life, on writing

celebrate me home

Entering November, I was certain only of my motivation to finish 50K of a novel. That may be saying a lot–like my willingness not to see cheap movies or leave the house on days off or I dunno, keep friends–but life is comprised of a thousand tiny moths that nibble at the threads of our days. Who knew what would turn up to take a munch?

WHAT IS HOPE?  One evening around Thanksgiving, I enjoyed a farang meal with some friends for the holiday–duck with cranberry stuffing, string lights, Fleetwood Mac and the Beatles played acoustic style by a bearded Southeast Asian man–and heard myself, when asked, saying the dreaded words, “I hope.”


We should quit this word.

True hope may be expounded upon with more demanding and rosy-cheeked expressions like “plan” and “intend” and “will.” My personality tends to be a conglomerate of qualifiers and situational grays anyways, so when a goal becomes little more than a hope…  I came home, happily full, well-socialized, and artistically more uncertain than before.

img_0042CARRYING ON  Jet was a fab creative companion, however. We stayed up many midnights together: me whacking away at my computer into the wee hours while she warmed herself behind the screen, looked out the window at the bats flickering past the fluorescent street lamps, or sprawled out on my bed, warming the Hill tribe blanket–though in this tropical weather, it was the last thing I needed.

RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD  At perhaps the most crucial point of NaNoWriMo, I had to make a visa run to the Land of Malls–a huge city in the south of my country.

It was an excellent get-away day.

I did not have to go into Immigration until the following day, so I booked an early flight, picked up some Lebanese sambosas, and enjoyed a free afternoon and evening in my rented apartment. There was even air-conditioning! Between instant coffee, leftover naan bread, and yummy 7-Eleven snacks, I knocked out over 4,000 words in one night–securing my climb into the 40,000s word mark.


After my morning at immigration, I headed over to the airport early and got myself a coffee (Starbucks is an expensive treat-yo-self type thing for me here!). Then I trudged through another 1,000 words while waiting for my flight back to the north. The scenes I knocked out were ones I had been dreading–a “first language lesson” scene (where my MC starts to engage the Deaf world) and a “first guy interest” scene (where my MC actually  shows some interest in a male who doesn’t intimidate her). Speaking of which, I learned, over these 48 hours, that my MC is not a big wuss like I first supposed. “Kit” got some spunk, and I liked finding that out.

Amazing what a lack of sleep will discover for you.


DID SHE MAKE IT?  Ament ament halleluyer, she did! Though I hovered at 49K for about four hours–so close to the finish line, I swore I could taste it–I finally broke through and reintroduced my favorite character as a final treat to myself.

51K, can you believe it!

Check that crazy climb. I’m pretty certain my stats went down one day.


CELEBRATION  Though I have not finished the story, I am still writing! And I knew that, if I did not pause to celebrate my victories, the massive Word doc would get stuck in my “Stroll in the Creative Mind” folder for a waaaaay future rainy day, mostly out of sheer exhaustion.

Celebrate your victories!

So upon reaching my goal, my friend Erin and I went to meet our neighborhood nails lady (new salon for the win! though my Thai is atrocious and it’s only by charades that she understood me) and get pedicures. Then to the cheap movies! Interestingly, I’ve never wanted to go see a Thai movie before–from the commercials and the one or two I’ve seen, they are usually a bizarre blend of romance, horror, and meepy Hallmark drama–but I was intrigued by “New Year’s Gift.”


Keep reading for spoilers and a taste of my host culture 😉

The story follows three couples: the first, a recent MS graduate and a heartbroken choir student who have to “block steps” for a visiting President and his wife, and after a day of philosophical discussions about the enduring nature of love, a confirmed breakup with her cheating boyfriend, and several selfies later, they end up falling for one another with the promise of long-distance dating (song: “Sun Down”); the second, the manager of that graduation who returns home to take care of her ailing father after her mother’s unexpected death and ends up learning piano from a cute piano tuner, in the hopes that playing their favorite song on their wedding anniversary will reverse her father’s Alzheimer’s (song: “You Were Always on My Mind”); and the third, a failed rockband artist -turned-white collar worker and a trumpet-playing secretary who are determined to get an office music room in honor of the second girl’s mother, who worked in their office. Incidentally, the dragon lady who would stand in their way (because she hates the former rocker for making her suffer years of her son’s awful infatuation with screamo) is the mother of the MS graduate, who has returned from abroad and ends up asking the choir student to marry him (song: “New Year’s Gift”).

I did not realize until the end, but each song featured in the movie was written by the king. In the wake of his passing, this movie is a beautiful preservation of culture and respect, even as it is a cute nod to modern culture and their infatuation with iPhones and romance.

img_0478Speaking of which, I’m learning a thing or two about selfies from my friends here.

FUTURE “WILLS”  The concept of weaving storylines is a favorite of mine, and I think that’s why my novel is taking so long. Perhaps it is fitting that its working title should be so vague and all-encompassing (sort of like the play “Our Town”).

I am determined, however, not to give up.

There’s something here, and the best way to bare down the bones of this mess is to just finish making it. Stay tuned, dear friends.  (And if you have any NaNo successes of your own, please share ❤ )


NaNovel 2013 {savior-poser}

A brief update on the novel … All is going well, friends, e.g. I am/we NaNo-ers are alive. But it’s possible I might not look at the (very) rough draft of this story for ten more years. Short stories and mini-poems will be about all my attention span can handle in the months following November 30th.

A brief synopsis of the novel … Virginia (“Ginny”) Mulligan is a failed photographer, newly-graduated and directionless. Upon the splintering of a relationship, Ginny signs up to teach English in the Appalachian mountains. The people of Coventry,Virginia are welcoming, and she connects with her students. Yet an old fear darkens the community toward her and the teachers–a fear of losing their children, their people, to the outside world. Another teacher named Solomon drags Ginny into the war against this philosophy, inviting–for the both of them–backlash of a potentially fatal kind.

And a rough excerpt …

Their faces drifted out of a great melty blur.

Leeza the Fierce One. Glittering grey eyes and beanie, yellow, as ever. Red-as-fire-engine hair and a heavy camouflage jacket that looked like it had belonged to her father.

Decklin the Loner. Hiding himself in the back corner, he sketched during the past two writing sessions.

Jess Lawrence of the Lawrence clan. Raymond Lawrence Jr., her uncle, had swung by to say hi already, near the start of class on the third day. She tucked her pencil in her left long sock, presumably so it would not get lost. Or taken.

Paulene hated mice and tucked her feet underneath her when she wrote, just in case one would scurry underneath. (Not unlikely, given the condition of the school.) She, however, was not a girly girl; I saw how she tore into her sloppy Joe at lunch on the first day. Judging by her stained white tee, the holey skirt, the sweater, which she wore every day, I did not think she ate outside of school.

B.J. hated class. At least, seeing him sleep through every request I made of the class, it felt like it to me—I had yet to distance my worth as a teacher and as a person from my class’s attention spans. I wondered now. Did he ever get to sleep at home? Where did he lay his head at night? On a ratty couch? A floor?

Tilly Rae reminded me of my sister, Kinsey, with bright almost-white hair spilling bushily out from under her grey sweatshirt hood. She looked out at the world like it truly was out to eat her, or at least, to take a bite. I wondered about her home life if her peers inspired such tremors.

Sam, HeatherAnn, and Winnie huddled in a corner and giggled. I could not yet tell them apart, partly because I had had terribly experiences with popular girls in middle and high school, and my natural bias had kicked in, preventing much differentiation. But these girls would never have even broached the second-wave popular crowd at my old school, given their camouflage backpacks, middle-schoolish pink ribbons, and heavier middles than was acceptable in Vogue-entrenched city schools.

Hunter’s lumbering body took up twice the space of any other student, and when he stood by me, I—an above-average 5’ 8’’—felt like a child, not that I felt like the authority anyhow. The way Leeza looked at him, I guessed she felt the same: the only person in the world she might be afraid to mouth off to.

Ian had asked me to call him “Lobster” on the first day. He looked related to Leeza, but I could not tell if there was any relation there. He goofed and giggled during class, freckle face beaming at his own private antics. It was harmless, and the popular girls made google eyes at him, but he got on Hunter’s nerves. Given the latter’s size, I kept my eyes open.

John-Mark was the mystery kid. He said nothing, did nothing, only obeyed and looked back at me, studying me.

I felt like a unicorn.

Who was I? Dark from summer, kicking around in Keds, unable to write in chalk, and constantly shaking out the tickling ends of a growing-out rocker hair cut… though I was most clearly not a rocker, hipster, city-slicker, or anything distinct. I was as nameless as the Cat that trailed me home.

I could not just throwback a reference to some cultural phenomenon like college parties. They did not know what those looked like. Or thrifting in Goodwills to look homeless. We—my old friends and I—talked about being poor college students while we had stood in the middle of our riches.

The people looked back at me.

Who did I think I was?

“You are doing a noble thing,” Mom, Amelia, …even my host mom, Mrs. Chamblee, had said.

Who did I think I was?

The people are poor. During training, we had been warned about the food running low in the cafeteria: always bring your food. Always. Or go to the vending machine. Or start a Victory garden by the dumpster.

The people are poor. During training, we had been warned about students jumping in the lake without knowing how to swim; Appalachia kids, you know. “No swimming holes?” “Not any deeper than five feet. And the lake’s town property. Mountain kids avoid it.” Watch for the hind kick. The look in the eye like the struck deer. Look directly underneath your chair; more kids drown there than any other place in the water.

The people are poor. During training, we were told not to talk about our relative wealth. Our flat-screen televisions. Our 3-minute wait time Emergency Rooms. Our trash can full of could’ve-been-eaten food.

Dress down. Talk straight. Above all, don’t demand respect. Especially from the mountain kids.

When Sunday afternoon rolled around and when I saw the kind gentleman who had sold me the composition notebooks; when I saw Mrs. Chamblee, town gentry, mingling carefully with the mountain families; when I saw that I was the only new teacher, the only one from the outside; and when I saw Solomon with the people…

…I knew what I was.

A savior-poser.

I ate a bite of sweet potato casserole and tried to pay attention to a woman with white hair so thin, I could see her scalp, who was telling me the history of the recipe.

“We would be nothing without you teachers coming every year, Miss Mulligan,” the woman said at the end of her long narrative. She smiled. In the front were missing eyeteeth.

I almost believed her.

on writing

Welcome, NoShaveNaNoWriMo…erm, November

It’s that time of year again. My little sister’s herd of screaming girlfriends rampages the house, strung out on soda and Halloween candy, in honor of her birthday. We prematurely play Celtic Woman Christmas and Michael Bublé on the car radio (can only listen to him around this time… don’t know why). Men and women alike vow to lay aside razors in favor of the Cavemen and Girl-power Looks–with accompanying smell. There’s the usual Macy’s Day Parade, a triptobed from tryptophan, and thank-you notes on hand-traced crayon turkeys. Most importantly, NaNoWriMo culture invades campuses and workplaces across America. For scholars, the first casualty to our 50,000-word goal is usually homework. Concern for proper MLA formatting on a 20-page teaching module flies away like something that flies, but I don’t know what because I’m already low on similes. The next death in the family of sedentary activities: blogging (this fact stated, why am I blogging? I’m already behind by 500 words). Happy November.


I’ve never really done this insane thing called National Novel Writing Month before. Not whole-heartedly. This time around, I’ve pretty much sold my soul. As much as I love blogging and writing poems, I have missed lengthy prose with characters I know better than real human beings. The momentum of NaNoWriMo will help, I think, get me over my initial dislike of new narrative worlds. Sometimes, new settings are like new shoes, and since my greatest comfort zones are riddled with familiarity and comfortable “souls,” the newness of the novel can jar me enough that I stop writing. This cannot happen. Those 500 words call my name. Excessive description perhaps? At least, to tide me over until my 1,667 words due tomorrow.

Speaking of which, have any of you ever heard of “purple prose“? My fellow Writing Center tutor and NaNoWriter, Steph, was attempting to explain this phenomenon to me today in between tutoring sessions. According to Steph, what’s-her-face fluffs her Twilight books up with it, namely via descriptions of Edward’s Adonis-like torso. “Literary self-indulgence…” she said. Well, this gal is going to be giving herself over to quite a bit of purple prose. No outline in sight…settings as new to me as to any future reader…oddball characters who have yet to let me name them (these willful brain-children…)… Who cares? I’ll revise in January 2008-01-01 00.00.00-58after the ink’s dried out during December.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Must write the thing first. In case I run into a wall or a wall pops up out of the floor while I’m dashing through the maze of my characters’ minds because they are disobedient creatures… I’ve made my own version of a NaNoWriMo Prompt Jar. Everything will be a rushed fog this month, and no, I won’t be shaving. Hence, I shortened it to “nanojar”– fewer syllables. nanojar of inspirationIt is full to the brim with folded slips of construction paper on which I have written writing “dares.” For instance, #14: “What’s the worst thing that could happen to your character right now? Do it.” (But shouldn’t that always be our motto? If novelists did to real people what they did to their characters, they’d get locked up.) You brave souls, add me as a buddy (search “dorinorman“) and write with me if you dare.