NaNo 2016: A Premature Post-Mortem

Can I blame Donald Trump for making me fail NaNoWriMo, or is that just searching for an excuse?

Whatever you say (and I’m six-of-one, half-a-dozen the other on this one), the fact remains that I was actually doing pretty good with my NaNo project until election day. Not perfectly, but I was in the ballpark of winning, having 50,000 words done by December 1st.

That’s not going to happen now.

Just with the depression surrounding the election, my creative processes slammed the breaks, and they’ve been slow reboot. I’m also facing a lot of work at school, including a show that opens two weeks from today. And I’m still working my way off book. Add that to day job stuff, and just stress in general, and yeah..

So yeah. I haven’t touched my NaNo project since election day. And I’m probably not going to touch it until the end of the month. I will be channeling my work into something creative, but it’ll be a stage adaptation of one of my favorite books (this is 100,000% a fanfiction thing, as I definitely don’t have the stage rights, but that’s a different story — It’s something that I’ve wanted to adapt, but now one of my class assignments is giving me an excuse to work on it).

So, yeah. I’m not going to let myself feel like a loser.

I got 10,000 words on a new project.

I survived the beginning of armageddon.

The curtain on A CHRISTMAS CAROL rise on December 1st.

I’ve managed to keep my grades afloat 3 semesters in a row.

So no matter what that nagging little voice in my head says, I’m not a failure. Even if I suck at NaNoWriMo. Again. I’m beginning to think that 2011 victory was just a fluke, anyway.

Dust Yourself Off: Life in the Aftermath of the 2016 Election

I watched the world turn upside down on Tuesday. I was stuck at school until 11 PM; by that time, word was pretty much around that Donald J. Trump was going to be the next president of the United States. I was caught between puking and wanting to cry my eyes out.

I have never once had this reaction to a presidential election. Not even back in 2008, when I was an in-the-closet (okay, I wouldn’t hear the word asexual for the next 3 years, but I was definitely in that closet) Evangelical Christian in his senior year of high school, who had turned 18 two weeks before the election. I was convinced that Obama would be the worst thing to ever happen to this country, and that McCain and Palin were the best.

I (the idiot!) was dejected when they lost.

No politician has ever put the fear of God in my heart the way Donald Trump has.

The first thing I did when I got home on Election night was to pour myself a stiff drink. And I spent most of that night crying. And I could barely get out of the house the next day. I was attached to Twitter, trying to leech every last ounce of comfort out of the people who understood, just as I did, how big a nightmare that this truly was.

Thursday wasn’t much better than Wednesday. I was in a creative funk, but I dragged myself out of the house. I went to school and play rehearsal, but it was like dragging myself through the day. I spent most of it sitting in the student union, marathoning Glee on my phone.

One of the most surprising things, something that I completely didn’t expect, was how I’d feel about myself in the light of this. I couldn’t look at myself. I couldn’t stand my reflection. I removed my profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook; I just couldn’t bare to look at myself.

I was completely unproductive and floundering. I kept bouncing between burning rage and crippling sadness like a goddamn bobblehead. Even as the rest of the world began to pull itself together, I was still reeling from this body blow.

I’m scared that the clan is emboldened. I’m scared that the racists are feeling bold. I’m horrified that high schools have turned into battlefields. I’m scared for people of color and the extra serving of bullshit that they’re going to be served. I’m scared of our vice president-elect, who believes in torturing people like me in hopes of “curing” us.

I still haven’t touched my homework since the election; nor have I opened my NaNoWriMo project — or any of my novel projects, for that matter. But I’m getting closer. I wrote this.

And there are a couple of longshots that’ll keep Trump away from the nuclear codes and the Oval Office. People are fighting back; people are pushing their electors to turn faithless. There’s more than enough grounds to impeach the bastard. And, God knows, if he does something stupid enough, the rest of the world’ll drag him off to The Hague.

There are a lot of reasons to grieve, so grieve. But somehow, the sun is still shining. We’ll keep waking up. We’ll keep fighting.

The Art of Quiet Patriotism

I am not what most people would consider patriotic.

First of all, I don’t think America is the greatest country in the world. It just isn’t. The sooner that we dismantle that idea, the sooner that we can get to work making our country a better place; the sooner we can be an outstanding influence in the world.

I don’t worship the American flag. I don’t lose my shit if it accidentally treads on the ground for a microsecond. I don’t get up in arms when people want to burn it or deface it, or otherwise use it to symbolize the atrocities that our country commits. The flag is a symbol of our country, it’s the symbol that’s important, not the actual cloth and dye. At the end of the day, that’s all any individual flag is. Not only that, it’s a symbol of everything that America is, good and bad. We have the freedom of protest, and the flag is subject to the same protest. It is not sacred. It is not inviolable.

Also, I despise the Pledge of Allegiance. Not only the under God bit, which was retconned to protect us from Godless communism, or some such shit, but the whole damn thing. To make schoolchildren stand up, turn toward the flag, and mindlessly repeat that pledge of indoctrination is not only sad, but it’s creepy. The only people who should be pledging allegiance to this country are those who serve in public office and in the military. It should be voluntary, not compulsory. There shouldn’t be any stigma to not standing at a sporting game and reciting along with everyone. And we should know better than to drill that shit into impressionable young minds.

I’m also over the National Anthem. It’s a racist little hymn with the melody of an old British drinking song. I think Roseanne was well within her rights to butcher the damn thing, and God bless her for having the cajones to get up there and do it.

I also don’t think the Constitution is sacred. It is the source of law in this country, absolutely, but it’s not perfection incarnate. Much like The Bible, it is a human document, and susceptible to the flaws, prejudices, and perspectives of the people who wrote it. And some of the ideas in it are antiquated and should be removed *cough*Second Amendment*cough*.

I don’t believe that America is a Christian nation. That’s just textual analysis of what the founding fathers said and wrote. I don’t believe that The Bible should dictate the laws of our land, and I don’t think that Christian should be the default just because it’s (historically) the majority religion.

So, if that’s the definition of patriotism, I’m not a patriot. However, there are a couple of things that I do believe about this country.

I believe that we strive toward freedom for all. I believe that, eventually, we start getting out shit together, and realize that we can’t discriminate against certain types of people, just because we think less of them. We’ve started to dismantle our racial prejudices, now we’re in the era of dismantling our religious prejudices — against women, against queer individuals, against people who don’t believe in God.

I believe in the power of democracy. I’m still waiting for the polls to come in, but if Donald Trump wins the majority of the votes, I am prepared to address him as Mr. President. Unjust laws are still laws, and we have the power to overturn them. In this country, we go with the will of the people.

I believe that the right to vote is sacred. I spent the first half of this talking about a whole bunch of things that aren’t sacred. Voting is sacred to me. People have the right to vote their mind and heart regardless of whatever they believe, and anything that impedes, intimidates, assaults, attacks, or guilts Americans in the execution of this divine right is patiently Unamerican. Period.

I believe in respecting the office, even when I don’t respect the person holding the office. There’s a difference between Tony was a racist, sexist, homophobic asshole and Mr. Justice Scalia was a racist, sexist, homophobic asshole. The difference between the two sentences? Respect for the office. You’d never hear me utter that first sentence. The last one? Probably. One of the most frustrating things from this whole election cycle was the lack of respect that people had for Secy. Clinton’s office and position. Even if Mrs. Clinton isn’t derogatory in se, the way it was used definitely was.

I believe in honesty. I believe in opportunity and freedom. I believe in throwing away the red-white-and-rose tinted glasses, so we can see America as it is. Only by being honest about where and what we are, can we strive for something better.

And call me an idiot, I still believe in the American dream. For everybody.

In Defense of Labels

Every now and again, I talk to people in meat space about sexuality. Sometimes, they’ll same something the lines of “I just wish we didn’t have to use labels. Just let people be people.”

And, listen. Out of the kindness of my heart, I’ll assume that this isn’t an immediately queerphobic remark, though it kind of is. It seems like people who use the labels argument are saying “what are all these confusing labels that you’re trying to make me learn, you special snowflake?”

I can understand the desire for a world where we don’t use labels. There’s something appealing about a world where we recognize individuals as the complex beings that they are, where the only necessary label is their name. But that thought, that idea…it’s a direct contravention of how the human brain works.

We need labels. We create dichotomies and hierarchies and organizational schemas. We attach single words to complex ideas; we use single words as umbrellas to cover larger topics. We generalize.

I’m sure there’s a whole sociological argument about how necessary this is. About how these schema and hierarchies kept the early members of the Homo genus safe. These berries are safe. These other berries are unsafe. These people are friends. These people are enemies. We label people, places, and things. Our brains turn the universe into a series of understandable labels and concepts.

So, no. Labels aren’t going to magically go out the window when it comes to sexual orientation, gender orientation, and gender identity. Just the same way that labels won’t go out the window when it comes to ethnic or racial identity. Labels aren’t going to disappear.

The best we can do is choose our own label and wear it proudly. Each label that I apply to myself is another community that I belong to. It’s another large group of people who relate to some facet of my own identity. And with the internet, it means that people who wear the less-popular levels don’t have to be alone. They don’t have to stand for abuse.

They don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to be alone.

And for some of us, that is literally the difference between vibrant life and lonely death.

NaNoWriMo Days 3, 4, & 5: Facefirst Into a Wall

I was so excited for NaNoWriMo. And now we’re a mere four days in, and I can barely breathe.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Largely, there’s the money issue. I have none, which makes things like eating and car insurance and paying off old debts very difficult. I have a wonderful job, a wonderful internship, and I love going to school, but that doesn’t bring in enough money to stave off the panic attacks. Worrying about money just happens to be a constant thing. When my brain wanders off, instead of being struck with great story ideas or plot twists, I wonder how I’m going to buy gas for the month, or groceries, or cover the insurance or cover the phone or start saving money. I laugh when people start mentioning retirement funds or any sort of saving for the future. It’s just some kind of gross joke.

There’s also school, which is getting more and more intense. Not to difficult, per se, but I have to think about life down the road: moving off to a 4 year school to get my BA, and how I want to be professionally, since it’s becoming pretty clear that I’m not going to make a living through writing.

And then there’s my body, which is staging a constant coup against me, and is, quite possibly, my own worst enemy. Any time I try to do anything even remotely normal, my body reminds me that I’m more amorphous blob of adipose than I am human being, and it shuts that shit down.

The net result of all this? I want to sit down at my desk, boot up Guild Wars 2, and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Because when I try to write, the words flow like tar down a staircase. I can spend hours staring at my Scrivener screen, only to have half a hundred words come out — a failure, by any reasonable metric.

I spent my whole life hearing the adage When God closes a door, He opens a window. My lack of belief about God aside for the moment, this is bullshit. I’m surrounded by walls. Even the door behind me has been replaced by walls. Sometimes, I see cracks and think that I can squeeze through, only to find out that I’m delusional.

In my life, the line between acts of faith and acts of insanity has completely disappeared. Another one of those lovely adages defines insanity as repeating the same action and hoping for a different outcome. I’m beginning to wonder if getting out of bed on a daily basis qualifies as insanity.

The Me in the Monitor: Life With My Inner Editor

My inner editor . . . is me.

It sounds really stupid to say that, because, of course, my inner editor is me. That’s what an inner editor is. It’s a personification of an independent individual, a semi-sentient personality that lives inside of us, and gives us no end of grief about what we’re doing wrong. And, yes, it’s not really a real person, but it’s kind of a social or cultural construct, between us writerly folk, that lets us bitch about how hard writing is by pretending we have some asshole screaming at us, as we type in our dark man/woman/non-binary-caves.

We get it. It’s a fictional construct. In our heads.

But that fictional construct that’s in my head isn’t somebody else. It’s me.

Oh, God, It’s not the actual me, who’s sitting at this computer, daydreaming about finishing this article, getting up, and walking outside to the vending machine, where he’s going to hit the vending machines, and grab a Coke, a Butterfinger, and a bag of Hot Cheetos, which he’s going to call dinner.

This Zach also doesn’t weigh 530 pounds. (Oh, so there’s a causal relationship between those two things, please, tell me more. I had noooo idea, and I’ve never heard that before). He doesn’t worry about his bad teeth, or the fact that he has trouble breathing or walking or singing. He’s skinny and jaunty, vaguely hipsterish, good-looking enough to play leading man on Broadway, if he wanted to (and he wants. Believe me, he wants).

He’s definitely not attending his fifth community college in seven years. Hell no, he’s in an MFA program right now. He published his first novel at 17, his second at 20, and has been churning them out, one a year, since. Not only is he a prolific YA author, he’s also a Rhodes Scholar, is fluent in most of the Romance and Germanic languages, and Tolkien studies — in fact, he’s considered the second coming of Tolkien, despite the fact that Tolkien never wrote sappy contemporary romances for teens.

But nevermind that, now. This guy is brilliant, hot, and oozes charisma like a drunk bard on DnD night (He probably doesn’t make Dungeons and Dragons references, either). He’s neurotypical, wealthy, and has never once had to think about his privilege. He is happy and in love with his life.

He is the person that I could have been, if I’d had a little more luck, if I’d worked a little bit harder, if I had been just a little bit better, if I hadn’t been so sad and reclusive.

Me, in a perfect world.

He is the person who critiques me when I start writing.

He notices the bad phrases, the hackneyed metaphors, the flat characters. He rolls his eyes every time that I write something stupid, or that I have to alt-tab to look up something I should already know. He tells me that my pacing is terrible, my characters stink, and nobody’s ever going to want to read my book. He purses his lips when people tell me that I’ve picked a memorable title.

Skinny!Zach went into shock when I actually finished the novel. He was appalled at my audacity when I applied for the 2015–16 Nevada SCBWI mentor program. He clucked his tongue when I got in. He laughed at the thought of an amazing published author wanting to work on my book, and made me feel ashamed of the drivel that I gave her. He was noisy by my side when I rewrote the whole thing.

He was appalled at my gall when I started submitting queries, and flashed me the LOSER as the rejections came in by the bushel. But I kept going, through all of that.

Where he finally got me was when it was time to start writing book two. He just would not shut up as I started delving into new characters, new situations, new stories. “You just finished a book, how dare you write something that bad! You should be better by now! But no, that’s right: you suck and nobody wants your books! So why bother?”

Putting him aside is hard. Ignoring him is hard. It’s a day by day struggle, and it’s one that I have to do, because I want to tell stories for teens. I’ve known that ever since I put down Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK the first time I read it in middle school. And, hard as it is for me to believe sometimes, somewhere, deep down inside of me, I know that I’m kind of good at it.

He doesn’t want me to write. He wants me to wallow in misery. He’d also prefer it if I stopped acting, stopped going to — and failing at — school, and stopped trying to make friends.

I have to tell him to fuck off. I have to trick him. I have to outwit him. I have to remind myself who the actual person is in this relationship. I’m alive. Me. He doesn’t exist. It is so seriously hard to remember that, sometimes, because more than a little part of me does want him to exist. I wish I was him! That’s who I’d be if I was a normal person, if I wasn’t messed up — or so I think.

But he’s. Not. Real.

Though, I have to say, for someone who doesn’t exist, it sure took a hell of a lot of microbrews to get him drunk enough to let me write this in peace.

NaNo 2016: Days 1 & 2

I thought that I would be diligent about keeping some kind of updated journal for NaNoWrimo this year, but, as usual, I’ve completely screwed that up. Not a surprise. That said, I’ve had a good first two days. Usually, I’m about 3,333 words in the hole by this point, but I’ve managed to surprise myself thus far. Despite starting with a new story, the words have been flowing out.

I’ve been playing around with the narrative frame for the story I want to tell, and at this point, I can tell that the frame I’ve chosen isn’t going to work. It relies so heavily on characters from Somehow You’re Sitting Here (the story takes place in the same fictional suburb of San Diego), and it just feels more gratuitious than anything. So I’m probably going to dump it. But this is NaNo, this is a rough draft, so what the hell. I’ll use that familiar frame to get the story out, then go back and retcon it. It won’t change too much of the story, so we’ll be good.

I think. There’s still plenty of time for me to get off track.


Current Word Count: 3,578
Currently Reading: Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King
Currently Listening to: Beautiful — Heathers: The Musical OCR

11th Hour Change

So I’ve been trying to psych myself up for NaNoWriMo, right?

So I have a stable of projects that I want to start writing, most of them in various stages of doneness. I have my modern-day Les Mis-inspired madness, I have my cannula girls, I have my depressing book about depression with the cool Pat Benatar title, and about fifteen stage adaptations I want to write. But, damn it, I had picked the book that I was going to write, a story sparked during my production of Peter and the Starcatcher over the summer.

I did this two months ago. I spent the time plotting, figuring out my characters, doing all of this insane mind-mapping to figure out all of the characters and their relationships, all of the little plot threads that I could start pulling.

And last night when I crawled into bed, all of that went out the window.

Usually, when something like this happens, I attribute it to my magpie brain, and I push it back. I trust that the idea will stay there if it’s meant to, and I start working on what I’ve been planning. It’s that tradition that got me through writing my first novel, and I have no shortage of ideas that have stayed with me.

But this new story stuck, and after a few sleepless hours, I knew that I had to write it.

First of all, It’s an #ownvoices story. If you’re not familiar with that hashtag, it means that one of the main characters has one of the same labels as I do (or, at least, that’s how I see it: I don’t want to get into a whole dissertation about this, because I’ll end up making a fool of myself). In this case: the story is about an asexual character.

Yes, an explicitly asexual character. And it’s a love story.

Finding an ace character in YA lit is like finding a living, breathing unicorn in Terre Haute. Finding one that isn’t some stereotype is, somehow, even harder. We have this cultural attachment to sex and a lot of preconceived notions about what it means to not have sex, and it ties into toxic masculinity and rape culture, and all of that shit.

Okay, this isn’t the time and place for an asexual manifesto. But yes, it’s rare, and that’s a big factor for why I want to write this story.

But even more important are these characters. In just the few hours that they’ve been in my brain, they’ve left this deep impression, and I’m not 100% sure that they’d leave me alone long enough to work on something else. It’s like lightning has struck, and I absolutely have to follow this.

To what end? I don’t know.

Actually, that’s a kind of lie. I know exactly how this is going to end.

I’ll start writing at midnight on November 1. I won’t have any notes, any of the background stuff that I had already started crafting for ASK THE BIRDS, my original NaNo project. I’ll have what’s in my head, and I will be creating it, blaze of glory style. By the end of the month, I’ll have somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 words (I’m being realistic). Hopefully, by the end of January, I’ll have a full 80,000 word rough draft that completely sucks. And I’ll begin the revision process.

I don’t much about this story right now. My main characters don’t even have last names yet. But I know this story needs to be out there. And so, I’ll be writing THE SHADOWS OF TWO SONGBIRDS for NaNo this year.

Since NaNo asks folks to upload their own covers, I’ve indulged myself in following the tradition of making a (generally terrible) cover. So here it is!songbirds-large-cover


I’m feeling kind of scared of NaNoWriMo.

No, seriously.

Maybe it’s a stupid thing to be afraid of, but it hits that last week of October, and I start getting all nervous and apprehensive about it, and with good reason. The last time I successfully finished NaNoWriMo was in 2012, the first year that I did it. Now to be fair, I have pretty good excuses for all of the rest of the years: including school, a 50+ hour a week job, moving to a new state in the middle of the month. I have excuses.

But I only have the one finished novel.

And I’m kind of ready to have another one.

I’ve got a lot going on this year, too: 12 units in school, a musical that opens on December 1st, my Ninja Writers job, and my internship. There’s not a lot of Zach time, where I can just pour myself into the creative projects I have lined up–and, boy, do I have a few.

But isn’t that just excuses? Isn’t that just bullshit? After all, so many other people are so much busier than me. They have fewer spoons and less energy, and it’s just as hard for them, but they get stuff done. Or maybe I’m just fundamentally lazy? I don’t know.

But I feel big expectations for NaNoWriMo. And I hope this year isn’t a continuation of the cycle where I have high hopes and expectations, but I’m just too beat to lift a hand.

I have good stories on my brain, after all. And they deserve to be told.

Writing About Me

On my school days, I have an hour and a half between my classes. Yesterday, I took some time to start writing out a biography for the website. It’s been something that’s been on my mind for a while, getting this website into tip-top shape, and having something about my history, my past, seemed like it was important.

I got about a page and a half, handwritten (I don’t take my computer to school!) before I just got frustrated with it. Even though I managed to sum up some of my past pretty well, it felt like I was leaving things out. Not out of negligence or a desire to hide things per se, but because they didn’t fit neatly into the story I was telling. I could just imagine people coming up to me, pulling the page up and shaking their fingers in accusation: “What about this? What about that?”

Frustrated, I’ve put the bio aside for now. One day I will get back to writing something about myself. It’s a difficult task, mostly because my depression has done such a good job of shaping the way I look at myself and my life.

But it’s also helped me really develop an appreciation for people who write memoirs. Trying to wrangle your life into a pretty little narrative is no simple task. I think I’ll stick with fiction.