Category Archives: nanowrimo

Sometimes teenagers are right

I’ve had three, so that title doesn’t lie.  I wouldn’t be writing this post if my then seventeen-year-old eldest hadn’t said the immortal lines, “Hey Mom, there’s this writing competition called National Novel Writing Month.  You should look into it.”

She doesn’t recall this conversation, but I will never forget it; in late summer of 2006, my daughter brought NaNoWriMo to my attention  and nothing was ever the same.  I was forty, we were living in Yorkshire, England.  She would leave home the next year for university, but unknown at that specific moment was that all of us would be coming with her.  By the end of November, 100K was written on my first real attempt at fiction.  Also by then, we had decided to move back to America.

2006 was a funny year for me; hitting forty, NaNo, choosing to go back to California, realizing my lovely oldest child knew me better than I knew myself.  Yes, we homeschooled, so perhaps she saw me more than most teens hang out with their mums.  I was always scribbling something, usually journal entries, letters, or a non-fictional account of the year after my brother died.  But that was in 1997; she was just nine, and was still in British schools.  I spent a lot of time on that tome, but maybe it stuck with her.  Then, as she went from a child to a teen, her eyes noted that I never quit writing.

Yet there was no focus, no goal, until NaNo.

Fortunately no one else died in those nine years, certainly not my dream of becoming a writer.  But I was busy teaching, all but the math and science; my husband took those subjects.  I was living a dream of sorts, trekking around North Yorkshire and other spots in the United Kingdom, raising three kids, but in the back of my mind, ideas percolated.  When she mentioned NaNo, I was stunned that she might think of me in that regard, then I was blown away at what noveling offered my soul.  I didn’t need to write to expunge grief (although that beloved sibling pops up when I least expect him); I needed to write to fulfill who I was beyond someone’s wife and mum.  Six years and forty-two manuscripts later, I’m still on that path.

That’s why NaNoWriMo is so important.  It unlocked the creative scribbler in me, giving me more to do than shop and watch daytime TV after my kids started fleeing the nest.  It freed within my heart so many past niggles, liberated a plethora of plots, introduced me to so many wonderful folks!  It allowed me to delve into how many other lives, gave me another reason to love autumn.  It led directly to this website, blog, these actual words.  And so many more.

All because a teenager knew what she was talking about.  Go figure!  (Ha ha ha…)

In a NaNoWriMo frame of mind

Many things of which I want to note this morning; both the 49ers and Packers won, whew!  My Niner game wasn’t too stressful, although the offense played poorly in the first half.  During the Packer game, I went to my room and read In Watermelon Sugar, by Richard Brautigan.  I could still note my husband’s groans, we live in a small house.  Then hearing his raucous YES, I had to investigate.  By hook and by crook the Pack beat the New Orleans Saints, which made the remainder of the evening pleasant.

Football means that much to my spouse and me, and will finally make its way into my fiction.  For the next short story for Top Writers Block, I will be incorporating that beloved sport, about time!

This is why I love October so much; gridiron action every Sunday, baseball most other days, signaling the end of the regular season and the beginning of the post season.  My SF Giants are in LA today, will play their last three games against the Dodgers.  Then they will meet the Nationals or Reds in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.  And then, large smile and relaxed breath, there is National Novel Writing Month.

That has nothing to do with the Washington Nationals.  NaNoWriMo has to do with 50,000 words in 30 days.  It means writing, and all that goes with it; plotting, procrastination, forums (which can fall under procrastination), write-ins, swag.  I have a new t-shirt, stickers, and a hoodie.  I wanted that sweatshirt last year, but it found its way to me this year.  Once our brief but blazing Silicon Valley heatwave ends, I’ll even wear it!

In the meantime, the NaNo site resets today, forums wiped, time to upload new novel info, and revel in the joy that is autumn.  October is a good time to meet new writing buddies and steep oneself in all the noveling magic available.  It’s shoehorned in between sport and cooling (or eventually temperate) weather.  It’s why I’m here, writing this post.  In a few days, I’ll regale anyone willing to read just how I started NaNoWriMo, way back in ’06.  But for today I’ll be keeping one eye on the NaNo site, one on the WIP (revising Alvin’s Farm #6, The Timeless Nature of Patience, written for NaNo in 2010).  I’ll peek to the hummingbirds, then to snippets of sport news.  My Niners are in second place in the NFC West, the husband’s Packers in third in the NFC North.  Chicago plays Dallas tonight; perhaps the Packers will benefit from a Cowboys win, and move in front of the Bears!

But now, back to the editing…

A little poetry in the fiction

Buffalo Afternoon is my current read, Susan Fromberg Schaeffer’s take on the Vietnam War.  I picked this up last year, after returning from The National Mall, a novel in mind.  Buffalo Afternoon was going to be research material, but every time I looked at it in my bookshelf, something said wait.

In the meantime, other books were read, a few written.  The novel I had in mind to write was pushed back some, not enough time this year to research it properly.  But last week I needed a new lunchtime read, and finally Schaeffer’s book went with me to the table, the cream cheese bagel waiting.  Now I’m enmeshed, no way out.  Not only will it assist in what I think I am going to write next (for NaNoWriMo), but the poetry of the prose won’t let me go.

My all time fave books, fiction and non, have that poetic element, and I think Buffalo Afternoon is going to join them.  It’s about the Vietnam War, but also Pete Bravado, an Italian American whose house has two distinct atmospheres, cozy daytimes with his mother, grandmother and aunt, then dark evenings with his father, a cold, ignorant man who hates books.  Schaeffer’s lyrical writing deepens a rift made apparent in the second chapter, Pete after the war, noting the gulf between father and son.  As Pete’s childhood unwinds, I’m transported to New York in the fifties, also pre-war Italy.  I’ve already spent some time in a Vietnamese village; this is the sort of novel that easily flits from here to there, all due to the language which tells many tales within one sentence.

I didn’t grow up on poetry, but my fave novelist Richard Brautigan is also a poet, and my favorite book of poetry reads like a novel; Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes recounts his courtship, marriage, and separation from fellow poet Sylvia Plath, ending with her suicide.  Plath’s poems caught my eye when I was a teen, but it was years later in England when Birthday Letters hit me, and now back in California I’ve found Buffalo Afternoon, also The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s meta-fictional account of his days in Vietnam.   It’s the poetry within these books that I am drawn to, time and again, also in Haywire, by Brooke Hayward.  I can’t adequately explain the narratives other than to compare them to poems.

In pondering my NaNo idea, I’ve been stuck at how to write it.  A sprawling tale covering several decades, do I just start at the beginning, or will flashbacks be necessary?  Buffalo Afternoon sets up the premise in the first chapter, “Two Voices”, placing the action in a Vietnamese village, then back in New York.  Then the past opens the tale, so many ways to tell a story.  That’s part of the plotting, not just what happens to who when, but in what order the writer spins out that information.  And then the how; how does the prose relay many stories, several characters?  When I read Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar or Haywire or The Things They Carried, I am inspired directly and vicariously.  I itch to convey what percolates in my gray matter; I also consider the wider scope of great literary beauty shoehorned into an older, Pocket-sized paperback with a small font.  How much poetry sits in those five hundred sixty-two pages, more than I can contemplate this early in the morning.  Not all my faves are that lengthy; In Watermelon Sugar is a slip, one hundred sixty-six pages, and the font isn’t squished.  Leisurely laid out over those pages is another form of poems, chapter by chapter noting tigers that speak while eating the locals, but those cats aren’t very good at arithmetic.  But like Schaeffer, Brautigan was an expert at challenging a reader while at the same time weaving a hypnotic magic, keeping me from setting down those books.

Yesterday when I finished lunch, I completed chapter six.  Seems I eat about half a bagel per chapter, along with carrots and dip.  If the chapter hadn’t been done, I would have sat at my kitchen table until it was.  Perhaps it seems odd that I stretch such a delicious book over the course of however many days it takes to eat a bagel and read; it’s savoring that novel, as I’ve done with other fantastic lunchtime tales.  Tomas O’Crohan’s The Islandman, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home; some books are meant to be ingested slowly, with great care.  There is nothing like the first time a book is read, and while at times I devour a story, occasionally I want to dawdle, allowing the incredible beauty into my brain and heart sentence by sentence.  I’m learning while enjoying, a little schooling alongside the entertainment.  And when the words are poetry in motion, I can’t help but take a deep breath, letting it out so slowly, wondering how the writer managed that marvel, that miracle, that utter gift in front of my eyes.  But they did, it’s there in black and white, for as long as that book holds together

Those words, as unreal as they might seem, are forever.  As a reader, and a writer, I am ever so grateful.

Some reasons I write

Music; tunes stir the stories, invoke characters, nudge nuances.  As long as I listen to music, I’ll probably be writing something, be it manuscripts, blog posts, letters to family.

Paper; notebooks, journals, small legal pads, and folders filled with loose sheets litter my desk.  Every time I come across blank pages, I’m compelled to put words on those empty stretches.  Not that I could ever use up all those sheets, but they tease, as do the multitude of pens on either side of my monitor, or in the cup behind me on the buffet.

Pens; see above.  (I do prefer black gel, fine line.  For cards, ball points are best, as they don’t smear.)

Plots; I have more ideas than sense.  Not enough time to write them all, so it’s a balance of what half-baked notion bests another slightly formed story as the WIP.  More than not, there are a few battling for that crown, which at the moment includes ideas for NaNoWriMo alongside a short story for a cooperative of which I am a part.  I’m just starting to get my feet wet with short stories, although my first wasn’t that brief.  More on that soon enough.

Sport; how dramatic is the tension as hopes, dreams, and sorrows play out in real-time?  My SF 49ers lost this weekend; it happens.  My husband’s beloved Green Bay Packers play tonight, lord help us!  Watching sport, be it footie or baseball, tennis or athletics, stirs the deepest dramatic longings, which I have incorporated into a few books via baseball.  Such an easy sport of which to write, but American football calls to me, begging to receive that same fictional treatment.  Perhaps someday…

Communication; I have these words, even here in this post.  I’m telling anyone willing to read it why I write, but perhaps the most honest reason is just to be heard.  All the rest are tools, getting me to where I sit in front of a large screen, wishing to convey the brutal need of my heart to express plentiful nonsense, many truths, some lies, all dressed in tunes and sport, laid out in longhand or typed with wrapped hands.  I’m fighting tendonitis in my left forearm, carpal tunnel in my right wrist, but I’ll be darned to stay silent.  When the choice exists, like a pitcher with a worn and aching arm, or the running back going with nothing in the tank, here I am, blathering away, glad for the chance to speak my peace.

That’s all I want to do, just speak my peace.

Something comforting about autumn

When I was young, summer was my favorite season, no school, that sort of thing.  But after living in Britain for eleven years, California summers seem sort of endless; it’s called the Golden State for a reason.  Now, with a few decades under my belt, I prefer autumn, which in California doesn’t last as long as in other places.  But I’ll take what I can get.

Autumn means football, baseball playoffs, US Open tennis.  That tournament only runs for two weeks as August turns into September, but ushers in my beloved American footie as the national pastime winds down.  My San Francisco Giants are in the playoff hunt, which heightens the thrill.  But even if they don’t make it, I’ll still be watching the divisional series games, then the World Series.  In Britain those games were lost to time differences, although I taped them in 2006, the Detroit Tigers against the St. Louis Cardinals, all for writing.  That autumn I was preparing for my first NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month doesn’t start until November, but I’m already pondering what to write alongside hundreds of thousands of others as if what I do isn’t only here, near the hummingbirds.  The run-up to that month is a huge part of the adventure; I can’t spill in one blog entry how indebted I am to the notion of bashing out fifty thousand words in thirty days.  All I can do is let the giddy rush fill my bones as I begin to outline yet another story, while the exuberance of sport placates.

And don’t even get me started on my crock pot!  Autumn is truly the best season of the year.

Caught behind the bars

Right now, in the grand scheme, I’m prepping the next novel in the pubbing queue.  Giddy excitement swirls with slight exhaustion, but as I drink the morning tea, my immediate task is this blog entry, warming up the brain so when I reach for that novel, I’ll be ready to absorb the remaining chapters.  I can’t just jump right into the work; I need tea, sometimes a tune or two (“Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford at the moment), a glimpse at the hummingbirds, swooping around the feeder.   This has been my routine for over five years, although the h’birds have only been a part of it since 2010.  I started my first novel in Britain, for NaNoWriMo 2006, but for all intents, the writing really began here in California, in Silicon Valley.  I started blogging about writing five years ago, as if the eleven years I lived in Yorkshire had no bearing on this gig.

But that would be so wrong.

I wrote back there, journals and letters, I love writing letters!  Actually, I love writing cards; I have boxes of them, and postcards too, piled all over the place.  My husband used to collect stamps, so we order various designs, but I have to scold when he puts the cool ones on bills.  PG&E doesn’t deserve Gregory Peck or The Incredibles.  I still send snail mail; postcards to nieces and a nephew and my godchild, nice cards to my daughter and other loved ones.  I love writing cards, but I adore affixing stamps.  My husband asked if I missed the old types, but no, I prefer adhesives.  I still have to lick envelopes.

I have always loved to write, but my wildest dream was to craft novels.  Letters and copious journal entries served their purpose, keeping the dream alive.  In November 2006, I started my first NaNovel, and never looked back.  I just finished a Camp NaNo tale, and am gearing up for the full monty in two months.  There is nothing better than writing a book alongside several thousand others all over the world, a huge virtual write-in for thirty days breaking the solitude that lasts the other three hundred thirty-five days a year.

Writing is an isolated task, not even the hummingbirds catching my full attention.  Yesterday I noted the above picture on my screen saver; our last English house was set along a fairly quiet village road.  I didn’t recall that shot, spent a good twenty minutes trying to find it.  We took tons of pictures in the UK; digital photography made it easy to snap without serious thought.  Maybe we were also trying to capture those moments, aware our English adventure wouldn’t last forever.  Eleven years was a long time, but now we’ve lived in California for over five, many books written in the meantime, heaps of cards sent and goodness knows how many blog entries posted!   I’m not the type to get lost in the past, but while frantically searching through folders of our British years, I wondered if that picture was a fluke.  How had it landed on my screen saver, from when was it taken?  Finally I located it, from 2006, in June, on the first.  On 1 June 2006, I had no idea about NaNo, that I would start a book that autumn, or that in a year, I wouldn’t live in Yorkshire.  All I knew were those bars, that house, fresh asparagus.  Our across the street neighbors grew asparagus, and my youngest helped prepare it for sale.

It seems idyllic, a day from my past easily forgotten, except for the pictures that stir so many memories, and not so small wonder for what has happened since.  Since 2006, I’ve written a plethora of drafts, published nine of them.  I’ve moved back to my home state, my eldest has gotten married.  I feed hummingbirds, which I had never even seen before!  Yet I am drawn back to that shot, those iron bars, that British summer’s day; I had recently turned forty, wasn’t sure what that new decade would hold.  It’s been wondrous, it’s been hectic.  It’s been day after day of the little and large, and quite wordy.  This morning, it’s rather blog-filled and reminiscent-heavy, also hummingbird-laden.  And it’s just another moment.  In a minute, it too will be gone.