The Road to Hell (#NaNoWriMo2017)

The Road to Hell (#NaNoWriMo2017)

Chapter One

Joe Krebs and I stared at one another like two small dogs issuing a half-hearted challenge over an old ham bone buried too long in the mud. Neither of us could win, but it was a way to pass the time. I caught Scotty DeLuca cutting his eyes over at the clock, as if its sweeping second hand wouldn’t be within two Mississippis of where he left it last time he looked. Monica Scott twirled her hair with her non-dominant hand while struggling to muster the will to move a pencil with the other. Yricka Gaines yawned, closed her composition book slowly, and laid her pencil off to one side, straightening it until it aligned perfectly with the top of the top of the desk. As if to test her knowledge of physics, she cocked her head to one side, reached out with thumb and forefinger, and gave the pencil a sudden spin. It flew right off the desk and clattered to the floor at Jimmy Hanson’s feet. His eyes never left the page in front of him as he kicked it away with a slight grunt of irritation. Did I just imagine the smile, equally slight, from under that sullen brow, half hidden beneath a parted curtain of auburn hair?

It was my turn to look towards the clock and fidget with my pen.

At long, long last, the bell rang. I wonder if any of the students realized that their teacher did not enjoy test days any more than they did? The still silence, punctuated by the occasional cough or grating of chair legs on linoleum as bored butts shifted to give a cheek or an elbow a rest, was hardly the highlight of my morning. I couldn’t even read a trashy novel to pass the time; it would shatter the illusion that I was watching them like a hawk, lest one of them allow their eyes to stray to their neighbor’s blue book. In reality, the rare cheater among them had only to look to the graffiti so artfully scribbled on their denim-clad thighs, or surreptitiously glance at the temporary tattoos they’d inked on the insides of their wrists and palms, as if my generation hadn’t thought that one up. Fortunately, such miscreants were not common here at Cliffside High. These were good kids, for the most part.

I loved them all. I remembered when I loved teaching, and as the bell zapped me from my reverie, I realized it was a distant memory. Now, I only stayed as if I were saving my charges from an even more boring fate wrapped up in blue-haired meanness or a youthful dependence on pre-packaged lesson plans and half-assed experiments with cutting edge teaching methods. These kids didn’t have cutting edge needs; they had hungry little sponges for brains that sometimes reeked of the weirder parts of YouTube, like stale dishwater. My job was to wring out the muck and drop them into the bright, sudsy world of books and lively discussions.

And mercilessly strained metaphors. I was fully engaged in that task.

“Language and Literature” was a tepid hybrid of two courses the Ancient Once called “English” and “Literature,” respectively. In their heyday, they were given double the time and resources; the current version was now innovatively smushed into a brief 50 minutes a day and the district-mandated textbook was a colorful and wholly inadequate introduction to hackneyed classics and basic rules of grammar. I didn’t blame the kids for hating everything about it; they were as bored with it as I was. I gathered up my things and left with the class. It was lunch time for them, coffee in the teachers’ lounge for me. I toyed with the idea of taking up smoking again, but let the thought pass just as quickly as it came.

“Janie, there was a call for you.” The department secretary, Lydia Armitage, extended her hand in a sharp, horizontal salute and handed me a tiny pink Post-It flag marked, “While You Were Out.” She clicked her heels as she executed a snappy, 180 degree turn and strode to the door between the lounge and the office. I read her impeccable scrawl: “Meet at Sawyers, Bailey, and Krebs today. Two o’clock. Don’t forget, this time.” Who said I’d forgotten, last time? 

“Lydia,” I called out. “I’m leaving early. Get Don to cover bus duty, please.”

I supposed I’d put off meeting with Gran’s lawyers as long as I could. I knew, in my head, that she had died, but as long as her will went unread, I could imagine that it was all just a horrible mistake. Gran had died as she lived, adventurously. No one was quite sure where, but her houseboat had come unmoored in the Florida Keys during a freak storm, and vanished in the area they call “The Bermuda Triangle.” I liked to think she’d found the Lost Continent of Atlantis, reunited with Grandpa, and was now sipping Jamaican rum punch somewhere tropical and warm. The more mundane truth was that the Coast Guard had found bits of her boat, a small waterproof safe designed to float, and several life vests, including a purple one emblazoned with her name in gold lettering, near Vieques. With that as evidence, she was declared legally dead. They had not searched long for a body, but there was no one who believed that an eighty-seven year old woman could survive the squall in the Atlantic’s rough and icy water. Even I had to admit it was unlikely, despite knowing Gran to be a strong and enthusiastic swimmer and an avid surfer into her mid-seventies.

At least she hadn’t died in bed. Gran would’ve hated for anyone to pity her as an old invalid.

I checked in with Ms. Jones, the receptionist at Sawyers, Bailey, and Krebs. She directed me to a small conference room and brought me coffee and cookies. I recognized the cookies from Lacey Flowers’ Bakery, and nodded thanks. You don’t turn down Lacey Flowers’ homemade chocolate chunk and black walnut cookies – not if you’re sane and know what’s good for you. The coffee was strong and black. “Would you like me to bring you some cream and sugar?” asked Ms. Jones.

I knew James Gordon Krebs from parent-teacher conferences. Darienne Sawyers and I had gone to high school together; I’d have voted her most likely to leave this one-horse town without a backward glance, but here she was, heading up our largest law firm. Which is to say she had an office on Main Street and very little competition. Beau Bailey had been Gran’s favorite; he was the lawyer she chose to draft her will. I was, apparently, the sole beneficiary and executor of her estate. I knew nothing about being executor of anything. Gran was the only family I’d ever known. I wished fleetingly for a sister, or for my mother to come back from the dead, if only to deal with all the fiduciary complexities of death. I didn’t want this responsibility. I wasn’t particularly eager for any “inheritance,” either. I’d have preferred for Gran to hop out of the law firm’s broom closet and yell, “Punked ya, kid! Oh, the look on your face!”

Gran had a wicked sense of humor, but she was never mean. There’d be no jumping out of broom closets. Or airplanes. Or houseboats. Ever again. I knew, then, that her laughter was what I would miss most.

Beau Bailey opened the door to the conference room and greeted me warmly. “Jane.” He smiled and shook my hand, reaching for my chair and nodding for me to sit. I could see why Gran liked him.

“Jane, I’ll be brief. As I mentioned when we spoke on the phone, you are the sole beneficiary of your grandmother’s will. She did not have any debts to settle, so there’s very little that you need to do as executor of her will. She did have one unusual directive…”

“Oh?” I thought back to some of the games we’d played when I was a child, and I sensed that “unusual” might be an understatement. “Do tell.”

Beau nodded, and began to read aloud: “Janie, I always intended to take you to Farnsworth Manor one day. It was handed down from your Grandfather’s side of the family, and there just never did seem to be a good time for us to go. You know what they say about ‘good intentions.’” At that, I cracked a smile.

Beau continued reading the will. As it turned out, Farnsworth Manor was located on a promontory the locals called “Satan’s Finger,” overlooking a roiling chasm at the base of the rock into which the tide poured and from which it spewed in a great fountain twice daily – a phenomenon that had been dubbed “The Devil’s Cauldron.” Apparently the road to Hell was paved with good intentions, after all, and even from beyond the grave, Gran and I could still share a laugh.

The Manor had stood empty for thirty years. As a single mom with a little girl to care for, Gran had moved to a charming, cheerful little town and found a job. Technically, she didn’t need the money. Grandpa had left her well-off, but it wasn’t in her nature to be idle, even if she was rich. She had an example to set, now, too. There would be no Cinderella fantasies for her girl; Gran would raise her daughter to be strong-minded, strong-willed, and fiercely independent. Gran had envisioned her daughter as President – or maybe a judge on the Supreme Court. My mother had other plans. She wanted to be a pilot. Or maybe a storm chaser. An astronaut, perhaps.

Gran thought that the cliffside manor house was simply too gloomy to be good for an energetic, growing girl. Her first visit to the house had raised goosebumps on the nape of her neck. She had grown to love it, but it was no place for a boisterous, happy child. Children needed sunshine and a community noisy with other children.

“It’s just the sort of place for you to write your novel, Janie. I know you’ll come to love it, as I did.” Beau paused in his reading. “Now comes the hard part.”

“Just spit it out.” I knew there had to be a catch.

“You must make a choice, Janie: Live in the manor for a year, and you will inherit the house, the grounds, and an annuity of $30,000 a year. Or sell the house, take a lump sum payment in cash, and try to forget about the last adventure we’ll never have together.”

“What’s the house worth?” I asked. Even asking the question felt like a betrayal; I felt it the moment the words left my lips.

“About $1.7 million,” said Beau. He tried to hide his disappointment, but I saw it flicker in his eyes like a guttering candle flame. “I have to be honest, though. I’m not sure $30,000 a year is enough to make it livable.”

I studied Beau’s expression. He’d never make it as a trial lawyer in the big city; he was too easy to read. “She really hoped I’d live there a while, didn’t she?”

He nodded.

“Any idea why it mattered to her?”

“Not a clue.” Beau stared at me with the best lack of expression he could muster. It wasn’t good.

“A HINT?” I pleaded.

He shook his head. “Not until you decide.”

Unlike the hapless heroines of the gothic romance novels I used to devour when Gran was done reading them, I was neither penniless nor without prospects. I would have to give notice at work and finish out the semester. I couldn’t just leave the kids at the mercy of a substitute indefinitely. I had a lease to break.

Gran had never asked for much. If this meant something to her, how could I ignore that?

Gran had made provisions for the house to remain unsold for the period of three years, so that I would not have to simply drop everything and run off to live an inconvenient fantasy. Because no matter how they tell it in the novels, putting your real life on hold for a year is a damned nuisance. I considered saying no.

Thirty thousand dollars and a house in the middle of nowhere – correction, perched on the tip of Satan’s Finger, poised to stir The Devil’s Cauldron – would not last as long as it did a hundred years ago. And there was no brooding, dark-haired lord of the manor waiting to sweep me off my feet (no doubt after getting on my last nerve and causing me to think he’d murder me in my sleep). If I said no, then according to Gran’s will I would get a nice chunk of cash and break her heart. She didn’t actually write “break my heart,” but I knew Gran and I knew she wouldn’t have made it sound like an irresistibly spooky dare from one of our favorite books if it hadn’t been important to her. And so I sighed. “Fine. I’ll…go live in the creepy house.” One last adventure. I could survive anything for a year.

[2200 words]

Live-blogging a novel is sort of the equivalent of karaoke for writers. Only the courageous, drunk, or daring ever try it. I’m not drunk.

I’m off to a late start, due to some intense shoulder pain – and yes, I’m getting it checked out this week. I was tempted not to mention it at all – part of my “no excuses” policy when it comes to NaNoWriMo, but I’m worried, and if it comes down to a choice between working or NaNoNoveling, work wins. If it comes down to a choice between rest or losing mobility, rest wins. I can’t type fast enough to out-type this one, and that scares me a little.

But my other motto is “Suck it up, Buttercup!” so here we go!

The Rest of the Story (So Far)

You’ll find this link at the top and bottom of subsequent chapters – it’s a dynamically generated Table of Contents, so it will get longer as the story grows! I’d hate for anyone to jump into Chapter Ten, first, then get lost finding their way through the story.

Countdown to NaNoWriMo!

Countdown to NaNoWriMo!

Some of you have already started writing, but for those of us in the United States – where NaNoWriMo got its “Na” – we’re still a good 45 minutes to launch. Getting excited? For me, it’s tradition to stay up till midnight an write, at the very least, “In the beginning…” More can wait until I’ve had a good night’s sleep, especially when November 1 falls on a Wednesday, a work day.

Here are a few last minute tips and a blast from the past.

Writing Healthy

Write Healthy. NaDruWriNi (National Drunk Writing Night) is a fun parody of NaNoWriMo, and I can get into the spirit of it, but alcohol just makes me sleepy. I don’t write wild and crazy stuff after having a drink or three, I crash. Same goes for too much sugar, too much sodium nitrate, or too much food – period. Do not pig out on the Halloween candy!

I’ve never bought into the idea that drugs enhance creativity, either. I’ve known people who smoked pot or got drunk, and they were mostly legends in their own minds, until the high wore off. Most of them didn’t even have the good grace to be embarrassed, later; apparently, there’s a reason why people forget what they did the night before.

So while I’m not going to pass judgement on those who choose that path, I know it doesn’t work for me. And if I’m going to get through 50,000 words in thirty days – while working full time – I’m going to do it healthy. (Why, oh why, does NaNoWriMo coincide with the end of hurricane season and the beginning of flu season? At least I got my flu and tetanus shots, this year!)

Hydrate your brain. I drink too much coffee and too little water. I’m going to make an extra effort to keep a big sports bottle of water handy – filled up and chilled – throughout November.

Never skip breakfast. I learned this one from Weight Watchers. Paradoxically, if you want to lose weight, don’t skip meals. Skipping breakfast is a great way to train your body to store fat and a good way to screw up your sugar levels in the morning.

Take a good vitamin/mineral supplement. Sure, we should be getting all we need from the food we eat, but that’s assuming we’re all getting plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and not loading up on fast food and pre-packaged convenience meals we can throw in the microwave after a long day at work. If you spend hours each day staring at a computer or mobile phone screen, you might consider adding an Omega-3 supplement, like TheraTears Nutrition, to the mix.

Exercise. It’s great for revving up the metabolism, getting trim, and staying in shape, but it’s also terrific for releasing all those lovely endorphins that make us feel relaxed, de-stressed, and happy.

Sleep. Sleep-deprivation is a nasty, evil thing. (Oh, I know, some writers swear by it. Claim it gives them visions. Claim their characters only talk to them when they’ve had two hours’ sleep in the last forty-eight. I’ll bet.) Sleep deprivation slows our reaction time and makes most of us miserable and cranky. I don’t write well when I’m miserable and cranky. I write miserable and cranky prose; I might even churn out a morbid sonnet. But it’s not good and I’m not happy or fun to be with when I’m doing that. Eight hours is an unreasonable goal during NaNoWriMo, but I’m going to aim for at least six or seven, every night.

Any more suggestions? Keep ’em simple (it’s hard enough turning over a new leaf – I don’t have time for complicated regimens right now) and share them in your comments.

My First NaNoWriMo

Proof that I was blogging before some of you were born – if you want to read my first impressions of my first National Novel Writing Month, check out NaNoNuts. It dates back to 2005. But the following entry was copied from a blog I kept in 2001:

I found my first-ever NaNoWriMo blog, from 2001. Not to scare the newbies, but I thought some of you might get a kick out of it. (Ed. note: I did actually go on to publish the @#$% thing, despite what I swore at the end of this.)

October 21, 2001

I’m ready, I’m ready! I have 50,000 other things to do before I can even THINK about starting this novel (but that will always be an excuse if I let it be, won’t it?) – and I know that October is the month to wrap up loose ends in anticipation of NaNoWriMo – but it’s all I can do not to start!! Aaarrrgggghhhh!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a novel in just one month? 50,000 words in 30 days? 1666.66666666667 words a day? Scary, yet irresistible idea if you’ve ever toyed with the idea of writing a novel… well, one of these days. One of these days is NOW.

October 22, 2001

They say “write what you know.” But who the heck wants to read about a happily married tech writer with two kids? Ah. “Embellish,” you say? There’s a thought.

“Tina sighed as she waded through stacks of paper covered in blood. Red ink, of course – but to Tina it was the blood of her hard-birthed manual, the love child of Engineering, painstakingly researched and written, now cut to shreds by Marketing. As Tina reached into the drawer, rummaging for a bottle of white out, her fingers found the Exacto knife. She smiled in satisfaction. Nice and rusty and dull.”

Naah. Definitely needs a sprinkling of space aliens and a dash of ninjas. And more caffeine!

Chris Baty, fearless founder of NaNoWriMo, asked the rhetorical question, “Are we really within a dairy product’s expiry of starting?” Well, not if you’re lookin’ at a nice hard Black Diamond cheddar, we’re not…

Eeeeek! Yep, he’s right – according to the milk and yogurt in my fridge, he’s right! I don’t know whether to panic now or start doin’ the happy dance!

October 23, 2001

Did Lisa (another NaNoWriMo Nut) say “a story to a dead person”? That’s a novel idea. Here I was, playing with cliche ideas like stories about dead people. What are space ninjas without a few ghosts to play pranks on them, anyway? A little eerie howling in the night? But stories to dead people? Like, what, little graveside bedtime stories? (Ooooh, sometimes I even creep myself out!)

October 24, 2001

You can run, but you can’t hide. Anyone else starting to feel as if the real challenge to this NaNoWriMo thing is avoiding all the “attractive nuisance” obstacles so cheerfully flung our way? Like journals, boards, partners, more boards (lest we get bored), more boards (for those who like to get carried away), other people’s journals, email, IM, chat… and a little light escapist reading, RPGs, and real life for those times when we just need a break?

October 25, 2001

That was depressing.

“Tina sat, glassy-eyed, in front of her monitor, waiting for the chime that would signal arrival of the ‘ratings’ from a horde of equally glassy-eyed reviewers. She bit the ragged edge of a hopelessly frayed nail, thankful that she hadn’t invested in a pricey French manicure. Fingernails on a keyboard were only slightly less irritating than fingernails on a chalkboard, anyway. Tina dreamed of the trashy-but-entertaining fiction she could be writing, as opposed to the dry-but-equally-fictional technical documents she’d be editing to the truthful nuggets at their core in the wee hours of the morning. Ding! The first of the reviews announced its presence in her inbox.”

“Tina tested the blade with her index finger. A ragged cut, only a few epithelial layers deep, appeared. She was able to squeeze a drop of blood from it, but barely enough to fall, splat!, on the page. Next, she stood in front of the heating vent and did jumping jacks. Once she’d worked up a good sweat, Tina leaned over her tattered draft – now covered in red ink, toner smears, and a pathetically anemic drop of real blood – and dripped. Just then, her boss walked by and noticed her office door was ajar. No look of horror, no raised eyebrow at the sight of a wild-eyed, sweat-soaked technical writer wringing blood from her own finger – she noticed the rusty Exacto knife in Tina’s hand and said, with a small smile of self-satisfaction, ‘Good! I see you’re going to cut it as I suggested a week ago!'”

October 26, 2001

I’m humming to myself. Little voices in my head sing, “The waiting is the hardest part… oooh, the wa-a-iting is the harrrrrrdest part…” (Or am I just being Petty, here?)

See, the problem with best-laid plans and too much time on your hands is that you start second-guessing everything, overplanning, spinning mental wheels (like hamsters in an exercise ball)…so what seemed like a GREAT idea Sunday is starting to bore me to tears. I don’t like my characters. I don’t like the whole idea. Maybe it’s because I’m THINKING about it, not WRITING it. Wouldn’t want to CHEAT, now, would I?

October 27, 2001

“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”
– Henry David Thoreau

That’s a nice explanation for an online journal, don’t you think? (Or are you thinking, “She needs to get out more!”?)

October 30, 2001

I’ve knuckled down to the serious business of meeting deadlines and clearing the calendar for November, yet for every item I scratch of my to-do list, another worms its way on! If it weren’t for two kids, a husband, a father-in-law, and a gaggle of coworkers, I think I’d run off to the hills for a taste of the hermit life…

On the other hand, it’s very hard to write convincing characters and dialogue when you cut yourself off from the society of others. So far my daughter is the only person I know who’s begging me to turn her into a character in the “sucky novel” as I’ve been calling it (trying to lower my own expectations to such a degree that I can turn off the inner editor and critic long enough to crank out 50,000 words NOBODY will want to edit come December). I’ve warned her about things like me taking literary license – she still wants me to do it. She also wants me to make her character a goth punk rock star wannabe. (And that’s as close as she’ll come to BEING one in THIS lifetime, so long as I have any say in the matter!)

I had an amazingly productive day at work. I think that tonight, instead of worrying about November and my lack of a plot, or working myself to death in order to stay three steps ahead of upcoming projects at work, I’ll sleep. Might be the last chance I get for 30 days!

Ooops, no – the goth punk rock star wannabe has just asked if I can stay up long enough to stick her volleyball jersey in the drier when the wash cycle ends…

November 2, 2001

Day 2, 10:45 PM

Sleep, or keep typing? I’m only 2358 words short of my goal for the past two days. I can knock that off in the morning, while the laundry’s spinning, right?

Why is youth wasted on the young? I’m not old yet, but I’m too old to pull an all-nighter. Shoot, it’s not even eleven, and my eyelids are drooping.

November 3, 2001
2726 words behind. But that’s good. I’m up to 2275 words, and I’m not done for the night. I refuse to eat or sleep until I’ve logged at least 4500 words. Thank goodness I haven’t sworn off coffee!

The story is starting to take on a life of its own. But WHY is my narrator a 12 year old BOY??

November 4, 2001

Oh, yes – one more note before I give up for the night and go to bed. Today’s soundtrack is “Offenbach: Gaite Parisienne; The Tales of Hoffmann: Intermezzo” performed by the Boston Pops, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. This CD also includes the Overtures from Orpheus in Hades and La belle Helene, and a medley from La Perichole.

Very inspirational! The writing pace definitely picked up after I switched to this CD from Jurassic Park. I think it has a more upbeat tempo – and the melodies make my fingers want to dance across the keys!

* * *

Andy’s sister, Kylie, says it’s only fair to give her equal time. I don’t know about that – but here’s a glimpse:

Kylie couldn’t get a button back on without sewing her own fingers together, but she could create an entire prom ensemble with a few scraps of fabric, thermal bonding, a soldering iron, a handful of nail heads, and a hot glue gun. Instead of the mousy brown macramé belt, she’d cinched in her already tiny waist with a wide band of steel-studded black leather.

Her eyes were a dusty, bruised combination of midnight blue, lavender, and charcoal. Her lips were ice blue, rimmed with something darker, raisiny. On her left ear, she wore a silver cuff that looked like a little dragon perching there, claws out, ready to pounce on the unwary fool who might try to kiss her.

* * *

6138 words as of midnight Sunday, November 4, 2001.

Now that’s progress. Not GREAT progress, but fairly steady progress. I spent a fair amount of time today editing, changing POV from a limited first-person POV to a more omniscient third. I hope that 12-year-old Andy, my first narrator, won’t feel hurt and desert me – but there are things happening in the story that he simply cannot know or tell me. Others are demanding a voice, now, too.

But if you’re wondering about Andy, here’s a bit of a character sketch from the godawful novel that has nothing to do with the plot, such as it is:

Andy sketched the female reproductive system with colored pencils, but as Mr. Schaeffer droned on, it became a map of Utera, a town of myth and legend, populated by strange races and exotic beasts. Ovaries became the town reservoirs; a uterus morphed into the town square. The worried townsfolk had gathered to hunt the saber-toothed weretiger that had been preying upon their children…

“Andrew, would you care to share with us what must be the most incredibly detailed rendition of a woman’s reproductive parts ever drawn in this class?” Andy hated it when Mr. Schaeffer sneaked up behind him like that. Reluctantly, Andy handed over the drawing. There were a few stifled snickers from his classmates, who were mostly glad Mr. Schaeffer had chosen someone else to pick on this time.

Mr. Schaeffer studied Andy’s detailed and colorful map for a full minute before saying anything. The corner of his mouth twitched oddly as his eyes took in the tiny schooners under full sail that navigated the twin rivers of Fallopia, protecting the town of Utera from rogues and pirate mermen who threatened from the southernmost inlet of Cervericus. “Hmm. Fascinating.”

He handed the drawing back to Andy without showing it to the class. “Quite nicely done, Andrew,” he said softly, moving on to extol the virtues of birth-control to a restless class full of Seventh graders.

November 6, 2001

7244 words. Not too shabby; still behind schedule, but catching up. Time for bed…

November 7, 2001

Another NaNoWriMo Novelist, Steev, writes, “I’m already a bit obsessed with the word count feature in Microsoft Word. I seem to be checking the count every paragraph or so.” Glad to know I’m not the only one.

Isn’t this akin to checking the contents of the refrigerator every 10 minutes or so, just to see if there’s anything new in there since you last looked? You know you haven’t gone to the store, and you’re reasonably sure the elves haven’t restocked while your back was turned, but… yeah, just one more time. Maybe your tastebuds have changed.

If I’m developing an obsessive-compulsive Word word-count disorder, I have at least discovered that I’m capable of editing and adding to the word count. It’s slow going, but for every passage I’ve deleted, I’ve added more detail or explanation. It’s a painful method that’s partially satisfying my need to keep things moving and my need to satisfy and silence the dastardly internal editor/critic. (I’m thinking of making my internal editor/critic a character in my novel, then torturing her for several days before finishing her off with a grisly death scene inappropriate for readers under 17.))

* * *

7244 words and holding…

William was sick yesterday. Novel-writing is inconsequential when you’re a Mom, worrying about a sick child. Katie had violin and drum lessons last night; she and I stopped at Starbucks on the way home, and by the time we got done I had no energy or inclination to write. I don’t even feel bad about that. The good news is, William is fine today and the doctor gave us the green light to send him back to school! (He’s at that age where staying HOME from school is a drag, instead of the other way around, so he’s thrilled to be back with his friends!)

So, today’s question: Can a frazzled, disorganized, very relieved tech-writer, wife, and mother write 4425 words before collapsing tonight of utter exhaustion? AND clean the house before her uncle comes to visit on Monday?

Did I mention that my husband has offered me a challenge? He says he can get in 5000 games of Freecell on his computer before I can write 50,000 words of my novel. He’s up to 200 and something (he didn’t tell me how quickly he can play a game of Freecell), but yesterday he bought a new joystick for his computer and it’s slowed him down considerably. He and William have been playing Flight Simulator and neglecting the Freecell, so I can reasonably expect to stay ahead of the game for now. Have you ever watched a 5-year-old perform a successful take-off? That was wild…

J.J. has also offered to pay me a penny a word by way of encouragement and monetary incentive, which comes out equivalent to the cost of a cheap paperback at the grocery store – not a bad deal for a 30-day novel that, by definition, is likely to be embarassingly awful and unpublishable. I like to look at it as him buying the first copy of my book. Right now, he owes me 74 cents – about equal to a can of Coke. I think it’s a good idea that after almost 18 years of marriage we don’t nickle and dime each other to death, don’t you?

November 8, 2001

Another NaNoWriMo novelist wannabe (who shall remain nameless only because in the depths of my little black heart, I really do sympathize, wrote, “i’ve only written about 425 words… has anyone written less??? i thought i’d have more time to write, but i dont.. ahhhhh… what can i do to make time to write?? any ideas???”

No. None at all. Not one single idea. Except maybe, “Apply butt to chair. Start typing.” Or, as Tom Clancy said to me years ago, “Just write the damned book.”

Geez, we writers have more excuses than the beach has grains of sand, don’t we? (Hey, some of mine – at least lately – have even been pretty good.) But let’s face it, books don’t get written by excuses. Editors get bored with excuses. Publishers cancel contracts if you can’t make deadlines. So my motto this week is “no whining.”

That’s as bad as making New Year’s Resolutions. Can I amend that to be next week’s motto?

If anyone sees my internal critic/editor wandering around, mumbling to herself, carrying a very deadly razor-nibbed fountain pen loaded with blood-red ink… there’s a contract out on her. (And a padded cell for anyone who actually SEES her, of course. You can see your own, but you can’t see MINE.)

8021 words. I may manage another 20 before I bore myself to sleep. I am not amused…

November 9, 2001

If I pound away hard enough and long enough at my keyboard, I will eventually turn out the collected works of an infinite number of monkeys…

November 22, 2001

Notice the huge gap here between entries? Oooh, someone must’ve suddenly been hit with the “failure-is-not-an-option!” bug…

Ack! Halfway through the month, the founders of NaNoWriMo have changed the rules – looks like there will be no “official wordcount verification” (understandable, given the response to this year’s novel-writing marathon event, but disappointing to those who’d like the NaNoSeal of Approval, no doubt). We’re all on our honor to report our word count and declare ourselves “winners”!

Personally, I couldn’t give a rat’s patoot – but that’s because I’m stubborn and because I know that even with “official” verification, I could be bested by someone who wrote 25,000 words, selected the whole blasted thing, hit CTRL+C and CTRL+V and presto! 50,000 words. So it’s always been a matter of personal satisfaction and honor.

On the other hand, it irks me to see the rules changed halfway through the game – kind of like the time I did the March of Dimes Walk-a-Thon, and it snowed. The morning we started the walk, it was chilly – maybe 60 degrees – and I was dressed in jeans, thick socks, tennis shoes, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. I carried a lightweight backpack with a different pair of shoes, and hoped to be carrying the sweatshirt if the day got warmer.

Instead, less than 5 miles into the walk, it started to rain. By 7 miles, it was snowing. By 10 or 12 miles, it was snowing HARD, and another walker – a teenaged boy – and I huddled together in doorways of downtown Akron businesses for warmth. We couldn’t see anyone walking ahead of us or behind us, and assumed that most had given up. We were tempted to give up, but neither of us were quitters and I guess we were full of adrenaline. One thing was certain, though – we had to get warm and dry, and I had to get a change of clothes, or we were going to die.

We looked down the side street; the only business that appeared to be open was the Chat Noir Lounge. We shuddered at the neon sign and decided that was no place for us – especially as it was about a block off the main route and no one was likely to find us there if we ran into trouble. Our only other choice was the no-tell motel nearby. The clerk was gay and openly so; he was also quite gracious about letting two sopping wet, half-frozen kids use the phone and sit in the lobby, dripping onto the vinyl chairs and linoleum floor.

We waited while my parents brought me a change of clothes; I dressed in the back seat of their car. My legs were blue from the dye on my jeans; the jeans had frozen stiff and stuck to my legs, cracking at the knees each time I bent them. My parents explained that the March of Dimes was giving the full 20 miles’ credit to anyone who managed to make it to the 15 mile mark, in view of the horrible weather and hardship involved in making it that far.

The young man with me – I don’t know that we ever exchanged names – and I decided that wouldn’t be quite fair. My parents agreed, though they’d have preferred to take me home right then and there, and to heck with claiming 15 miles, let alone 20. So we trudged onward, though knee deep snow. We checked in at the 15 mile mark, and kept trudging. At 18 miles, the sun came out. I stopped at Wendy’s for a burger; the young man went on, knowing that if he stopped again, his legs would quit working. I hurried to catch up, after wolfing down a double with cheese.

We both made it, and claimed our 20 miles. I saw him briefly, at the mall; we grinned at each other and hugged, as if we’d survived a war. I never saw him again. I was especially proud to collect on my pledges that year, knowing I’d really EARNED every penny. I was 12 years old at the time.

Guess I still have that stubborn streak. I just broke 23K. 23,874 words, to be exact, and still plugging away, determined to hit the halfway point before I sleep!

Ah, yes… for those of you who thought turning the true story of the walkathon into fictional word count for the novel was a good idea, I’ll give you one more excerpt:

* * *

It’s true. Dream sequence’s are a desperate writer’s best friend (or worst nightmare). Great for long, rambling passages of meaningless drivel that may or may not reveal strange things about the inner workings of the tortured artist’s mind… (let’s not go there, shall we?)

*** EXCERPT from the crappy novel ***

In his dream, he was running. Only it felt like swimming. His arms flailed in the mist, legs cycling and kicking against air as thick as barley stew. It was foggy, and the street lights looked like eerie yellow spaceships, suspended just slightly overhead. He had no idea where he was, but he kept moving in one direction as if he did. He wasn’t afraid, but he kept seeing faceless people in the shadows. They didn’t know him or pay any particular attention to him, but he searched their featureless heads for something vaguely familiar. He opened his hands and found that he was carrying a pair of eyes – bright, green, intelligent, and very alert. Strangely, this did not surprise him. He stared at the eyes, thinking that they somehow might speak to him. They stared back, unblinking, for they had no lids. Slowly the skin on the palm of his hand split open, the cut edges of skin curling apart and forming something like a mouth. Andy thought that it would sting; he was amazed to find that it did not hurt at all.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am you,” the mouth answered. “I thought surely you would know me.”

“Ahhhh,” Andy answered. Everything made sense, now, of course. Everything was crystal clear. He put the eyes in his pocket and patted it, reassuring himself that they were safely tucked away. He swam on, under the orbs of yellow light.

* * *

A novel in 30 days? Heh… dream on.

31,126 words and still ticking…

November 29, 2001

43,007. Only 7000 more words to go. Sounds easy, right?

Would be, too, if I didn’t have a job. In today’s world, I’d rather keep the job than finish the novel, so I’ll be writing those 7000 words on my lunch hour (maybe) and between 7:30 and midnight tomorrow night. I’m tired just thinking about it, but I figure the adrenaline rush will kick in around 9 PM tomorrow, and I’ll overshoot the mark by at least 500 words!

Hey, all I need is one more superfluous sex scene and a couple of bizarre and twisted dream sequences. Or is that superfluous dream sequences, and a couple of bizarre and twisted sex scenes?

Read Monty (11/26/2001), starting with Monday and on through Thursday of this week. I think we have a mole in NaNoWriMo.

December 1, 2001

I think I hurt myself!

First, to Chris and deannajjones and others: it’s a cruel thing to challenge a prideful, perfectionistic, professional, deadline-driven writer with an unreasonable goal and make it sound like a heroic feat worthy of… anything. I wonder if a hamster has ever DIED on the wheel?

Second, I now have to keep telling myself “It’s okay. Nobody EVER has to see it. No one said anything about HAVING to edit it, or even having to look at it again. It’s FINISHED. Get it? FINISHED.” Somebody tell me to write a GOOD novel in, oh, 12 months – okay?

Third, I’m actually sick of coffee. At midnight, my neck whispered, “Remember those two collapsed discs? They’ve decided they’re jealous and want a part in the novel.” They started dictating dialogue. Thank God it was almost over by then.

Fourth, don’t start on the “Stupid Word Tricks.” It never would have occurred to me to try using Word’s Autosummarize feature on the damned thing if y’all hadn’t started that. I laughed so hard I snorted hot coffee up my nose! Normally, I wouldn’t mind so much, but as I said earlier, I’m sick of coffee. Now my nose is mad at me, too. It’s joined forces with my neck, and the muscles in my arms have started spasming, trying to get my shoulders up to where they can whisper in my ears, so I suspect they’re all in on it now, too.

Fifth, I woke up this morning and looked around the house with bleary eyes. Good God!! How did it get to be such a mess in just two weeks? Was I that out of it? Chris, next year’s Grand Prize ought to be a six-month certificate for “Molly Maids” (or similar local outfit of the winner’s choice). Reward? I’m about to reap the punishment for my folly…

It’s been a blast. I have a special admiration for the following participants (who stuck with it all month whether they made goal or not): the Polar Bears Fifth Grade class, anyone under 16, anyone whose college major didn’t involve English, Literature, Creative Writing, Rhetoric, etc., anyone whose novel is in English but whose native language isn’t, anyone who
tried this while juggling school and/or full-time employment, and anyone who had to accommodate family demands during November.

I think I need a shower, a handful of Advil, and an afternoon of housecleaning (mainly to figure out where on earth I put my sanity this past month!).

Congratulations – everyone!

I quit at 50,869 and will NOT be taking this piece of @#$% into “NaNoEdMo” come December!

* * *

The Real Meaning of NaNoWriMo

I don’t remember who came up with it first, but I once read that NaNoWriMo sounds like, “Nahh, no wri’ mo’…” That’s a fairly universa sentiment, come November 30. For now, let the ink and adrenaline flow!

Ready? On your marks, grab your pens, GO!

I’m also taking part in the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge
#writebravely #writetribeproblogger You can click here to explore posts by fellow Write Tribers.

Reasons NOT to Start Bullet Journaling

Reasons NOT to Start Bullet Journaling

Between the blog and Google Calendar and my stash of $0.99 purple-covered composition books from Wal-Mart, I was doing just fine keeping up with the chronicles of daily life, various appointments, and the to-do list. I didn’t need a Bullet Journal. I didn’t want a Bullet Journal. I’d resisted the siren call to even return to the Day Timer ever since they closed my favorite brick-and-mortar store, got trendy, and doubled their prices.

And then my daughter mentioned she’d gotten into Bullet Journaling.

I was intrigued. Thus far, I’d resisted the siren call of the BuJo Cult, but with my daughter singing its praises, how could I remain on the outside, looking in?

Now, I’m sitting here, mentally paralyzed by the intimidatingly pristine blank pages of three lovely Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, surrounded by vibrant, smooth, fine-liners in ten assorted colors, and a cheap twelve-pack of stencils to make my own organizing layouts, wondering what I’ve done to my brain.

This is not healthy. Of course, at its most most basic minimalism, Bullet Journaling is exactly what I’ve been happily doing in those $0.99 composition books all along. It is meant to be simple. It wasn’t designed to be a competitive, artistic sport. And it suits the creative rebellion I always felt in trying to fit my mind-maps into Day Timer’s pre-made page templates and system. I just didn’t have a name for it. I only had two “signifiers” – a bullet or a checkmark. To-do, and done. Best of all, I could rip out pages. I could scrap the whole thing and start over if it got too messy. I could doodle up the margins, scribble notes during meetings, get all anal-retentive about my hand-writing, and not worry about presenting it as an artful, coherent whole. At $0.99, I could give myself permission to write utter crap and get stuff done. I was beating the perfectionism monster at its own game. I was almost free.

But you don’t do that in an archival-quality, hard-bound, bookmark-festooned, purple journal that comes with an expanding storage compartment for your damned stencils. And you certainly don’t do it when you’ve invested time and effort in gussying it up with “layouts” and colorful doodles and bits of flotsam and jetsam your brain’s dropped into “collections” and indexed. This is exactly why I always bought Day Timers with five-ring binders and removable pages, and exactly why I have a dozen cheap composition books from Wal-Mart.

Dare I point out that the Index belongs at the back of the book, or that odd-numbered pages belong on the right-hand side?

Dare I gripe about the iPhone bigotry and there being no Android app, when the whole point of this is to go back to basics, pen, and paper?

To add insult to injury, I found the Bullet Journalers’ NaNoWriMo layout videos.

Dear Diary-from-Hell, I can’t do this. 

I’m also taking part in the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge
#writebravely #writetribeproblogger You can click here to explore posts by fellow Write Tribers.

Serial Blogger

Serial Blogger

Once you’ve considered the pros and cons of blogging your NaNoWriMo novel – or, anything, really – and have decided to go for it, how do you tie all the chapters or related posts together on the blog? Building a table of contents is a bit tedious, and requires extensive cross-linking and updates to be really reader-friendly.

If you use self-hosted WordPress, you’re in luck. The Display Posts Shortcode plug-in by Bill Ericsson is ideal for that and more! The following list of links uses a shortcode with parameters for the tags “nanowrimo” and “nanowrimo2017” and specifies that the list should include excerpts, if defined in the posts.

  • Happy 1st of NaNoWriMo! - That's a wrap for October! Enjoy some fall photos of the "spooky" spots around my favorite park. Hello, November and NaNoWriMo 2020!
  • Rebecca (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Our Story So Far… If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents: Chapter Seven Perhaps it was churlish of me to run off without a word of explanation, but I didn’t feel I owed one to Beau. He had seen my grandmother more recently […]
  • When Life Hands You Lemons… (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Our Story So Far… If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents: Chapter Six Beau was waiting for me in the school’s lobby. High school teachers don’t have offices, and the lobby at nine o’clock in the morning was more private than the teachers’ […]
  • It’s Not Gossip If It’s True, Right? (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Our Story So Far… If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents: Chapter Five The murmuring from the teachers’ lounge was little better than the breathless whispering in the halls. Principal Fricke strode into the room with his usual brusque efficiency, clapped his hands […]
  • It’s Not Gossip If It’s True, Right? (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Our Story So Far… If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents: Chapter Five The murmuring from the teachers’ lounge was little better than the breathless whispering in the halls. Principal Fricke strode into the room with his usual brusque efficiency, clapped his hands […]
  • Rumor Mill (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Our Story So Far… If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents: Chapter Four The sun streaming through the curtains made my head throb. “Never drink wine on a Tuesday night,” I muttered, rolling out of bed and blindly feeling my way to the […]
  • Bats in the Belfry (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Our Story So Far… If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents: Chapter Three Stewart opened a bottle of Prosecco, filled both our glasses to the rim with golden bubbles, then lifted his in a gesture of salutation. “To best friends,” he said. “Now […]
  • Ridiculously Easy (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Our Story So Far… If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents: Chapter Two I drove up the winding road to my little rustic bungalow in Juniper Woods. The windows were aglow with a warm, amber light.  A shadow crossed behind the sheer curtain. […]
  • Ridiculously Easy (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Our Story So Far… If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents: Chapter Two I drove up the winding road to my little rustic bungalow in Juniper Woods. The windows were aglow with a warm, amber light.  A shadow crossed behind the sheer curtain. […]
  • The Road to Hell (#NaNoWriMo2017) - Chapter One Joe Krebs and I stared at one another like two small dogs issuing a half-hearted challenge over an old ham bone buried too long in the mud. Neither of us could win, but it was a way to pass the time. I caught Scotty DeLuca cutting his eyes over at the clock, as […]

See the documentation for the Display Posts Shortcode plug-in for all the supported parameters; this plug-in is very easy-to-use, but powerful and flexible. Once you set up the shortcode for your table of contents, all you need to do is copy it to all the posts where you want it to appear. The list of links will be updated as you post, provided the criteria you establish in the shortcode parameters is matched.

Should I Blog the Novel-in-Progress? #NaNoWriMo #WriteBravely

Should I Blog the Novel-in-Progress? #NaNoWriMo #WriteBravely

There are good reasons to blog the novel during #NaNoWriMo, and there are excellent reasons not to. It’s entirely up to you, but you need to consider a few things before you commit to a decision: Copyright, Commitment, and Willingness to Fail.


You won’t “lose copyright” to your work by posting it on your blog, but you will be giving up or sharing potentially profitable rights. This confuses a lot of novice writers, and it depends on what, if anything, you plan to do with your NaNoWriMo novel later. For a simple overview of copyright and the implications of posting online, see Copyright Essentials for Writers. It’s not a definitive guide to copyright, or all of its nuanced implications on the world wide web. Just the basics, as they apply to most of us.

But when it comes to submitting, publishing, and selling your work, you could be giving away valuable rights (not “copyright” per se) just by posting the work publicly, anywhere. Until the work is first published, its contents are a secret that readers will pay more to discover. “First rights” are more valuable, generally, than reprint rights. When you post, you generally agree to share, for free, the digital rights with whoever owns the platform that lets you publish your words to the web. Read the terms of service for your web hosting company. You may be surprised at what you’ve already given away for free.

But this is not (generally) a nefarious move on their part; they require those rights in order to do exactly what you’ve asked them to do – to publish your work on the Internet without the fear of you, or any publisher you may sell your story to, suing them for a copyright violation. In fact, if you try to sell your blogged novel to a traditional publisher and fail to disclose that it is “published” already, they could sue you for a copyright violation. You simply no longer have “first worldwide rights,” in whatever language you posted, to sell them, and attempting to do so would be fraudulent. That doesn’t mean you don’t still have copyright – it just means your book has been “previously published.”

There are also other rights that can be separately sold: reprint rights, syndication rights, movie rights, product rights, rights in translation, TV rights – the list is almost as long as your imagination and a buyer’s willingness to buy. For an unknown author, more typically, a publisher will offer to buy all rights for a one-time fee. Before you get too excited by such an offer, remember that Harry Potter was rejected numerous times before it was bought for a limited run of 500 copies by a very small, also relatively unknown, publisher in the UK. Had J.K. Rowling accepted an offer to buy “all rights,” that publisher might be worth billions, but she would still be living on public assistance.

I would argue that most of us are not going to write the next wildly successful, bestselling novel during NaNoWriMo, and live-blogging the thing can be a lot of fun. But then again, you might use November to begin the draft of an incredible literary work, if you’re willing to put in the effort to edit and polish it later.


Every time I’ve tried live-blogging NaNoWriMo, the novel has fizzled out after a few chapters. Will you leave your readers hanging in suspense? I have several who’ve committed to buy Eradicating Edna, if I ever finish it. I am seriously thinking of continuing last year’s romp, which I’m tentatively titling, The Bonny Anapest, this year:

All I can say about this is that you have to give yourself permission to quit without self-flagellation. To quit live-blogging the thing, or to quit writing it, altogether.

Willingness to Fail (in Public)

Before you start blogging your NaNoWriMo novel, you need to commit to the idea that it just isn’t life or death. If you get to 5,234 words and think, “This just isn’t fun at all, anymore,” and catch yourself snapping at loved ones because you’re torn between deadlines like dinner or 1,667 words, just stop. Breathe. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can possibly happen if I don’t write 50,000 words this month?” Is anybody going to die? (If you’re writing a murder mystery, your characters may be breathing a sigh of relief! If you’re writing an apocalyptic demon ninjas vs. nuclear zombies kind of novel, millions may live rather than die a horrible, slow, brain eating death!) Could you maybe push yourself – just a little – to write 25,987 words by November 30 instead of just quitting 5,234 words in? ProTip: fumbling sex scenes and long, rambling, dream sequences are great for increasing word count. So are drunken sing-a-longs, random ninjas, epic stream-of-consciousness description of moody settings – and never use a semicolon where a conjunction will do.

Now, can you laugh about this and do it in public?

Many have, and have survived to tell the tale. If you do it in public, you’re probably not half the laughingstock you think you are (you’re not trying hard enough!!); there are others doing it with you, and feeling better for knowing they’re in good company.

It’s similar to killing (or creatively torturing) the inner critic and shoving the perfectionist monster back in the closet: call a truce with yourself and your inner demons for a month. That may be the most important thing you’ll gain from participating in NaNoWriMo, if you can manage it. If you can’t manage it, it will kill you. Maybe not in November, but eventually it will.

You don’t have to win everything. Even a silly little badge that says you wrote a novel in a month. But you can’t win at life if you don’t get in the game, so whether it’s NaNoWriMo or some other thing that tempts and challenges and scares you a little, jump into the fray and try. What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen? If the answer isn’t, “Someone could die,” then what have you got to lose?

I’m also taking part in the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge
#writebravely #writetribeproblogger You can click here to explore posts by fellow Write Tribers.