my fledgling corps of fear. I only had to meet you to know – you, granted the greatest weapon in the universe, went home and barely made fourth-from-the-top of your League. Does this say that earth is home to unbeatable wonder women and supermen? No. The ring operates based on the capacity of its user, and you, the best of earth, can barely make it into fame for yourself. Earth possesses scarcely the intelligence to reach the stars, and no will to do anything with it. So I will not be assaulting earth. It will be the rookies of my corps that guts your backwater insult of a planet. Earth is what I feed to my young. Goodbye, Hal Jordan.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Interview: Anna Harte and Above Ground

I'm happy to host the first interview ever here on The Bathroom Monologues. In the next month I hope to host a number of authors (and possibly other artists) to discuss what they're working on, why, and how it gets out into the world. Our first guest ever is Anna Harte of #fridayflash and 1889 Labs fame. She's brought a great raffle which is available to everyone at the bottom of the interview!

John: Welcome to the Bathroom Monologues, Anna! For our audience here, what is Above Ground about?

In very few words, Above Ground is a dark science fantasy about a human girl who is trapped above ground, where werewolves and witches roam. The story follows her as she tries desperately to return home, to the safety of the human establishment underground.
Anna Harte: Author, editor,
werewolf (unconfirmed)

John: So we’re dealing with a post-apocalyptic world, especially up on the surface. What befell the planet?

A genetic experiment gone wrong. Although this isn't explained in the novel, I will spoil it for you here: many years earlier, a company conducting genetic experiments thought they'd stumbled across the next step in human evolution. They turned it into a virus and leaked it to see what would happen, without realising how quickly things would spiral out of control. As a result, all uninfected humans were taken into quarantine underground.

John: What are your favorite apocalypses in fiction? I’m partial to giant monsters leveling all our cities, personally, but that fad hasn’t caught on yet.

As a fearful person with an overactive imagination, I try not to think about apocalypses too much; I value my sleep highly. Whenever I watch an apocalypse film it gives me the creeps.

However, it's the human-caused apocalypses that intrigue me the most, as they are the most likely to happen. Huge natural disasters or asteroids seem silly, and giant monsters improbable, but epidemics, overpopulation, and pollution? All too real.

John: What do you want to do in Above Ground’s fiction that other post-apocalyptic stories and werewolf stories don’t? What are the big ideas?

I feel silly even suggesting I have big ideas. Ultimately what I want to do is to tell a good story, that's all!

Generally, with post-apocalyptic fiction there's a defined us vs. them. Giant monster levelling the city = bad; humans trying to blow up the monster = good. With Above Ground, I wanted to straddle that line. The humans see themselves as the good guys and the werewolves (and other critters) as the monsters. The werewolves see themselves as normal people and the humans as cowardly scum. Is less apocalypse and more intense culture clash.

For that reason, what the main character Lilith is more stunned by is that werewolves have a human side. Seeing their humanity (as opposed to seeing their bestiality) is what shakes up her prejudices.

John: Does Above Ground set up a world for more books? Maybe a series? And if so, do you have a planned arc?

I have always intended to write more stories set in the Above Ground universe; I've already published Belonging, which is a short story set right about the time the apocalypse began.

The main story is intended to be a trilogy; I think it'll take me two more books to reach that final grand ending I've had in mind for years. But lately I've also been tempted by the idea of writing more accompanying pieces; stand-alone novellas exploring the lives of secondary characters. We'll see!

John: Now in addition to writing all this, you’re also Editor-in-Chief for 1889 Labs. How did that relationship start?

Anna: It all started through Eli James of Novelr, who roped me into an insane live-blogging project, which was intended to track MCM's progress as he wrote an entire novel in three days, publishing a new chapter every hour or so. The lack of sleep got to us all and made us very silly, and the hours of google chat conversations formed a fairly enduring friendship.

MCM (the founder of 1889 Labs) and I stayed in touch after that, and he helped me organise the Other Sides anthology, which I put together to promote the excellent online fiction authors out there.

I think at one point I made a pointed remark about how 1889 Labs would benefit from new voices, and how I had a better social circle than he. MCM capitulated gracefully and had me join the team, and he has been stuck with me ever since.

John: For our audience, Anna is the first author to agree to come back post-launch in 2013 and let us know how it worked. How these early months go is one of the most mysterious and interesting parts of publishing. At this phase, just having released the book, what do you envision as success? Is it a sales goal? That first five-star review? Kindling a fandom for the characters or world?

Anna: I'm already lucky to have a small, tiny little fandom; my readers mean the world to me. Although if one day in the distant future I inspired people to write fanfiction, my life would be complete!

For now, reviews are my main focus. If I garner sufficient positive reviews, I will know that there is an audience for this world and that my time spent writing hasn't been wasted. Sales will for the moment remain a secondary measure of success.

John: You’ve got Above Ground in the Kindle Lending Library. Are you seeing much traffic or feedback through there?

Not yet, although Amazon is often a bit slow on reporting these things and I wasn't expecting much given that Above Ground has yet to be reviewed. I have a few free download days lined up for the end of this month, so we'll have to see how it goes.

John: I can’t let you go without asking this. You’re addicted to chocolate. Above Ground’s world is pretty messed up. Is there still chocolate, and if so, who is making it?

There has to be chocolate, however it won't be anywhere near where Lilith, the main character, is trapped. The area where Lilith goes above ground is cut off from the rest of the empire, but further north they certainly have luxuries like hot cocoa.
John: Thanks for joining us. I look forward to having you back in early 2013. For now, where can people find you and Above Ground?

The easiest place to find out more about Above Ground is its official site. It’s on sale at both Amazon US and UK (will hotlink here). You can also enter for eleven mystery prizes in the Rafflecopter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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