Monday, November 16, 2009

My story, in 100 words or less

Just for fun, I ran Microsoft Word's "autosummarize" tool over the 50,000 words of fiction that I just finished writing, to see how a computer-automated reader would sum up the story in 100 words or less.

I think you'll agree that the Cliff's notes edition of this story is destined to be hugely popular. Here are the key "sentences" that Word picked out for me:

Meet Professor Toulos

Professor Toulos stirred his soup thoughtfully.

"I'm Professor Stephen Toulos."

"Hi Stefan."

"Stefan, hey man."

"OK, thanks Stefan."

"How is Stefan doing?"

"Hey, it's Stefan."

"No, Stefan."

Tiffany asked.



Tiffany gasped.

How did Professor Toulos know about her and Stefan being involved?


"Professor Toulos?"

"It's me, Stefan."

"Stefan! What happened?"

"No, Stefan."

"Professor Toulos?" Stefan asked in disbelief.

"Tiffany, hi."

Professor Toulos stopped her.

"OK, Tiffany."

Stefan shouted in the professor's ear.

Stefan asked him.

Stefan paused and glared at the professor.

Toulos asked.

Professor Toulos expected that very answer.

Tiffany knew.

Summarized this way, it sounds much more melodramatic than I meant it to be -- feels almost like a soap opera. Of course, you still have very little concept of what actually happens in the story, which I think is why Microsoft all but dumped the autosummarize feature from its latest versions of Word.

Useless tools like this give me some reassurance that the evil computers aren't quite ready to take over the world yet.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Woo hoo


Microsoft Word counts 50,236 words. NaNoWriMo's website counts 50,339. But let's not dicker over 103 words. The important point is: it's more than 50,000. Feels pretty good, I must say.

There's still work to do to make this a complete story. It's probably 90% complete. (Of course, that's a first draft, a very rough first draft. Once that's finished, there'll be more than a little rewriting to do.)

It's been fun to feel like a writer for a month, instead of just some guy who claims to like writing but doesn't have the time or motivation.

For now, I'm gonna take a break and celebrate with some Famous Amos cookies. Thanks for cheering me on, everybody. And thanks to Meaghan for taking several double shifts of caring for Logan while I wrote.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Must... get... sleep

Writing is hard work, apparently, even when you get to just make up all the details -- or maybe especially when you just make up everything.

I had envisioned myself writing through the night and finishing up before Saturday morning dawned, but after writing 11,000 words today I am just a little tired. (It's good tired.)

I am happy to report this long day of writing has brought me up to 47,000 words to date, which means I need a measly 3,000 more on Saturday. Psshaw.

Well, seriously, it might be a little tricky. Throughout the contest, weekends have been the most difficult time for me to write because Logan is home all day. He demands quite a lot of attention, and he's cool enough that I'm happy to give it to him. But it does mean that I have a hard time getting anything else done.

So... I'll be back in a few hours, refreshed and ready to top the big 5-0-0-0-0, I hope.

For those of you actually interested in the story and not just my word count, I have realized without a doubt that the story I have begun telling will require more than 50,000 words to finish. I don't know how many yet, or how long it will take me to finish it, but it will not be finished when I hit 50,000 words tomorrow. But soon after, I hope.

Good night.

The final sprint

Let the countdown begin. I am now about 40 hours away from my personal deadline in the NaNoWriMo contest -- midnight Saturday.

If there's good news for me, it is that I have kept a pretty good pace in the last week, adding 13,000 words since I updated you all last Friday. The bad news, though, is that I had not maintained that weekly average all along. Here I sit with 36,000 words in front of me, which means I have to write 14,000 today and tomorrow. Zounds.

Well, I suppose I should get started. Recall that I have scheduled to take the day off from work today to write. Is that a sad way to use a vacation day? Maybe, but sometimes in life a man just has to set a completely arbitrary goal for himself and then skip out on work to get as close as he can to accomplishing it.

So off I go to write. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Down but not out... and something to read

Ladies and gentleman, as you have probably guessed because of my silence of the past week, I have fallen terribly far behind in my NaNoWriMo schedule. Last weekend was really busy with non-writing activities, and much of this week I have been an unmotivated slug. Excuses, excuses.

Point is: here I am only eight days away from my personal deadline, and I have just crossed the 23,000 word mark. (The goal is 50,000, remember.) Yikes.

I do plan to make a comeback, although it's going to be tricky. I might have to pull a few late nights, a la the days of college newspapering.

Well, instead of an excerpt from my writing, today I recommend you read this really interesting social commentary article from Vanity Fair on the rise of cute culture. It will make you laugh and feel a little sick to your stomach.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Act 1, Scene 3

Here's another excerpt, for those who are interested. This is currently set up as my third scene of the book, but the organization could change of course.

Again, more scene-setting and foreshadowing and all that jazz. I hope those of you who want to know where this story is actually going don't get too frustrated. I promise, for anyone who's interested, I will e-mail the full rough draft when it is completed (just more than two weeks, yikes). Crap, I think I just dismissed my readers from this blog.

Well, if anyone's still here:


Professor Toulos parked his car tight against the curb of his wide, unpainted street, lined with decades-old oak trees. His home, comparable to its neighbors, was a quaint bungalow, small but detailed in its architectural touches --- a bit of gingerbread trim lining the top of the porch, decorative brackets pretending to prop up the eaves of the roof, and thick wavy glass window panes telling the home’s true age, despite its well-kept, good-as-new appearance.

The home, surrounded primarily by homes of other unmarried professors from the university, plus a number of retired couples and widows, sat roughly a half mile away from the university’s business school where Toulos kept his office. The close proximity allowed him to walk to work most days, barring bad weather or some longer range travel plans during or after his work day that would require him to drive his car.

A gray cat meowed to him from its perch on the back of the couch as he eased the front door closed behind him. “Hello, Adam Smith,” Toulos said in a high-pitched voice, reaching out to pat the cat’s head. The cat ducked the hand and took a swipe at it with his clawless front paw.

Toulos pushed off his leather loafers and slid them into their designated resting place, underneath a side table beside the foot of the stairs. He slipped off his sport jacket and hung it over the newel post, to be carried up to his bedroom momentarily, then made a detour into the kitchen, to refill Adam Smith’s food and water dishes. He poured himself a drink -- a glass of cognac -- and headed upstairs to his computer.

Switching on a little classical background music, Toulos sipped at his cognac and began to respond to comments on his latest blog, a semi-fictional piece about plastic surgery gone wrong for actress Tara Reid. His story ended with the twist that she surrendered her body for invasive experimentation by the likes of a fictitious scientist of questionable repute (based loosely on a number of comic book villains).

“OMG, Tara used 2 B such a cutee, but now shez Trashy w/a cap T. Hope the sicntist figurs out the jeans that makes prety girls turn to skank hos,” reader 2Cool4Skool commented in response to the story.

Toulos, writing under his screen name CelebriScooper, licked his lips and fired back a response: “That would be a terrific discovery in the field of genetics, 2Cool. So if they could find the gene sequence responsible for skankiness, would we want them to eliminate it or promote its spread throughout all of Hollywood? LOL!”

The professor chuckled to himself and took another sip of cognac. The stereo softly played Tchaikovsky.

Another reader, boicrazy14, wrote: “Awesome story as always, Scooper. Love love love Tara Reid and hope those scientists can get her all put back together again soon. Hey Hollywood: More Tara and Ashton movies!!! Those two are soooo cute together!!!”

CelebriScooper replied: “Thanks boicrazy. We’ve got connections around here, so we’ll talk with Hollywood about your Tara-Ashton request.”

The reader comments went on, 31 of them on this post, which had turned out not to be one of the blog’s more popular stories. The really hot topics commonly drew upward of 75 comments. Tara Reid and her surgeries were pretty old news by this point, but Toulos remained fascinated by her. It was not a sexual fascination, at least not in the usual sense, as Toulos actually found her rather repulsive. He tended to agree with 2Cool’s assessment of her. But something about her devil-may-care attitude had sparked his curiosity during the holiday break, and this post was the fifth story he had written on her in two weeks.

Toulos always read every comment word for word, although he often replied to only three or four of them for each story. His strategy leaned more toward using the comments as feedback and guidelines, to know which way to steer his future posts to keep the readers interested – even though ultimately he would decide on his subject matter based on his own personal obsessions at any given time.

His favorite subjects were generally pretty similar to the favorite subjects of the supermarket tabloids – the fouled-up love lives of famous actors, actresses and musicians, the bad-boy antics of hot-tempered tough guys, and the like. Plastic surgeries added some nice fodder from time to time. But Toulos toed a careful line between strict gossip site and fan fiction site. Since his first taste of celebrity gossip, his greatest interest had always been in exploring the subject imaginatively. Perhaps letting his mind add far-fetched details and structuring his blog posts as narrative works let him convince himself that this hobby held some intellectual merit and that he was not totally debasing his mind with superficial nonsense.

Still, even if he had himself partially convinced of the respectability of his hobby, he remained sufficiently unconvinced that he felt it vitally important to keep this interest of his a secret from the world. Not only did his close friend Sandra not know about it, no one knew about it. On the blog, he was wholly anonymous. He made no mention of his identity, not even his first name. He did not disclose his location, not even “Iowa” or “the Midwest”. He never discussed celebrity gossip with his peers at the university or with his students, although he often discreetly listened in to their conversations on the subject.

The closest he came to exposing his secret interest was in having a couple of celebrity-centric magazine subscriptions mailed to his home: People and US Weekly. Still, those were mainstream enough that he could perhaps pass them off as just ordinary coffee table material. And almost no one ever visited his home anyway.

Naturally, the majority of his obsessions focused on actors, actresses, pop musicians and similar figures of national or even international fame. He took interest in the occasional political or sports personality, only if he or she had some exceptional bit of charm or intrigue. In this last category, he had found an opportunity to mix in a bit of local interest the previous year, when as a junior Iowa’s own All-American linebacker Stefan Jones was awarded the Heisman trophy. Toulos had never actually met Jones in person, nor even seen him up close so far as he could recall, but the fact that he studied and played football at the same university where Toulos taught made him an obvious choice to write about. Not wanting to give away his own locale or identity, the professor had been careful to blend Jones in with other sports figures, writing forward-looking fiction about his future glory days in the NFL -- partying with pretty ladies yet also serving as a heroic figure who tackled would-be robbers in convenience stores.

Toulos’ interest in Jones had tapered off not long after his Heisman win, and he probably had not written about any sports celebrities at all in several months. As he sat at his computer on this night, crafting a tale about an unwed Hollywood starlet pregnant with triplets by three different men, the professor gave no thought to the young football player, who would very soon reenter Toulos’ life and lead him to a kind of notoriety that he had always strived hard to avoid.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 13, Words 17,000-plus

I am happy to report that the writing continues. With a current word count of 17,291, I'm a couple days behind schedule, although I haven't done any writing yet today. If I were precisely on pace, I would have just over 21,500 words by end of day, and I need to reach the halfway point by the end of the week.

I must admit: I was fairly nervous and unsure of myself when I began this. I feared that I would run out of ideas to flesh out the story's skeleton or that my schedule would get too busy to write. I read on the NaNoWriMo website that last year only about 18% of the people who registered to participate actually completed the 50,000 words within the month. But I've got to say I'm feeling pretty good about it now. I'm determined to succeed, and I'm even scheduling a vacation day from work just before my deadline so I can catch up if I'm still a little behind schedule. It is rather motivating having you blog readers watching for my updates and excerpts.

Got to tend to my day job for now. Maybe I'll add an excerpt later.