Never to Have Loved at All

It feels like rain. All the time. Not the good kind that lulls you to sleep, drowns out the city and all its noise so you can get some rest; the kind that ruins parades, sends kids inside, the kind you try to read to, but the thunder scares you and you lose your place. The kind that overflows your gutters, leaves puddles in your path and a cascade right outside your door, so you can run to your car but you’ll still get soaked to the bone. The kind that isn’t warm, it’s cold. The kind that keeps you up all night, quoting Tennyson and thinking about the different kinds of rain.

nowPlaying: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Full disclosure: I’m a staff writer/reviewer at cubed3.com. The reviews I post here on my blog are original and don’t necessarily reflect the views of that site.

Screenshots were taken by me, using the 3DS software and Nintendo’s Miiverse connectivity. All content in them is obviously Nintendo’s, not mine.

Allow me to play the Song of Time and take you a little way back along my timeline.

When I was a little kid, sometimes I would sit and watch my uncle play an old game on his NES, The Legend of Zelda. Try as he might, he just couldn’t find the entrance to the 7th dungeon. I tried to help in whatever way I could, which, looking back, probably wasn’t much. This was before the internet, before walkthroughs and GameFAQs and what have you. I don’t think we ever found that dungeon. Not back then, anyway.

Flash forward a few years. I have an NES (and even a Super Nintendo!) of my own. Nintendo has recently released their brand-new system, the Nintendo 64. While at the grocery store with my parents, I found a Nintendo kiosk with a playable game called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I remember thinking “Hey, they made a third Zelda!” (Much later I would come to learn this was actually the latest in a whole series of them.) I tried to play it, but I didn’t know how to work the controller, and I couldn’t get Link to jump. I thought it was strange, and I gave up and left to catch up with my family.

More time went by. I Got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas, and eventually I had my own copy of Ocarina of Time.  As far as fiction goes, there isn’t a lot in this world that I can easily say “changed my life” but this is one of them. Everything I thought I knew about video games, everything I thought I knew about fiction was turned upside down. New fields sprawled out before me, all thanks to an elf-looking kid in a green tunic.

Then came the next console game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. This time I was ready and waiting.

It was a long wait.

All the Time

I got the game, but it required a new accessory, the Expansion Pak. We couldn’t quite afford it, but the local video store did have them available for rent. So I played the game a little bit at a time, each a few weeks or months apart, until I finally got an Expansion Pak.

This game changed things as much as Ocarina did. Ocarina of Time invited me to a world I could play in. Majora’s Mask brought me to one that desperately needed saving; every NPC wandering the streets of Termina had their own fate that I could track over the course of three in-game days, a time loop that required attention and timing to get right.

The game became my favorite in the series, and still is. The series is dear to me, but no game after this one made me care so much. Sure, Midna is one of my favorite characters ever, and Wind Waker and Skyward Sword re-defined the titular Princess Zelda, but on the whole, NPCs and side quests are entirely skippable. The sense of urgency is gone, the trippy, otherworldly location of Termina remains unmatched.

While I eagerly await the next game in the series (which will hopefully arrive this year), the long-speculated Majora’s Mask 3D remake came out recently, and of course I showed up at midnight to pick up a copy.

Overall, the game has stood up to time well. Seeing these characters brought back to life is wonderful, and once again I find myself lost in that three-day time loop, struggling to help characters I know aren’t real, but boy oh boy does it feel like seeing an old friend from my childhood again.

A Band

Certain parts have been dumbed down or made easier, but they aren’t forced on you, and enough of the game has changed to keep things interesting. After all these years, the Kafei and Anju sidequest remains probably my favorite sidequest in video game history, and a certain moment toward the end, before the final boss, is as beautiful and breathtaking as it was the first time I experienced it.

Still, a certain sense of regret came from how much I already knew how to do. part of the game’s legend is in the mystery, in living each three-day cycle over and over, taking note of what happens, where, and when, until you can finally put things right. That doesn’t happen so much on subsequent playthroughs. There’s nothing to be done for it; a poster on reddit once said something to the effect of “If I could, I’d erase my memory of Breaking Bad so I could enjoy it for the first time again.” I would, too! But while I was at it, I’d throw a round of Majora’s Mask in there.

I don’t know where this series is going. I’m not even sure I know where I want it to go. But if, in the future, Nintendo decided to give Majora’s Mask a spiritual successor (the way they made A Link Between Worlds a spiritual successor to A Link to the Past), I’d welcome it. You know what they say: Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow. However, that parting need not last forever.

Scenes

I’ve mentioned my little project I’m calling “Scenes” before. The basic idea is I take pictures (some new, most of them old ones lying around my hard drive) and put somewhat-related excerpts of my writing over them. It’s mostly for fun: Picking a photo, picking an excerpt, choosing a font, arranging it, applying effects to it, etc.

I mostly post these on the facebook page for In the Lone and Level Sands, since so far all of the scenes I’ve made are from that book. I do plan on making some for my other writing, but the zombie apocalypse epic was the most inspiring, so that’s where I started.

I’ve also been posting the project on my tumblr page, and today I finally got it up and running on this site as well. It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought, since WordPress has a built in “gallery” feature, and it even adds some nice effects (like randomly arranging the photos in a grid, which I like). You can find it under “Samples” in the navigation bar, or through this URL: https://davidjlovato.wordpress.com/samples/scenes-from-in-the-lone-and-level-sands/

The idea is to have a separate page for scenes from each of my books, when I finally get around to doing some from the others. I might do a few of my poems, as well.

Speaking of which, I’m almost finished with my poetry book. A few poems need cleaning up, even fewer need finishing, and then it’s mostly a matter of waiting a while before going back and editing the whole thing. I’m kicking a few titles around; I have yet to find one I’m in love with.

nowWatching: The Wind Rises

I hope the more avid fans of Miyazaki and anime will forgive me for using the English titles in this blog post; they come more naturally to me and, I assume, most of my readers.

The image that appears later in this post was taken from the Ghibli wiki at nausicaa.net.

Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite filmmakers and one of my biggest influences, not just in my writing, but in my philosophy. From the first time I watched Princess Mononoke, I was in love with the animation and storytelling. I’d never seen anything like it before. I still haven’t. Even the other Studio Ghibli films (all of which consist of unparalleled quality, and all of which I thoroughly enjoy) aren’t quite on the same plane as Miyazaki’s personally-directed projects. (Credit must be given to Isao Takahata, whose films come close, and special mention to Hiromasa Yonebayashi, whose film The Secret World of Arrietty is wonderful; as well as Gorō Miyazaki, who directed Tales From Earthsea, one of my least-favorite Ghibli films, then went on to direct From Up on Poppy Hill, one of my favorites.)

I don’t know that I had ever cared for fictional characters as much as I cared for the ones in Princess Mononoke. It was particularly interesting to me that I was not presented with a “bad guy”, but with a large cast of characters who happened to have conflicting agendas, and sometimes do bad things. Even one of the central characters, Ashitaka, has a momentary lapse in his otherwise peaceful, nonviolent nature: “If it would lift the curse, I’d let it tear you apart.” The film’s characters are more than believable, they are alive.

Spirited Away made a big splash in America, winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. This film is probably the best example of one of the things that makes Miyazaki’s films so enjoyable. Taking place in a bathhouse for spirits, you can watch the movie a hundred times, and every time, you’ll notice something new, some minuscule detail placed in the background or hiding within a few frames. Hundreds of spirits go about their daily lives, and when you watch the film you can piece together countless untold stories. The film is a snapshot of characters that, while fictional, never cease to be real.

Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorite Miyazaki films, and I bought Ponyo the day it came out on DVD. Despite all of this, I had never seen one of his movies in the theater until last night. I’m glad to have had the experience; The Wind Rises is currently slated to be his last.

Kaze Tachinu official movie poster. Image taken from nausicaa.netI’m not going to say a lot about the movie. One reason for this is that it just came out in America last night, and not a lot of people have had the opportunity to see it yet. The other reason is that I don’t believe I can adequately convey my experience in watching the film. For every time I laughed, every glint of light across an airplane’s wings, every flake of snow drifting into a young woman’s sleeping bag, every puff of smoke blown from a character’s cigarette, one thought kept coming back into my mind: This is the last one he’ll make.

Almost every film Hayao Miyazaki has directed features a scene where characters take flight. It’s only fitting that his last film carry the wind as a theme. More than this, the wind is an ever-present character in the movie. It appears in almost every scene, drifting smoke or curtains in the background, or carrying a parasol and changing a character’s life forever.  I think this speaks to Miyazaki’s talent: The wind is invisible, but that couldn’t stop him from making an animated movie about it.

I would like to see the film in its original Japanese someday, but I’m thankful for the care and talent put in by the English cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite actors, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better person to carry the film. John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Martin Short, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy, and Mae Whitman round out the supporting cast, and each does a fantastic job giving a voice to Miyazaki’s wonderful characters. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom has done a fantastic job on the English adaptations of many Studio Ghibli films, and I’m thankful that such care is taken to bring the movies into a new language while keeping the story and interactions between characters intact.

I can’t describe the joy I would feel if Miyazaki were to again come out of retirement and announce a new film. It wouldn’t surprise me; some people never quit. They slow down, they take breaks, but they’re always working on something, there’s always another thing calling to them, begging to be shared with the world. Hayao Miyazaki strikes me as that type of person. But if it never happens, if The Wind Rises really is his last film, I can accept that. With a heavy heart but a smile on my face, I would understand and accept it.

Something About Spring

There’s something about the spring that makes me want to visit other worlds.

I aim to always be reading something. Sometimes I’ll take a week or two off from reading, especially if I’m editing my writing; I need to give my eyes a break, after all. I’m editing something right now, but I’m not taking a break from reading (instead I’m reading a graphic novel, which is a little lighter on the eyes than a book is).

The other morning I stepped outside to let my dogs out, and for once it wasn’t freezing. It was actually nice; it was warm in the sunlight, and the wind was cold, but soft. It reminded me that spring is on the way, but more than that it reminded me of past springs and summers, when I’d sit on the porch swing reading books, only taking breaks to dream up my own.

Spring is almost like a refresh. Let’s reboot the planet, all the plants and the sun and the air. It gives me a feeling I can only describe as “new”. New year, new world. Maybe that’s what makes me want to visit other worlds, in reading and in writing, and it often continues through the summer.

We’re coming up on that time, and I’m excited. I’m not sure what I’ll be reading two months from now (probably either The Dispossessed or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making), and perhaps more importantly, I’m not sure what I’ll be writing two months from now. All I know is that I’m excited to get there.

It snowed last night, reminding me spring isn’t here yet. But oh, is it coming, and I can’t wait to meet you in another world.

On Titles

Over a year ago, I was browsing a magazine (I don’t remember which), and near the back was a review of a book I’d never heard of. The book is called The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. I didn’t read the review (I think they gave it five stars, I don’t recall), but I did add the book to my mental “to read” list immediately.

The title hit me like a freight train. It captured my attention, held it, and demanded I pick the book up.

I looked into it and discovered the book is a sequel to one with a title that’s almost as good: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It should be noted that I haven’t read either book yet (a misfortune I plan to remedy very, very soon), but regardless of how that goes for me, I think these are two of the best book titles I’ve ever seen in my life. (The author is Catherynne M. Valente, for those interested in looking these books up.)

When it comes to titles, I don’t know that I’d consider them among the most important parts of the writing process. A bad title probably won’t turn anyone away, but a good title can certainly turn a reader toward your book. For example, let’s look at two of my favorite books: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is one. It’s a great title for several reasons. To start, it has a sort of mystical feel to it. You don’t immediately know what it’s about. There are two key words in the title: “silence”, which makes me think of darkness, death, suspense, and fear. The other is “lambs”, which conjures the idea of “innocence”. So now I have to know why innocence is being silenced, which means I have to read the book (or, at the very least, the back cover).

(In case you don’t know, the book is a horror/suspense novel about a young FBI agent hunting a serial killer. The title comes into full play toward the end of the book.)

Now a second of my favorite books: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s simple, straight to the point, and honestly, tells me absolutely nothing about the story. That book could be about anything. I can guess that perhaps the titular road is symbolic and that there will be some kind of journey involved, either internal or external, but not much else. (It turns out it’s a bit of both; it’s a post-apocalyptic road novel.)

I wouldn’t say The Road is a bad title, but it’s no Silence of the Lambs. It doesn’t demand I drop what I’m doing to read the book (which is where the synopsis has to take over), but it certainly doesn’t make me turn away from the book, either.

With all of this in mind, when I choose a title for my work, more than anything else I try to find one that fits the story. Lately, I try to aim for the attention-getter, but sometimes I just can’t find one. In any case, I thought I’d give a few pointers in how to narrow down a good title, or at least a good place to start looking for one.

You’re going to want something that serves as a “bigger picture” summary of your story. (The Road nailed this one.) Bonus points if this is unique. George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is a good example. The book is, at its heart, about a struggle of succession to the throne, and how many of the people involved more or less game the system. It’s also very obvious just from the title that we’re probably talking historical fantasy, and the title isn’t readily reminiscent of any other title I can think of. So it’s unique, it hints at the genre, and it summarizes the story within.

A good way to find something like that in your own work is to look for a word or term or phrase within. (Another one A Game of Thrones nailed, as the term appears twice in the book, if memory serves.) An example of this is my own book, In the Lone and Level Sands. While it’s not immediately clear from the title that the book is about zombies (though those familiar with the Shelley poem the title alludes to might think “post-apocalyptic”), the title is, in my opinion, an attention-getter. It’s also taken directly from a conversation two characters have toward the end of the book, and relates to the story pretty clearly from that context.

So, long story short, you want something that summarizes your story, hints at the genre, grabs the attention, or does all of these. A good place to look is in the work itself, in a passage of writing, a bit of dialogue, or just in the general plot. Sometimes you can find it by looking elsewhere; for example, Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men does a good enough job of summarizing the story, even though the line is taken from a completely unrelated poem. (Again, my own In the Lone and Level Sands can relate.) Just make sure it’s related to your story in some way and falls under fair use; plagiarism doesn’t make for good titles.

I think a good combination to shoot for is this: Your cover should draw the reader in from afar. Your summary should make the reader have to read the book. But your title should make the reader have to read the summary. And, if your title is good enough, it just might cause a few readers to skip the summary and dive right in. Catherynne M. Valente’s titles did it for me, and I can only hope to be that good at coming up with titles in the future.

In closing, here’s a list of some of my favorite book titles and my own comments about them. Feel free to add yours in the replies.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. The Word for World is Forest, also by Le Guin. (No idea what either of these books are about, but I’m pretty sure they’re both in her Hain series, which I’m about halfway through.)

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski. (Sounds cool, and it’s a road novel, and there’s a lot of teenage anarchy involved, so it’s a perfect fit.)

John Dies at the End and its sequel This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong. (I mean, you pretty much have to read a book with that title.)

The Drawing of the Three and The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King. (Both of these are Dark Tower novels, and both have the sort of fantastical title that captures my attention. Most of the books in that series do.)

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. (You see the title and have a pretty good idea what the book is about.)

The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft. (The title is almost as creepy as the novella is. I could list almost everything Lovecraft ever wrote here, so you should probably just look up a list of his works.)

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle. (Another attention-grabber.)

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. (Another perfect title. You can guess the genre as scifi/fantasy, it draws you in, and it does a wonderful job of capturing the heart of the story.)

The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me by Brand New. (This is an album and not a book, but it fits just as well.)

Camp NaNoWriMo Progress Report

This month’s camp project is going well. Unlike my June project, I’ll probably finish sometime this month.

The downside is I’m pretty sure this project of mine is going to be a novella, not a novel. That’s actually okay though, I like this story and I like how it’s turning out, so it will be what it needs to be and no more.

My writing process has been interesting. I’ve been writing at night, and then I get into bed and brainstorm while falling asleep. It sounds strange but it’s working well for this project. I tend to come up with ideas when I’m just on the verge of unconsciousness, and then I wake up and write them down. Not every idea is a good one, but a lot of them are. When I go to write the next day I figure out which ideas to incorporate and where.

I’ve also been doing a lot of drawings using GIMP. Some are inspired by the writing, and some of the writing is inspired by the drawings. I don’t think I’ve ever done that in writing before, but again this is an odd project for me and it’s all meshing really well with this particular story.

I also have a playlist of music that reminds me of the story and the characters and how they are, and I listen to that a lot. It keeps me in the right mindset.

How are all of you nanos out there doing? What do you do for inspiration?

Tips for Camp NaNoWriMo

If you didn’t already know, the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo begins this Friday. Camp NaNoWriMo is about the same as regular NaNoWriMo, just in the summer, and there are two sessions (The other one being in August). The goal is to write a complete 50,000+ word manuscript in 30 days or less.

My second manuscript is a product of National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve attempted every session since. I’m going to give some advice to those new to or curious about the process.

NaNoWriMo is a prompt. Its main purpose is to prompt those who otherwise wouldn’t write into doing so, but if you’re already a writer (or even if you aren’t) NaNoWriMo can still come in handy. It’s a lot of fun and adds a little bit more to the writing experience.

Don’t take it too seriously. It’s not about winning or losing, and really there’s no way to lose. Say you pass the 50k word mark, but it took you two months to get there. Who cares? You wrote a book, didn’t you? How is that anything but winning?

Don’t be afraid to fail the deadlines or break the rules. For Camp last year I had an idea I was kicking around, and I decided to wait about a month and a half for Camp to start to begin work on it. It turned out the project didn’t go where I thought it would, and I ended up scrapping it and now I plan to start over. I love my idea, but because I waited so long to start I didn’t realize until it was too late that it wouldn’t go as planned, and because of the word count I tried to force it out anyway. I ended up with a huge mess. Needless to say, I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo that time. I would have been far better off starting the project as soon as I felt ready and taking the time it needed me to take. I still would’ve failed NaNoWriMo, but I might have had something to show for it.

A friend of mine started a project last November and got a few thousand words in, and while he continues his project, he definitely didn’t meet the deadline. I told him about Camp and he expressed concern that it’s against the rules to continue an old project. I told him it would be better to participate anyway, despite being disqualified from the beginning. Again, it’s better to be disqualified and have a finished book than to not attempt it and have nothing.

Remember to have fun. If it stops being fun, if it feels like your project isn’t going the right way because you’re caught up in rules and deadlines, just take a step back and decide whether continuing with NaNoWriMo is the right way to go. After my Camp fiasco last year, I was able to identify when the same thing was happening to a different project in November. I didn’t hesitate to give up on NaNoWriMo, and come January I had a novella I was a lot happier with than I would have been if I had forced it out a few weeks prior.

With that all said, I’ll be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this year. You can follow my progress via my page here, and I’ll also try to update my blog with how it’s going. What about you? Are you participating this year? Do you have any advice for NaNo newcomers and veterans? Care to share your Camp profile page? Leave a comment.

On Inspiration

Here’s what I’m doing tonight:

I’m a big fan of Studio Ghibli, and Hayao Miyazaki in particular (he wrote this one, but didn’t direct). Miyazaki is one of my biggest influences as a writer. That might sound strange, since he makes movies and I make books, but it’s the truth. Watching these movies is so inspiring. I can watch them over and over, and every time I’ll catch something new. Every frame has so much detail, every little background object or shot of scenery has a story to tell.

Books can be very inspiring, but inspiration can come from anywhere. Studio Ghibli movies consistently inspire me to write stories. I love them and I can hardly wait to see this one.

What inspires you?