National Novel Writing Month 2018

Today marks the two-thirds point of National Novel Writing Month (or, if you’re hip and in the know, NaNoWriMo). For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month is a worldwide event where participants sit down and try their best to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. The math works out to 1,667 words every day. Here, on day 20, people should be at a little over 33,000 words in their manuscript.

As I have since 2014, this year I help administer Stockholm’s assorted regional events. This sounds impressive, though it mainly consists of stuffing envelopes for the kick-off event and then helping either set up or clean up when I can, in addition to directing people who attend my own writing meetup to the NaNo website and the Stockholm NaNo forum and Facebook group. When the stars align, I help run the Halloween Head Start event, but the next one won’t be until 2020 (barring someone becoming fabulously wealthy and buying a house where we can host all of the NaNoWriMo things).

I also write, when I can. As I have since 2015, I’m rebelling by revising an older novel (one I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2014) instead of writing 50,000 new words. Hopefully by this point I’m on track with my own goals, but since I’m writing this a few days ahead of the game, who can say? In case I’m not, and in case you’re not, I want to pass on a little pep:

It’s okay to fail at NaNo. It’s okay to miss the word goal, it’s okay to give up and decide it’s not for you, or that you hate your story, or whatever. There is an unrelenting optimism from official NaNoWriMo headquarters that can feel no less than oppressive at times, and so I’d like to take a moment and tip the scales back a bit towards neutrality.

It’s okay to hate your story, your characters, your writing, and even yourself. It’s okay to hate your NaNo so much, or the twee pep talks so much, or your fellow WriMos/the MLs/the cafe where you meet so much that you want to quit. It’s okay to quit, even.

Because you sat down and, for however long you managed it, you wrote a bunch of words that you wouldn’t have written otherwise. You declared that this was important to you and that you’d commit to doing it, and even dedicating one day to your craft is better than dedicating no days. This isn’t unrelenting positive thinking bullshit; this is math. One is more than zero.

The funny thing, though, about accepting that it’s okay to quit is that it makes it easier to not quit. Counterintuitive, maybe, but framing it as a choice rather than an obligation can make all the difference. It’s the same way that giving yourself permission to fail can improve performance. (See: the old writer’s block trick of deliberately writing something awful just for the sake of writing something so you can get to the good bits.)

Because if you’re quitting just because you don’t think you can win, you’re missing the point of NaNo. It isn’t hitting 50,000. It’s about prioritizing creativity and time for writing a little higher than you do normally. It’s about meeting people doing the same crazy thing as you, and who have the same crazy habits as you. It’s about making time in a chaotic and frankly terrifying world for creation and for quiet alone time. And that happens with or without 50,000 words.

Kazuo Ishiguro Wins the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature

The only reason I’m ever aware of the Nobel Prize in Literature is because a bookish friend of mind is the world’s biggest Ismail Kadare fan. Every year it seems like he’s short- or longlisted, and every year he seems to be denied. I haven’t read anything of Kadare’s, so I can’t really offer my own opinion on whether or not I think he deserves it, but I can be unimpressed with this year’s pick.

I’ve only read Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro; it seems to be his most famous work, and it generally seems to be that an author’s most famous work is either their best or their worst. (The same is probably true for musicians and albums.) But it’s hard for me to take a book seriously when it has a plot nearly identical to campy 1970s science fiction/thriller movies, and in this case there was nothing about Ishiguro’s writing that elevated the plot beyond anything it was in Parts: The Clonus Horror. And at least Parts had Peter Graves in it! Even without reading any Kadare, I was rooting for him over Ishiguro.

Parts: The Clonus Horror Poster courtesy Group Films
Nobel Prize material, right there. // Image courtesy Group Films

Much like last year, where I was okay with giving the award to a musician on the strength of his lyrics (even though I was personally unimpressed with the musician himself), the academy has again left me underwhelmed with their choice. We’ll see what happens next year, but I’m sure I’ll be rooting for Kadare alongside my bookish friend—again—only to be (most likely) let down again.

Friday 5: Payday

From whom did you receive your first real paycheck?

When I worked at Gilman’s/Lost River Caverns, where I also learned to love rocks.

Among board games involving the exchange of money, which have you enjoyed most?

Do you exchange money in Life? I think you do. I didn’t have anything against Monopoly, but I think I actually finished more games of Life.

 

PayDay is the name of a candy bar consisting of salted peanuts rolled in caramel surrounding a firm, nougat-like center. How does it sound to you if you haven’t tried it, and how do you like it if you have? Is there a similar candy bar you like better?

I don’t like nuts in my chocolate, nor do I like peanuts or peanut butter mixed with chocolate. (Unpopular opinions!) Anything with caramel, nougat, and chocolate without nuts is just peachy keen.

 

When did you last do something nice for yourself just because it was pay day?

I went out and bought new bras. Ladies, I recommend making sure that you’re wearing the correct bra size. (In other words: if you’ve been fitted at Victoria’s Secret, or you’ve used that bizarre “add an arbitrary number to your band measurement,” measure yourself again.)

 

What person with the surname Day are you most familiar with?

I had a really hard time parsing this question at first; I took it to mean “Person With the Surname Day,” as if there were multiple holidays we observe in honor of people with specific surnames. Like, I had to read the question two or three times to understand what they meant.

And my first answer is, of course, Doris Day!

Friday 5: I Don’t Get It Either

Twitch is an enormously popular livestreaming platform mostly for watching people play video games. It has more than 1.5 million broadcasters and more than one million visitors per month, and Amazon acquired it for nearly a billion dollars in 2014. Which of your computer activities would you livestream if there were a way to make some money doing it?

Y’all want to watch me write blog entries in real time, right? Right?

EDM (electronic dance music) is usually performed by DJs on stage in front of audiences, playing tracks they’ve mixed, right off their laptops. If you were a push-button DJ playing your tunes in a club, what would be your opening and closing songs, assuming everyone’s there because they’re into whatever sounds you’re into?

My opening song would be absolutely be “Gangnam Style,” or one of the infinite mashups out there. This one might be my favorite:

Or this one:

What can I say? 2012 might have been my peak year.

As for the end of the set, I think this is a good closer:

What’s a good Adele song, and why is Adele so popular?

I don’t know if I like this shade you’re throwing on Adele, Friday 5! I’m not obsessed with Adele but I like her voice.

Speaking of 2012, I was also cheered to see that Adele was so popular with my Korean students. In a country that can be even more looks-based and body-conscious than the US, I hope that at least a few of my girl students realized that it’s possible for them to be talented and successful without looking like a typical K-pop star.

I listened to “Rolling in the Deep” a lot with those kiddos, so that’s probably my favorite Adele song.


The Walking Dead?

I don’t get this one either, Friday 5.


Every generation seems to arrive at a “They don’t write ’em like that anymore” attitude. Why does it seem like most middle-aged people lose interest in new music?

There’s actually a reason for this! I think it has something to do with the way your brain is still developing as a teenager versus how it is as an adult, and so music from your childhood and teenage years will always be more immediate and visceral for you than most anything else. In other words, nostalgia’s a helluva drug.

Friday 5: Off-Balance

I’m a little annoyed that the post I had scheduled about being unavailable due to vacation somehow never went through, but on the other hand everything else I had prepared in advance did! Fortunately everything remained under control while I was away—I don’t need a vacation from my vacation or anything like that. On to this week’s Friday 5!

 

What most recently made you giddy?

Two things: dancing at a really good wedding, and watching the bats emerge at Natural Bridge Caverns. Those two memories alone are worth every penny I spent for this trip.

 

What most recently left you agog?

Sometimes the Friday 5 teaches me new words. I always took “agog” to mean “shocked” or “surprised”; I double-checked just now and instead it’s “full of intense interest or excitement.”

Pretty much my whole trip to the US had most recently left me agog, I suppose. I packed a lot into just three weeks of visiting!

 

What most recently left you aghast?

Despite all of the good vibes and good friends in my trip, there’s no denying I picked a tumultuous time to visit (which, welcome to the next three years). Neo-nazis demonstrating publicly, counter-protesters being injured or even murdered . . . and the worst part is I’m not even surprised.

A close friend of mine and his girlfriend are great admirers of James Tiptree, Jr. They saw me off from Boston with a copy of Her Smoke Rises Up Forever (though I think I left it in Albany, or possibly Old Orchard Beach), and one of the stories in there seemed all the creepier in light of contemporary goings-on: “The Screwfly Solution.”

 

What in your life is the most higgledy-piggledy?

Landing the next student or project is always higgledy-piggledy. Freelance life!

 

 What was your week a mish-mash of?

Maine, Massachusetts, Copenhagen, Stockholm. I was all over the place this week!

Armchair BEA, Day 3, Part 2

Every year at Book Expo, children and adult authors are featured during breakfast. Who would you dream of enjoying a meal with? Would it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or simply coffee? What would your meal be? What would you discuss?

I hate that “who would you invite to your perfect dinner party?” question, because I have no conception of what a dinner party should be like, let alone what makes a good one. I appreciate the good people at Armchair BEA at least letting me choose the meal and venue (presumably!), making it a little more interesting.

Since it seems uncouth to want to sit and chat over a few beers with someone who struggled pretty seriously and openly with alcoholism, and a dinner would feel serious and intimidating, I would opt for a fika with David Foster Wallace. A conversation with him would be as interesting as it was intimidating, though I’d rather discuss the intersection of philosophy and literature than tennis and Alcoholics Anonymous.

I’d rather have a private meal with someone than a dinner party with a variety of guests. Still, I can see the appeal of a dinner featuring notable American expatriate writers: Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, Patricia Highsmith, Paul Knowles, Edith Wharton, James Baldwin, and so on.

When it came time for beers, without a doubt it’d be a pub crawl with Simone de Beauvoir. I’d love to pick her brain about current affairs and to hear her thoughts on my favorite places and people.

Armchair BEA, Day 3

Book Expo sparked quite the controversy a couple years ago regarding diversity in books and authors. Where are we now? OR, let’s take a different direction and explore the diversity of the format of a book. Do we judge a book by its cover and/or content (e.g.,, audio, digital, graphic, etc.)? Or, combine the two topics and discuss diversity found in alternative content (e.g., representation in graphic novels). Get creative and maybe even controversial!

I actually don’t remember this controversy. Did Sad or Sick Puppy types get upset about a stated commitment to diversity? Or was everything about Book Expo that year white as Christmas? Unsure. So I can’t comment on “where we are now,” either. Instead I’m going to talk about the upcoming movie version of one of my favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time.

Image courtesy Dell Laurel-Leaf

I’ve implied it earlier, but let me just say it outright: when it comes to book news, I’m very much out of the loop. I only found out that the movie was happening basically by accident. (Sometimes relaxing with trashy Hollywood gossip rags  is a good thing!) I’ve seen this Entertainment Weekly slide show of promotional images, and that’s it. I’ve deliberately avoided searching the Internet for more information about the production because I don’t feel like finding out of there is an Internet brouhaha over the casting.

You see, a lot of the main characters are women of color. Mrs. Murry is Black, and so Meg (and presumably Charles Wallace, Sandy, and Dennys) are explicitly biracial. Mindy Kaling is Mrs Who, and Oprah is Mrs Which. Given how parts of the Internet reacted over casting for Rue in The Hunger Games, I’m assuming there’s similar outrage somewhere on the Internet. I don’t feel like finding out if I’m right, though. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

And honestly, I’m perfectly fine with all of those casting choices. More than that; I’m happy about it. Women like my mom (who read the book so many times she had portions of it memorized) and me got to grow up with a white Murry family and got to have a nerdy, sensitive Meg Murry who was like us, inside and out. And now we have a version for all of the blerd women out there–now they can have a Meg Murry just like them, inside and out.

(And as for all of the Mrs characters? I mean, they’re aliens after all. Shapeshifting aliens at that.)

My only beef with the casting is actually with Mr. Murry. My book memory of him is a tweedy nerd, not a smoldering buff guy.

Image courtesy Disney & Entertainment Weekly

But hey, maybe if you give him a pair of glasses and a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, he’ll look more the part. Maybe I’ll be blown away by his acting. I’m willing to be open-minded!

Movie (or television) versions of books are always fraught with frustration and controversy. When the actor on screen doesn’t match what you had in your imagination, it can be jarring. Changes are often made to the story, not always for practical concerns and not always for the better. Movies are complicated and expensive ventures, while books are (relatively) simple and fairly inexpensive–there is enormous pressure on a movie to make a return on that investment, and that pressure can make or break a movie.

Unsurprisingly, the usual bookworm attitude towards movies is intense skepticism. And even film buffs often decry movie adaptations, saying that it’s just another sign of the sad state of the film industry these days.

I get it. I’ve definitely been burned by a few bad adaptations. At the tender age of 10 I was excited to see childhood hero Harriet the spy on the big screen, only to walk out confused and disappointed. I pretend that they never adapted The Dark is Rising, and I’m still not sure what went wrong with The Hobbit. People keep trying to make movie versions of Lolita, but the dynamics of how real, live people have to interact make it a messy project, even if you get Nabokov to write the screenplay.

But when they’re done well, movie adaptations are fantastic. Different media have different strengths and weaknesses, and the best movie adaptations complement the story, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. They have the chance to smooth over blemishes or pitfalls in the original, and in the case of something like A Wrinkle in Time it’s the chance to present the same story through a new, updated lens, and to bring characters we know and love to a wider, more diverse audience.