Remember when I said something about this crazy idea called NaNoWriMo. No? Really? Allow me to refresh should you be so inclined.
Did I win? Well if you mean write 50K words then no. If you mean getting in to the habit of writing everyday, however, then…still no. Writing more? Yes, a little. Fooling myself into thinking I could make this a career and claw my way out of the depths of English teaching? (Which really isn’t that bad to be honest, my schedule is sooooo slack.)
Well yes and no. I did learn this kind of thing [Writing] is a slow pot to boil and you have to heat it with book matches you picked up from a scummy bar on the bad side of town. And you have to do it one at at time. Forever. It’s enough to make a person go insane.
Anyway, how far did I get? Just over 25,000 words. Which is more than I’ve ever put down about anything. For comparison the novel I started last year for NaNoWriMo currently sits at about 9000 words. And I’m thinking of putting a bullet it its metaphorical head and sweep it away. No sir, I don’t like it.
But this one I like and think I could finish it. I just committed an ultimate sin by letting other entertainment take precedent over writing. This is because I wrote myself somewhere that just made my motivation go limp like over cooked spaghetti. Anyway, to boost my own ego somewhat (and provide a little meat to this pity party) I’ll attach the second ‘chapter’ to my novella down here at the bottom. You might remember the first part, if not here. Look at it!
Just a warning. I still haven’t edited any of this so it could be crap. Especially since it’s completely new. The first chapter was about a third old material. This one…is not. Well anyway, enjoy.
Yokai Blues: Chapter 2
Tom smacked the side of the printer with one giant blue fist. A small panel on the side of the printer said “Built Oni Tough!” Tom cracked it a few more times before it resumed spewing out paper. The hulking blue figure, dressed in the latest color vomit Harajuku calls fashion, nodded once at the offending computer equipment.
“That’ll teach you,” he said. Tom gave it another light thwack for good measure. When he turned back to his desk he saw Nick standing in the doorway, sipping a can of vending machine coffee. Tom looked back at the printer, then to Nick.
“How long were you standing there?” he asked.
“Since about three smacks ago,” Nick said. Tom turned back to the printer and narrowed his eyes at it. The bangs of his spiked, bleached-blond perm dipped low over his plucked eyebrows.
“It’ll get some more if it doesn’t behave,” he said.
“If you break it, it’ll come out of your paycheck. Not mine,” Nick said as he crossed the small office to his desk.
“Don’t worry,” Tom said, “This one’s got a year warranty against abuse by ogres.”
“And how long have we had it?” Nick said. He sat down in his chair with a small grunt. He reached down to open the lowest desk drawer. The sound of shuffling papers and cursing soon followed.
“About 11 months,” Tom said, still glaring at the printer as it calmly printed off reports like nothing had happened. He turned back to Nick.
“You finished that bottle last Friday, remember?” Tom said. Nick popped his head back over the top of his desk.
“Damnit, you’re right,” he said, standing up. Nick pointed a finger at Tom. “Just make sure when you do break it, it’s still within warranty unlike last time.” Tom started to say something but Nick cut him off.
“And no more about how you forgot it was a national holiday or whatever. You had the day off for a reason.” Nick scanned the room looking for more whiskey.
“Actually I was going to ask if you’d like me to go to the liquor store for you,” Tom grinned at Nick, showing off two rows of perfectly white, pointy teeth. “Because we’re out of whiskey.” Nick dropped back into his chair.
“Yes, please,” he said, waving Tom away, “You know where I keep the hooch money.” After Tom had shut the door, Nick pulled his hat over his eyes and leaned back to take a nap.
Nick stumbled awake when Tom came back to the office. He gave his head a vigorous shake to scatter the dreams of pencil thin metal claws. Tom pulled out several bottles of whiskey, a large one for general use and guests, two smaller ones of higher quality for Nick’s personal stash, and two cans of cold beer.
“To take the edge off the afternoon,” Tom said, gesturing to the beer. Nick glanced at his watch. It was already after three in the afternoon.
“How long were you gone?” Nick asked.
“Only about ten minutes,” Tom said, “You’re the one that staggered in here so late. What kept you?”
“Didn’t sleep well, woke up late,” Nick said. He grabbed one of the beers, cracked it, then took a few hearty swigs. A satisfied sigh, straight out of a commercial, escaped his lips. “Also,” he took another sip of beer, “I had to stop by the local police box to return something.”
“That file on the massage fox?” Tom said. He opened his beer. Nick looked at Tom, eyes sharp. He’d assumed both beers were for him. Tom either failed to notice or chose not to react so Nick let it go.
“That’s the one,” Nick set his beer down on the desk and began to twist it back and forth between his fingers. He tapped on the sides of the can a few times before taking another swallow of the crisp brew.
“She the one you were always talking about?” Tom said, “The one that’d let you sleep it off at her place for the minimum fee?” Nick nodded. He didn’t want to say anything at the moment so he just drank his beer to avoid it.
“Terrible way to go,” Tom said in that detached way most people talk about the dead they didn’t know.
“Yeah,” Nick said between sips of his beer. It was almost half empty by now. He would have to switch to whiskey soon. The sat there for awhile in silence, drinking. Outside several emergency vehicles drove by, sirens at full volume. Nick liked to try and guess which kind they were just by the sound; police, ambulance, or firetruck. He was never very good. Even after all of these years he had trouble telling the difference. The variations between them were more subtle than back home.
Tom finished his beer and crumpled it in one great hand. He took aim at the recycle bin from where he was standing like he was about to shoot a free-throw. Nick could almost hear the crowds cheering in Tom’s head from the serious look on his face. Tom let the can fly. Nick watched it arc perfectly and land two feet short of the bin. Nick laughed.
“Your form is great but you have to work on your range,” he said. Tom stomped over to the can. He picked it up then stomped back to Nick.
“Think you can do better?” he said, offering the can to Nick. Nick took it with an exaggerated bow. He leaned back in his chair and raised his arm. A casual flick of the wrist and a second later the can hit the bottom of the bin with a solid clunk. Nick raised both arms over his head, hands balled into victory fists, and looked at Tom. His face was deadpan, no expression except the light of success flashing behind his eyes. Tom shrugged his knotty shoulders then went back to his desk.
“Lucky shot,” he said over his shoulder. Nick put his arms down and picked up his beer. He finished it with a smile. Crushed the can between both hands then took aim again.
“1000 yen says you miss,” Tom said from his seat.
“You’re on,” Nick said. He took the time to calm his nerves. Every beer can that went from full to empty because of Nick ended up getting tossed at the recycle bucket. He usually made more than he missed but that was always at night after Tom had gone home.
“Either shoot or get off the bowl,” Tom said. He still had trouble with some English idioms. Nick flicked his wrist and let the can fly. This one too found its home in the bottom of the bin. Nick left his shooting arm in the air, slowly raised his other above his head, and then swiveled his chair around to face Tom. Nick’s face was the same expressionless mask. Tom looked like he had just tasted a sour milk and fermented soybean smoothie. Nick lowered one hand and made the time honored, hand over the money gesture. Tom walked over to Nick, muttering and cursing in Japanese as he pulled out his wallet. When Nick tried to take the bill Tom offered the big blue ogre clenched it in his fingers.
“You know I could snap your neck like a chicken,” Tom said.
“And you know that I spend all my train fare on booze so how about you let me enjoy my triumph?”
They stared at each other for a heartbeat before both started laughing. Tom let go of the money and Nick was quick to put it in his wallet before Tom changed his mind.
“So what’s with the interest in this fox?” Tom asked once he was back behind his desk. Nick reached for one of the smaller bottles of whiskey. He looked around but the only things on his desk were random papers of a long forgotten nature and wrappers from various quick and unhealthy food type products.
“I’ll tell you if you bring me a glass with some ice in it,” Nick said. Tom stopped typing on his comically large keyboard. Nick saw Tom roll his eyes but let it slide since the brute was getting him what he’d asked for. When Tom came back with a glass dotted with water spots and three weak looking ice cubes, Nick accepted it in an overly polite manner. Tom chuckled a little at Nick’s antics. Nick poured about two shots worth of whiskey into the glass and swirled it around to chill. He took a slow sip, savoring the burn on his lips and tongue. Nick sank back into his chair. It was then that he noticed Tom sitting on the edge of his desk, looking not unlike a child waiting to be read a bedtime story.
“So,” Tom said, “You and the fox? Did you…?” He made a rude gesture with his thumb and pinky. Nick tried not to rise to the bait but his denial didn’t sound honest enough for Tom. The Oni slapped his knee and laughed.
“I knew it!” he said. “You always had a thing for those types!”
“Need I remind you that whatever our relationship was, she’s dead now?” Nick said. He sipped his drink. Tom’s smile came crashing back to Earth and he apologized. Nick shook his head.
“No worries,” Nick said, “But yes, I did know her. So when I heard she was found stuffed into a trash can yesterday I called in a favor and borrowed the investigation file for the night.”
“Find anything interesting?” Tom asked.
“Strangest thing,” Nick said between sips of whiskey, “The report said that all of the physical damage done to her happened after death. Due to trying to fit her into the can.”
“Cause of death?” Tom said.
“Suffocation apparently. But no signs of strangulation. We won’t know more until the toxicology comes back.”
“All in all, it doesn’t sound that out of the ordinary,” Tom said.
“Well the kicker is,” Nick paused to refill his glass, “Her entire body, head to paw, was stained yellow. Like she’d been soaking in lemon juice or something.”
“It wasn’t paint?”
“Didn’t appear so. From the photos I saw the stain wasn’t covering her fur, it had seeped in right down to the root. The officers at the scene seemed to agree with me.” Tom crossed his arms in thought.
“That’s pretty strange,” he said. Then he pointed at Nick’s whiskey, “Think I can get a dose of that?”
“You’ll have to get your own glass,” Nick said, smiling. Tom lumbered off to the kitchen area once again, cursing under his breath. While Tom was in the kitchen the phone rang. Nick checked his watch, almost four o’clock. Technically he was still open. He swirled his glass again and decided to let it go to the machine.
“Answering machine’s broke, remember?” Tom yelled from the kitchen. Nick cursed and answered the phone. It was his friend from the station. Another stained fox had turned up in Roppongi. Nick thanked his friend and hung up.
“Skip the whiskey Tom,” Nick said, putting on his coat, “We’ve got another one.”
So I’m still clicking along like some mad steam work auto-writing…..thing. Anyway, after about 2500 words last night I managed to fall short by about 300 words of par for day seven. But I consider it a victory since I was about 1200 in the hole before that. Don’t try to do the math, it’s confusing to me too.
I’m sitting on a story right now with a little more than 11,000 words. That feels impressive to me. I had started another novel last year during nanowrimo and had been picking at it ever since. Let’s check how many words that beast has.
Under 9000?!?!!!! *cough*
Yes, I’ve written almost half again as much in one week as I did in a year for the other novel. This was when I started thinking about what I was taking away from this experiment.
THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT WRITING FROM NANOWRIMO (Or: Shit I should’ve known already)
1. Holy crap plotting is super effective!
I’m not saying you need to plot. Some people like to do things by the seat of their pants (or pantsers as they’re known to all the cool people) and that’s what I did for the first book I mentioned. But let’s also compare output. ~9000 words in a year compared to ~11,000 words in a week. It’s really great to be able to sit down and have an idea about where to go next. Thinking of plot is time not spent writing other kick ass stuff, like robots having cooking battles in kitchens made of fire.
You don’t have to stick to the plot either! That’s the best part! I plotted a chase scene but by the time I got to that part it made more sense for the characters to get arrested instead. (Oops spoilers!) And you know what? That doesn’t matter either because I can just go change it later! Writing is bitchin!
2. You need to do the work.
I’m sure I’ll have many people that will scoff at the idea that “writing” is “work”. I spent sixteen years working at a gas station in the blazing heat AND snow at the same time! My pay check was 15 cents and that was enough to buy milk and bread for a month but the only store was uphill both ways with bear traps every 10 yards and if you cried when you stepped in one you got the switch to your backside for being a sissy. AND WE LIKED IT!!!!!!
Woah…yeah that is certainly a lot more work than I do making up fairies and demons. It’s harder than my real job, teaching English, a language I was fortunate enough to grow up speaking.
AND THERE WERE BEES EVERYWHERE WITH STINGERS THE SIZE OF CAR ANTENNAS!!!!
Holy shit dude calm down, I understand. All I’m saying is writing to a word count won’t happen magically. If that is what you’re after you need to sit the hell down and do it. That’s the biggest difference between my story last year and my story this year. I’ve been sitting down, usually late at night after work and fucking about on the internet for too long but I still get in there in the word hive. Up to my elbows in word honey. Swollen all over from the awful word stings by word bees…
Ok I’ll stop.
3. My god the typos.
Not too much to say but while trying to crank out 2000 words in an hour to meet a self imposed deadline I start to wonder if I’m not secretly dyslexic given the amount of really simple words I screw up all the time.
Thanks for reading. I’m out of ideas and about to dash out for about six solid hours of running around the city like a crazy person trying to earn a living. Comments appreciated, responded to when I can remember that I should be doing this “engage the audience” thing I’ve heard so much about.
It has begun. The NaNoWriMo is upon us. Don’t worry I won’t be constantly talking about it but since this is the first day and I got my word count goal finished (Though I did cheat a little by taking about 500 words directly from another story I had written) I thought it would be a good post to put up. I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee at home so I was thinking of doing a review about instant coffee here in Japan. If you have any recommendations let me know.
Anyway as a special treat here is the complete first scene from my novella. Only 26 more to go!
Nick shoved his front door open. It sticks in the humid summer heat. He put a little too much force into it so the door crashed against the opposite wall of his cramped entryway. It was late but the other residents of the tired, worn out guesthouse were prone to slamming doors at all hours, so Nick didn’t care about his noise.
Despite the trouble, he did try his best to slide the door shut with some degree of courtesy for the neighbors. It didn’t work too well but he knew the short bang could have been worse. Nick set his keys on a dusty ledge next to the sink and slipped off his shoes. The light in the kitchen was an old fashioned pull string switch, hanging from a frayed main wire. When Nick turned it on the kitchen was bathed in a depressing yellow glow. Nick paused by the sink to gaze at the stack of dirty dishes sitting there, stagnant water making a foul soup from his left-overs. He glanced at the files in his left hand, then back to the sink, then to the grocery bag in his right containing a bottle of cheap red wine and nothing else. There was no need for clean dishes if he didn’t plan to cook anything.
Nick went into the main room and sat down on his uncomfortable couch and turned on his 32’ plasma TV. Nick was a man of simple pleasures and a strong tolerance for filth. It came with the job. His penchant for electronic gadgets, however, is where most of his disposable income went. He flipped through the channels and settled on a shampoo commercial. The file still in his hands was choaked with papers, wrapped with a thick, red rubber band. Nick dropped it on the table. He pulled the bottle of wine out and tossed the bag aside. With a practiced twist of his wrist he cracked the screw top. He didn’t waste his time or money on wine fancy enough to have corks.
Nick leaned back on the couch, resting his legs on the short, IKEA brand, wood-like coffee table. He had the file on his lap and his cup of cheap wine in his hand. The rubber band took some deft movements to remove it without spilling his drink, but eventually he got it open. On top was a stack of typed reports. Dry, boring affairs that Nick had read at the office. Some parts were redacted, however, as his source within the department wasn’t exactly at the top of the ladder. Still, he always came through when Nick asked for a favor as best he could. Nick set the reports aside carefully, he needed to return the file before work in the morning, then picked up the first of the crime scene photos.
It was a close up shot of her face. The patch of fur under her throat was once white but had turned a deep yellow. Not the kind of yellow that they use in commercials for lemon scented cleanser. No, that was a happy kind of yellow. Fresh and vibrant. The yellow on the fox’s neck was dull and dirty. The color of phlegm during a strong cold. Nick remembered a time in high school chemistry class when he spilled some iodine solution on the floor. Those tiles were stained instantly. He was just happy that none got on his shoes. As far as he knew, the stain was still there. This shade of yellow staring back at him from the photo brought all these memories back from deep corners of his brain.
The next photo in the stack was a picture as he remembered her. A modest pose, perhaps part of a modeling portfolio. She’d mentioned that sort of thing a few times while she was walking on his back, working the stress from his shoulders with her delicate feet. The picture was likely the one the police would take around the neighborhood. Potential witnesses don’t react well to gruesome photos of corpses. He knew this first hand but sometimes those kind of shots were all he could get his hands on. Nick set the good picture aside. Massage girls that turn up dead don’t often get the full attention of the Metropolitan Police. That goes double for foxes. Nick was sure this one wouldn’t be missed.
The rest of the pictures were shots from every angle of her, the alley she was found in, and the recycle bin she had been stuffed into. No visible wounds or damage except those suffered from the gymnastics required to fit into such a small container. Coroners report suggested that she moved into her new digs post-mortem. Took the boys an hour to get her out she was crammed in there so tight. Every inch of her was stained the same horrible yellow color.
Nick closed the file then finished his glass of wine. When he reached for the bottle he was a little surprised to find it already empty. He glanced at the clock in the bottom corner of his TV. It was late, so the grocery was closed, but there was another convenience store a minute walk from his place. He stood on unstable feet, struggled into some pants, grabbed his keys, then headed out to buy some beer.
Nick arrived into that haze between sleep and waking. His sheets were twisted around his body in a corkscrew, the covers long since kicked to the floor. The air conditioner coughed on the wall above. It had given up on it’s duties to make the room comfortable and had instead chosen a path of dripping foul smelling water onto the floor. To describe the air it belched forth as mustier than a desiccated corpse would be doing it a service. The many layers of padding scrounged from friends that made up his bed had shifted during the night and had arranged themselves into a mosaic of lumpy uncomfortableness. That spidery, itching feeling Nick had on his arm could have been cockroaches wandering past or just the imagination. At this point Nick was unsure which and had long since crashed through the wall of not giving a shit.
He tried to sit up and reach for his water glass that he kept on a nearby table. However, this was impeded by a heavy weight sitting on his chest. Heavier than a cat and lighter than a box made of iron it sat there in the dark, restricting Nick to his unwashed prison of sheets.
He rubbed the gunk from his eyes and tried to figure out what the hell was sitting on him so casually. Dirty gray sunlight was starting to filter through the nicotine stained drapes but it was hardly enough light to clarify any detail no matter how obvious.
I killed your friend.
The amorphous darkness on his stomach had spoken. Though not quite speak as much as echo inside Nick’s skull. He attempted to engage it in conversation.
The shape came closer and against all laws of physics as Nick understood them, he saw the pale morning sunlight flash off of five slender steel claws. Thin as a pencil lead they were. The beast, as he now considered it, dragged these filaments across his cheek.
The friend you always kept with you.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nick said.
The beast withdrew his thin claws from my face but Nick could hear them in the dark. A smell of honeyed wine drifted through his nostrils. Other scents lingered there. Freshly poured beer over cut grass. The smell of a concrete sidewalk after he’d sprayed it with a hose. Smells of summer back home. What torture was this?
You abandoned her.
“This is so not what I need right now,” Nick said, “I’ve got work in the morning.”
The creature rushed him. All Nick could see was a darkness that deepened but the smell hit him with the power of a subway train. It took a brief moment to place it but he knew the stench all too well. It was the smell of a third dry heave, head stuffed firmly into a porcelain bowl. Praying to anything that will listen to please release him from this horrific pain. Then it came, the muscle pain and acidic bile rushed up his whole body.
That is what this creature smelled of now. What it made him experience again in vivid detail. He tried to look at it’s face but saw only a swirling black. It grabbed Nick with those thin metal claws and twisted his head around, as if it was searching for something. The thing leaned down and Nick heard it sniff him. Rapid and broken like a dog searching for a treat hidden inside his skin.
She wasn’t the first. She won’t be the last. I have your scent now. Sleep well.
Nick’s eye snapped open and he shifted around in his bed, trying to regain his sense of place. He was covered in sweat despite only having a thin sheet over his body. He stared hard at the shapes in the room, frightful things that he knew by instinct were nothing dangerous. He just had to let his eyes adjust. After a dream like that it was difficult. The sinister figure with bat-like wings eventually coalesced in to his laundry, hanging up to dry. The evil clown face on the ceiling turned back into his overhead lamp. After much internal coaxing, Nick’s brain woke up enough for the world to return to normal. Nick swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. He massaged his eyes in the still dark room. He checked the time on his nearby phone. Still several hours until sunrise. Nick knew he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep though.
He went into the kitchen to set a kettle boiling for coffee. While he waited for the whistle he searched underneath the sink for his emergency bottle of whiskey. It was set all the way in the back, past the pipes, to discourage unnecessary use. In Nick’s opinion, nightmares on the level of the one he just had qualified as a whiskey emergency. The kettle went off, spewing hot steam into the air. Nick turned off the burner then poured his cup. The coffee was instant but the decent kind that included the milk and sugar in the powder. Three steps, boil water, open package into cup, introduce coffee powder to water. He usually didn’t have to stir it either. Three steps was about the most that Nick was interested in when it came to food or drink.
He tried to take a sip but soon regretted it. Still too hot, the coffee burned his tongue. Nick went to check the front door while he waited for his coffee to cool. What he saw almost made him drop the cup. Only the strong repulsion to cleaning lodged deep in his lizard brain kept his fingers around the handle.
On the inside of the door, five razor thin, equally spaced lines were carved into the poor quality wood.
So while I was waiting for the people to show up and test my smoke detectors (they didn’t by the way) I was up and about much earlier than usual. So I went ahead and signed up for NaNoWriMo. For those not in the know that stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50k word novel by the end of November.
Now there are detractors and supporters of this event. Most of the arguments against are about how 50k words is not exactly enough for a novel, it encourages absolute crap to be written, floods the market with dreck so that publishers and agents go into hiding. On the positive, to reach the goal you have to write at least an average of 1,667 words per day for an entire month which is no walk in the park. This breeds discipline and instills the writing habit into people. Plus there’s a pretty big community, according to the website about 1500 people are signed up in Japan. Seems like a good size to me.
I’ve decided to approach this more as discipline exercise and style test. When I do writing exercises for myself I like to have rule sets. I’ve done a lot of 30 minute writing, 30 minute editing stories with a stopwatch, just for an example. So I hope to approach this more as a Novella writing month and not a novel one. But who knows what will happen? I’m still chipping away at the book I started last November after all.
So my rule set is this: 3 Acts -> 3 Sequences per Act -> 3 Scenes per Sequence
This will give me 27 scenes and to make the goal each will have to be about 1850 words a piece. I’m going to shoot for around 2000 and try to get at least one done a day so I can finish a little early. We’ll see. Here’s what I’m thinking of for the “hook” so to speak.
Nicholas “Nick” McLeod is a freelance detective/social worker who, along with his 7-foot, blue-skinned partner, Tom, delves the depths of modern-day Tokyo’s Yokai population until one day a mysterious shadow invades his apartment and soon after the “monsters” he’s worked with in the past start turning up dead.
So gritty-noir-crime-mystery-Japanese mythology novella. Hope it’s got legs.