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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Time for a beer

It's nearly 4am and I just opened a cold beer. Since the wife and I threw a little dinner party a few weeks ago, the fridge has been set on its coldest setting. The kid's milk has been freezing a little bit, but the beer is just perfect. XM radio's X Country station has been playing for the past five hours. And I am relaxed.

About 29 days ago, I typed a few words in an empty Word document and wondered why I was even bothering. It had been almost a year since I'd sat at a bar at 5am with a
new friend and he'd said, "Otis, you should write a book." At the time, I'd said, "A book. About what?"

That was sort of what I was thinking when I started a little 50,000 word excursion the kids call NaNoWriMo. That same day, another
new friend I'd met near that same bar had called to wish me luck. He and I have spent some good time together over the past year. I typically avoid two-guy drinking nights, but it's always felt really natural with Pauly. After his call, I vowed to myself that I'd finish NaNo. Whether I actually believed my vow was a different matter all together.

So, over the next 29 days, I told myself a story. I watched it develop in black and white on my screen. Eventually, I was laughing at myself and sometimes typing faster than my brain could think. It was among the most natural of processes I've ever experienced.

I won't lie. There were a few days (and, in fact, almost an entire week) where I thought I wouldn't churn out the required amount of words. Even as late as yesterday, I was discouraged. And, yet, when I sat down to write today, I loved what was appearing on the screen.

In the end, it's not really about the word count. Yes, I crested (just barely) the 50,000 goal. But, that really wasn't the point. As Pauly told me on Day 1, "it's about sitting down to write for the creative every day." I didn't quite make it every day, but I came close.

And it was about more than that. It was about proving to myself that I have a book in me. What I've written won't be a National Book Award winner. In fact, chances are pretty good it won't ever leave my computer.

But, you know, there is a part of me that loves the tale I crafted. It's just a fun story and it's a story I wouldn't mind other people reading. In fact, I'll admit, despite the fact I've always been loathe to describe myself as an 'aspiring author' there has been a part of me that has fantastized about cleaning up the stuff I've written and submitting it to a publisher or agent. That may just be the beer talking (it's empty now and I'm going to get another before I go on any more).

---back from the fridge and the second beer tastes better than the first---

In fact, the story isn't even finished yet. I figure it's going to take another 15,000-20,000 words to get to the logical end of the tale. After that, it's going to need a few months of re-writes and editing before anybody but me could understand it. And I'll get to it. Probably sooner than I think. But for right now, I'm going to sit back and realize that I did something I didn't think I could do.

The other day, the wife and I were in Home Depot and I was marveling at a giant and powerful shower head in the bathroom section. As I pined for it and lamented my lack of handyman skills, Mrs. Otis said, "That's your biggest problem. You don't ever think you can do anything."

As usual, she's right. I'm rarely certain I can do anything until I'm forced or force myself to do it.

November has been a rough month for a lot of people close to me. While I lamented some poker losses (typical for me in November, by the way), some dear friends endured some of the worst possible circumstances I can imagine. When you see stuff like that happen, it makes you realize how much humans can endure if faced with the right set of circumstances. I think the converse is true as well. It also teaches you how much we can achieve if we allow for the idea that we can actually do it if we try.

It occurs to me that I might be being a little grandiose about this (as is my 4:18am beer-sodden wont), but I don't feel like apologizing for it.

So, I achieved something. And that makes me happy. One thing I've learned in the past couple of years: embrace happiness when it presents itself, because most people don't get the chance.

While I don't feel like enduring the laughter an academy speech would induce, I do want to thank Pauly for his encouragement and my wife for going to bed alone nearly every night this month. One thing I've found: when you find people who believe in you, you have found your true friends. I've never believed in myself, but I've been fortunate to find a wife and some friends who do.

Also, a couple of congratulations. Fellow blogger
Human Head finished Nano a few days ago. And it looks like Joe Speaker has made an eleventh-hour rally to get close to the mark. I met both of these guys in June and felt an immediate bond with them. I actually tried to hug Speaker during one tender moment. I'll be seeing them in just about a week and I'll warn them both that I might be hug patrol again.

That's it, folks. Thanks for all the comments of support. I'll now return my writing ambitions to the offline word and get back to posting pictures of L'il Otis. And, if I should be so lucky, maybe I'll get to talk more about this little project someday.

Until then, I'll leave you with one last snippet from the book I call Grab:

Reek was high. It was the only way he could stomach the “Fleet Foot Insoles” infomercial flickering on the TV screen. Sanchez stood at the side of the 15-inch TV and adjusted the rabbit-ears.

“We live two fucking miles away from the TV station and I can’t see shit,” he said.

Reek giggled. “Hurry, you might miss the testimonial from the grandma who just tried Fleet Foot for the first time.”

Sanchez stopped for two seconds and looked up. “Fuck you.” Then he disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

For the past four hours, Sanchez had been bouncing back and forth from the window to the TV. Every time a car passed on Nature Trail, Sanchez would flatten himself on the couch and hold his breath. After the third time, Reek had rolled a joint.

“Why don’t we have cable? Or a damned satellite dish?” Sanchez had returned from the kitchen with a large sheet of tin foil. As he wrapped it around the antennae, he said, “More than half the damned population has six hundred channels and I can’t watch a freakin’ infomercial.”

Reek inhaled deeply, held it, and then let it go. “One word, my friend. Vixen.”

Sanchez waved his hand a “wait, don’t move” motion. The picture was as clear as it had been in hours.

“Looks like you got it, buddy.”


The old lady on the screen told them how comfortable and supported her feet had felt since she tried Fleet Foot.

Sanchez turned to Reek. “You know Fleet is a brand of enema?”

“How would you know?”

“That doesn’t matter. What’s curious is what was going through the marketing guy’s head when he came up with the brand name. I mean, was he thinking of fleet in terms of a group of boats? ‘Cause, if so, that’s just not an image I think he’d want customers thinking about. An entire fleet of ass boats is just not good branding. Then, there’s fleet like ‘moving really fast.’ Again, just not something you want to think about when you’re talking about your rectum.”

Reek’s smiled spread across his face and he was convinced Sanchez had picked up a little contact high. Might do him some good, he thought.

“What makes it worse, is the Fleet Foot company actually has a decent brand. I mean when you think about feet, you’d be happy if they were moving fast. Especially if you were an old lady, right? Thing is, there are people out there that see the Fleet Foot commercial and won’t think of anything but squirting water up their butt. A damned shame.”

If Reek didn’t know better, he’d think Sanchez had fallen victim to the meth craze that had been sweeping The Trail in recent years. Seemed like half the people who lived within a square mile were either cooking the stuff in the trailers or staying up for three days tweaking on the stuff. Reek hadn’t tried it. Although he’d liked speed in his younger days, he’d been able to avoid the crystal. He was even thinking about quitting the grass. But not until Sanchez calmed down.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

It's Tuesday, so it must be...

NanoWriMo Update Day!

I'm quite certain there is at least one person out there who has been hitting refresh for the past six days and wondering, "Oh, lord, how is Otis doing? Is he going to make it?"

Perhaps not.

The question, of course, remains. Am I going to make it? Will I make it to 50,000 words in the next nine days? Well, if I am, I'm going to have to step up my pace a little bit. After a very good run on Friday, I found myself taking Saturday and Sunday off. Saturday was a family day and Sunday, though I didn't expect it to, turned into a bit of a poker marathon.

This will be the final update. I'm diving headlong into the rest of the project. As we won't be speaking again until it's over, I thought I'd offer one humble and final excerpt. A warning, though...this particular part ain't necessarily for the kids.

He conjured up an image of Pebbles in a pair of cowboy chaps and nothing else. He used his left hand to pinch his right nipple. He imagined his new therapist sitting in the audience at the City Council meeting and staring at him as he pushed through the vote for the new Farris Park. Mary hadn’t been to a meeting since his first term as a councilman. Now, even if no one in the room could know it, he would again have feminine support in the room. Although his disdain for Mary had grown in recent years, he still felt a twinge of loss whenever he looked out over the sea of city leaders, citizen complainers, and nosy reporters and didn’t see one person who was there for him.

Farris closed his eyes and pictured Pebbles face, her red lipstick, and her manicured fingernails. He worked his right hand around the Little Councilman and tried to relax. With another pinch of his nipple, he was underway.

The sound of his cell phone cut though the mood.

“Mother fuck,” he muttered and grabbed for the phone with his left hand. He looked at the caller ID and recognized Coombes’ number. “Not today, Bob,” he said and let the phone ring into the voicemail box.

He tried to remember the first time he’d seen Pebbles. His memory cooperated and offered a flash-frame of the dark-skinned girl with dark hair hanging down her back. He’d peeked at her through the VIP room’s velvet curtain and he swore she looked directly at him and winked. Without another thought, he’d turned to Shep and said, “Her.”

The memory was working. Farris pulled a pillow over his eyes and relaxed. “Pebbles,” he muttered into the pillow and imagined her hair on his neck.

The phone rang again. “Mother fuck, fuck.”

Farris threw the pillow to the foot of the bed and looked at the caller ID again. It was a City Hall number. “Just ignore it,” he told himself. And he did, retrieving the pillow and dragging his jagged fingernails across his soft stomach. Nothing was going to stop this mental treat.

Farris’s ears played along, blocking out the dying rings of his cell phone, and creating a reasonable facsimile of AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long.” He remembered that she had danced to that song for him. That was the first night he’d had the courage to ask her to pinch him. She’d obliged without question and Farris hadn’t made it to the second chorus. These days, Farris couldn’t listen to the local classic rock station without getting aroused.

He quickly retrieved the pillow and put it back over his eyes. He was close. He felt it. God bless that little strip-teaser. She was so much more. She was his little strip-teaser. She could make him do what he wanted and he didn’t have to worry about a thing but himself when she was there. In the background, he heard a phone ring, but he wasn’t going to look. A more reasonable part of his brain told him he should, but he was in the middle of a negotiation that he couldn’t stop.

The phone stopped ringing and Farris smiled, doing his best to ignore that the ring sounded odd for some reason. “Come here, Pebbles,” he said into the pillowcase. “Come here and ask me what I want.” Farris felt himself bucking in the bed and forgot himself. He could hear her voice. Just on the edge of perception, he could hear her. She was saying…

“Jesus, Farris. What the hell?”

What? Farris stopped and pulled the pillow off his eyes.

Mary was standing the bedroom door with the phone in her hand.

Farris grabbed for the covers and pulled them up to his waist. Mary stared at the pup tent that formed below her husband’s navel.

"Stanley Cummins is on the phone. He says it’s important.”

She tossed the phone on the bed, shook her head, and walked out without closing the door.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

So, has he failed yet?

Surprisingly enough, no I haven't. There was a period of time over the weekend that I thought this little thing I'm calling Grab would soon be another rotting file in the My Documents folder.

And, then something happened. Something clicked. In short, things started to fall into place. Writing at this pace has not yet become a chore. In fact, the only thing I've found difficult is just sitting down to do it. I have a constant dread that keeps me from starting each day. Then I start and it goes well. I can't explain it.

More remarkable still is that fact I don't hate what I've written yet. Last night, Mrs. Otis asked when she gets to read it. My answer was pretty simple:

1) On December 1
2) After I work on a re-write for a few months
3) Never

That makes sense, right?

In other news, we here at Mt. Willis are about to take a plunge. Before Christmas we will become a single income household. It's something we'd talked about at length for the six months or so. Life with Mrs. Otis on the night shift and me working...well, constantly on one thing or another... made life a little rough sometimes.

Rough we could handle, though. There were other factors in play which, as much as I would like to, I just can't discuss in this forum for now.

But if you need a little help, here are a few lines from a column by Sarah Heploa:

...Broadcast News... Writer/director James L. Brooks's film is a critique of how the entertainment industry – with its style over substance and pandering to the lowest common denominator – was infecting network news. William Hurt plays a handsome anchorman who fakes tears for the camera in an effort to sensationalize his first news story.

"It's terrible what you did," his producer and romantic interest Holly Hunter says when she finds out. "You totally crossed the line."

Hurt's character doesn't get it. In his mind, it's no biggie. "It's hard not to cross the line. They keep moving the little sucker, don't they?"

In a note announcing Mrs. Otis' impending departure from her job, it was clear at least one person understands. A quote: "For [Mrs. Otis], the line never moves."

Damn straight.

So, soon we'll be welcoming Mrs. Otis home. I couldn't be more pleased. I've got her soul on backorder and I expect it to be arriving shortly.

Now, if we can all just work together to make sure my employment status stays right...where...it...is.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

We have a title

At first, I had planned on not titling this little thing. A part of me felt a title would be too restrictive. Then, while soaping my bum in the shower the morning (frankly, a time when many of my best ideas come to me) a working title worked its way into my noodle.

The novel/novella/novelette/piece of trash I'm currently writing is now working under the title, "Grab."

You can read a new excerpt and keep up with my progress by clicking here.

Again, I'm a few hundred words behind pace. However, I turned a small corner last night and am feeling better about the next week or so. Then again, Pauly tells me the real trouble starts around 30,000 words. So, I have that to look forward to.

Thanks, by the way, for your comments on my progress to date. You wouldn't believe how much they help.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I got blisters on me fingers!

Actually, I have one blister on one finger and it doesn't have anything to do with the amount I've been typing. Some plates just shouldn't be grabbed after spending five minutes cooking bacon in a microwave. As an aside, bacon shouldn't be cooked in a microwave, but that's another story for another day.

So, I promised a progress update on my NaNoWriMo project.

After one full week of writing, I'm only a few hundred words behind pace to finish the full 50,000 by the end of November 30. I'm not displeased with being slightly behind. Frankly, I wasn't sure I could churn out as much as I have already. There was a time when 11,000 words seemed like a lot to write. I did it in five days and I actually don't hate what I've written so far.

Why five days instead of seven? Well, I spent most of last Thursday puking my guts out. I couldn't even look at the computer screen without wondering what it would look like covered in vomit. Then, I took Saturday off to spend some time with the family and play some poker with the boys.


I have, in most cases, done my best to not think so much. In the past when I've tried to start a long writing project, I get bogged down in research and details. While that's not really a bad thing, this sprint-marathon is not tailored for research. I did spend about an hour researching some natural history, but other than that, I've written from memory and heart.

In the past, I've always started by thinking I have to write the next great literary masterpiece. Much like how I used to play poker (wanting people to think I was the best player at the table), I used to write with the idea that if I wrote something big, it HAD to be publishable and it HAD to impress my friends and say, "Man, that's worthy of a National Book Award." That's no way to run a railroad. Now, I can sit back and write fearlessly. I already know that there will be people (if I ever let them) that will wonder why I'm not writing more introspectively.

That leads me to this: I'm writing a fun story and I'm not ashamed of it. In the past, I've always thought I had to write a deep literary masterpiece full of emotional subtext and unconventional themes. As it turns out, it's a lot easier (and more fun for me) to write something that makes me laugh than makes me cry. I'm not saying my story is funny. It's just fun. I used to dream about being a songwriter. In the process, I wrote some perfectly awful sappy or sad songs. Later, I started writing stupid songs, dirty songs, and fun songs. Those are the ones I remember. Those are the ones some folks still ask me to sing.


As I suspected, setting aside the time to write has been a struggle. I spend my entire working day on the computer. When I'm done working, I often want to play poker on the computer. Add writing to that, and my laptop is now fused to my junk. I've also found a lot of excuses. A sick wife, a sick kid, a busy work schedule. Other blogs. It's been busy. But I've done it. I just have to find a way to keep up the pace.

I also see trouble looming on the horizon. I've nearly exhausted my favorite part of writing: exposition. In any reading, writing, film-watching I do, my favorite part is the set-up. I'm nearly through with that part and really have to start getting to the thick of the plot. I have it in mind, but the transition is not going to be an easy one.

Finally, I'm 20% finished and I've yet to come up with a title. That's no big deal, I know, but sometimes a working title helps. Discarded titles: River Town; Statue Afire; Pluck; Buildings.

So, what the hell is this mystery thing?

Well, I'm not quite ready to say yet. I know what it's not. It's not Faulkner. It's not Hemmingway. It's not HST.

Beyond that, I can tell you it's a completely fictional tale that was partially inspired by some real events in a real city.

And here's another short excerpt:

The rules with Mr. Smith were stricter.

Dancers were only allowed to call him “Mr. Smith.” They were not allowed to remove his baseball cap. They were not allowed to talk about him with other dancers. In return, anyone who danced for Mr. Smith got to keep everything he paid.

“Good evening, Mr. Smith,” Pebbles said.

His voice still lowered by an octave, Mr. Smith said, “Hello.”

KISS exploded out of the speakers overhead. As “Lick it Up” began, Mr. Smith slid down until his head rested on the arm of the couch. Pebbles untied her sarong and let it drop to the floor. She put her hands behind her back and undid her top. She bent over and brushed her hair against Mr. Smith’s chin. Under the music, she heard him moan. His right hand fell to his side where Pebbles let the side of her leg slide. She put her hands on his shoulders and threw one leg to his other side.

“What would you like tonight, Mr. Smith?” It was a question she asked every time, knowing the answer would be the same every time.

“Just pinch them, Pebbles,” was the answer that came from below the baseball cap.

Now, I have some writing to do.

Monday, November 07, 2005

NaNoWriMo Update

Coming Tuesday. Preview? Two chicken-pluckers, a city leader, a stripper, and a book store heir.

Yeah...it's been that kind of week.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

NaNoWriMo Begins

It was a day designed to ignore NaNoWriMo. Work crept up and stuck its nose in my crotch. The dog ripped a claw half-off. The kid turned into Lestat, further proving Anne Rice hasn't found God, but rather has turned her wicked ways toward my child. The wife rushed home from work early, puked in her car, then spent the next eight hours puking in the upstairs bathroom. The rumor is she's pregnant again. I doubt it for several reasons, chief among them: I've seen morning sickness, and that, sir, was not morning sickness. Still, 17 hours later, she's upstairs with a trash can at the ready. If she is pregnant, I think Anne Rice has something to do with it.

So, I could've blown off this as-yet untitled project on the first day and had a couple good excuses. Worse excuses included that ESPN's coverage of the World Series of Poker Main Event was on. As I spent several weeks covering the WSOP, it was like looking at a scrapbook. I saw new and old friends on the video and it distracted me all the way until 10pm. Another bad excuse was the 11pm dial-a-shot from Al Can't Hang. He was calling to tell me the infamous Lewey will be making the December Blogger trip.

So, I had my list of excuses ready for why I blew off NaNoWriMo on the first day. No one was going to care much anyway. Except me, of course. I would've hated myself. What's more, Pauly called from a Las Vegas Target just before I finally sat down to write.

"I'm buying Tupperware," he said, which if you know the guy, is about as funny as it comes.

After he offered an explanation for why a traveling writer would need Tupperware, I heard him mutter, "Fuck. This shit is only $2.69. I don't know shit about this kind of stuff."

Official NaNoWriMo 2005 Participant
And then he told me the real reason he was calling. He phoned to wish me good luck on NaNoWriMo. He offered some advice and support, which I happily took.

And then I sat down to do it. I have budgeted two to four hours per night for the project, aiming at 1600-2500 words per session. While NaNoWriMo is all about a final word count, I decided for Night #1 that I would write until I felt like I'd come to a decent stopping point. And that's what I did, about 1675 words into it.

And the neat part...I didn't really want to stop.

As yet, this piece of silliness is still untitled. I don't plan to offer daily updates, but I thought since I leaked my intention to do it that I should at least let it be known I actually started (which is no small accomplishment for me itself).

Here's the excerpt I posted on my NaNoWriMo profile page.

Sanchez was wrapped around the street sign like a performance artist in a climactic finale of “Man Loves Pole.” His black hair had fallen out of his hair net and was slicked against the sweat on his face. The tendons in his neck were taut. His eyes were shut tight. His knuckles were white. Every few seconds, as Reek stood watching in the street, Sanchez grunted a simple “Unnngh,” and started over. Reek had learned not to interfere.

After five minutes of pushing, yanking, twisting, and grunting, the street sign’s pole shifted against Sanchez’s small frame. With the care of a painter adding the final highlight to his portrait’s eyes, Sanchez turned the street sign 90 degrees, then stood back to admire his work for a second. He took off his hair net, slicked his hair back against his head, and then turned to see Reek watching.

“Bastards cemented the thing in again,” Sanchez said. “Okay, let’s go.”

Now, back to real life for 12 hours or so.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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