Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My First NaNoWriMo

I'm participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time at the NaNoWriMo.org site and through eHarlequin.

My project is the 15,000-word novella I've been not working on for the past few months. I scratched pretty much everything I'd written and am starting over. So far, 2,246 words in two days. That's good for me, especially now. It's difficult to find the time to write. I used to write at work. I work nights and the last hour or so was quiet, but now they've cut back on personnel so much there's more work than I can do. So no more writing breaks at work. I'll have to type into the wee hours of the morning after I get home.

If I write 500 words a day, I'll make the deadline. Easy, right?

I'll let you know.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Deadlines Needed

I didn't win the writer's challenge but something really good came from it. I realized I need a forced deadline to write effectively. Without a deadline, I never seem to finish anything.

So, with that in mind, I've joined the NaNoWriMo starting on November 1st. Thirty days to finish my novella. I'm starting from scratch anyway so it's like a new work.

Keep ya posted!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

1,000 Word Writer's Challenge

I entered a writing challenge on one of the Harlequin Write Stuff forums. The challenge was to write a story in 1,000 words or less that contains the following:
  • apple cider
  • scarecrow
  • mum
  • sunrise
  • "Not on your life"
It's my first entry on the forum and my second ever short story. I had trouble fitting it into a thousand words. I've posted the unedited, 1,460-word version here.


Molly tucked the mum into the top buttonhole of her dad’s plaid work shirt and secured it with a safety pin. Stepping back, she surveyed her work. The old shirt fit the scarecrow perfectly. That was the same shirt dad had worn when they had made the scarecrow. He had done most of the work, but at five years old she had “helped.”

“What’s his name?” he’d asked her.

“Scary Man!”

“Scary Man it is. Couldn’t have done it without you, kid.” He lifted her to his shoulders. “And remember, if you take care of him, Scary Man will always watch over and protect you.”

And she’d done just that. Three years later her father had died, burned to death in a car accident. For the last fifteen years she’d taken care of their scarecrow, keeping him well stuffed and replacing his clothes when they became tattered. Only her father’s work boots and gloves had endured.

A strong gust of wind whirled her hair around her face. Dried field corn rustled around her but the scarecrow remained steady. Dad had made it to last forever with a frame of baling wire and pipe.

One glance at the sky told her she had to get back to the safety of the farmhouse. Dark clouds turned the early evening sky black and lightning flashed in the distance. Thunder rumbled and boomed making her turn and run for the house in a panic.

It was dark by the time she finished her chores and got inside. Still rattled by the weather, she tried to settle her nerves with a cup of hot apple cider. It didn’t help. Locking the doors and shuttering the windows didn’t help either. It was the storm. Storms like this reminded her of the night she let her father die.

The electricity often went out during strong storms. Even though she kept a flashlight by her bed, she set out candles in every room and headed to her bedroom on the ground floor at the back of the house. She had moved into this room after her father’s death because she could see the corn field. It was a self-imposed punishment, but it also made her feel safer knowing she was closer to Scary Man.

Molly pulled the curtains back and looked for him. She could barely make out his floppy hat above the corn, but he was there, like always. Keeping her safe.

* * *

Flames licked the night sky fueled by the dry storm winds. Screams. Hers. Daddy’s. Punctuated by lightning. He stumbled from the burning truck engulfed in flames and dropped to the ground while she watched. Helpless. Useless. Crying for her daddy like the eight-year-old baby she was.

Molly came awake gasping for breath, heart pounding. Pounding. More than her heartbeat. The sound came from the window. The nightstand was dark; no LED numbers glowing the time. Electricity was out. Shaking off the nightmare, she grabbed her thick terry robe from the bedpost and the flashlight. Padding to the window she berated herself for not trimming the big mulberry tree. Hopefully, she could break the branch off from inside.

She pulled back the curtain.

A grotesque face with glowing eyes pressed against the window. A gloved hand pounded the pane beside it. Molly screamed and stumbled back. Thoughts both logical and fantastic rioted through her. Logic won. Too late, though, to stop adrenalin from pumping up her heartbeat and turning her body into a quivering mass. Monsters weren’t real. She knew that. What she’d seen looked like Scary Man’s burlap face with glowing blue eyes. But that was not possible. More likely, this close to Halloween, she was being pranked by the local farm boys using Scary Man’s body.

If they hurt Scary Man…

Fear turned to anger. Molly yanked back the curtain, but the face was gone. She opened the window. Wind buffeted her as she leaned out with the flashlight. Nothing around the huge propane tank except the broken remains of its shed and the ancient eucalyptus tree behind it. The flashlight beam caught movement of someone rounding the corner to the front of the house.

Heart hammering, Molly ran through the dark house. From over the front door she pulled down the 410 shotgun. It was an old Sears Roebuck single shot her dad had kept for killing rattlers. It wouldn’t do much harm to a human but it still looked threatening. It was loaded, ready to go. Cocking back the hammer with her thumb, she yanked open the front door and stepped onto the porch.

Someone was in the yard moving toward her in a slow Frankenstein stagger.

“Stop right there,” she shouted over the howling wind.

She recognized his silhouette. She knew before she turned the flashlight beam on him that it was Scary Man. He stood alone in the yard not 20 feet from her, his blue eyes glowing. The wind tugged at his hat and clothes, but he stood steady.

Was it really him? Or someone in his clothes? Her father’s clothes. He lifted an arm and motioned for her to come to him. For a moment, he looked so much like her father she almost gave in. But it wasn’t her dad. She had watched him burn to death. And it wasn’t Scary Man. Scarecrows didn’t come to life and invite you for a walk.

Not on your life!” She raised the shotgun. “Whoever you are, I’m warning you. If you don’t walk away, I will shoot you.”

He moved. One jerky step toward her, hand reaching out. Molly’s finger tightened on the trigger.

“Go away!”

Lightning flashed close by blinding her. Her finger convulsed on the trigger, the boom of the shotgun merged with a deafening crack of thunder. When she could see again, the scarecrow lay on the ground, pieces of straw swirling in the wind.

Scary Man.

Molly dropped the gun and ran to him. She expected to see blood spilling out of someone dressed in her dad’s clothes, but it was only a straw and cloth figure with a gaping hole in its side, the light gone from its eyes.

How could this happen? Was she dreaming? This could not be real. She knelt beside him and rested a hand over his heart.

The scarecrow jerked, grabbing her wrist in a steel grip. His eyes began to glow again as he stood. He turned away from the house and walked toward the corn field dragging her behind him. Molly fought to escape his grip but it was too strong. She screamed but even if there were someone to hear, the storm covered the cry with its own howl.

How could Scary Man do this to her? She had loved him all her life, had taken care of him after her father died. Dad had said he would watch over and protect her. He had never lied to her before.

The scarecrow stopped and looked to the sky. Molly stilled. Her skin crawled and the hair lifted on the back of her neck just before lightning struck the eucalyptus tree. The dry branches burst into flames like a giant torch. The trunk splintered and collapsed, bringing the full weight down on the propane tank by her bedroom. The tank exploded and the whole west side of the old wooden farmhouse caught fire.

Flaming branches, caught on the wind, hurtled toward them. Scary Man pulled her into his chest and turned his back to the flaming missiles. With her face buried in the scarecrow’s shirt she didn’t know what was happening. For a moment, lost in the smell of pipe smoke still lingering there, she felt like a little girl again safe in her father’s arms. And then he flung her away.

She landed hard nearly ten feet away. When she sat up, she swore she was a little girl again reliving the worst night of her life. Her father stood, his back engulfed in flames while lighting struck the ground behind him. But it wasn’t her father. It was Scary Man and he had saved her life, twice tonight: once by getting her out of her bedroom and once by throwing her away from his burning body.

Without a second thought, Molly shot to her feet and ran to him. She pulled off her thick robe and flung it over him, tackling him to the ground, rolling and patting him until the flames were out. Somehow, she managed to pull him into the bed of mums at the edge of the yard and collapsed beside him.

The firemen found her hours later, just after sunrise, curled into the side of the half-burnt scarecrow, tucked under his arm, sound asleep.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

World Building and D&D

Somone asked about world-building resources on a forum and it brought back some pleasant memories. I started building worlds as a dungeon master in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game system many years ago. Their book, World Builder's Guidebook, is still one of my favorite resources for creating worlds, especially in a medieval fantasy setting.

I ran a game for almost ten years with the same players. Their characters and mine lived out fantasy lives in a world full of magic and adventure. Many people have a poor opinion of Dungeons & Dragons, but what they never seemed to understand is that the dungeon master is in control of how the game plays out because he/she creates the world. You can have a game filled with evil, death and greed, or you can have one based on honor, love and personal growth. It's all in the mind of the DM and players.

It was a lot like writing with several collaborators. I'd create the setting and overall plot and the players would interact and change the direction of the action based on their actions in the game.

I think that's why I'm writing now. I missed the thrill of creation.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's the Little Things

Three days ago it was 120 degrees. Today it's overcast, cool and sprinkling! Just when I think I can't stand southern California any more, we get a break.

This weekend, I'm back to writing. The cooler weather has revived me and I think I just might live.

Of course, we have to go shopping first. It's payday weekend and the first Friday of the month is our "splurge" day. My man and I eat out and spend the day window shopping. I hate shopping, but he loves it. He turns into a little boy excited at the newest Star Trek phaser or the latest Firefly replica, and that makes it fun for me. There's a Star Trek exhibit in Riverside. I'm going to take him there as a surprise. He'll be in heaven.

And at the end of the day, I get to go to the bookstore! And buy books!


It's the little things in life that sometimes bring the most joy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Too Hot to Live!

It was 120 degrees at my home today. Southern California is a freakin' desert! When did that happen? We had a mild summer topping out at around 100 degrees in August and then this.

What can you do in this kind of heat? Can't use the computer because it heats up. The air conditioning doesn't get all the way into the computer room. The TV is in the bedroom, where the AC doesn't reach at all. We usually put a hose in a tree and sit under it, but it was too hot for that, too. This weekend we ended up laying naked on the bed with wet towels draped over us and a fan turned on us.

It's 7 pm and 95 degrees outside.

I want to live somewhere green and wet where the temperature doesn't go over 90 degrees. Ever.

Is there such a place?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not My Hand

I looked down at my hand today and I saw it. Really saw it. It's not the hand I remember having. Suddenly there are lines and wrinkles and freckles. They can't be age spots; they have to be freckles. It isn't my hand but I did recognize it; it is my mother's hand.

The shock spiraled me into a memory from my twenties. In a creative writing class I took in college, the instructor was encouraging us to write and never stop. He told a story about an elderly women who took his night class and how frustrated he was with her because she had waited too late to start writing. He encouraged her to quit because developing talent as a writer takes time she didn't have and memory skills she had already lost.

I remember thinking that would never be me.

And now here I am getting old and feeling it's too late to be a writer.

When I took that class, I thought the instructor was an idiot. Words and ideas gushed from me at that age and I couldn't imagine ever losing that. Now, I think he might have been right. Writing is hard work now. Words and ideas merely trickle.

Is there a point in life when you are just too old to write? Or, like everything else with age, it just gets harder to do, but not impossible?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Critique Group Survival Guide

I've been thinking about finding a critique partner or critique group to join. I'm so glad I bought this book first. I really didn't know the first thing about critiquing. I thought it was pretty much the same as copy editing. Big mistake. After reading it, I realize I'm not quite ready to join a group but I have picked up some valuable techniques to edit my own writing and when I do join a group or find a CP, I'll be able to participate usefully.

If you're interested, I wrote a review of this book at http://www.booksforwriters.net/.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bits and Pieces

The month of August went by and I didn't write any fiction. No excuses, but I've spent most of my time trying to find the bits and pieces of my mind and put them back together. Between work stress, health stress and home stress, my little brain exploded.

I work for a school in California, so I'm just lucky to still have a job. I'm very grateful; I am. But if there was any way I could find another job, I would. My name's on this blog, so I won't go into details. Suffice it to say it's hard to get to sleep at night because when it's quiet I start worrying about my job and around 3:30 in the morning I realize I'm still awake thinking about the job.

I've tried writing in the wee hours of the morning, but I end up just sitting at the computer, the pieces of my brain jangling around in my head. By 5 a.m. I'm tired enough to sleep.

The alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m.

I'm severely sleep deprived which makes my job even harder. I fell asleep driving home one night. I woke up thinking I was home, but I had gotten off the freeway on the wrong offramp and was seriously lost. Now I worry about driving home at night.

My dog died after major surgery to remove tumors and her spleen. She was the last dog I will ever have. I miss her.

My health? My feet are swelling, my blood sugar is high and the biopsy the dermatologist did on a bump on my leg has turned into a sinkhole that won't heal.

Is it just me, or do other writers have a hard time writing under stress?

I hate to whine, but, you know, I think I feel a little better.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Where's the White Space?

I got a check this weekend for a newsletter I do the layout, design and composition on (Friends of Corona Public Library Quarterly Reader). They put out a web and print version. Getting the check made  me think about my old career as a typesetter and (untrained) graphic artist. Looking at my blog, I realize I violate a very important rule: always provide plenty of white space.

First, I apologize. Apparently, I've gone widget crazy. Every available space is jammed with some kind of blogger widget.

Second, I have an excuse. I'm fairly new to blogging and I had no idea there were so many gadgets available. Every time I see one I have to add it to my blog because it seems so perfect to share. I'm outta control. I haven't had this much fun since show and tell in grade school.

Don't worry. I'll settle down and start deleting things, eventually.

Until then please hang in there. Like everything, it's a work in progress.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Write On!

Writing was definitely easier today.

I wrote before going to work this morning and was almost late. Had to tear myself away. Wrote in my head on the way to work but most of it is gone now.

I need a voice recorder to use in the car. A lot of my best "writing" is done during my commute to and from work. Takes my mind off the parking lot they call the 91 Freeway.

Favorite Lines:
When the motorcycle crested the hill he was silhouetted for a moment against the late afternoon sun. Though nearly sunset, heat still radiated off the asphalt creating shimmering waves of energy that made him look like a mirage—a black shadow hurtling out of another dimension, another world.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Writing vs Publishing

This essay changed my life. Too many inspiring passages to quote. If you want to be a writer and think getting published is the ultimate goal, read this:

Jenny Crusie's essay: A Writer Without A Publisher Is Like A Fish Without a Bicycle: Writer’s Liberation and You

Basically, she made me realize that my goal isn't to be a published author; it's to be a writer. And I already am. Because I write. I've been told that before, but until I read this essay, it didn't really click. All the struggling I've been through trying to write well enough to be published has gone. I feel free now just to write to please myself.

What does that mean? Yes, I still want to be published. Yes, I'm still going to try to get published.

The difference is in how I approach writing. Instead of worrying while I write if it's good enough to be published, I'm only concerned about how it pleases me. I know, it's a subtle difference but it made a meaningful shift in me.

Don't know if the end result will be better or worse. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reading vs Writing

When should a wannabe writer, like myself, stop reading books on writing and start writing?

Schaum's Quick Guide to Writing Great Short StoriesI thought I could do both but the more I read, the more I realize I might be wasting my time writing. There is so much I don't know, so much I need to learn. Every time I learn something important, I want to go back and start my story over.

For instance, while procrastinating writing, I went through some old writing books and found a real gem: Schaum's Quick Guide to Writing Great Short Stories by Margaret Lucke (1998). After reading a few chapters, I was inundated with ideas to make my story better. Unfortunately, they all require major reconstruction of my characters and plot.

I'm unsure now. Should I finish the first draft and make the changes later? Or should I restructure it and then write the first draft?

Writing has become such a doubt-filled experience these last few weeks that the only time my brain will relax and create is late at night while I'm trying to fall asleep. Probably because my subconcious knows there's no chance I'll actually get up and write anything down. And by morning, it's gone.

I'm done thinking about writing. If I stop reading about writing, I'll stop learning. So, I'm back in the chair tonight and ready to write. And I'm still reading that great book on short story writing. It may take me a lot longer to finish my work-in-progress (WIP) since I'll have to do a lot of rewriting, but it's not a waste of time.

Writing is never a waste of time.

What I write now may not be usable, but it's practice. And almost every book I read or writer I talk to says the best way to become a writer is to follow these steps:

  1. Write.

  2. Write some more.

  3. Keep on writing.

So, tonight I begin again.

(butt in chair, hands on keyboard).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Pile of Words

I wrote over 1300 words last night. Seems like that's all they are: a pile of words. No style or flow but it felt good. I even resisted editing as I wrote. That urge to go back and edit is my biggest roadblock to finishing anything I write. It's a constant battle.

Does it get any easier?

Favorite lines:
Jade eyes sparkled defiantly as he closed in on her. Full lips ripe with natural color made him want to lick them to see if they tasted as sweet as they looked.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ready, Set, WRITE!

I'm ready to write the first draft of my short story/novella.

Why am I so nervous?

I've created two characters I like. I've found a premise and several themes. I've plotted out eight chapters, I know all the actions that have to take place in each. I'm a little vague on the romance parts, the actual falling in love details, but I'm hoping those will come to me as I write or can be edited in in a later draft.

Doesn't sound right does it? Especially since I'm writing a romance novella. Romance should be the main plot and everything else background.

I can't decide if this is a legitimate reason to go back and redo my outline or if it's just my Procrastinator Demon trying to convince me to put off writing again.

No, I'm officially entering the writing stage. I can't believe how scared and excited I feel.

Here I go!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Life Premise

Creating a premise for my story made me think about what the premise for my life would be.

A few possibilities:
  • I write therefore I am.
  • A life lived in fear is a life not lived.
  • Believe you are and you will be.
  • If you never try, you'll never succeed.
  • Procrastination leads to stagnation.

Okay, now I'm depressed. This is making me think of all the things I wanted to do in my life and never got around to.

Like write.

The best thing to do would be gather what's left of my self-worth and go do at least one of those things.

Like write.

So, I think I'll make some cinnamon toast and hot chocolate and curl up with a good book! That will comfort me and make everything all better.

(And that's exactly how I got to where I am today: chubby and unpublished.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Premise, Theme and Moral

I bought a new book on writing mainly for the chapter on how to tell the difference between  premise, theme and moral. The book is The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprhensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques by Nancy Lamb (Writer's Digest Books).

I know, I don't need to read another book on how to write. I need to write!

But . . .

I've always had trouble coming up with a theme or premise for my stories. Truthfully, I don't even know the difference between the two. And Ms. Lamb states:
"Ideally, you should establish the premise of your story before you even begin writing. If you can do this, you will save yourself untold creative angst."
Less angst is good, right?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Work In Progress

After taking Anna Hackett's online Short Story, Big Impact class, I realize I have to start at the beginning: plotting. I have two characters I like and a situation but no real plot. So that's my writing for the moment. It doesn't produce any word count, but it still counts, right?
I'm new at tracking my writing. Most writer blogs I've looked at indicate they write hundreds, if not thousands, of words a day. I assume that's after they've developed their characters, plot, etc. Or do they just get an idea and start writing?
I don't know.
I put a meter on this blog today to keep track of how many words I've written versus how many are required. My 300 words look insignificant next to the ultimate 15,000, but it does give me incentive to write. It's hard to concentrate on plotting, though, when all I really want to do is write more words so the meter will increase.
It's like getting a gold star in grade school.
I want to shine!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Angel Slayer by Michele Hauf

They say you need to read in order to write well. I'm good with that. I normally read about five books at a time:
  1. A bathroom book
  2. A bedside book
  3. A purse book
  4. A car book
  5. An ebook on my Nook
My new bathroom book is Angel Slayer by Michele Hauf. It's part of a series called of Angels and Demons from Harlequin (Silhouette) in the Nocturne line. I'm not big on angels but I do love a good demon. (Is that an oxymoron? Can a demon be good?) To my delight the hero is the demon and a fallen angel is the villain. Her descriptions are so fresh I wish I had written them. The characters are multi-layered with just enough mystery to keep me curious but not dragged out so long I lose patience and page to the end to get it over with. I'm enjoying the intrigue. That's saying a lot for me; I'm very impatient. This is the first book I've read by Michele Hauf. I'll definitely look for more from her.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Six Words?

Writing a 200-word story was hard enough. The final (optional) assignment for the short story class I'm taking is to write a six-word story.

How about:

"Please don't shoot," she begged. BANG!


Blood dripped on the suicide note.

They don't sound like stories to me. Hemmingway used the ad format, maybe I can work with that:

YARD SALE: All his stuff FREE.

Now that the class is over, I'm starting on a short story targeted for Harlequin's Nocturne Bites.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Last Class, First Short Story

I'm up early this morning (5:30 am) to work on the final lesson for the short story class I'm taking: write a 200 word short. I was having trouble getting my novella down to 15,000 words, not sure I can do just 200. One thing for sure, it's a great exercise in writing tight and deleting the nonessential. I understand all the talk about killing your little darlings now. Most of my favorite lines don't really add anything to the story. Deleting them is difficult. In fact, I was actually procrastinating by writing this instead of writing my first short story, but I finished it!


     The first time he watched her die she’d been little more than an animal. Cro-Magnon, maybe. Homo sapien, barely. He had held her and watched the spark fade from her eyes, howling as his soul plunged back into the abyss. Not like this time. This time they’d had seventy years together. This time he was prepared to lose her, again.
     “Tell me,” she wheezed, placing her wrinkled hand, trembling, over his rough, strong one. “Tell me the Secret.”
     Sitting in their bed, he hugged her against his chest holding her up to ease her struggle to breathe. Still she gasped for air.
     It was time.
     He whispered to her then of the Beginning, of eons past when they were all One, the Dark and the Light, before the Separation; how they entered matter and forgot what they were; how one Dark soul refused to forget, refused to play the game of Life; how he waited for his Light, life after life, to remember him.
     She never did.
     “Remember me,” he begged, yearning for a flicker of recognition as her Light separated, but it was too late. She had slipped away.
     He cradled her body one more time and wept, again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Starting Over

I'm reinventing myself...again.

As I get closer to retirement it's become obvious I won't have enough money to sustain my trailer-trash life style. (I thought I was going to die before I turned 30 so I never saved money or invested in a nice house.) Since I already write, even if just in my head, I plan to write to supplement my income. Something I've never tried before. I hope keeping this journal of my progress will keep me on track.

The first step: start small.

I'm taking an online short story class given by Anna Hackett. She's written several ebooks for Nocturne Bites. Check out her website and her ebooks on the Harlequin website. Great teacher and I'm a fan of her writing.