Every once in a while you see something that makes you all giggly and enthusiastic about how marvellous the human race is.

I found this on my friend Jasoni's blog. It is jaw-droppingly magnificent. One of the commenters on YouTube wrote, "These two are going to stay married forever," and I can only say, "I certainly hope so." (Trust me -- bear with the first 20 seconds or so, and you'll see. It's absolutely glorious.)


Did it did it did it did it!

You may applaud now.


Clarion South 2007 Throwdown -- I enter the fray.

"I'll have the eye of the tiger in orange sauce," said Mertrude. "And a side of fried larks' eardrums."

"Burger and chips for me, thanks," I added. I always tried to keep things simple when I was with Mertrude, as a sort of apology to the world for my sister. I knew it wasn't my fault she was the way she was. But that didn't take away the clammy, clinging feeling of responsibility, of needing to compensate.

It all only served to enable her behavior, I knew that, I knew that. As long as her little brother was along, the feathers would be smoothed, the valleys exalted, the hills made low, the rough places planed. Hallelujah.

Mertrude's amazing talents explained everything: her sense of entitlement, her dictatorial manner, her insistance on the finest things, in spite -- because -- of the trouble she caused. She came at the world swinging fists of steel, and the careless and weak flew left and right from her gauntlets.

[This may or may not end up being one of my throwdown stories, but something in my subconscious is compelling me, Manchurian-Candidate-style, to include "eye of the tiger" and "fists of steel" on my blog at least once each week. By the way, I just broke 49,000 for NaNo. And I've barely begun cleaning up after the Illawarra Festival of Southern Barbecue.]

Night has drawn the curtain on another Illawarra Festival of Southern Barbecue.

People came and ate. And ate. They left very little food uneaten. I didn't get to talk much with very many people, for some reason, but I'm glad they all came to have barbecue with us. This year the festival was significantly smaller, but that's probably just as well, because there wouldn't have been enough barbecue for too many more. I think I have to find a way to smoke meat more efficiently -- it nearly knocked me over to spend yesterday smoking three chickens, a pork shoulder and a rump roast. But a gen-yoo-wine smoker would cost the earth and be too big to move easily if we were to move house. Sure would like one, though. (Note to all interested in barbecue: rump is not an ideal cut to smoke. It's way, way too lean. Still, it was smoked, and it was drenched with spicy Texas-style sauce, and therefore it was barbecue.)

I really, really like cooking good food for people I care about. And those who tried the beer really liked it, which was also very fun, as we made it ourselves (more or less).

I even managed to squeak out enough words today to bump my word count just over 45,000. Which means I now have five days to write five thousand words. I think it is possible.


The next phase of preparations has begun.

The meat is smoking. One chicken is already done; the second will be done in a half hour; the third awaits. I am utterly fragranced with hickory smoke.

I have tried something new this year: jerk chicken. It's Jamaican -- basically, spiced, smoked chicken. I've been smoking it at a temperature somewhat higher than I'm using for the pork and beef (about 225F for the chicken, and about 190F for the pork and beef), and it seems to achieve a happy medium between "done enough" and "not too dry". I pretty much used the recipe in the link above, except that I couldn't get Scotch bonnet chillis, which apparently do make a difference (so I just used what was in the supermarket), and I couldn't smoke over pimento (allspice) wood or over allspice berries, because the wood is unobtainable and the berries are a tad too expensive and hard to find for that sort of thing. The hickory is working fine.

Oh! I also recently found hickory chunks, as opposed to just little chips, and boy does it make a difference! The smoke is nicer and more subtle, the chunks contribute to keeping the heat more even, and each chunk lasts for hours! Boo, chips; yay, chunks!

So at this point I have most of the side dishes made and in the freezer (macaroni and cheese, baked beans, stewed apples, and coconut vegetable curry). I have two amazing chickens, with a third about to hit the heat, so at least my guests will get SOME smoked food, even if the pork and beef don't work out. The house is not very messy, so we won't have all that much cleaning to do tomorrow. I'll need to make the cornbread and salad, and set up the steam tray with the meat and sauces. The beer is stored under the house, and the weather has been fairly cool recently so it should be in good shape to drink.

The signs are favorable for another excellent homage to the alchemical art of barbecue!

Day Twenty-Three: Keeping up

I'm keeping up with the word count. I'm not as far ahead of the minimum as I would have liked, but I'm still ahead. It's still very plausible that I'll make the 50,000 by the 30th, or even a day or two early. Current count: 43,806. Recommended (based on a daily average of 1,667): 38,341. Which is a nice margin.

I've let myself in for more madness: a few of my Clarion buddies decided to challenge each other: have three new stories completed, ready to send, by Christmas. I asked if I could play, too, and they reckoned that would be all right with them -- "the more, the merrier," wrote one. So: once NaNo is finished, I throw myself into that little adventure.

Speaking of adventures, I tested tonight for another belt at my karate school. It was fairly physically tough, but I got through. And I've got a new color belt (purple, which in this school equates to roughly what blue belt does in my DC school). A belt test at the Wollongong school always brings home to me very sharply indeed how badly I miss my DC school, and my teacher and friend, Sensei Carol Middleton. No matter how good the Wollongong school is, it's just not home.

In other news, tomorrow I go get the meat for the Big Smoke -- making barbecue for Sunday's Illawarra Festival of Southern Barbecue.

Oh! It is tomorrow! Maybe I should try and get some sleep.


Word geeks! Waste time AND feed the hungry!!

Click on the graphic. Go to the site. Play the vocabulary quiz (and before too many rounds it will challenge you. I'm a serious vocabulary daemon, and I gotta tell you, they've found some really obscure words). Glance at the ads at the bottom of the page if you want to.

Meanwhile, as thanks for your voluntarily exposing your retinas to a few tiny banners along the bottom of the screen, the advertisers are paying for a few grains of rice for every screen you look at. This rice is fed to starving people through the work of the United Nations World Food Program. Could this be any cooler?

It's fun!

It's challenging!

It feeds the hungry!

Go! Click! Do!


Midway through Day Twenty-One: 40,014

Yes, I've broken 40K. Gracious, I wasn't sure at the beginning I'd even get this far. Well, that's not strictly true. Experience has made me fairly confident in my ability to meet deadlines. But this isn't a deadline for a client, it's just a sort of silly deadline. So I was curious whether I'd be able to trick myself into taking it as seriously as a deadline for a client, or whether I'd let it slip because it wasn't.

So far, I've been able to trick myself.

Or, to put it another way, I've been able to take my own deadlines as seriously as I take other people's. Which is a far more profound and important thing for me. In a way, it means I'm taking my writing seriously. Which also means I'm entitled to expect that others will, too. I'm not a hobbyist, I'm a professional. And I'm not bad. Publish me, damn it! (Although I'm not sure that exact phrasing would go over well with agents or editors.)


Day Nineteen: Noon, and no progress yet.

I'm just a teensy leetle bit resistant to further labor on this book. I'm just saying, is all.

Margaret's latest success and Day Eighteen word count

First, Margaret's latest success: she was awarded Student of the Year for her age group at our karate school -- woo-hoo!

Day Eighteen word count: 35,020. I'm 70 percent done, with only 60 percent of the days done; or, to put it another way, my average daily minimum has dropped from 1,667 on Day One to about 1,300. Which means I'm keeping up, and more than keeping up. This is making me feel very pleased.

I cooked an elaborate dinner for Houston on his birthday: beer-and-honey-braised veal roast with carrots and potatoes, steamed broccoli, and -- for dessert -- a chocolate-macadamia pound cake. With frosting. Nothing succeeds like excess. The dinner was delicious, if I do say it myself, and that also made me feel very pleased.

My headcold seems to have finally taken the hint that it's not wanted, and that has made me feel very pleased.

Will I write another 2,000 words -- or more -- tomorrow?


Houston has started blogging.

My learned, skilled, and articulate husband Houston has just started a blog. If you've ever wondered what composers think about, you should check it out. Really, they're not all that different from you and me. Much.

In other news, the NaNo slowdown continues. I'm only up to 32,025 words -- in other words, thank God I put that cushion in place when I could.

For some of the worst (yet fairly funny) anti-NaNo vitriol, see Sean Lindsay's 101 Reasons to Stop Writing. I can't help wondering where he gets the energy and motivation to be so negative. Being that cranky, and that concerned with others' business, has got to be hard work.


Day Fifteen: 28,729 and a slight slowdown

I'm slightly less far ahead than I was a day or two ago. I tell myself that's why I struggled so hard to get ahead, because of days like this when I just don't squeeze enough words out for one reason or another.

Really, I have no idea why I'm even writing this post. There have been no revolutionary goings-on in the last day or two about which I must, must, must update you, Faithful Reader. I'm rambling. I think this may be a side-effect of NaNo. Hopefully it will not be permanent.


Day Thirteen: 26,032

More than halfway there, with more than half the month left -- I just may pull this off. I hate the NaNo opus itself, with its rambling dialogue, extraneous characters and scenes, mop of dangling loose ends, and overall bloated, overwrought style. But at least I'm getting the words out. I am the Deadline Queen! (Years of writing and editing for a living have given me a very, very healthy respect for deadlines, something that makes my clients very happy. I only wish I had an agent and an editor, so it could make them happy, too. And my readers -- thousands and thousands of readers waiting for my next book -- I could make them happy, too -- if they existed.)

By the way, a couple of other Wrimos have dedicated their word counts to the striking writers as well. If any of you striking writers are out there Googling the strike and you happen to find this blog, know that there are writers all over the world who are thinking of you and pulling for you -- and thanking you. Stay strong....

Day Twelve: 24,010

Still slightly ahead of the curve! Starting to get really, really tired of the process! Hoping for that magic moment that was promised to Wrimos, when all the desolation and weariness would lift, and I would skip happily into a new realm of writerly consciousness! Hasn't happened yet!


The Hollywood Writers' Strike

From the United Hollywood blog:

On Wednesday this man was holding his own, rather loud, protest. Then, he stopped shouting and asked what we picketers were protesting about. After hearing about the strike, he started a new chant: "Moses was a writer! Moses was a writer!"

The strike doesn't really affect me here in Australia. We don't watch that much television, and most of the American stuff we get is a few months behind anyway (which means I very well may feel the effects long after the strike is settled). But equity for writers is something I, obviously, feel strongly about.

There's a nice little video on YouTube that explains the writers' position.

I wonder what kind of strange symmetry puts the writers' strike in the middle of NaNoWriMo.... I hereby dedicate today's word count to the striking writers. Thanks, y'all, for fighting for all of us!

Update: Word count 3,605. Thanks again, striking writers. I support and appreciate your fight.


Closing night for "The Salad of Success" and NaNoWriMo Day 10

My word count was a tad low today (I'm up to 18,621), in part because it was closing night for "The Salad of Success" (Wollongong production), so of course I wanted to be there and of course we hung around for a while at the closing party. So now it's really late and I'll just write a lot tomorrow. I'm still slightly ahead of the game even though I've had two not-enough-words days in a row. That's okay, that's why I wrote myself a buffer zone to begin with.

The party was a very nice time. Many, many people told me many, many nice things about my play, which can only be a good thing. The actors had fun doing it, and they did a good job. And the director overcame a lot of hurdles (including a cast member who just...quit between one weekend's performances and the next) to make the play come to life. Everyone at the party -- actors, crew, producers, directors, writers, friends -- was very positive and very cheerful. (And I have to say, even in my limited amount of interaction over the years with the world of theatre, I have already realized how rare this is.)

Overall, this production of "Salad" has been an extremely positive experience. I'm glad I was involved, I met some cool people, good theatre happened, and I learned a lot. What's not to like?


A nanobreak (from NaNoWriMo, get it, get it?) to bottle our beer.

A few weeks ago we made up a batch of beer at one of those brew-on-premises outfits, and this morning we went there again to bottle it. A very fun experience, all up. The proprietors were helpful and only a little condescending (and I'm sure they didn't mean to be), and it's always nice to talk with the fellow customers, all of whom are cheerful and friendly (as Australians usually are when it comes to beer). Homebrewing is extremely popular here, but we don't really have either the leisure or the appropriate space to do it properly at the moment, so this sort of thing is perfect for us.

And the beer turned out FABULOUS. Nice and rich and malty, just exactly the way I like it. Of course, you can pick from over 200 pre-fab "recipes"; the guys bottling their beer at the tap next to ours had made a Molsen-like brew that was quite nice (although it reminded me of why I switched to darker beers once I found out about them). We swapped a few tastes and a six of bottles with them, and they helped us carry our beer out to the car (next time, we'll use the smaller plastic tubs to hold the bottles).

I recommend brew-on-premises as a good bit of fun. Yes, I'd rather be doing the homebrew thing entirely, but for when that's not an option, this will more than do.

(By the way, one of the next-tap-over guys told us he did used to homebrew, a lot, but he packed on too much weight. A cautionary tale....)


Day Eight: 16,413

Tired. Head cold. Getting used to churning out the words. Friends are being very supportive. The Writing Demons took a flex today, and I didn't miss 'em in the slightest (they'll be crushed when they find out). I went to karate class, despite the head cold. This may have been rash. I am, at the moment, more than 3,000 words ahead of the tally recommended by the NaNo folks. (If you average 1,667 words per day, every day, you get your 50,000 by November 30. So far I am averaging just a very small tad over 2,000 words per day.) It's the wordcount. Wordcount numbers are rattling around the inside of my head like marbles in a glass jar. And about as quietly.

Is it a good idea to obsess so much about wordcount? It is for me, because if I can keep this up for a month, I'll have serious wordcount muscles, which are about the weakest of the major writing-muscle groups for me. I've got vocabulary, spelling, syntax, and grammar muscles that are the envy of many. My plot muscles seem to be okay, and my characterization muscles are at least adequate, according to critics. But being able to churn out wordcount has hitherto eluded me. Even at Clarion I seldom produced more than 1,000 or 1,500 words per day, and that was on a good day.

I'm finding it hard, on reflection, to believe that it's only been 10 months since I showed up in Brisbane for Clarion South. It's been a very, very action-packed 10 months, to say the least.


Day Seven: 14,203

I'm taking a break, having met my word goal for the day. I may write more on my NaNo piece later tonight, but I think I'd rather work on a story I'm hoping to have ready by the end of the month. I have some editing work presumably showing up this week as well, and if I can push all my projects along while keeping up with my NaNo goals and logging some billable hours, so much the better.

You'd be surprised at the vitriol there is out there on the Net regarding NaNoWriMo. Man, whatever happened to live and let live? A search on "nanowrimo wank" yields over 28,000 sites. "Nanowrimo stupid," over 885,000. Some actual examples:

The NaNoWriMo site is down.
This is a sign.
Even the pit of shit doesn’t want your book.

I can appreciate good writing. In fact, that's why I hate NaNoWriMo. It is full of the worst non-prose and utter dren the writing community has to offer. It is the Paris Hilton of the literary world; a trainwreck. A superficial, rushed, messy, diseased drunken trainwreck. And you know what, I bet the referenced Heiress could probably write better than most of the stuff I am exposed to during National Novel Writing Month.

I never heard of "dren" but I suppose it's like "dreck." Oh, I just looked it up; it's similar to "shit", apparently. Comes from a television show, or is "nerd" spelled backwards, depending on which source you consult.

Yes, the surreality of NaNoWriMo just keeps escalating.


Day Six: 12,024

The bloom is off the rose. The NaNo novel is crap. I'm crap. Everything is crap. The weather is crap. And still I write. And write. And write. Still ahead of the recommended word-count schedule. Procrastinating by reading the NaNoWriMo forums, where other Wrimos have procrastinated before me. Procrastinating by blogging. I procrastinated earlier today by, God help me, doing dishes. And even with all that, I grunted and strained and produced 2,600 little brown words. To be entirely accurate (based on Word's word-counting algorithm and as a result of some edits I did to earlier work, in case you're playing at home by doing the math), 2,599. Just for spite, I will not go back and add one more word. Ha ha, Writing Demons! I foil you thus!

This is becoming a very surreal experience.


Day Five: 9,424

I'm still ahead of the required average daily word rate, although my lead has lessened. (Tonight was State Emergency Service night, which demands both time and energy, and yesterday I didn't write a word because I spent the day with my family doing fun family things.) Perhaps tomorrow I can build that lead back up again.

I got another rejection in the mail today. It really sapped my enthusiasm to keep going -- not just with NaNoWriMo, but with writing in general. I'm told this is fairly common, even amongst the Glittering Few, the Published. Odd thing: sometimes I can just shrug the rejections off. Other times, like today, they hit me quite hard.

And don't anybody dare to post a comment that says "Don't take it personally." *shriek* (I will spare those who visit here my rant about "taking it personally" or not "taking it personally", as I'm fairly sure it appeared in an earlier post somewhere. Just look for the dried spittle and strands of ripped-out hair.)


Day Three: 7,018

On schedule!

I'm finding the total-immersion aspects of going for raw word count actually quite exhilarating. You'd think I would have been this focused all along, all these months since I've been writing full-time. But no.

It's a tad scary to reset the standard for myself about what "full-time writing" means. After NaNoWriMo, I won't be able to get away with as many excuses. When I was at Clarion, I could say, "Yeah, well, this is a rarified environment, a hothouse. Of course I can focus and produce here." But now I'm in the process of proving to myself that I can produce in my day-to-day environment. Which removes several large areas of self-indulgence and laziness, several obstacles to buckling down and getting works written and out there.

Of course, quality is something of a concern; I'm not enthused about the writing itself. But that's not the idea. (It will be interesting, later on, to see whether there is anything of merit in my NaNoWriMo work. But I am not letting that distract me at the moment. Not for the next month, at any rate.)


Day One: 3,072.

I don't think I've ever written three thousand words in any 24-hour period in my life, not even at Clarion (although it's true that things like word counts occasionally got a bit blurry through the haze of fatigue).

Tomorrow is going to be a shocker of a day, schedule-wise, so I really wanted to push it today. Partly because I knew there would be no time for three thousand words (or even one thousand, the way things are looking), and partly because I wanted to make what was, for me, a big, extravagant, melodramatic start.

There are people on the NaNoWriMo forums who were already saying, only a few hours after they'd started, that they'd written 6,000 words or whatever and were eager to write more today. And I say, hooray! But my 3,000 matter as much to me, constitute as much of a personal milestone, as other people's 6,000-plus.

I've read rants against NaNoWriMo, because it completely dispenses with the idea of quality. The entire point is to push yourself and see what you can do, how many words you can churn out. Stopping to consider if they're any good works against the process. I can see the point of the detractors, but I can also see the value in isolating this one aspect of the creative process -- and, frankly, word count is always a struggle for me, and you can't sell your stuff unless you have stuff to sell -- and pushing beyond perceived boundaries. The idea is, I will never be happy with a measly 500-word day again after this. And I reckon that's a good thing.

Sleep now. Busy day tomorrow. More words? Possibly....

The first few moments of NaNoWriMo

Two hundred words since I started writing at 12:03 a.m. on November 1 (that was 20 minutes ago). I've begun! Now, to sleep before writing the remaining 1,800 words of the day's quota....