Start Your Engines!

And they’re off. NaNoWriMo 2008 is underway. I’m expecting my fingers to start getting sore pretty quickly, so don’t expect too many updates. After November, though, things should be back to normal.

If you’re interested, you can watch my progress here.

A Story for Halloween

My mother is one of those odd people for whom Halloween is a more fun and more interesting holiday than, say, Christmas, or any of the other major holidays. Lately, I find myself following in her footsteps. And so, in honor of Halloween, I present: Hosts, a short (and fairly gruesome, and probably mildly disturbing) horror story. Here’s how I summarize it:

How do you survive as the last normal human, and all others are host to alien Larvae, euphoric and stupid and violently defensive against non-hosts? Gregg thinks he has a solution, but he knows it won’t last forever.

Enjoy, and merry Halloween.

NaNoWriMo 2008

Advice for Aspiring Novelists

Regular readers will know that I love to write. I’ve written more short stories than I can count, at least a few of which don’t suck, along with two novels (both of which do suck), and two more in progress. None of my stuff has been published yet (here’s hoping, though!), but I like to think that I’ve gained a lot of useful experience these last few years. So, in The Life of a Math Major tradition, I present yet another bulleted list of tips for writers. This time, though, the advice is geared more towards novelists, the marathon-runners of the writing world. Like running a marathon, writing a novel takes a lot of practice, a lot of determination, a good bit of self-delusion, and you’re going to come to the starting line and chicken out a few times before you actually manage to run your first race. So, in order to help other aspiring novelists, here’s a metaphorical cup of Gatorade to keep you from conking out at mile ten (yes, I am sticking by that metaphor. It’s a good metaphor. Don’t give me that look, it is!):

  • Even arbitrary deadlines help. I discovered this the first time I participated in National Novel-Writing Month. NaNoWriMo offers no prizes other than bragging rights and a nice certificate, and there are no measures in place to keep people honest. And yet, that goal of fifty thousand words in thirty days always drives me forward, somehow. Before I discovered NaNoWriMo, I found it impossible to maintain the necessary momentum to finish a whole novel. With the arbitrary deadline hanging over my head, though, suddenly, I could do it.
  • Enter contests. NaNoWriMo is a good one, but any writing contest will do. If you don’t have one available, start one. Once you know that you really can write a whole novel, you won’t have to worry about it, and you can concentrate on writing something good.
  • Never give up. While writing my current novel, something unprecedented happened. About a month ago, I got a nasty case of writer’s block, followed by insomnia and a really busy period at school, so I stopped writing for a month. With every one of my previous novels, that’s been a death sentence. This time, though, even though I knew I’d have trouble getting back into the spirit of the novel, I started writing again. And it worked. The novel is now resurrected. The moral: never give up on a novel. If you want badly enough to write it, you can, no matter what gets in your way.
  • Start with a good idea. This connects to the “if you want badly enough to write it, you can” thing in the previous bullet point. Let’s face it, a novel is really hard work. You have to put a lot of energy into it, so don’t try to write any story idea as a novel unless you really, really (really) like it. If you have an idea you’re not sure of, write it as a short story to test it out.
  • One piece at a time. When you sit down to work, try not to think about the fact that you’re writing a novel. That’s a good way to get overwhelmed. A novel is a daunting project, and until you’re finished, it can be hard to feel like you’ve accomplished anything. So what I’ve done with my current novel is to write it one chapter at a time. Not only does this fit nicely within my limited attention span, but it allows me to feel like I finished something, like I’m going somewhere. As long as you make sure the chapters dovetail nicely with one another, then this method shouldn’t do any damage to your plot.
  • You have to actually write stuff. Every writer who gives advice ends up saying this eventually, but it’s true. To keep a novel alive, you have to write, preferably every day. If you don’t, it can be hard to get back into the right mood. And just as importantly:
  • Don’t be afraid to write rubbish. In all likelihood, it’s not rubbish. In my experience, most writers think the stuff they write is crap. Don’t worry about that. Even if what you’re writing really is rubbish, keep writing it anyway. You can fix it in your revisions. The important thing is not to let it stop you. A novel with a few rough patches is better than a novel that never gets finished. At least the latter can be fixed. If the plot starts to wander away from where you wanted it to go, gently push it back and move on.

I wish I also had some advice for how to revise your novel, but I’m still stuck on that step myself, and don’t even get me started on getting it published. For that, I’d need someone to give me some bullet points. For now, though, I hope you find these tips useful.

Movies to Watch Out For: The Road (~2009)

Warning: Probable spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.

Around a year and a half ago, I was listening to the radio, and heard about the newest book in Oprah’s book club. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, but when I later heard that The Road was a post-apocalyptic story, I got more interested and picked up a copy. It quickly became one of my favorite books of all time.

Later, I was fooling around on the good old Internet Movie Database, and somehow or other managed to discover that there was a tentative movie version of The Road in the offing, but since the sum total of the information available at the time didn’t admit more than the fact that it was indeed going to be a movie, I didn’t really pay attention.

Today, a friend of mine called me up out of the blue to tell me that he’d seen a copy of the book in a store and that the cover apparently came from the movie, and I got interested. Lo and behold, there are now (probable spoilers ahead) pictures! As it turns out, the film is actually slated for release in 2009.

From what I can tell, it looks like the movie’s gone to some pretty great lengths to maintain the book’s haunting apocalyptic atmosphere, but I’ve learned to be very wary of the movie versions of really good books. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a few ways it would be easy to screw the whole thing up:

  • Mess up the atmosphere: Like I said, it doesn’t look like that’s what’s happened, but who can tell from still pictures?
  • Leave out important parts: I hate it when movie adaptations do this, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything cuttable in The Road.
  • Fiddle with the characters: Cormac McCarthy already got them right, and I’m hoping they didn’t mess that up.
  • Make it all actiony: I don’t think there’s too much of a chance of this, but if they put in any unnecessary action, the whole thing would be ruined.
  • Change the ending: It should be pretty obvious to any reader of the book that The Road is not the kind of book that has a happy ending, and if the filmmakers shoehorned one in, I will find them and poke out their eyes.

In spite of my little bulleted list of negativity there, I have very high hopes for the movie. Cormac McCarthy’s rich descriptive style and subtle characterization should make for a fantastic movie, as long as it’s done right. Watch for my review in 2009!

Two-Year Anniversary!

It’s hard to believe. If you’d asked me in 2006 where I thought this blog would be in two years, I probably would have said “Discarded on the metaphorical side of the road.” As it turns out, though, writing about things you’re interested in and actually know something about makes for a much better website than the formula I’d used in the past, which was “Try to make myself look smart and never do any updates.”

A lot has happened since the first post. I’ve started college, I’ve moved out, I’ve become less of a neurotic whiner. If you’ll let me get sentimental, it seems that the blog’s quality and popularity has grown in proportion to my own growth. That is to say, whereas the best thing I could think of to write about in 2006 was the mucus clogging my sinuses, now I can talk about interesting things like heart simulators, chocolate-covered bananas, and writing.

Now that I have a chance, I’d like to personally thank all the people who have left comments:

Royce, madmouser, David Schleicher, paul_k, David Mckenna, frecklesscassie, bzdoz, James Hunaban, Mathias Schindler, distorted, can’t-think-of-anything, collector, thought-of-something, “Guest”, Hercule Alfred, blackexodia, john richards, Robin, truthseeker1234, yassine, John Nash, Alex, Derek (whose comments on my writing I especially appreciate), Torbjorn, Blue Tyson, Michael Novak, schildan, awalkabout, Wes Johnson, chris, Nicanor Moldovan, Hettyfv, Greg Williams, Brandi, Terry Finley, Genghis Philip, harrison, midiguru, anonymous, Daniel, shashan, David Secaecg, legoless, Geoff Hinton, ForHim, Brock Tice, Chris, Dak Rockson, JerryB, amritha, MilKieWee, david, Lymnantaree, Alex, Chuck, Tucker, Anonymous, kingdom media, thomas, Simon, and pythonisms.

And many thanks also to the over 22,000 people who have taken a look at my site so far. Here’s hoping for another two years!

Also, be sure to check in this coming November for updates on my National Novel Writing Month progress! Watch my sporadically climbing word count here!

New Short Story: “The Flight of the Eagle”

I wrote this story a week or so ago, then forgot about it. When I read it through again, I liked it, so I thought I’d upload it. You can read The Flight of the Eagle here.

Another in my (rapidly lengthening) series of short stories about “The Harvest” (The Long Wait is part of that series, and the only other Harves story I’ve published here), this one is best summarized by its opening lines:

Glenn called himself the Last Free Man. From ten thousand feet, he saw the troubled world below only as intervals of brown and green between the white clouds. That was no longer the world he lived in. Now, he was a creature of the sky, gliding along on photovoltaic wings, flying by the power of the sun.

Like all my Harvest stories, this one is pretty existential, so don’t read it if you’re depressed. I hope to add more of the stories from the series later on, but hopefully, you get the general idea. Enjoy!

Culinary Misadventures 3

First of all, sorry about the lack of interesting updates lately. It just so happens that my current interests don’t lend themselves well to conversion into blog posts. Hopefully that’ll change in the near future.

Anyway…

This particular culinary misadventure was, like the chocolate-covered banana, not really a wacky, daring experiment in gastronomic daring so much as “something I thought was going to be good and turned out to be crappy and kinda nasty.”

I bought a blender recently, and as with any such appliance (waffle irons, juicers, and veg-o-matics also fall into this category), I frequently have the urge to blend things in order to convince myself that I actually had a good reason for buying the thing. So, for my lunch today, I thought I’d puree some bananas with yogurt (I steadfastly refuse to use the word “smoothie”; admittedly “pureed bananas” sounds less appetizing, but I have my principles). The problem was, I only had one banana. At first, I thought I’d add some apple to it to bulk it up, but then I discovered that I was out of apples. So I searched my pantry for things that might go well with banana. Genius that I am, I settled on Raisin Bran, thinking “What could be healthier than bananas, yogurt, and high fiber cereal all blended together?” Perhaps I should also have asked myself “What could taste better than bananas, yogurt, and high fiber ceral all blended together?”, because the obvious answer (“Anything”) would probably have knocked some sense into me. I should have known better than to actually eat the stuff when I saw how it looked:

I immediatley found myself referring to this as “not-diarrhea,” to make it more palatable. And honestly, the first few sips weren’t all that bad. Chunkier perhaps than any lunchtime beverage should be, but not all that bad. I added cinnamon and vanilla to the mixture, which complemented the bananas and the raisins nicely. Then, the horrors began.

Little did our oblivious protagonist know, but even as the malevolent concoction sat on his table, it was undergoing a horrible transformation. At first, I thought the impression that it had gotten thicker somehow was just my imagination. But, like someone in a horror movie, this assumption consigned me to a horrible fate.

Within minutes, the stuff had thickened from a pleasant pureé to a palatable slop, and then to a tolerable goop, and finally, to a roundly unpleasant porridge. When I turned the blender pitcher upside-down, the stuff flatly refused to drip out. At this point, it had ceased being a liquid.

Now, to be fair, I can’t say the flavor got any worse. Actually, the stuff wasn’t bad throughout. It tasted pretty much exactly like Raisin Bran. The texture, however, went from that of diarrhea to that of vomit as the stuff sat in the cup, and ultimately, I couldn’t finish it. This picture will show you why:

To get an idea of the texture, take a gander at this video. The color and the consistency of their “Fast Food Smoothie” is pretty much the same as that of my gloop.

Consider this a sort of public service announcement:

Before you buy a blender, consider the potential consequences. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your stomach. Do it for your tongue. Do it for the children.

I knew I should have bought a waffle iron instead.

(That funny-looking object at the bottom of the picture, slightly to the right of center, is my foot. Just in case you were wondering.)

Culinary Misadventures 2

People who know me will tell you that, while I don’t come close to the Fat Albert extreme, I’m not exactly petite. The main reason behind that is that I love my sweets. Anyway, my health took a serious hit this week when I bought a couple of bags of chocolate chips and realized that I could make my own chocolates.

Thus, this week’s culinary misadventure isn’t a misadventure in the same way as making an octopus-and-pickle sandwich; it’s really more of a “gee-I-don’t-know-if-this-is-a-good-idea” sort of thing. I promise to resume eating weird and potentially gross things next time.

Anyway, this week’s misadventure: a chocolate-covered banana. It’s a misadventure mainly because I seriously underestimated just how much chocolate it would take to cover a whole banana. I only thank my lucky stars that I didn’t have, say, a Twinkie, or a container of peanuts, or any amount of nougat or caramel in the house… After discovering that I could indeed melt chocolate in the microwave (and after discovering that, last night, there is indeed a limit to how long you can leave it in there before it starts gushing smoke and emitting a horrible smell), I peeled a nice ripe banana, slathered it with melted chocolate (I’m sure Freud would have a field day with that one), and stuck it in the freezer. This was the result:

The little broken bits laying there are because some of the chocolate pooled under the banana while it was hardening (shut up, Sigmund), and I broke it off because I thought that the minor decrease in the amount of chocolate might somehow push my meal from “terrible idea” to “questionable idea.”

Result: Delicious, although I can feel the chocolate hitting my stomach like a ton of chocolate-covered bricks. Delicious, and also incredibly bad for you. (How cruel that those two always seem to go together) Easy to make, too.

Judgment: 9/10.