The Frugal Life

11 Jan

I am moving. To Turkey.

This is probably the most fabulous thing to happen to me, like, ever. The Husband and I will be jetting off to Ankara in about two weeks, a deadline I feel much better about now that we actually have our student visas in hand (adventures in bureaocracyland is not a book I will ever write, but if I did, it would be a lot like The Castle, by Franz Kafka. Do yourself a favor and don’t read it).

In the course of all this madness, we have naturally been packing. Apparently, between the two of us, we have about 2-4 boxes worth of stuff not including clothes. By boxes, I mean those medium sized flat-rate boxes you buy at the post office. Having just finished drafting a noir-ish mystery type book, which clocks in at 47K (i.e., a good 10K words shorter than I’d like), I feel my writing life and my real life are exceptionally spare.

The bones of the novel are there. The twists are built in. But there are missing things. It’s like I’ve got this fabulous apartment that is in need of a paint job and some fripperies to make it feel like home. Which is really ironic, because guess what’s in those boxes we just packed up? Extras. Pictures, tchotchkes, small works of art that can immediately make a new apartment feel a little more comfortable, a little more ours.

So I suppose the lesson of this month is to metaphorically unpack all those boxes into my writing, and take the basic necessities from my writing and apply it to life. Which will be convenient timing for, you know, finding an apartment in Ankara.


Write What You Love, Not What You Know

14 Nov

So, when’s the last time you walked around a corner and bumped into a vampire? And then staked the bastard through the heart? Never? Yeah, me either.

But I write about stuff like that all the time. I don’t write about brushing my teeth or sticking contacts into my eye. Not even when it really, really hurts. You know, unless my characters forget to put in their contacts, and as a result fail to hit the heart of the vampire, leading to their almost-exsanguination.

There is a reason for this. Writing is about creating something new out of real things, like buying one of those little plastic capsule things that turns into a spongy dinosaur when you soak it. When I hear people say, “write what you know”, two things go through my mind. 1: The person talking to me is probably not a writer. 2: What they really mean is write convincingly.

Convincing someone that there might be a shambling zombie scratching at their door through the sheer power of your words is kind of amazing (and pretty devious). And it requires your writing to be so consuming that they don’t put your book down in a huff and say something like: “Bitch, please. I know I put up my anti-zombie storm windows.” Or whatever.

How do you do this? Well, there’s a few things. One is that you should commit all the way to whatever your worldbuilding is. That means consistency, no matter how crazy the rules are. If you want to write about werewolves, that’s cool. But make sure that you think about how they change. Once a month, only on the full moon? Whenever they want, but they have to on the full moon? And if you write about zombies, you better think about how they can shamble along so stupidly one minute, and be tearing a human into 6 pieces in the next.

That is what it really means to write what you know. But you shouldn’t be writing anything unless it’s what you love.

Which, um, is why I still have about three papers to write.

Come to Vacationland…Where We Will KILL You!!!

15 Oct


So. I read a butt-load of YA. When I walk into the library, the librarian greets me by name and hands me a giant stack of books. Every week. It’s amazing. And in all this reading, I noticed a trend. There are tons of YA books set in Maine. Like the fabulous Warped, by Marissa Guibord, or Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon, Delirium, by Lauren Oliver. I live in Maine, so naturally my reaction is all like, “WTF? Have you been here?” And, “Hey, where are all these mysterious boarding schools with classicist zombies?”

But tonight I went to this coffee hour my school does every week for its international students. It’s a fun time, and a chance to meet people from other cultures. What I did not expect was that this week, we apparently were giving some of our culture back. It started pretty innocuosly. You know, blueberries, Moxie (a soda which tastes like crap), and whoopie pies (which are exactly as appetizing as you might expect from something called a “whoopie pie”).

And then. A man gave a presentation about Maine. He might’ve talked about our ironworks or lobster trawlers or something, but no. He gave a power point filled with stills out of Stephen King movies. Oh, so, so much blood.

So there we were, telling kids from Germany, England, China, and so on that Maine’s chief points of interest are bad desserts, weird soda…oh, and THE CRAZIES. Who will smile and take you in when you break down on the side of the road. And then CHOP you UP into little tiny pieces. People, I cannot make this shit up. If there’s a rush on one-way tickets out of Bangor International Airport, that is why.

Which inadvertently answered my initial question. Apparently everyone but me knew that my state is a by-word for creepy deathtrap. Although, really, that time at my prom where the chick lost it and massacred a gym full of mean girls should have tipped me off…oh, wait. That was Carrie.

For those of you living in the other 49 states, you’re welcome.

I’m On Crack!

20 Sep

Not really.

But let me tell you, I’ve just finished a ton of projects and have a ton of other irons in the fire, so if you could bottle my energy and sell it I’m pretty sure the DEA would be on your ass. Or mine.

Anyway, this is not a blog about the drug war. This is a blog about doing exactly what you want to do. Um, unless that’s crack, in which case maybe you should find a new hobby. Maybe not. What do I know?

Writing novels is the easiest thing I’ve ever had to do. What? You don’t believe me? Allow me to explain.

This week, I’ve had to write a couple essays for a scholarship to go to Turkey next semester (which will be made of awesome). They’re short little things, four pages each maybe. But writing them is like pulling teeth. Actually, no. Writing them is like getting teeth pulled. Which makes way more sense. Also, I have to design my senior capstone in history, and even though it’s on a subject that I’m really interested in, my heels are already dragging when I think about writing it.

I am not even going to address the fact that I have to write multiple essays in German every week.

In high school, I was foolish enough to write poetry, which was a slog to say the least. Lab reports were lucky to be in full sentences (and the math was never right). Ironically, I didn’t even like doing my Creative Writing projects. The closest I came then to the feeling of elation I get when I’m really in the swing of something was when I wrote my first full length story. It was an 80-pg graphic novel about a hard-boiled detective set in 1939. Talk about write what you know, eh?

So, while writing 25 pages of a history paper or 150 words in German should be a snap, it’s not. And this gets to the real point. When I write a novel, it is whatever I want it to be. And I don’t have to footnote. And the most beautiful thing about it is that no one is standing over me making me do it. In fact, I lied at the beginning of this blog. Not when just when I said I was on crack. Because I am definitely not, I promise. No, I lied when I said that writing novels is the easiest thing I have ever had to do (“Ha!” you say, “I knew it!”). See, the thing that makes it for me is that I don’t have to. I just want to.

Which is pretty fucking cool.

Life, Interrupting

16 Sep


It’s that time of year. You know, when you spend too much wonga back-to-school shopping, pumpkin flavored lattes are selling like hot cakes, and idyllic rural towns in New England are preparing to be mobbed by leaf peepers. It would be such a good time to sit back, relax, and write. Except for one tiny problem.


That’s right, I still have on year left of school, and approximately 50 pages of non-fiction to write by the end of the semester. Actually a lot more than that, since I am a chronic over-achiever. Which brings me to my subject for the day. In a really roundabout fashion. Inspiration. Where do ideas come from? Let’s have a little fun with metaphor, shall we?

Life is not a box of chocolates. It is a dirty, filthy counter top, riddled with salmonella, crumbs, and enough bread mold to make the next Jonas Salk really excited. The writer is a sponge. The writer’s job is to suck up all the nit and grit, leaving the formica nice and clean. For the purposes of this metaphor, this pretty much means you need to pay attention to everything, especially if it is weird or scary or funny. The writer/sponge then is wrung out, pouring all that mess into their work and rearranging it to suit their story.

Which is why I don’t complain about homework. (Much). Because even when I spend unhealthy amounts of time studying the Greek civil war or American interventions in Latin America in the inter-war period (for non history buffs, this is between WWI and WWII), that is all fodder for when I go about building a world or writing credibly about the one in which I live.

Even the annoying kid in German class who will not sit at a desk if there is gum on the underside of it and must write everyone’s first and last names in his little notebook (like the world’s most conspicuous CIA agent) is a useful inspiration. True, I will never have a character quite like him. Because really, there is no way to do that kind of weirdness justice, and frankly, I would shoot myself if I had to spend a whole book with someone like that in my head. But still. Be glad that life is annoying and bizarre.

Because the Gods do not bestow stories ready-made into our skulls. We have to steal them where we find them.

Which should be everywhere.

Video Games Will Rot Your Brain

7 Aug

I am jealous of video games. When I describe scenery, it takes a page or two, and I have to be sure of avoiding tedious repetition, while telling the reader where everything is. My characters never speak with Patrick Stewart’s voice, unless the reader is exceptionally good at reproducing those sonorous tones. Or has an unhealthy obsession with Captain Jean Luc Picard. Whatever.

And the combat. Do not get me started on combat. I. Hate. Writing. Fight scenes. Who cares how someone swings a blade? Whether they duck and roll or take a hit. Well…everyone. And while I sit at my computer attempting to imagine something I have only really seen in movies (which are never to be believed), any video game worth it’s salt has a dozen combat specialists programming their character’s actions to the last realistic(ish) detail.

So what I propose is this: I shall hire a team of martial arts nerds to script out my action sequences exactly like they would do for a game. And then I will find some down-on-their-luck painter to fill in my landscapes for me. Especially the buildings.

Yes. That’ll make my life sooo much easier.


There’s something that video games don’t do quite as well (although they’re coming closer). They don’t let us into our character’s head. Sure, we control their actions. We send them on missions, and we know everything they know. But how do they feel when they swing that double-headed axe or blast an imp with their mana?

And that’s what action sequences in books are really about. I mean, I definitely have to mention it if my lead character loses an eye. I do have to plot a battle so that it more or less makes sense. But I have to put the motivations and the stakes before the action. The why counts for more than the how.

But I still want Patrick Stewart to do the voices.

The Allure of the Bad Boy

4 Aug

For a while, I have been contemplating the use of the “Bad Boy” trope in books. What exactly draws us to this character? Why don’t we like his neater, nicer, more decorous brethren?

Worry not. I have a theory.

My theory goes like this: most people are nice. Someone bumps into you at the store, steps on your toes in the elevator, whatever. You apologize, or say “excuse me”. That’s right. The stepee apologizes. Which is all well and good for the proper running of society. But the Bad Boy would never say sorry. Not even when it’s his fault. And the little part of us that is tired of that five letter word secretly cheers him on.

Who hasn’t told those little white lies to our friends and loved ones? We tell them they look nice when they…don’t. We tell them we are fine when we’re…not. We even listen to Uncle Whatshisname drone about his trip to the Bahamas and Aunt Whatsit whinge about her back pain. The Bad Boy doesn’t. He doesn’t even have an Uncle Whatshisname or an Aunt Whatsit. All his family died tragically in flames.

They never proved it was arson.

So I’m pretty sure we love the Bad Boy not because we ladies want to be treated like crap by our boyfriends. We just can’t help but fall for someone who doesn’t have that internal edit button. That guy who’s kind of an asshole, in a way we all wish we could be sometimes.

But if you don’t want to think of yourself in such an unflattering light, don’t worry. It’s just a theory.

You know, like evolution is just a theory.