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National Novel Writing Month Is Coming

Back in 2014, I won National Novel Writing Month. If you’re not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is “won” by hitting 50,000 words written in a new novel in the month of November. It means you’ve written at least an average of 1,667 words a day for 30 days. And if you’ve never tried it, it is not easy.

Prior to 2014, I didn’t think I could write that fast or write under pressure. But the novel I started drafting back then became what will be my second published novel (in November 2019).

After that success, I tried to attempt NaNoWriMo again, but I was never quite ready at that moment to start something new. But this year, after sending a revision of my current WIP to my agent for her comments, and after thinking and planning and gathering notes on what I want to write next, I think I’m finally ready to tackle it again.

Or I’d better be, because I already signed up to compete.

For me, this may mean getting up early each morning to write before the day gets going. It may mean writing in the evenings instead of reading or watching a show. It may mean spending most of a Saturday at the keyboard. And it may mean all of those things at once!

Why try to write 50,000 words in one month? For me, it’s about momentum. Momentum that will carry me through a crappy first draft that I can then spend a lot more time revising and honing, which is my favorite part of the writing process. After all, you can’t revise what hasn’t yet been written. Plus, I haven’t drafted something totally new in at least two years as I have been focused on revising earlier works and letting my creative well re-fill. It’s time to get moving on a new story with a new cast of characters.

One of the things you do when you officially sign up for NaNoWriMo (at nanowrimo.org) is choose a working title, write a short synopsis, and upload a provisional cover in order to make it all feel more concrete. Here’s mine:

Mel and Ollie Go for a Walk

Sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were college students on a remote wilderness hiking trip when their parents died in a terrible car crash. They emerged from the isolation of the woods that day only to discover that, except for each other, they were utterly alone in the world.

Ten years later, Melanie insists they mark the occasion by hiking the same trail. Olivia doesn’t see the point. They’ve gone their separate ways in life and now have little in common besides their grief–and their uncanny ability to get on one another’s nerves.

Olivia, a young, hungry lawyer, has retreated into a strictly materialist view of the world–what you see is what you get, and that’s all you get. Melanie, a self-proclaimed life coach and YouTube guru, affirms all spiritual belief systems, just to cover her bases. Neither of them is prepared for what the wilderness is about to throw at them.

As things go from bad to worse on the trail, Mel and Ollie will have to learn to lean on each other and find the right path in order to get back to civilization. Along the way, they will discover just how deep the bond between sisters goes.

I’ve been wanting to writing a sister story for a while. And I’ve been wanting to write a hiking story for a while. (No big surprise, considering the fact that I hike with my sister regularly.) The kind of silly working title popped into my head one day and wouldn’t be dislodged, though once the book is written I am sure a better one will emerge. And obviously the very simple cover is just for my benefit (it doesn’t even have y name on it because there’s no good place to put it). But sometimes you have to visualize the finished product in order to make it more real, to make it something you’re willing to put in the work on.

The fun part about this story as I envision it? Taking all of those concerns one has when embarking on a backcountry hiking trip where there is no cell service–the possibility of bear attacks, sudden injury, getting lost, getting caught in the elements, running out of food or water, wildfire, being tracked by a person with ill intent–and throwing some of them at my characters to see how they react and what they learn about life and themselves along the way.

Embarking on NaNoWriMo is a little like taking a hiking trip. You plan as best you can, but you also have to make decisions in the moment. Because you never know what’s around the next bend…

 

I Don’t Have an Amazing Nineties Voice

I haven’t done karaoke since before everyone had a tiny video camera in their pocket at all times. I think this is a good thing.

Click here or on the graphic above for the Your Face Is Crooked podcast episode about my first and last times…which were my only times.

Not Everything Can Be Worn by Everyone…and You’re No Exception

Not everything looks good on everyone, and some things, you just shouldn’t wear. I mean, I shouldn’t. You can probably go right ahead, though.

 

I’m heading out tomorrow for the fourth annual Women’s Fiction Writers Association retreat in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’m bringing a print dress I’ve never worn anywhere else and I would normally never wear (see the podcast for why). We’ll see what kind of reception it gets.

The Artist, Undressed

No one likes to be vulnerable in front of others. Unfortunately, if you’re an artist of any kind, your best work will only come when you do just that.

Click here or on the graphic below for the story of when I was at my most vulnerable in front of an audience…

 

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

I don’t know why or what precipitated it, but recently I had a realization about my favorite childhood stories that seemed worthy of exploring. Namely, that my go-to movies as a child were . . . kinda dark.

The four movies I remember watching the most — like we’re talking an almost constant rotation — are

  • Watership Down (1978)
  • The Last Unicorn (1982)
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1979)
  • The Neverending Story (1984)

We had each of these movies on VHS. If memory serves, only Watership Down was a VHS my parents actually purchased for me. The others were taped off TV whenever a free trial of HBO had appeared on the cable box. (I now have all but one of them on DVD or Blu-Ray.)

This is not to say I didn’t watch Disney movies (which were almost always quite dark in their own way, especially the old ones) or Looney Tunes (also dark . . . there are more suicide jokes than you’re remembering). But when push came to shove and I was watching something on my own, these are the four movies from which I picked. My sister would join in on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and occasionally on The Neverending Story, but she had little patience at the time for talking rabbits and unicorns.

And if I wasn’t watching those movies, I was watching nature documentaries on VHS from National Geographic, which are, quite naturally, filled with hunting and death and infant mortality and hardship of many kinds.

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Darkness pervaded my reading life as well, in the form of books like A Wrinkle in Time, which my son made me stop reading aloud to him when Meg sees the stars being swallowed up by The Black Thing, and Island of the Blue Dolphins, which my husband made me stop reading aloud to him when the girl’s little brother dies.

This all came to me at once one day so that I knew I ought to mark it in some way. I thought that it might make a blog post, but then I didn’t write anything for weeks and weeks and weeks. Because I didn’t know what to say about it.

What did it mean? A few possibilities seemed to drift across the transom of my mind.

Perhaps these things seem dark because they were relics of an earlier age in entertainment. In the 1990s, the self-esteem movement began and children’s programming turned into variations on the innocuous message that “everything’s okay.” I’m okay. You’re okay. Problems are small and the world is bright and everything is bubble-gum and cotton candy and irritating little pop songs that make me want to kill, kill, KILLLLLLL!!! Miss Hannigan style.

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Perhaps because my life was easy and simple and full of light the only way to experience the full range of human emotions was to experience it vicariously through the travails of cartoon rabbits and animatronic luck dragons.

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Perhaps I was simply drawn to the great drama of good against evil. (Starting, again, in the the 1990s, nothing was evil. It was just misunderstood, and so you were supposed to feel bad for it, not fight against it.)

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Whatever the reason, I apparently couldn’t get enough of this…

Or this…

Or this…

Or especially this…

I’ve been thinking about and writing this post for days now, days when I am also reading Irish author Sara Baume’s second novel, A Line Made by Walking. In one of my newsletters, I wrote about when I read her first book, Spill Simmer Falter Wither. I love that book. That rather dark book. And this newest one is dark as well — not in the suspensy-serial-killer-murdery sort of way, or the shape-shifter-vampire-paranormal-apocalypse sort of way, but in the real-life-and-all-its-complications-and-sorrows sort of way.

In A Line Made by Walking, the narrator is trying to work out her depression at her dead grandmother’s home (and a better description of clinical depression I don’t think I have ever or will ever read). Frankie takes pictures of dead animals, thinking that she can form it into some kind of artistic statement (she is a former art student). She’s unhappy and anxious and occasionally near despair during the entire book. And yet, to me her story isn’t depressing.

Dark is not necessarily depressing, though I can see why some people would look at my perhaps-odd choices in entertainment and think that they were. To me, dark is a necessary component of life on this earth, and it is the way in which we know light.

A photo with too much light and not enough dark and you lose the detail in the lighter elements.

A photo with too much dark and not enough light and you lose the detail of the darker elements.

It’s when the light and the dark are at complementary levels that we get the clearest picture of reality, isn’t it?

One of the reasons I write is to understand people in general and myself in particular. I want to understand the darkness that exists within us and the light we are striving toward. I want to understand why people do terrible things to each other. I want to see them reconciled. Without serious conflict, reconciliation is meaningless. Without deep hurt, forgiveness is meaningless.

So I suppose it’s natural that, even as a child, I read books where children died and worlds were snuffed out by some dark power, and I watched movies where entire civilizations were consumed by The Nothing and countless souls were imprisoned in the sea by a maniacal king.

Because of course, in the end, there is always a ray of hope.

A single grain of sand that will become a new land.

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A time of peace and prosperity when weary souls can rest and enjoy the result of their terrible sacrifices.

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The release of a kingdom from the grip of an everlasting winter.

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The freedom of the captives.

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There are, in all of these stories, whispers and echoes of the ultimate story — the fall and redemption of humankind.

When A Line Made by Walking came to an end, Frankie was not “fixed” and “happy.” That kind of ending would have betrayed the work itself. But there was something on which to hang just a little bit of hope for her. For all of us.

Sweet September

In September, the house is sheathed with spiderwebs. At every corner of every window they build their deadly, gossamer castles and lie in wait, bloated and insatiable.

Crane flies perch and hover at windows and doors. Fledglings pick at the seeds of weeds I’ve left to grow unchecked all the hot summer long.

Grasshoppers munch, leap, munch, leap, fly.

Some flowers are spent.

Others are just beginning to bloom.

Others send out a few last blooms as an encore to June’s performance.

The nights are growing longer minute by minute.

Everything that flies or crawls or hops is preparing for the harder, colder season ahead.

 

Even me.

I finally trim back the overgrown and uproot the unwanted.

I remember how much I like tea.

I go on a real grocery shopping trip.

School has begun. Summer, for all intents and purposes, has ended.

And I am not sorry to see it go.

I never am.