A NaNoWriMo Rewrite of The Raven

Raven Squawk by Doug Brown from FlickrNovember, for many somewhat crazy people out there, is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.

During this event hundreds of thousands of people pledge to write a novel in a single month. This never fails to amaze me and I always try and put some motivational posts up on the site throughout this time for all those brave souls.

I have posted a few projects over the years, but I always come back to the poem below, which I wrote in the style of Edgar Allen Poe’sThe Raven.”

“The Raven” is an odd poem for many reason, and one of great significance for Poe fans. It was “The Raven’s” success upon publication that led to Poe’s first book deal in five years, and its appearance in journals and papers across the country made Edgar Allen Poe a household name. Which is crazy considering it was published anonymously in its very first appearance.

“The Raven’s” structure is a complex mix of three separate meters and includes an internal rhyme as well as heavy alliteration.

Had I known about the ridiculous structure I probably wouldn’t have opted to use “The Raven” to base a NaNoWriMo poem on. But I did, and the piece below is the result.

Here again for all the NaNoWriMo participants out there, is my poem “Doubt,” based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.”

Doubt
by
Joseph Devon

 

As you sit there never sleeping, at your keyboard often weeping,
Piling up your word count like a Herculean chore,
Late at night your face is scowling, while empty stomach it is growling,
You might sense something prowling, prowling at your cranium’s fore.
“My lack of sleep,” you’ll say, “is causing pain upon my cranium’s fore-
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, what madness is November, every NaNoWri club member,
Lumbering like zombies as more coffee they do pour.
Wishing that the month was through, insanely they do all pursue,
A novel’s word count to accrue, accrue it in one month’s time and no more.
For all you at this task for just one month and then no more,
Please, closely heed verse five and four.

Late at night your tale grows stronger, while your face it does grow longer,
Fingers typing cross the laptop from your computer store.
As I mentioned, while you’re clacking, at the keys so madly tapping,
You might feel a distant rapping, rapping at your cranium’s fore.
Preying on your weakness as it raps upon your cranium’s fore,
There comes a monster with fearsome roar.

A word-count halting terror. Your project’s grim pall bearer,
Snorting and laughing at the plot holes you ignore.
Quickly moves this horrid beast, neither fettered nor policed,
Till your dreams lie there deceased, deceased and turned to ash upon the floor.
Your heart and dreams and vision turned to ashes on the floor.
The beast has fed, you’ll write no more.

Do take heed this warm advice, I’m trying quite hard to be nice,
Though I scare you with this monster slavering at your door.
You’re not alone here is my point, and this beast should not disjoint,
In fact he does anoint, anoint you to the club of writers all through yore.
This beast has crushed the spirits of every writer heretofore,
Its name is “Doubt” (we’ve met before).

So I demand that you take heart, as you practice at your art,
Wringing out your story like a soldier gone to war.
Proudly steel your trembling jaws, as you take on Doubt’s cruel claws,
Knowing that he gnaws, gnaws on you as well as all who came before.
Face him down, it is your right, not a task to be deplored.
Trust in yourself, and let your artwork soar.

In Which I Am Yet Again Amazed at How the Internet has Changed How I Do Research

Rome 2012 by Matthew Perry from FlickrWriting urban fantasy books requires, as I have mentioned numerous times, bouts of extreme research. Earlier this year I was plowing through books about Romania. They were boring. They were at the same time fascinating. Research is like that. You think you’re looking for one thing, and the source you’re digging into keeps cramming other information in your face, and you’re so focused on what you think you’re looking for that you attempt to ignore all the other stuff.

And then some tidbit from the other stuff catches your eye and makes you think and you realize that everything you’re reading is actually pretty interesting. It’s strange and annoying because then you want to be able to use all the things that you’ve discovered in a book of some sort. But you can’t because it doesn’t really fit into what you’re writing. But, hey, you’ve learned something about the world that you didn’t know before. And that’s good.

My point is that, like so many things in life, research seems to move at its own pace. It doesn’t like it very much when you try to tell it what to do.

Writing urban fantasy usually doesn’t require too much historical research. Technically the term urban fantasy means that the story takes place in a modern day setting, or a fictionalized setting created in a modern style.

This third book, however, keeps dipping into my characters’ pasts., and they are starting to intertwine in ways that continue to fascinate me.

And, since many of my characters are near immortal beings from all over the timeline, I’ve been wading through history as much as anything else during my research.

I mentioned above reading about Romania, but I’ve also been brushing up on ancient Rome. And today I stumbled across the Vindolanda Tablets.

The Vindolanda Tablets are a series of tablets that were discovered in the ancient Roman fort of Vindolanda, which existed in northern Britain around 100 AD. And, at the site linked above, you can read through them.

Let that sink in for a second.

These tablets, written almost two-thousand years ago, are available to read online. And, since they’re fragments of tablets written in a dead language, the site also has tons of data interpreting them and placing them in historical context and otherwise helping you to make use of them.

I literally have zero idea how I might have gotten this information prior to the internet. That…makes me sort of stupid I guess. Truth is I probably wouldn’t even have known these things existed if it weren’t for the internet. And if I had known they existed I’d have had to go and visit them in their current museum setting or…I dunno…made a phone call to that museum and asked someone there some questions?

But because of the ridiculously interconnected system of data that I have access to through my computer, they not only came up on my radar, but they are presented to me with more context and information than I could possibly use.

And they are sooooooooooo freaking helpful. They aren’t grand historical treatises or biographies. Those are great and all but there’s a certain grit that is lacking in the large scale things. These tablets are mundane. They are day to day. They are shopping lists, requests for vacation time, letters between “old messmates.”

That sort of first hand information? When you want write in a casual and everyday tone in an historical setting?

Utterly priceless.

Thank you, Internet.

Two Heads Are Better Than None

As the autumn continues on, the latest hit television shows are enrapturing millions of Americans as we speak.  Without a doubt, The Walking Dead has the largest audience in the cable industry, and it is no small wonder: the public is always ready to watch and read anything zombie and apocalypse-related.  Many of the best urban fiction books are geared towards these topics, and there truly is an undeniable appeal towards these quality stories; why is it that we are so obsessed with the undead as a society?

As a nation, I think it is fair to say that we have a distinct tendency to desire chaos, drama and entertain our senses to the max.  In a way, we have become desensitized to most forms of violence; do you think that the movie ratings or video game ratings mean anything at all any longer? The reality is that the thrill of an engaging story, especially when geared towards a topic such as zombies, truly makes the mind spin.  Questions arise, such as whether this could happen in real life; most individuals undoubtedly have a secret desire that the undead would arise, giving them plenty of opportunity to take out their anger and despair on hordes of targets.

 

shutterstock_107588285

 

Violence is just one piece of the puzzle, however.  If you went to see a movie and all it offered was action and violence, yet no storyline, most would feel that it was somewhat lacking.  The same can be said for novels and stories; violence within a story can be gripping, but the overall premise should have solid character development and a story that makes you want to re-read it over and over.

 

Two heads are better than none: rather than endless decapitated villains and creatures, the concept should focus on you, the reader, having a connection with the main character.  As we approach Halloween, keep this in mind when looking for new and exciting fiction novels to read!

Middle of the First Draft Blues

680 Yards of Humps by Alan from FlickrThe process of writing a book contains, beyond a doubt, the single largest hump of anything I have ever done. And by “hump” I mean “middle section that seems like an absurdly impossible climb.” I would imagine that lifelong disciplines might have similar humps. Like mastering a martial art or becoming an expert arranger of tea ceremonies. But these longer goals are broken down into smaller goals. You move up each rung of the martial art ladder, and you…I don’t know…arrange tea ceremonies for various different people getting feedback and responses from each group.

I have no idea what a tea ceremony is.

But writing a book? Writing a book consists of nothing but a year of typing. That’s it. Doesn’t that sound exciting?

And no one can really read your book as you write it. You aren’t being given feedback by your sensei or winning and losing matches to gauge your progress or seeing the reactions of tea aficionados. You get none of that because it’s a freaking first draft. Nothing makes sense yet and there are errors everywhere. This goes doubly for the way I write my first drafts. I honestly have a character currently named GuyWhoNeedsAName.

Giving a first draft to someone to read would be like handing someone a pile of logs and asking them if your hand-crafted furniture is comfortable.

And even if I did care to have someone read my first drafts, that’s still a year of work before anyone can even do that. Maybe six months. I think with one of my earlier books I had a first draft done in six months. But I was young and stupid then and really have no urge to write like that ever again.

And, so, you have a hump. Even if you’re writing urban fantasy and you’ve got an undead civil war going on with flashbacks to ancient Rome and Romania…it still seems so freaking boring.

There’s no flow. There’s no sense of the larger work. It’s just granulated words each day. It’s like being too focused in while painting a landscape so that you don’t see a meadow full of beautiful wildflowers, you see brush strokes of colored paint.

But it is what it is and I know to expect this and I know to plod through it.

Still.

It is just boring as fuck.

Some Short Stories to Read While Waiting for Book Three

bookshelf by Nicholas Noyes from FlickrThe third book of the Matthew and Epp series is being written at this very moment. I think most readers are aware of this fact. It is slow going currently, but it is going. And I am dedicated to making sure each book pops on its own, so I’m trying not to just poop out a third book to finish off the series. I also debate quite frequently if I need more than three books.

So that’s what’s going on there.

Meanwhile, someone pointed out to me the other day that I have one of the larger collections of short stories online that they were aware of, but that I never mention it.

Which is true; I sort of forget about my short stories. And yet the few readers that do unearth them in my archives tend to love what they read. So in this dead-zone between books I thought I’d brush off some of my shorter works and offer them up to you.

Perfect for your lunch break!

Let’s see…I’ve got “Black Eyed Susan,” a short story about love at the Jersey Shore. This story tends to be my go-to story when people ask if they can read something of mine. There are other stories that people have enjoyed more, but this one has general appeal and is as good an introduction to the stuff I like to do while telling stories as I can imagine. It is, as someone has said, my “pizza story.” Because everyone likes pizza.

One of my personal favorites is “Liquid Calling,” a conspiracy theory short story. I’ve never really done a “noir detective” type thing, and this isn’t quite that either, but it is definitely my take on such things. It was a fun, and ultimately successful, run at a story where an every-man stumbles onto a dangerous secret they never really wanted to know.

And, hey, what about short stories that have been made into movies? I still can’t believe I get to say this, but it just so happens that one of my short stories was made into a movie. I really need to pester Roma more to see if I can post her film here. I was able to take a sneak peek at it a few months ago and it was freaking awesome. I should go email her. But you can read the story while you’re waiting. Go check out “Private Showing” right now.

While we’re in the literary frame of mind, since most people have only read The Matthew and Epp books, and since that’s all I’ve been working on recently, I forget that I like to write straight literary stories as well. No undead samurai, no chase scenes, and no death at all. Crazy, right? A reader once emailed me after finishing “You’re Allowed to Order Takeout” and said that it was, simply, a perfect short story. That was one of my all-time favorite compliments.

Okay. I know I know. You want disgusting violence and weird-ass shit. Well I do have a quick horror short story in my library. And, if you’re a fan of Jonathan Coulton, I made a short story out of a song of his. That one is plenty weird.

And guess what? There are thirteen more of my short stories free to read online! So go check them out.

Seriously.

Go.

Book Three is going to take a bit.

Giving Rewriting Your Best: Read What Bores You

Calculus by Encel Sanchez from FlickrE. B. White once said, “The best writing is rewriting.”

I could not agree more. My first drafts tend to be horribly unfinished affairs. There are characters appearing out of nowhere, plot lines introduced clumsily, scenes out of order. I don’t go back and revise anything until an entire draft is finished, so you’d be surprised how many mistakes I let slide.

I do this because, as a writer, I have one of the greatest tools at my disposal known to humankind. I have the ability to go back and fix my mistakes.

Isn’t that crazy? How many times have you been having an argument and come up with a great comeback hours after the argument is finished? How many times have you offended someone accidentally and wished you could take it back? How many times have you reviewed your actions in hindsight and wished you could change them? Imagine if you could go back and fix all of those moments.

Writers get to do that.

I always feel like this ability is underrated. I am constantly pointing out how powerful rewriting is. I am constantly celebrating rewriting. It doesn’t matter how awful your first draft is, if your rewriting skills are honed you can turn anything around.

This brings me to a piece of advice I wish I had taken earlier in life. It’s kind of a weird one, and I came across it in an odd way, but it has worked.

The advice?

Read stuff that bores you.

That’s it. Read things that bore you and your rewrites will start to improve.

You probably want an explanation of what I’m talking about, don’t you.

One of my pet peeves is people who approach anything, any problem or event or aspect of life, anything, with the notion that we, as humans, are static beings. That we are born a certain way and that’s who we are and nothing changes as we move along through life.

I hate that. It’s asinine. Our brains change a ridiculous amount over time, and I’m not just talking about the beginning years of development. No. The fact is that our brains become whatever we put into them. Your brain changes based on your thoughts, it changes based on what you pay attention to, it morphs based on what you make it do. It can be trained; performing a task will cause your brain to begin seeing that task differently. If you apply this notion to something you do every day for years on end, well it will start to have a large impact on how you think.

Someone who has cut hair for the past twenty years and someone who has been a physical therapist for the past twenty years are going to see the same group of people very differently. One is going to notice a lot more about their hair, the other will notice a lot more about their posture.

So.

Read things that bore you.

Why?

Because when it comes time to do rewrites, you will have to read your manuscript over and over and over and over and over…

It becomes maddening and I can remember how much I used to hate rewriting back on my first book. It made me cringe and whimper and it sucked.

But it has gotten easier over time, and you can help speed along that process by reading things that are boring.

Again, why?

Well this advice came to me via a friend of mine who was taking the MCAT. He took an MCAT class to help him study and part of his homework was to read boring things.

See, there’s a reading comprehension section on the MCAT and the passages are long, and dull, and full of huge words, and staying focused while reading them is a challenge.

But you can combat that by reading boring things so that you train yourself to focus better on material that doesn’t jump out at you immediately.

You can train yourself to be a more disciplined and precise reader.

Sound familiar? Making sense yet?

Rewriting is nothing more than poring over your manuscript, word by word, patching it up as you go and fixing problems that you see.

And rereading your own work is hard enough the first time. But then you have to do it ten more times, all the while staying focused and spotting what needs fixing.

The best way to get better at it?

Read things that bore you and you can improve your rewriting even if you have nothing that needs rewriting.

Now I’m not saying to exclusively read boring things. That would be idiotic. But grab a dusty old tome, you know better than I do what bores you, and put in fifteen minutes a day.

Fifteen real minutes of focused reading.

You’ll become a more focused reader, and your rewrites will begin to reflect that.