Monthly Archives: October 2012

NaNoWriMo – 3-2-1… Blast off!

Three days. That’s all we’ve got left. On Thursday, the big bang will be felt around the world as midnight rolls around and thousands of people frantically start typing, trying to eke out at least a few hundred words before going to bed.

Personally, I don’t stay up til midnight. I know that anything I wrote at midnight would be incomprehensible, as I’m usually in bed by 10:00 and asleep by 11:00. But with 300,000 people worldwide participating in NaNoWriMo this year, it will be interesting to see how many words are logged on that first day. (There’s a handy word counter on the front page of the NaNo site, counting all the words people put in their profiles each day.)

In looking at the forums yesterday, I was sad at how many people have given up before they’ve even started. A lot of them blame their inner editor (they should read this article!); that’s a pretty powerful inner editor if it’s screaming bloody murder before the writing even starts! I recommend kicking him or her to the curb. Forcefully.

What I’m wondering, really, is when we lost our ability to just have fun. Is it a societal thing? Is it a grown-up thing? I watch Chopped a lot on Food Network, and I’m always struck by how many chefs — obviously good chefs, to have even been accepted onto the show — say that they’re doing it for “validation.” To prove to themselves or their families that, to quote one I saw yesterday, they’re “worthy.”

But you know what I’ve noticed? The ones who are just having fun are usually the ones that win. My husband and I watched a Halloween episode of Sweet Genius last night (no, I’m not addicted to Food Network – but weekend night time tv is awful!), and one of the four contestants (I don’t remember her name) had fun with every single thing. Zombies as the inspiration? She grinned. Mushrooms into dessert? She chuckled. Pickled onions? She was excited. Black radishes? “Sweet!”

Now, mind you, she wanted the money as much as the other guy in the final round. She was recently divorced and living with her parents, and $10k would let her give her daughter “the house and stability she deserves.” She was passionate. But what was really striking, especially compared to the guy, was her sense of adventure and fun. While she was chortling and smiling and being supremely creative, the guy was freaking out about zombies, playing it safe, complaining about every secret ingredient, and generally acting like a fuddy-duddy. It was no surprise that he lost.

So, while you’re doing NaNo, think about this. Even if you’re trying to produce a usable first draft for eventual publication, it’s supposed to be fun. I have a poster from some NaNo event or other this past year. Here are some of the “Batyisms” (sayings of NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty) about the National Novel Writing Month:

  • You are part ninja, part monkey, part Stairmaster cyborg.
  • Make no mistake: you will be writing a lot of crap.
  • Monkey barrels full of fun!
  • Put yourself in unfamiliar places. Kindle passions. Savor the raw joy of making things, and then remake the best of those things until they take someone’s breath away. Wrestle bears. Actually, skip the bear-wrestling.
  • Write first! Ask questions later!
  • We took the cloistered agonized writing process and transformed it into something that was half literary marathon and half block party.

Finally, “We can all do amazing, impossible things when given a deadline, a supportive community, and unlimited access to chocolate and caffeine.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Now go out there and have fun in November!
(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’:  “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit”)


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NaNoWriMo – Is it all fun and games?

I’ve written much here about the NaNo detractors, and the fact that most people doing NaNo (my totally made up number is 80-90%, based on reading the forums) are doing it just for the challenge, the same way others try a 5k race or a marathon, or to read a book a week for a year, or any other challenge that strikes their fancy. So detractors, just back off and chill! Ever heard of fun??

However, there are those of us who are serious about writing as a career, who use NaNo to produce quality first drafts of novels we intend to publish. For whatever reason, I write really clean drafts, and I write well really fast. (Great blog here on Random Writing Rants about writing fast.) That’s not tooting my own horn – I have nothing, consciously, to do with it. It just happens that way — I was as surprised as anyone when I read my first NaNo novel in late November and it was good. (Since I didn’t edit along the way, it was almost like reading someone else’s work!)

Since November 2011, I’ve worked really hard. I’ve written 4 novels in 3 genres, and a 130 page screenplay (how I’ll miss Script Frenzy!). I’ve edited and published 3 of those novels (more on that in a minute), and am in the beta reader stage of the 4th. I will be writing the follow-up book to that one for this November’s NaNo. I’m scheduled to release the first of those in mid-January, and should be able to release the second in February or March. (I’m going to Uganda in February, so it will depend on where I am with editing and where Streetlight Graphics is with the cover and formatting.)

For those who might question the quality, I’ve recently discovered Grammarly. I’ve been putting my most recent (August Camp NaNo) book through it a chapter at a time while it’s out with beta readers, and my average grade, using the “creative” filter, is 90%. And most of the “problems” are in dialogue, so really I’m averaging about 95%. All of that to say, I spend many more hours editing than writing, and try to produce a top-notch book.

So for me, while I enjoy the NaNo forums (my favorite thread to date is one entitled “How to ruin a cheesecake (tutorial)”), and love encouraging people to do it no matter what their personal goals, for me those 30 day chunks of time are work. They’re where the idea goes from a seed and scribbled notes to the first draft of a novel that I fully intend to publish. (No, I don’t publish that first draft, and neither should you!)

The bottom line is, if you are in the (totally made up) 10-20% of people who are using NaNo as a way to get a workable first draft for publication, then look at it as your job. Writing and publishing is a business. You may be an artist, but you will be a starving artist if you don’t approach your writing as your job. (I’m going to write a blog post on this soon, so I’ll leave it at that for now…) Have fun – that’s the number one rule. But also, be smart. Be thorough. Be professional. Be willing to write crap, but be willing to fix it later. (On the other hand, if you’re just doing it for the challenge, the only rule is to HAVE FUN!)

On that note, here’s The Hoard of the Doges. It’s actually the first one I’ve published that’s NOT a NaNo novel, although I wrote most of it in a month using the NaNo format. It’s the sequel to Solomon’s Throne, but it stands alone if you haven’t read the previous book. I think it’s really fun, and love writing with the Quinns and Mac. I hope you’ll read it and enjoy!

When her boss finds an Old Master painting buried under centuries of junk in a Venetian cellar, restoration specialist Rei Quinn is over the moon. When she gets kidnapped and the ransom demand is the painting, her enthusiasm understandably wanes. Along with her husband, security specialist Gideon, and their pilot friend Mac, the Quinns discover and decipher a map encoded in the painting. Taking off for Venice and her bygone territories, they begin the search for a treasure hidden since the Crusades. Hot on the trail are members of an ancient crime family, determined to finally claim the Venetian wealth. Who will be the first to find the hoard of the Doges?

The Hoard of the Doges is a fast paced adventure, whisking the reader back to Venice in the Middle Ages and forward to the Greek Isles and beyond.

For shameless self-promotion (it’s my blog, after all!), here are the other two books I have available:

Solomon’s Throne                               Undaunted Love








(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’:  “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit”)

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Unveiling the cover of The Hoard of the Doges

My wonderful team at Streetlight Graphics always do such a great job! For those of you who remember it, this cover is very like the Solomon’s Throne cover. We tried some different colors, but they just didn’t work as well, and since this is a sequel, I decided to just go with the similarity. In this small picture it might be hard to see the differences, so here they are:

The map is of Italy, as the story centers around a treasure hoard of the Doges of Venice in the Middle Ages.

There is a crown in the red slashed section, done in shades of gray.

I think the book will be online and in print next week! How exciting is that?!

So in the meantime, you can download your FREE copy of Solomon’s Throne to your Kindle this weekend, Friday-Sunday. That’s the first Rei and Gideon Quinn adventure, so be sure to check it out!

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My Official “Plan for NaNoWriMo” start day…

I first found out about NaNo after I randomly picked up Chris Baty’s book “No Plot, No Problem” at the book store in April 2011. I’d never heard of National Novel Writing Month before, and actually, my first thought after reading it was NOT to join, but to plan a similar “event” in May with my husband. We both wrote non-fiction books. But as I realized how relatively easy that word count was in one month (okay, not easy, but not the pathway to death’s door that I’d imagined it to be), I began to ponder doing NaNo in November, officially.

When I first signed up at the website, I didn’t participate much in the forums (through ignorance on my part!), so I went by Baty’s “rules” in the book, which were that you couldn’t start planning your book until a week before the start. I didn’t realize that a) the book had been written a good while before last year’s NaNo, so things had evolved, and b) that people actually started months, even years, in advance on their planning. So not me! I, being the good rule follower that I am, didn’t start plotting until a week before (although I did start some geographical and historical research to try to fine tune where my characters might go, starting on the 15th).

Surprisingly  (although not, I guess, to Mr. Baty), that was plenty of time. I am somewhere between a pantser and a plotter, as I’ve written here before, and I’d decided to do a treasure hunt, so I figured out where my characters were going to go; how to connect them together; the main characters in both the 1680s plot and the present-day plot; and what they were searching for (Solomon’s Throne).  Then, on November 1, I just started writing. I had enough of an outline that I didn’t/couldn’t go off on tangents, and I crossed 50,000 on November 16, and finished with 88,651 words and a complete 1st draft after 23 days of writing, on November 26.

Since it worked out pretty well that first time, I’ve done the same basic thing for the 3 other NaNo events I participated in this year (Script Frenzy and both Camp NaNos), and I don’t plan in any detail until the middle of the prior month. I do research – for June’s Camp, I was doing a historical romance set in the Civil War, a period of history I (purposefully) didn’t know much about. Because I was in Uganda most of May, I took some books on my Kindle and did research. I read diaries of both Confederate and Union girls; I (tried to) read some historical romance; I read some histories and took notes. When I got back on May 26 I put my planning into higher gear and was ready to go on June 1. (I do have a general story idea leading up to all this, I just don’t get very specific until closer to the time.)

My original plan for this November was another historical romance, this time set in WWII. I do know a good bit about WWII – we did a several month unit study on it early on in our homeschooling, plus my father-in-law was a doctor in the Pacific theater and my grandfather a pilot in the European theater, so there’s a natural curiosity. But still, I was planning on starting (today) some specific research on a) the Alsace region, b) the Resistance, and c) Messianic Jews in the first part of the 20th Century. Next week I’d start to hone in on my story, which was going to involve a family of Messianic Jews who flee Alsace to Paris in the late 1930s, then go to the UK, where they are recruited for the Resistance back in their homeland. In other words, I’d be making dozens of pages of hen-scratch notes.

But I decided on my recent retreat that I was a lot more interested and excited to write Book 2 of my YA series, to be titled Darian’s War, than this story (which will not be discarded, just put back in the to-do pile). This is unusual because I don’t usually like to do back-to-back books in the same genre. However, I left such a huge cliff hanger at the end of Book 1, Where the Ducks Went (my August Camp Nano book), that it feels more like I’m still writing the same book, and not writing something else in the same genre.

Because of this, my research will be, obviously, minimal. The story is set in an alternate earth which has the same history as ours up to the turn of the century, and I do bring in a good bit of history and a lot of geography. I already have my main characters, although the introduction of Darian as a person interacting in the story and not just someone who has to be freed from prison will mean developing his character. I will need to define the scope of this book, as I anticipate a Book 3 (after all, there are a lot of trilogies and not a lot of duogies, right?), so that I know where the entire story is going and where to end this one. (For the first book, that evolved as I wrote, it quickly became obvious that one book wasn’t going to get it done – particularly when YA is typically 60k words, and Book 1 is already over 79,000!)

What this means, ultimately, is that I have hours more time on my hands for the remainder of October than I’d planned, and that’s great for my to-be-read folder full of books. It’s also good for my burgeoning, post-surgery, exercise program. If I’m really on the ball, I might even get some meals made ahead for the crock pot or casseroles… Okay, that’s probably not realistic. But that could technically be considered NaNo planning.

What are you doing to plan? Have you been at it since last December, or are you panicking now because you don’t have anything but an idea nugget? Do you have reams of notes and outlines, or a wall full of stickie notes? And most importantly, have you ordered your NaNo tee-shirt or sweat shirt so you can feel like you’re working even when you’re “researching” by watching Dr. Who?

(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’:  “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit”)

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NaNoWriMo – the Survivor and Thriver’s Guide

Ah… October. As a Florida girl, I do love summer. But when it’s over, when I can’t go to the beach anymore, then Fall needs to just move on up. And, since last year, there’s another reason besides cowboy boots and cool days – NaNoWriMo! (I’ve written a lot about NaNo here, and about it’s detractors and why I think they’re wrong, so feel free to explore the blog for those!)

For those who are new to it, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Their slogan is “30 days and nights of literary madness.” The goal is to write 50,000 words towards a new novel during the month of November (to save you the math, that’s 1667 words a day). You can do other things: Fan fiction, a short story collection, a screenplay, a memoire. But then you’re called a rebel. No one turns you away – but the real point is to do what everyone at some point in their life thinks or says: WRITE A NOVEL.

Of course, many follow that up with, “How hard can it be?” Most of those never write one, so they never find out. Many others spend years, even decades, trying to do it. It’s a serious endeavor, right? It needs time. It needs planning. It needs pondering. It needs careful crafting and a thesaurus and agonizing over every word.

Except when it doesn’t. Chris Baty, the founder of NaNo, had this crazy idea over a decade ago – to write a novel in a month. Not necessarily a good novel, mind you. He was not against throwing in aliens and zombies, a deaf person that required lots of repeated dialogue, or anything else that, in the middle two weeks when you’ve run out of ideas, you can throw in. He readily admitted — celebrated, in fact — that most of the novels thus produced would be crap. His point was that that was okay. You have to give yourself permission to write crap, or you won’t ever write anything.

If you’re doing NaNo, I definitely encourage you to get his book No Plot, No Problem. A few things have changed since he wrote it. You used to not be allowed to even plan until the week before the event, for instance. Now some people start planning on December 1st (not me, I think those people are crazy… But some people!). I’ve done 4 NaNo events since last November 1, so I’m coming up to my 5th. I’ve learned a few things, which I thought I’d share. I’d love to hear your survivor/thriver’s tips, too!

Join the activity on the forums. As I write this, there are 9,039 people on the NaNo forums (there’s a number at the bottom of the page, I didn’t just make that up or do some complicated hacking). During November, there will be 175,000+ on at any given time, from all around the world. While the forums can be used as a brilliant procrastination tool, they really are encouraging. Everyone is pushing hard for the same goal; everyone is punchy and grouchy and ecstatic and exhausted, just like you. There are forums for every conceivable age group, genre, and topic. You can make friends that will carry on well past November 30, plus get over that hump you can’t seem to climb on your own.

Join your region. I actually belong to 3 regions: North Carolina: Raleigh-Durham; North Carolina: Elsewhere; and Africa: Elsewhere. The reason for that is that we have a little house on the coast, and there are people there doing NaNo (that’s the “NC: Elsewhere), and I travel frequently to Africa (and write about it sometimes). So I want to see what people are doing. But your own region, where you live, can be quite active. Ours in RDU is, and there are a ton of parties, write-ins, workshops and other activities that go on before, during and after November. Each region also has a chat room, which is great for encouragement and silliness, and, one of my favorite things, word wars. One of the people I met in my region and I started a local writers group after NaNo, so you never know who you’ll find in your community.

Do at least some planning. A lot of people on NaNo are known as “pantsers,” meaning they go into November 1 with absolutely no idea what they’re going to write about. Others are “plotters” and have extensive outlines, scene sketches, character portfolios and the like all ready to go by midnight October 31. I haven’t seen any official survey by OLL (the Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit that runs NaNo) about who wins and who doesn’t, but from reading forums, I think more plotters than pantsers cross the 50k mark. However, I’m not a plotter. I’m also not a pantser. I go into NaNo knowing the following: my main characters; most of the locations they’ll go to; the storyline, in general, from start to finish. That’s pretty much it. I make up my secondary characters and scenes as I go, keeping in mind where the book is headed.

Here’s what that looked like for my November 2011 story. I knew I was going to write a treasure hunt adventure, and I had determined the places where the clues and treasure would be. There were 7 in all. Because my goal was to finish the novel, I decided that each location would average 15,000 words (ish), which would make the finished book 105,000 words (ish). I had 2 storylines, one in the 1680s to establish the clues and treasure, and one in modern day to find them. I knew the main characters for both. That’s what I knew on November 1. Thankfully, Google Earth and Wikipedia and Bing Images and other internet sites let me do more extensive research as I went along. (Thankfully too, Homeland Security apparently wasn’t monitoring my searches!) The rest I let flow, with the knowledge that they always had to get from point A to point B to point C, etc. Especially for your first attempt, having at least a vague map can be really helpful after the adrenaline of week 1 has passed and you’re in the doldrums of weeks 2 and 3.

Don’t edit. Most people agree with this, some disagree, but I will tell you that the single biggest hindrance to getting 50,000 words written is your inner editor. We all have one — the shrillness of its voice depends on our level of perfectionism. The point of NaNo is just to write. You’re writing a first draft, not War and Peace. First drafts can and will suck. Get over it. The best way to get over it is not to read it. Ever. Until after November 30. When I’m mid-NaNo, I read the last couple of paragraphs at most, just to see where I left off. If, like happened with my August Camp NaNo project, I have to take several days off, I might read the last section, just to make sure I remember what’s going on. That’s it. And I don’t edit it at that point at all.

If you are a serious perfectionist, there are some tricks. Make your font white, so you can’t see what you’re writing. If you write a paragraph that you immediately hate, make only that paragraph white. Do not delete! You are going for 50k words. No one at NaNo is going to read it – the validator is just going to count the words in about 10 seconds and that’s it. Don’t get rid of precious words until after they’ve been counted! Even if you get 5,000 words into it, decide you hate the story, and start another, just start the new one. Never, ever delete in November! Never. Ever. Delete.

Also, never, ever insert. If you realize that you need a scene way back on page 57 to set up your main character (MC) as a psycopath, don’t go way back to page 57. Just write it where you are, in a different color. Make a note on the pad where you’ve scribbled all your research and character sketches and the name of the guy in Chapter Two that you’ll never remember when he comes back in Chapter 10. Fix it later. Why? Because if you go back to insert it, you’ll have to read to figure out where exactly to put it. When you start to read, you will start to edit. And the whole point of this tip is what? Do. Not. Edit.

Figure out your schedule. November is a great month for NaNo except for one eensy weensy little problem. Thanksgiving. If you’re not responsible for Thanksgiving in any way, and merely show up at someone’s house, it still will take most of a day. If, like me, you’re the mom who cooks the whole thing, plus cleans the house, plus sets the fancy table, plus does the shopping… Don’t even think about writing on Thanksgiving.

I have learned that I need some days off during a month of writing, especially since my goal is always to finish the novel, not stop at 50,000 words (I just do better that way – here’s why). If I don’t, I get mentally and physically exhausted. If I take a day here or there off, I can recharge and write more the other days. I’ve written a blog post on how I do this, but here’s the bottom line: If you’re going to take Thanksgiving off, have a wedding to go to, and want a mental-health day, that leaves you 27 writing days. So instead of 1667 words a day, you need 1852. Every day, write at least 1852 words, and you have those 3 days off, guilt free. Don’t plan for them, and you might be panicking by the end.

Realize that the middle 2 weeks will suck. They will. Deal with it. Slog through anyway. During week 1 you’ve got excitement, adrenaline, panic… You’re off and running. Maybe you write 23,000 words that week, and you’re halfway, and you think, “What is wrong with these people? This is a piece of cake!” Well, hold on to your hat, because it’s about to take a nose dive. Those middle two weeks – which, not coincidentally coincide with the middle of the novel, are tough. You’re tired. The beginning and end of books are always more exciting than the middle, so maybe you’re bored, or you just don’t know how to take the story to the end, or the characters aren’t doing what you thought they would and you don’t know where to go from here. Your family’s a bit cranky because you’re spending so much time writing, mumbling, taking notes on napkins, and not sleeping. You don’t talk about anything but your book. You’re obsessed, but writing feels like trying to walk through quicksand.

Take heart! The other 250,000 people around the world doing what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, feel exactly the same way! That’s why planning your daily word count goal is important. Sometimes you just have to sit down and write, and it might be crap, and that’s okay. You’ll fix it later. Just write. Even when it sucks. Because the last week is just around the corner, and the excitement will mount again, and, if you’re still shy of 50k the adrenaline will kick in again, and one day soon you’ll cross that finish line, go to the Shoutout thread in the forums, and say, “I DID IT!”

Prepare your family in advance. When I did my first NaNo, I had no idea how long I’d be writing each day. I went into hyper-organization (not a state I can maintain for very long!), because I didn’t want my family to starve (or interrupt my writing with complaining). Our meals have never been better planned, and I never had such efficient grocery trips as I did during November 2011. I told my family (repeatedly) in October: “This is what I’m doing. I will do it and finish it. You all will have to fend for yourselves in areas you might not normally, and you’ll have to not complain (well, if you complain, I’ll ignore you), and you’ll have to get over it.” I explained what it was, that no there is no prize except a web badge and a certificate, there’s no contest, etc., but that it would take a lot of my time. For one month. They could spare me for one month. I repeated this until they (sort of) believed it. As it turned out, as long as they were fed, all was well… But I credit that to the advance notice. Put your foot down, be organized, stick to your word.

Just do it. Decide you’re going to, and do it. Don’t “hope” to do it. Don’t “try” to do it. Just do it. If it sucks, you never have to print it off or show it to anyone else, ever. But you will have proven you can. And that’s worth a lot.

If you’re already a WriMo, let me know your strategies; if this November is your first time at it, let me know how it goes. And look me up on NaNo. My screen name is jswwrites. I’ll be your buddy. :o)

(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’:  “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit”)


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