On the First Night of NaNo – Doggerel Poetry and Holiday Tradition

My family has never really formed any ironclad holiday traditions. I mean, my grandma had a particular way that the tree was always decorated, and very definite ideas about when decorations go up (the day after Thanksgiving) and when they come down (January 6th), but since she passed away we have sort of played every holiday “by ear.”

I tried, with the boys. I used to put a chocolate orange in their stockings every year. And then one year Thing Two informed me that he didn’t really like chocolate oranges that much.

Chocolate Orange

We tried other things, too. I bought a Christmas pickle. But not until after they were all just a bit old to be excited about it.

Pickle

So mostly we just went with whatever we were in the mood for every year at Christmas. Some years we had big ham dinners, some we had pizza. Some years we all got up early, and some years we slept in. Go with the flow, that’s our motto.

Since the last of the boys left home a few years ago, they have generally chosen to spend Christmas with friends or with their girlfriend/fiancee/wife’s family. So the hubs and I have been left to our own devices. We rarely decorate or put up stockings anymore, we buy each other a thing and then we enjoy the time off work and each other’s company.

In 2011, some very close friends of ours from church and ministry invited us to share in their Christmas Eve tradition, “Night Before Christmas Night.” This is something that the family came up with as a way of formally calling a halt to all of the mad shop/cook/prep/wrap/clean/bake madness by establishing a definite beginning to Christmas Family Time. They call it a poetry contest, but then are quick to amend that there is no actual competition and poetry is not required. Anyone is invited to share any talent, skill, or performance art that they wish to bring to the crowd. There is always at least one musical submission, often a photography viewing, and one memorable year included a martial arts demonstration.

The pater familias creates an example poem every year, almost always in the rhyme scheme of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or the poem commonly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Every year I write a submission or two, often in that rhyme pattern, sometimes in others. One year I did one that was based on Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”

This year I had no particular great ideas, so the night before Night Before Christmas Night I was staring at my laptop, with its blank white screen and blinking mocking cursor, and thinking, “hey, this is just like starting NaNoWriMo every year.”

And then this happened:

On the First Night of NaNo

On the first night of NaNo
my bleary eyes blink
At a pristine white page
yet unsoiled by ink

To plot or to pants, outlines, index cards
Should I write about blacksmiths or write about bards
To hand-write or type or to dictate the mess
Every decision I now second-guess

Should my villains be dragons
Or corporate raiders
Maybe some were-bears
or pirate slave traders

Is my hero heroic, is his mentor wise
Have I mixed up or misused those old archetypes
Minor characters wrangle and plot points are random
One sounds like it came straight from the Tolkien fandom

I lay down and try now to sleep in my bed
While character backstories dance in my head
And then what to my coffee-dazed mind should appear
But a thematic subplot with bunny tracks clear

Once per annum I set aside tidying house
Society, sleep, and attention to spouse
To deal with ideas and intrabrain friction
Take the mess from my head and consign it to fiction

My family’s convinced that my head’s not on tight
But I am a writer and writers must write
So the first night of NaNo next year, I will sit
with a blank page before me, bereft of my wit
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My Favorite Heroines

I have been struggling with my WIP. I felt like I just couldn’t get a handle on the main character – like no matter how many scenes I wrote her into, or how much of her backstory/traits/idiosyncrasies I wrote, I never really “knew” her.

Then my lightbulb clicked.

I didn’t respect her. I put so much effort into making her vulnerable, giving her things to worry about, and using her to explore emotional issues, that she had stopped being a strong competent female hero and become just a pile of problems.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for emotionally vulnerable, damaged, insecure female characters in all sorts of writing. These are real people, I know them, I have been one at various times, there is nothing wrong with that. But it didn’t fit the story I was trying to tell. And I was no longer writing the kind of story that I love to read.

So I made the following list, in no particular order, of the female heroines of fantasy, YA, and children’s literature that I absolutely have LOVED (and you will notice, some of the ladies below are more properly supporting characters than protagonists, but for me they were the best parts of their respective works).  As I continue to work on this elusive project, I will be re-reading these works and others as they occur to me, with an eye to picking apart exactly HOW these authors made these smart, determined, competent young women/girls who can overcome the crap that is thrown at them without ever being pathetic or whiny – even though they are all also in some way vulnerable. I am giving myself bonus points if I can figure out why I like these characters more than others in the same books/series/world.

  • Jennifer Strange, from Jasper Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam
  • Both Alianne Cooper and Dovasary Balitang, from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster duo
  • Roald Dahl’s Mathilda
  • Door, from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere
  • Lucy Pevensie, from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia
  • Enna, from Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern
  • Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking
  • Dot, from Charles Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth
  • Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet
  • Julie Campbell Tatham’s Trixie Belden

So, help me out – who do you think of when you think of strong, smart, competent female characters in genre fiction?

Party at the Polling Place

IMG_0548-0.JPG

I like to be at the polls when they open. My precinct has a good system of early voting, but my preference is always to go on The Day. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but it reminds me of that very first election I was finally able to participate in after I turned 18.

Hubs and I got there about 15 minutes early, and I almost cried tears of joy. The parking lot was already nearly half full. I have never seen that strong of a turnout in my precinct for a mid-term. First in line was a young couple that I know in that special small-town way of “knowing” people – she is the manager of a local fast-food place; my son worked for her briefly during high school. He has a brother who used to attend our church. I see them there, at the polls first thing in the morning, every other year. It’s like a regular appointment.

Other people who waited there with us included a bunch of hunters in camo with orange caps, a team of construction workers, and a really nice lady right in front of me who saw my leather jacket and struck up conversation about motorcycles.

It was cold out there waiting, but everyone was cheerful, chatty, friendly. There was one man there “electioneering,” but he was also pleasant, stayed outside the perimeter, and really didn’t DO anything at all. He just said “good morning” and “welcome” to everyone who arrived while wearing hi candidate’s t-shirt.

When the doors opened up, The election officials were all friendly and jovial as well. It was all very fun, far more pleasant than I had expected given how contentious some of our races were. But the most exciting thing was the turnout! I know all kinds of different factions had strong GOTV pushes this year, I was so thrilled to see what looks like actual results!

Have you voted already? I don’t want to know who you voted for or what your hot button issues are. That is entirely your personal business. But please, if you haven’t yet, go and vote!

NaNoWriMo Notes

First two days of NaNo are in the past. I went to my first ever write-in last night, it was actually pretty cool. I was not sure how distracting it would be to write in the presence of half a dozen other people, but it was surprisingly motivating. There was some distracting conversation and some of it was my doing – another user was having trouble with Scrivener and I tried to help. I failed, of course, because she has the PC version and I made the Mac jump last May, but I gave it a shot.

I think I’ve found my characters’ voice, or at least the beginnings of it. At the end of scene two I still was not sure how my MC should be responding to a particular stimuli, so I decided I needed to get to know her better. I went backwards – I had an elaborate backstory in my head, but I decided to write the inciting incident down from three different POVs – MC, antagonist, and sidekick. I don’t consider this wasted time, because a lot of this backstory will eventually be dribbled into the full work.

How do you get to know your characters better?

NASA releases actual recordings from space — and they’re absolutely breathtaking

Haunting …

Consequence of Sound

Earlier this year, Lefse Records released The Space Project, in which acts like Beach House, Spiritualized, The Antlers, and more used actual recordings from the Voyager space probe to create songs and soundscapes. Though a neat gimmick, with some intriguing submissions, the resulting album didn’t necessarily reflect the true sonic aesthetic of our solar system. For that, we turn to NASA, who has shared actual electromagnetic recordings taken from throughout our very own solar system.

No one may be able to hear you scream in space, but that whole great, black abyss miles above our heads is just teeming with noises. From the brooding, slightly ambient rumblings of Saturn and its rings to the more romantic Neptune, which sounds like sitting on a back porch in Tennesse in mid-July, our solar system’s soundtrack is as emotionally-nuanced as it is almost cinematic. Just wait till you hear what Uranus sounds like, though.

Listen in below…

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