Tuesday, November 30, 2010

City Life: Crossing the Upper Deck of the Bay Bridge on Sun

On our way home to SF from El Cerrito.
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NaNoWriMo 2010 - Made the Minimum Deadline! Current Count 50,749 Words

For those of you who don't know what NaNoWriMo is here's another overview:
  1. The idea is to write a novel of 50,000 words in one month (about 140 pages).
  2. NaNoWriMo takes place every November.
  3. It's sort of a contest but not really. People often ask what you "win" if you reach 50,000 words. You win some badges like the one I've posted on the right. The point of it isn't to "win" but to finish your novel in 30 days which is enough in itself since there are plenty of people in this world who talk on and on about writing a novel but never get past the first five pages.
  4. I'm sure there are exceptions but for the most part the finished novel will be a rough first draft, and probably a "shitty" first draft as Anne Lamont put it so well in her classic book on writing "Bird by Bird."
  5. No one tells you what to do with your novel when you're done. It's up to you to decide if you want to continue to work on it or move on to the next experience.
List of things I learned during this year's National Novel Writing:
  • Just because I've done this before doesn't mean it was any easier. In fact, writing this story was much more difficult than the first one. This was partly due to the story subject matter (Post-Apocalyptic) and my own doubts and writing related meltdowns.
  • The middle of the month is the worst. By the 25,000 mark I hated my story, my characters, and was thinking of throwing everything out even though I was caught up on my word count. I kept re-reading sections I'd already written and thinking the story was pretentious, stupid, and over-reaching. I was thinking things like I'm just a nobody who will never amount to anything. What am I doing with a novel in progress, a new novel, a short story, a blog? Thankfully, these feelings have passed, for now.
  • I can write about 1,000 words in an hour, give or take a hundred. That's just laying down words without editing (or trying not to edit). Does it come out as gibberish? No, the story plot is intact, has character development and arc, plot twists, settings, lots of dialogue, description, and even the beginnings of my complex story world. The fact that my story does not come out as gibberish is an enormous blessing and I count myself lucky to have this ability.
  • I was constantly surprised and still am. Several times while writing I pulled my hands off my keyboard and thought WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED? WHAT DID THAT GUY JUST SAY/DO? It got to the point where I was worried the story was starting to careen out of control. For example, there's a new development that doesn't seem to fit with how I thought things were going to turn out for the two main characters. The best solution for a problem like this is to keep writing to see if everything comes together later.
  • I'm still working on this first draft. Sure, I made it to over 50,000 words by today and had it verified but I need to finish this draft. I'm hoping it won't be more than 60,000 words.
  • Establishing brilliant rituals really helps. One of my friends and I have been going to a cafe with excellent food in Lower Pac Heights in the evenings. She reads caselaw and I work on the novel. We've been doing this everyday now since Sunday. It's been fantastic.
Things I really like about this novel so far:
  • The name: 56 Days.
  • My descriptions of the morning the world ends on 11/22/2066 at 6:21 a.m. are BAD ASS! The world collapsing in on itself, the ground splitting open, massive earthquakes, and the sea rushing in from far away, a torrent of gorgeous blue water pouring into the gaping maw that used to be terra firma were so much fun to write.
  • My two antagonists are virtually indestructible and I couldn't figure out why at first. I could have just left the reasons out but I really wanted to know the answer. Figuring it out a couple of days after I started writing was tremendously satisfying.
  • So far there are a total of ten fight scenes involving explosions and fire, various firearms (twin revolvers, a Browning, and a shotgun), swords, an SUV, a trusty machete, and a very handy Uzi Submachine Gun that fires 600 rounds a minute.
  • The first half of the novel is entitled "The End" and is about the end of the world. The second half is about what comes after.
  • In the last sequence I wrote, two men are hanging off a hotel balcony above the Financial District in New York City on a beautiful clear night. Below them is New York Harbor and Battery Park. One falls, the other leaps after him. I have no idea what's going to happen next.
  • All of these ideas, sections, characters, settings, story could change later.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010 - 35,155 Words So Far

It's been tough but I'm getting closer. The story is crazy! I don't know what to make of it so far but it's surprising the hell out of me.

This story is all about relationships between the characters. It's odd since I'm writing about the end of the world and the horror that comes after. I thought it would be more about the situations that brought about the end of the world in the first place and the massive destruction that occurs but it's really about love, loyalty, friendship, and the miracle of creating a "family" in an environment where there's nothing left but violence, destruction, and certain death.

By my calculations I should finish this bad boy by Sunday. Have a great Turkey Day, everyone. I'll check in with you all on the weekend.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Speaking of Shiva...

So because of my mistake in the post below I started surfing around looking up Shiva Nataraja, the Hindu deity known as the Lord of the Dance. Shiva Nataraja in this incarnation is dancing the dances of creation and destruction.

I've always loved this image of Shiva dancing, one of my favorite images of all time. That person he's standing on represents human ignorance.

I'm not going to bother explaining what this is about because I can't really do it justice except to say that Shiva dances the dance of destruction (of the weary cosmos) to make way for the dance of creation (of the new cosmos). You can click on the link above for a bit more information.

It never occurred to me that there could be real dances but I found this one on YouTube and it's so beautiful. This video was uploaded to YouTube by Jakubstoll. I'm providing the link to the actual YouTube video for credit purposes.

Just looking at her posture, the placement of her hands, and when she lifts her leg in that iconic pose makes me happy. Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

City Life: Torso of Shiva...No, that's Buddha, in Front of City Hall

Saw this rather overwhelming sculpture while walking by.
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11:30 pm Addendum: Good thing I looked this up when I got home. That's Buddha, not Shiva. How embarrassing. I'm not used to seeing multi-headed Buddhas around so I hope I can be forgiven for my mistake. Yeah, I saw the lotus in his hand but the multiple heads really threw me. Either way it's huge and it's cool in front of our City Hall.

Also, I posted the better picture here. It's hard to pick the right picture when it's dark.

NaNoWriMo 2010 - 22,148 Words So Far

The goal to aim for so far is 25,000 words since we are halfway through the month. I've made good progress this weekend though I'd hoped to be a little more ahead.

I was reading portions of my story this afternoon and I really don't know if I like it. I'm surprised by the characters and their relationships with each other, I just don't know if I'm going to want to keep working on this story after Novel Writing Month is over.

I think I had a similar reaction to my current novel while I was drafting it during the last NaNoWriMo, and I think it happened right about the halfway mark. The NaNo folks send pep talks to my in box which I didn't think would be very helpful but this week's is right on point. Here's an excerpt from Lindsay Grant:

"Week Two is a battle for your novel's future, and you are going to win it.

You've been carrying around a story for a while now and you finally started writing it. Getting started is hard enough, but then you went on to write for a full week, bringing your story to life and making your noveling dream a reality. You're well on your way, writer, and you have come so far already! Don't let your inner editor convince you that this isn't worth your time, or that you should start over, or—even worse—that you should start over some other time. For this novel there is no "later." There is only now.

And when you reach November 30 with the rough draft of your novel in hand, the struggles you overcame this week will make that already-triumphant moment even more incredible.

The world needs your novel. This is the time to write it. And it is infinitely worth fighting for."

I have to say I find this pep talk inspirational. When I look at my story right now and don't really like what I see, I have to grasp at something, anything that would tell me it's worthwhile to keep going. The whirlwind will continue and sometime early next year when I've had time to let this story sit and ferment, I'll be able to see if it has been worthwhile.

No, wait. It's all worthwhile because even if I don't use it, work to further develop this story, it will still be a complete story with beginning, middle, and end, character development, plot twists, and hopefully a great ending. The act of writing down stories is always worthwhile because it's the only way you get better.

Also, even though I have a very general idea of how the story is going to progress from here on out, I don't know the details and I don't really know how it's going to end. I had an ending in mind when I started but I don't know if I'm going to use it. What's going to happen to my characters when they reach the end of their trials and tribulations? What is the the massive, huge plot twist that will explain all the bizarre goings on in my story? I have no idea. I guess I have to keep going to find out.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Conversation With My Brother: Three Little Pigs

I just love some of the email exchanges I have with my brother and couldn't resist posting this one:

Him: Why in the Three Little Pigs does the wolf threaten to huff and puff and blow the house down? He could just kick the door in or break a window, why blow the whole house down. Maybe who ever had a fear of windstorms? And... it seems there are more than two ands in the sentence and comas.

Me: The wolf's capability of leveling the house by blowing it down is far scarier than kicking in the door or breaking the window. More than a mere repair job, the leveled house literally makes the pig homeless.

As for the "and," I seem to recall it's a type of writing convention perhaps used as away to build suspense and for emphasis. It certainly creates a unique rhythm precisely because we've been taught not to use multiple "ands" in this way. I saw a Wikipedia article, can't find it now, which discusses this convention. It uses the speech Brad Pitt gave in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds as a example:

"We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. And they will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us. And the German won't not be able to help themselves but to imagine the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, and our boot heels, and the edge of our knives. And the German will be sickened by us, and the German will talk about us, and the German will fear us. And when the German closes their eyes at night and they're tortured by their subconscious for the evil they have done, it will be with thoughts of us they are tortured with."

Friday, November 12, 2010

City Life: Secret Hiding Place in Golden Gate Park

Crowds of people just steps away but it feels like we're in our own world.
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010 - 14,354 Words So Far

I'm still two days behind but that's a lot better than being almost a week behind. Damn, I thought this was going to be easier but it's not. This is tough going. The story is flowing out of me but it's difficult to keep up the right mindset.

Monday, November 08, 2010

2010 Europe Trip: Bruges - The Medieval City

Bruges is a perfectly preserved medieval city in Belgium. I'd read about Bruges years ago but it wasn't until after I saw the movie "In Bruges" that I decided I really had to visit the place. In addition to its weirdness and relentless profanity, the film really showcases the city.

I had an interesting reaction about Bruges from that weird couple from Toronto I talked to while in Amsterdam. When I told them I was going to Bruges, the wife said, "Bruges! I had a friend who went there and she said it was completely over the top. I'd never even heard of Bruges before she went." She went on to admit that she didn't exactly know what her friend meant by "being over the top" but she'd assumed it was a negative reaction. She also said visiting a medieval city held no interest for her. I mentioned that the historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and she scoffed at this fact saying "EVERYTHING is a UNESCO World Heritage site so that doesn't mean anything at all." Her husband and that guy from the midwest both agreed with her. She asked me why I would want to go there and I explained that I loved Northern Renaissance art, a comment that had everyone in the room stumped. I changed the subject and took everything she said with a grain of salt. After all, this is a women who announced to everyone she couldn't see why ANYBODY thought Van Gogh had talent. Now, I can understand people not caring much for his art, we all have our preferences, but I couldn't see how she could make a statement like that.

Okay, back to the city. Bruges has a small city center and can be seen easily in one day. I spent a little less than two days here and it was a nice amount of time though if you ask me for a recommendation I think three days would be really lovely.

A view of the Markt (market square) from one of the many surrounding cafes. The tall building is the Belfort (belfrey). I was there during their Pride weekend though I drank too much beer and ended up sleeping through their Pride Parade. Still, when I arrived in town and saw the rainbow flags up at the Markt I was really tickled.

My Bed and Breakfast is just around that corner. This street is about a block and a half from the Markt.

Bruges is a pricey town. While my bed and breakfast was reasonably priced (about $80 a night), the restaurants were expensive. Of course, there are cheaper places to eat, street vendors and such, but I noted there were plenty of upscale, beautiful restaurants, tea houses, cafes, etc. I had an absolutely decadent Belgium waffle with chocolate and strawberries along with some tea at the cafe in the picture above and it cost over $20 when I did the conversion.

Here it is, the $20 Belgium waffle and tea. Was it worth it? I think so. The quality of the chocolate was out of this world and the strawberries were super sweet but I still have to admit that I was a surprised when I got the bill.

Chocolate. The best chocolate I've ever had was here (including white chocolate). There are chocolate shops all over the place and it didn't take me long to pick one so I could buy some for souvenirs. I bought two boxes, one for my Dad and one for the folks at work. The chocolate was handmade that week with fresh ingredients. While this chocolate doesn't last as long because there are no preservatives, nothing tastes better. It was beautiful. The ladies at the shop said you can buy boxes of their chocolate at stores but the ingredients aren't fresh so it tastes different.

There are plenty of beautiful gift shops as well. Bruges only has a handful of tacky gift shops around the Markt. The rest of the shops are all upscale designer type stores. Yep, Bruges caters to folks who have money. I'm not saying you can't go there on a budget, you just have to be aware and plan accordingly.

Not surprising, Bruges is all cobblestones. If you're not used to walking on them they're killer on your feet so make sure you bring supportive, broken in shoes. I'd brought my cute leather clogs but had to switch to my white sneakers. I didn't get used to the cobblestones until my trip was almost over.

Here I am in front of one of the canals in this place. There aren't as many as in Amsterdam but they're still beautiful. Note the touristy white sneakers.

A proper picture of the canal from the bridge above.

A view of the Markt from one of the lower floors of the Belfort. They were doing renovations at the top so I didn't get a shot of the Markt from there.

Here's the shot of the view I was able to get. This view is from back side of the Belfort.

As I mentioned in my photo comments, this trip was all about climbing stairs. Climbing the Belfort was quite something and the stairs get steeper and narrower as you get closer to the top. They thoughtfully provide a rope for you to hang on to. I met a young man from Kentucky who was visiting his sister in Brussels as I made my way down. I asked him if he wanted to go ahead of me since I was taking a long time but he said he didn't mind. We had a nice conversation about our travels.

The Belfort stairs. A whole lot of them. See the rope in the upper left of the picture?

The courtyard leading to The Church of Our Lady, the largest Church in Bruges.

Even with my interest in medieval art I have to admit I didn't realize what medieval architecture was about. I'd never studied it before other than what I'd seen as background in paintings so I had a wonderful time walking around the city and noting it's beautiful buildings. Bruges was never bombed so the historic city center is completely and wonderfully intact.

Some buildings on the Markt. The large gray building is the Provinciaal Hof (Provincial Court). The red brick building on the right is the post office where I mailed a bunch of clothes home in a desperate bid to lighten my luggage.

The back of the Sint Salvator's Cathedral. While smaller than the Church of Our Lady (and lacking a Michelangelo), I still loved this church. It felt so good to be here. I don't know why. I was here for a long time and I couldn't stop touching the walls.

The interior of Sint Salvator's. I actually kissed one of the pillars before leaving. It was my weird way of saying thank you (and I left a small donation).

Since Bruges is so small you could easily walk to the train station from the city center (about a 15-20 minute walk) but if you have a lot of luggage I suggest you take the bus instead. The bus stop was just a few steps away from my B&B. When I took my side trip to Ghent, I walked to the train station. It was a beautiful walk and I had fun because I followed a group of school kids going on a field trip to the station.

On the way to the train station, I walked through a park with the school kids. I stopped to take the following shot. Yep, those are people's actual houses.

Bruges is well known for its swans and they tend to hang out at the Minnewater, a canalized lake, also called the Lake of Love. There's a legend about the swans (go here) which explains why Bruges is supposed to keep swans for eternity. I missed two opportunities to take a canal cruise so I opted for a carriage ride instead. The carriage ride was expensive but worth it.

The driver took me to the Minnewater and let me (and the horse) relax for about 20 minutes.

Miss Turtle at the Minnewater. I spent quite a bit of time observing the swans: two of them were nesting. I probably should have been walking around taking more pictures but the swans were mesmerizing.

The carriage ride was worth it in other ways. The driver pointed out a narrow alley in Bruges, right off the Markt which didn't look like an alley, more like a space between two buildings. Down this alleyway is a legendary beer bar, Staminee de Garre, which has over 100 beers. Apparently, tourists prowl around the Markt looking for the elusive alleyway and walk right by it because it's so narrow. He showed me right where it was and after my carriage ride I went for a drink.

The alleyway looking towards the street. It's incredibly easy to miss it because it doesn't look like anything. Mostly locals hang out here.

I'd mentioned in the photos that I'd walked into the pub and, not knowing what kind of beer to order, requested a recommendation. The man at the bar suggested the "house beer" known as Tripel de Garre. I remember thinking I was going to get gyped into some subpar beer but I was wrong, of course. I included this shot in the photos I uploaded to Picasa but just have to post it here again.

11% alcohol. Very strong tasting. Comes with soft white cheese, and that's not a beer glass, people, it's a beer bowl. I drank the entire thing. I'm not a beer drinker but it was incredible.

I learned that beer in Amsterdam and certainly in Bruges is much, much better than beer here in the U.S. American beers, even if they're imported, taste like watered down crap and have no complexity to them. Bruges is known for having the best beer in the world. If I hadn't been traveling alone I would spent a lot more time drinking in all the places I visited. I almost never drink beer at home but if I do I tend to like Guinness Stout.

The sign for the beer bar near the front of the alley. I might have been a little tipsy when I took this picture.

As I've been writing this post I really do think I would have preferred to be here for at least three days, maybe even three and a half. Bruges is a small city but there's so much walking and strolling to do, and the city encourages you relax, sit at an outdoor restaurant or cafe, and watch the world go by.

View from my B&B window.

NaNoWriMo 2010 - 7,600 Words So Far

I'm so behind. Oh well. It just means I'm going to have to really work at it this week.

This novel I'm drafting is Post-Apocalyptic and is based on a short story I wrote a few years ago. Already I'm surprised at the turns the characters and story are taking. It seems their relationships are far more complex than I imagined.

I'm a bit intimidated by all the worldbuilding I'm going to have to do for this novel. I have to figure out how the end of the world came about and the social/political/religious structure of the current setting but I can't spend much time on that now. The main focus is to write the story down and deal with the rest of the stuff later.