NaNoWriMo Year Nine

NaNoWriMo Year Nine

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month so long they needed a second row for a

nano-history
Purple means “won”, teal means “participated.” The Halo means I donated.

ll the icons. Next year I hit double digits. And what have I gotten out of it? Have I published any novels? Am I famous? Or am I just wasting my time?

Well, neither. No, I haven’t published a novel, but that’s not because I haven’t been writing, or because NaNoWriMo is useless to me. But I have written a lot, and have sharpened my skills, and kept my hand in as I go through a lot of life stuff.

And I’ve written and self-published a couple of tech books, something I never thought I’d do. I’ve loved that experience as well.

I’ve found the confidence to keep writing even when it feels like it might just be pointless, even when the book I’m working on feels like a train wreck. And I’ve found a large community of helpful people and resources that help me see the value in pressing forward in my noveling even if it never will make me rich and/or famous.

I honestly believe that creativity is its own reward. I’m greateful to NaNoWriMo for encouraging that belief.

Byline, Meet Front Page

Byline, Meet Front Page

The inside of Field Notes' new "Front Page" reporter's notebook.
The colors are a little different, but the awesomeness is the same.

Field Notes just turned their wonderful Byline Quarterly Edition into a permanent edition named “Front Page“.

I’m genuinely excited about this. I have four Byline notebooks from my Field Notes subscription, and they have rapidly become indespensible to me. The reporter’s notebooks work so nicely in so many ways. The fact that they lay flat and stay open means they’re far more useful for presenting out of than regular memo books. I’ve used them for lessons and talks a number of times now, and they are my go-to way to take notes in meetings. So I was sad knowing that my dependence on the Byline books would come to an end. Now I know that it’ll just switch from serious blue covers to serious gray ones, and I can live with that.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who

or: My Descent into Fandom

“Wait, the first episode is about shop-window dummies coming to life and terrorizing London? Okay, I’ll watch that.”

And that, dear friends, was the beginning of the end.

For most of my life I’ve avoided two things: being a “fan” of anything, and Doctor Who.

(Okay and a bunch of other things as well like spiders and getting murdered, but those are outside the scope of this essay. Sheesh.)

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The Babysitter Test

The Babysitter Test

While it’s obviously not the only criterion I would use, one simple thought experiment I do when considering presidential candidates is what I call “The Babysitter Test.” It’s quite simple: would I allow the president or candidate to babysit my kids?

Looking back, the score stands like this:

  • Every Republican President Since I Was Born: only if Nancy, Barbara or Laura were there to actually take care of the kids.
  • Bill Clinton: Hahaha nope! Maybe Chelsea. But still, probably nope.
  • Barack Obama: Sure. Especially if Michelle and the girls were there. The kids would have a great time.
  • Hillary Clinton: Probably not. She would just dump the kids on a Secret Service guy and leave.
  • Donald Trump: No. No chance. Never. Even though I never have and probably never will meet him, I’m still considering getting a restraining order against him, just in case.

It baffles me how people seem to think that voting for a terrible man like Trump will somehow lead to good nominations for supreme court justices. This is, by the way, the only excuse I’ve heard intelligent people use to justify their possible votes for the guy.

By the way, this post should not be taken as endorsement for Hillary Clinton, either. There are other options. My advice this year is Vote Weird. Find a third party candidate you like, or that you dislike less than the leading two, and vote for them.

I’m glad we had this little talk.

Field Notes: Remember it Now

Field Notes: Remember it Now

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I really, really wanted to start this off with a quote. I should have written it down.

The quote I half remember is from Anne Lamott, and I think it was on twitter. But I can’t find it. The gist of it was:

Always carry a paper and pen with you to capture ideas. The Gods of Inspiration do not honor cell phones.

If you find the original please let me know. Anyway it stuck with me because at the time I was all about taking notes on my cell phone. Or rather, trying to take notes on my cell phone. You know the drill: you get your phone out, unlock it, see that you have two new emails (or Facebook messages or texts…) check those, close that app, forget why you got your phone out in the first place, and go on with your day.

And after a while I started to realize how many good ideas I was losing in this process. The thing that held me back longer was my handwriting. It’s terrible. But guess what? After a while you realize that you can deal with bad handwriting, it’s much harder to deal with forgetting things entirely.

And thus began my quest for the perfect notebook. A repository for all my ideas. A dreamcatcher for waking dreams. A garden for blooming thoughts. Or, you know, something with pages I can write on.

I tried a number of things starting with standard comp books (way too big) to hardcover notebooks (also too big and uncomfortable in your pocket) to cheap spiral bound memo books (fall apart quickly in your pocket) and was basically ready to give up.

And then I discovered Field Notes.

There are a lot of people who make notebooks. But Field Notes puts a little something extra into their lovely notebooks. Starting with their base “Kraft cover” notebooks you get a sense that these are people who take what they do seriously. Check out the inside back cover, and you’ll see everything about how the notebook you’re holding is made. Who printed it, what machine was used to bind it, the exact ink colors used on the cover and the insides (“Dachshund Nose” black on the cover and “Double Knee Duck Canvas” light brown on the pages). They have an addiction to the Futura font, which I also love. Everything is sourced, printed, and manufactured locally. They remind over and over that you’re “not writing it down to remember it later, [you’re] writing it down to remember it now”.

But as nice as that is, it’s not what makes it. Good paper is nice, good build quality is important. But neither is a call for brand loyalty.

And then they came out with the Byline edition. A flip cover Reporter’s notebook straight out of the 1920s. Smooth, classy vellum pages. A little faux-newspaper included with every notebook. Okay, now I’m sold. This is something new, weird, classy, and unique.

And I started looking at all their “quarterly editions”, and I noticed these were words that applied to the whole range. They’ve got waterproof notebooks. They’ve got notebooks where the outside cover is the color of a leaf and the inside cover is the color of that leaf in the fall. Notebooks that change color in the sunlight. Notebooks that have actual cherry wood veneer on the cover. And most recently (as in, I’m writing this on the day this came out) notebooks where the cover has a cut-out showing the moon, and each of the three books in the pack has a different cutout (full, half and quarter). Like I said, new, weird, classy and unique. I started a quarterly subscription with Byline, and haven’t regretted it at all.

I’ve been using Field Note books for pretty much everything lately. Having a small notebook in my back pocket means I’m not as worried about forgetting things; I just pull it out, write things down, and go on with my day. Kind of like how a notebook is meant to work. they hold up well, the paper is top notch and doesn’t bleed through, and the notebooks are still in great shape when you’re done with them.

A notebook I’ve been working in is a great place to look for inspiration when I’m stuck. But I’ve also been surprised at the number of times I’ve been trawling my notebook for ideas and discovered that I’ve already implemented a bunch of the ideas in there. A number of new stories or work projects have gone from a passing notion recorded in a Field Notes book, migrated to Evernote and then to a work project or Monday Story without me consciously processing it. Turns out having a memo book at all times really does help me “remember it now”.

Welcome Home

Welcome Home

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Four years ago I set out with the lofty goal of migrating away from WordPress to the heady, nerdy world of Jekyll. And then I realized that as much as I love doing everything command-line style it was actually slowing me down quite a bit. So now I’m moving back to something that actually, you know, works.

I’ve got a blog for short fiction over at Monday Stories. And I’ve got my books. And even a Tumblr. But I’ve been realizing that I don’t have a nice place to ramble like a crazy ol’ grampa. So I’m bringing this blog back out of the mothballs.

IT’s good to see you again. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday in May

Saturday in May

So look; Nobody wants to go out and mow the lawn. It’s not on anybody’s list of fun things to do with an afternoon. But your wife took the older kids to Scout-o-Rama, so it’s just you, the three-year-old and the baby, and they’re both asleep or busy and you feel like a dolt just sitting around doing nothing.

So you go outside and try to get the lawnmower started up and then remember to put gas in it and drag it out front and fire that puppy up and pretty soon your lawn is clean and short and has those lines in it that say you’re a responsible home owner instead of some punk kid who somehow managed to buy a house and doesn’t deserve it at all, not that you ever feel that way. Nope.

But you’re not done yet. Pop open the garage door and grab that new cordless trimmer/edger thing. Grab a battery pack off the shelf and slide it into place with a sweet click like you just jacked a fresh clip into your 9mm, because you’re about to go all Dirty Harry on those blades of grass that defied your mower. Three minutes later the fence line is clear and you do that twisty thing with the edger, flip it over and start shaving the lawn along the curb, trimming that line so straight you could use it as an example for boot camp barbers, but your edger is starting to lose its zest for life.

No problem. You’ve got four battery packs for this thing. Click, slide, click and suddenly that sucker is off to the races, sounding like the angriest metal hornet ever forged. You clean up all the curbing around the flower beds, then go in the house, grab a bottle of milk from the fridge and get it warming up, because not only are you the manliest dang weekend warrior on the block, but you are sensitive and nurturing as crap and you’re going to spend some quality time with your newborn as soon as you get all the rogue grass around the newly planted peach tree cut down to size.

Here comes the cool part, slide that battery pack out of the edger, slap it into the blower. Turnaround time: 5 seconds. Two minutes later your sidewalks and driveway are clean enough to do surgery on. You got your lawn looking good and looked good doing it. And with a lawn like that you don’t worry so much about those last ten pounds you haven’t been able to lose or their 40 good friends. Now it’s back in the house to give that baby a bottle and make sure he’s clean, happy and dry before your wife gets home.

Baby’s not awake yet, so you go get some laundry in, because real men wash they own clothes, dog. Baby wakes up just as you finish putting all the clean laundry away, so time to sit down on the couch, prop your iPad up on its sweet lime green case/stand thing and watch some Phineas and Ferb while you feed your new son, because not only are you extra manly and super sensitive, but you’ve got a whimsical streak a mile wide and people like that about you.

Later that night you’ll install a new doorknob on the shed because you’re handy like that, but for now just pay attention to your son and the animated antics of overachieving preteens. Not bad, kid. Not bad.

Admit it. You’ve always wanted to be a super hero.

Admit it. You’ve always wanted to be a super hero.

Thrusts of justice coverMatt Youngmark’s Thrusts of Justice is out today, in paperback and on the Kindle! It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book that allows you to take on one of three awesome superhero personas and fight crime, and admit it; you’ve always wanted to do that. Click on the text link above to check it out!

I’ve only just started the book, but it’s much like Matt’s other works, which is to say well written, funny, and full of action and awesome characters. Seriously. Click the pretty picture or the text link and buy your copy right now. If enough people buy the book today, the very day it’s released, the world will be a better, freer place; where independently published books can challenge the big publishing houses and all of us can choose which ending we like the best.

A Superhero is You!

How To Make a Stupid 80’s Movie

How To Make a Stupid 80’s Movie

Once the 80’s misfit teenager ranged far and free across the American landscape. from John Cusack to Molly Ringwald, if you could pretend you were a high school outcast who had big dreams and a desire to win you were on top of the world.
However, I’ve noticed that ever since 1989 people have stopped making stupid 80’s teenager movies. Oh sure, people tried to make a similar film in the 90’s, movies like Chasing Amy and Mallrats, but these movies didn’t have the same flair, the same élan, or the same bone-headedness of the classic 80’s film. To help remedy this situation and to inspire all the budding filmmakers with a desire to make something truly brain-dead I humbly offer this guide to making stupid 80’s movies.

Stick to the Recipe

To make a stupid 80’s movie you have to stick to the recipe. If your main character isn’t a high school student having a hard time fitting in your movie will fail. If the parents in the movie have brains, or even anything resembling a serious part in the film people will suspect your masterwork of being something introspective or even deep, and nobody wants that. No, like a great sonnet, you must work within the framework, and only use the plot elements that have been so well-tested over the years. Specifically:

High School Students

Even if your main actors are old enough to be PhD candidates, you need to portray them in high school. And not just any high school. Your 80’s movie high school is covered in graffiti, the halls perpetually packed with an assortment of punks (colorful hair), preppies(colorful sweaters draped over their shoulders) and jocks (wearing team colors, of course). If anyone is not wearing bright colors they will be your nerds. They must laugh at space jokes, wear brown pants above their navels, and be generally looked upon with either scorn or pity, depending on the character looking upon them.
Against this backdrop you will place your protagonist. If male, your protagonist will wear a tie that is less than 2 inches wide at its widest point and a sports jacket. If female, your protagonist’s hair must be no less than 3 inches taller than her actual skull. In terms of wardrobe you have more freedom with a female lead, but remember that she has to clean up nicely for the big dance, where she will wear something with shoulder pads that would frighten a linebacker.
Your antagonist may be one of the following: The school administration, the jock boyfriend of your male protagonist’s love interest, or the preppie ice queen that actively seeks to destroy your female protagonist’s dreams of finally being socially accepted.

The Dilemma

Again, your dilemma is tightly proscribed, and must fit within the high school milieu. Perhaps your main character needs a date to the prom, or maybe they will be denied some life goal if they don’t get their grades in line by the end of the semester. Either way, your protagonist must solve this problem within one week, two at the outside.
Once you have truly mastered the art of stupid 80’s movies you may consider the third-party dilemma. This is where the romantic interest has a problem and the protagonist must help them solve it, usually in a way that would make no sense at all. Saving an old house from being torn down by winning a boat race, for example. The third-party dilemma gives you more room to experiment, but also walks the line between stupid 80’s movie and standard romantic comedy, and should be used sparingly.

The Cast

While your main couple are fine and all, you can’t really have a stupid 80’s movie without a good supporting cast. Your main character’s best friend, for example, will often define the tone of the movie, and should get the lion’s share of the memorable lines. There should be a younger brother who is either silent and brilliant, or insanely talkative and vapid. In either case the younger brother will be obsessed with finding an attractive female companion. His success in this endeavor is immaterial, so long his antics are sufficiently comic.
It is not uncommon for the love interest to already be romantically involved with someone at the beginning of the movie, and that someone should be an intensely shallow, self-centered icon. Male or female, they should wear pink and have blond hair. You may worry that the audience won’t accept the fact that your love interest, whom you have written as a sensitive, intelligent, and caring person, has willingly paired off with such a dud. For the most part, as long as the romantic interest ends up with your protagonist all will be forgiven, but if you feel the need to have the romantic interest explain their choice, the standard “[He/She] used to be different, before [he/she] became head of the [basketball team/cheerleading squad]” formula is sufficient.

The Music

The music in a stupid 80’s movie should be from the 80’s, of course, and no pains should be spared to emphasize the 80’s-ness of it. Any piece that doesn’t have a synthesizer should be rejected out of hand. Themes ranging from new love to lost love may be used. At some point, usually at the prom, there should be a live band, who should endeavor to look as Californian as possible. Brightly colored suits with white loafers are acceptable. There should be two keyboards on stage, a Roland and a Yamaha. If you have a female singer in your live band she should look as much like Cindi Lauper as your budget allows.

Product Placement

Speaking of your budget, a large portion of your production budget can be covered by a few well-placed pizza boxes or soda cans. There’s no reason to write the names of these products into your script–that would be too obvious–but any time a group of friends is gathered to celebrate some minor success be sure that they do so with Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut. Particularly savvy producers can even get either Roland or Yamaha to pay for the Cindi Lauper impersonator, but be aware that they will ask for a long keyboard solo in the middle of your dramatic-conflict-resolution-at-the-dance scene.

Conclusion

And there you have it. Follow these steps and you will be on your way to making quickly forgotten teen movies like a pro. Join us next time when we take a look at making nightmare-inducing children’s fantasy movies using rubber masks and puppets.