Bye, Bye NaNo! Hello, Friday Fictioneers!

Today is the final day of National Novel Writing Month–and now the real work (editing and revising) begins. All over the country as midnight comes and goes in various time zones you’ll hear sighs of relief and cheers of victory as NaNoWriMo-ers validate their word counts.

My NaNo region–Shenandoah Valley and Winchester Wrimos–is having a TGIO (Thanks Goodness It’s Over) dinner in Front Royal, VA, on Saturday, and it will be a great opportunity to meet some of my fellow WriMo’s in, you know, person. We can celebrate and commiserate and compare notes. I’m looking forward to it.

Next month for me brings the publication of my collection of flash fiction, Spy Flash, and there’ll be plenty of details here on the blog on when it becomes available as both an eBook and a paperback on I will also have short stories appearing in two anthologies: The Blue Ridge Anthology 2013 and “100×100,” an anthology of 100-word stories on a single photo prompt, produced by the original founder of Friday Fictioneers, Madison Woods. Again, I’ll post details here on the availability of both anthologies. And just this week, I submitted a manuscript of flash fiction for Rose Metal Press’ fiction chapbook contest. All in all an exciting end to a Year of Writing Constantly.

Today’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt is in line with the holiday season, but I went to the dark side. Again. Face it, there’s no escaping the fact that you can show me something absolutely innocent, and I’ll find something sinister. I no longer fight it but embrace it. It’s for the best. (Bwaa-hahahaha!)

My story this week is aptly entitled “‘Tis the Season,” and it may put you off your holiday shopping. (Heh, heh, heh!) If you don’t see the link on the story title, then scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop down menu.

NaNoWriMo Let-Down?

Counting today, five days remain in National Novel Writing Month. I finished my first draft (65,000+ words) about a week ago, and I think the writing adrenaline left me then.

NaNoWriMo involves a lot of build-up in the month of October, rolls along at a fever intensity for the thirty days of November, then you have a writing crash. Holiday shopping and other preparations intervene, and December can easily become a Month of No Writing.

(And here, I’d like to give a shout-out to my regional NaNoWriMo group, Shenandoah Valley and Winchester Wrimos. The administrators–Susan Warren Utley, LaMishia Allen, and Rebecca Postupak give plenty of encouragement and become your personal cheerleaders through their in-person and on-line events. Great group and great folks.)

I have a personal rule about a NaNoWriMo draft: I put it aside for several months, just to move it from the forefront of my writing brain, and work on other things. After finishing the first draft on November 20, I really had to resist going back and beginning to edit the draft right away. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Not enough distance yet between the first draft and the need to revise. For me, at least, I need to clear that first draft away and forget about it for a while. Only then can I come back and take a “fresh” look at it.

The professionalism of the people who run NaNoWriMo means they don’t encourage you to run out and self-publish that first draft, and to further encourage our success, their web site includes a list of NaNoWriMo-ers who have had their NaNoWriMo novels published. When you study this list, you’ll see that, for those who’ve had their novels published in the traditional manner, it was the novel from two or three years before, i.e., after likely several rounds of editing and revising.

So, if you’re not revising that newly minted NaNoWriMo draft, how can you keep from getting a post-NaNoWriMo let-down? First, who says you only have to start a new novel in November? Start a new novel, work on revising a short story, edit a previous NaNoWriMo work, write a piece of flash fiction–the writing possibilities are endless.

I’m “lucky” in that I have all these manuscripts sitting around in various stages of completion. There’s always something for me to work on, and it’s not like I have to force myself to write. The issue for me has always been treating writing like what it now is–my work, my career. I mean, I took Thanksgiving Day off and felt guilty about it. I guess my pre-retirement, Type A work personality just shifted to my new job. And that’s a good thing?

The only let-down from NaNoWriMo for me was not working on something new and different from what I usually write. With my writing, though, in more ways than one, there’s always work to do.

How about you? What do you do after you’ve finished a project? Do you take a writing break or start right in on the next project?

A Post-Thanksgiving Friday Fictioneers

Is it me, or does Thanksgiving seem early this year? Even so, I’m grateful for many things–family, friends, writing groups (yay, SWAG!), writing, and Friday Fictioneers. Aww, you guys are the best writer buddies a fellow writer can have. Looking forward to another year of Friday Fictioneering!

I’m particularly grateful for having some ability to put words together to tell a story. If I weren’t able to do that, I can’t imagine the toxicity that would fester in my brain. So, when I saw today’s photo prompt, I rubbed my hands together in glee as I immediately come up with today’s story, “Bête Noire.”

If you don’t see the link on the story title above, then scroll to the top of this post and click on the Friday Fictioneers tab then select the story from the drop-down list.

NaNoWriMo Update

The final update for this year’s NaNoWriMo! I finished my draft, of 65,000 words, yesterday evening. Now, it’ll take a nap for a few months, before the hard work begins–revising and editing and editing and revising. I like the concept of the novel, and I like the characters I created, and I look forward to improving both. Thanks, everyone, for all the words of support. See ya next year!

Dueling Manuscripts

Even though I crossed the 50,000-word goal for my NaNoWriMo project for this year, the first draft of the manuscript itself isn’t finished. There are two to three big scenes left to wrap the story up, and I have them mapped out in my head. I figured for the next few days I’d devote the time to fleshing them out completely.

Good plan, right? Just after I started NaNoWriMo this year, a different manuscript–from NaNoWriMo two years ago–finished its journey through my critique group. I got excellent feedback from that experience: no major plot holes but several very good suggestions on how to tie up a couple of threads. I took copious notes because I knew my focus would be on this year’s NaNoWriMo first draft. The plan was to pick the other manuscript up after November 30.

As a countryman of mine once wrote, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men go often awry.”

I woke early this morning with the critique group manuscript in mind. In fact it superseded everything on the calendar today, including a doctor’s appointment where the physician’s assistant kept asking me if I were listening to her. The rewrites I needed to do based on the suggestions were crystal clear, so clear, in fact, that during the time I normally reserve for morning coffee and the newspapers, I immediately wrote them down so I wouldn’t forget. All right, I thought, that should have put the nagging need to fix the 2010 manuscript to rest, because the “best-laid scheme” was still to pick this manuscript up after finishing the 2012 NaNoWriMo first draft.

But no, that wasn’t how it worked. I’ve spent the better part of the day going into the 2010 manuscript and fixing that thread. That meant adding/changing dialogue in eight or nine chapters then doing a quick review to make certain I hadn’t created other loose threads by weaving together the previous one.

Despite not adding to the 2012 word count–that will come later today–I’ve got that goose-bumpy feeling a writer gets when you know you’ve made a breakthrough on a manuscript. Now, this particular manuscript is the closest of any of the ones I have in various stages of completion to being ready to shop around. For that reason, I’m glad it was so insistent that I should drop everything (including the regular Monday morning writing blog and lunch, apparently) to get that fix made.

The truth is the remaining scenes for the 2012 NaNoWriMo wouldn’t turn out the way they needed to because of the distraction. Sometimes, though, distractions are good. If I’d ignored the need to fix that older manuscript, it would have colored my work on the current one. So, I gave into it. Bad writer planning? Bad craft? Maybe to some, but it’s obvious to me it was exactly what both manuscripts needed.

Now, let’s hope that all the other MSS stay quiet for the remaining eleven days in November!

Getting a Friday Fictioneers Charge!

The title of the post will become clear when you see Sean Fallon’s great photo prompt. And the similarity of Sean’s name to a particular name from a rather famous Fenian anthem meant that it was time for those wee folk, Seamus and Declan, to return.

You’ll recall, we last left them at an abandoned croft, where they decided to immigrate to America along with millions of other Irish. Of course, being as Seamus and Declan are magical creatures, time mean nothing to them, and we find them in present day in a story entitled, “The Rising of the Moon.”

If you don’t see the link on the title above, scroll to the top of this post and click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down menu. To read more Friday Fictioneers stories, click on the icon at the end of “The Rising of the Moon.”

NaNoWriMo Update

Yesterday, I barely made it over the 40,000-word mark, and the story itself is about two-thirds done. I’m glad to have this breathing room, so I can concentrate on wrapping it up just the way I want. Thanks for all the comments and words of encouragement.

Quashing the Inner Editor – For a While

This past Saturday I went to a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) write-in in Harrisonburg, VA. Seven of us made it and commandeered a corner of Panera to have some writing fun–word sprints, where you write as many words as possible in a set amount of time, and the “no backspace” game.

The “no-backspace” exercise really suppresses your inner editor, and the exercise consists of writing and not backspacing or deleting anything, not even a typo. The person who can go the longest without backspacing is the winner. In the first go-round, I lasted six words; I made it to about 200 words the second time around, but, oy, what a mess!

The concept of NaNoWriMo is to write without editing yourself in the moment. That comes later. By not editing as you write, NaNoWriMo-ers believe you tap into creativity that pausing to edit disrupts. Writing purists may cringe at such seat of the pants writing, which does sacrifice structure to a certain extent, but I find it particularly liberating.

A few weeks ago at the James River Writers Conference I heard Tim Robbins explain his writing process. The reason years pass between his works is because he literally perfects one sentence at a time and doesn’t go back to revise when the book is done. When he finishes a book, he considers it edited and revised because of this rigid method.

I’m not dissing that sort of structure; in fact, I admire it, and, obviously, it works for him. I’ve always been the type of writer to get what’s in my head down on the page, then I go back and “fix” it–rather a middle ground between a seat-of-the-pantser and the dedicated structuralist.

When I’m not doing NaNoWriMo writing, which, by the way, is eleven months out of twelve, I typically start the next day’s writing with a review and rework of what I wrote the day before. That refines it for me and gives me a basis to begin the next part. It’s true I rarely work from a written outline, but I usually have the structure in my head. I’ve always jotted down notes and ideas for anything I’ve written, but I, personally, find a detailed outline confining. I haven’t adhered to one yet.

The free-wheeling aspect of NaNoWriMo is what appeals to me, to just sit down and write without second guessing a sentence or what a character says or whether this is the direction the story should go. I know I’ll go back and fix that later, and the very act of putting the editing and revising off for a period of time, unleashes my brain.

For example, I had a fairly detailed list of scenes I’d foreseen for this year’s project, but somewhere about a third of the way through getting those scenes fleshed out, a new direction emerged. Frankly, you can’t ignore that. You can’t limit yourself to an outline or a list of scenes and not be flexible. At least I can’t. If the idea pops up that I need to go over here and explore something, I have to go do it. I may end up tossing it out in editing and revising, but I have to write it when it manifests itself.

The NaNoWriMo project from 2009 wound up in an entirely different way than I ever intended. The idea came to me that I should kill off one of the two main characters I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words about, so I did. It was an amazing writing experience to explore the thoughts and feelings of the person left behind (and a great outlet for those same feelings after the break-up of my long-term relationship).

When I got to the revision stage, though, I knew it was wrong. I’ve joked the character tapped me on the shoulder and said, “It’s not my time, yet.” Purists scoff at the idea that characters speak to you or direct a story, but I know what I know. The character was right; I knew I wouldn’t be able to write more stories in the genre I’d chosen if he weren’t around.

That’s not a wasted manuscript though; I’m incorporating large portions of it into another plot. Another NaNoWriMo MS I’ve mined for short stories. Yet another, after editing and revising, just completed a trip through my critique group, and after another set of revisions, will be ready to see if someone is interested in publishing it. I haven’t touched the MS from last year (2011), but that’s on my list for projects in 2013.

This year’s? I’m so pleased about the direction it’s headed and the fact I decided to strengthen my literary fiction skill set, that it will be a 2013 revision project as well, probably toward the end of the year to get time and space between the writing and the revising.

NaNoWriMo is neither futile nor frivolous. It is, however, what you make of it. If you treat it as a creative way to develop a first draft, it can be very fulfilling. And great fun.

NaNoWriMo Update

This weekend, eleven days into the adventure, I hit the 30,000-word threshold. At the NaNoWriMo average of 1,667 words per day, by day eleven 18,337 words would have put me on track to finish with 50,000 on day thirty. Well, I’ve always been an overachiever.

The point is, without that artificial stimulus, that “imposed” deadline, I would never have written an average of 2,700 words a day. That’s worth it to me.


Friday Fictioneers and NaNoWriMo Update

I’m continually amazed at how quickly Friday rolls around. It seems as if I just posted a Friday Fictioneers story, and, lo and behold, it’s Friday again! Funny how that happens.

Perspective is a funny thing. I first viewed this week’s photo prompt on my iPhone and figured it for a floor tile, one where the glaze is particularly shiny and reflective. An idea came into my head, and I knocked around some words to go with the idea. I even had the perfect title.

When I downloaded the photo I saw what the .jpeg file had been named–“ice-on-the-window”–and I took a better look then went, “Oops.” This was indeed a photo of ice collecting on the outside of a window. Of course, Friday Fictioneers leaves the interpretation up to each writer, so had I wanted to, I could have just proceeded as if the photo was of a floor tile. Nah, I’m too much of a literalist for that.

Instead, we have “Cold Reason,” and it’s a little sci-fi, a little spec-fi, which ends in some wry humor. If you don’t see the link on the title in the line above, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab at the top of this post and select it from the drop-down menu. To read other Friday Fictioneers stories, click on the icon at the end of the story, “Cold Reason.”

NaNoWriMo Update

I broke through 19,000 words today and have set a goal to be halfway through the 50,000-word mark by Sunday evening. I think it’s doable. I have a write-in tonight in Waynesboro, and another one tomorrow in Harrisonburg, so I should be on target.

This NaNoWriMo project has created the need for a lot of research because it switches between present day and World War II on the homefront. I’m find Pinterest and Google Images very helpful. For example, I wanted to describe a 1940’s style dress and found examples on both sites. That was invaluable assistance in being able to describe that dress in a way that reflected the time period. Pretty cool.

Another update on Monday. I hope I won’t have to report that I only made it to 24,999.

Thanks, Mom

The project I’m working on for this year’s NaNoWriMo is based on a Friday Fictioneers, 100-word story from several months ago. This was the photo prompt:

And here is the story:


“That wallpaper’s stuck to the wood,” the contractor said. “If you want it gone, you’re gonna have to take the wood down then drywall.”

We’d hoped to save the old walls. They lent such a rustic feel to the place, but the ancient wallpaper wouldn’t budge. Drywall wouldn’t be the same, but what can you do?

To save money we did the demolition ourselves. With pry-bars we had fun, imagining we ripped away annoying people.

It was all great fun until the last corner, when the boards came away and we saw the tiny bones wrapped in a baby blanket.

I had a lot of positive comments on the piece (and, yes, someone did mention I used the word “fun” twice within a couple of lines), and several people suggested I expand it into a longer story or even a novel. I appreciated the confidence in me, but I put it out of mind until I was on a train trip to New York. The story kept coming back to me, and I started jotting notes. It wasn’t long before I had four pages of them, some snippets of dialogue, and a concept for what was obviously a novel.

However, I had a couple of writing/editing/revising projects I was deep into and didn’t want to start anything new back in the spring, but I kept the notes close by, added to them over the months, did a little research (part of the story takes place during World War II), and decided this was perfect for NaNoWriMo. So, I’m off and running–just over 12,000 words in four days.

As an historian, I love researching other times, but this project has another significance for me. Many who know me well know my relationship with my mother was problematic at best, traumatic at worst. She was a teenager to young adult during World War II, worked in a uniform factory, and wrote to a lot of soldiers whose convoys passed through her home town. She would talk about the homefront of World War II as if it were her personal playground, and she often referred to it as the best time of her life. (Yep, Mom wasn’t particularly thoughtful of others; it was always about her.) Her stories, though, have given me a lot of background detail that I can include in this project. So, in a big way she can contribute to my writing other than as a model for a nutcase character.

It’s probably good that she’s gone, though, because she’d be pissed as hell to recognize any of her life stories in anything I wrote. You see, no one was allowed to talk about her except her, but thanks anyway, Mom.

And something a little off-topic here: Tomorrow is Election Day, and it is the civic duty of every eligible voter to vote. Find a way to do it. It’s important to our democracy.

Spy Flash – Week 29

I must have a masochistic streak. I’m trying to keep up both Friday Fictioneers and Spy Flash stories while NaNoWriMo-ing. Three days in to NaNoWriMo, and so far, so good.

The first two stories of the “second twenty-six” have been Mai Fisher-centric, so it was time to give her partner, Alexei Bukharin, a bit more column space. This story, “Window on the World,” is the middle tale of two bookend stories (“Patience” and “Here, There Be Dragons”), which appear in the book, Spy Flash, coming out in December. This story can stand alone. It is, however, a somewhat graphic depiction of torture; not the obscene euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but torture.

Here’s Week 29’s roll of the cubes: 

From left to right, here’s what I saw: blindfolded; a beetle/a bug; a rainbow; laying bricks/building a wall; missing a ball/making an error or mistake; a cell phone/phone; breaking or broken; a bridge; a flower.

If you don’t see the link to the story on its title above, then click on the Spy Flash 2 tab above and select it from the drop down menu.

Friday Fictioneers and NaNoWrimo!

You know, if I planned better, my 100-word stories for the month of November would go toward the NaNoWriMo word count. But, alas, no. Friday Fictioneers was a nice break from grinding out nearly 1,700 words.

And even though Hallowe’en was two days ago, this week’s Friday Fictioneers offering, “A Ghost’s Tale,” is a bit of an homage to that spooky time of year. If you don’t see the link on the story title, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab at the top of the page and select “A Ghost’s Tale” from the drop-down menu. To read other Friday Fictioneers stories, click on the icon at the bottom of the story page.