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NaNoWriMo: If NaNo-ing Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right (Reprise)

4 Oct

A lot of irrational things annoy me.

  • The term “animal style” at In-N-Out
  • Humidity
  • Crisp, overdone foley sounds in movies or television, like “sexy” whispered voice-overs on ads, crumpling paper/plastic, or the sound of footsteps. (Wanted to Hulk out every time they amplified the tap shoes in So You Think You Can Dance last season. Ugh! I’m making fists just thinking about it!)

I’m sure I annoy people with the things I do, too — like turning everything into a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference (just annoyed myself by typing the asterisks between the letters) and, now, apparently, by being a part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

I really don’t understand the hostility. I get the stress from agents whose inboxes strain beneath the weight of the naïve each December, but most participants know better than to query their raw product, and most of the criticisms I read are not from agents but from writers. Perhaps they’re tired of hearing about it. Perhaps they’re evil. Perhaps it’s just the sound of the word NaNoWriMo that makes their skin crawl the way the word dander freaks out my mom. Maybe you all want to slaughter me for my poor grammar and sentence fragments. We’ll deal with that later. Right now, I just want to explain why I participate in NaNoWriMo.

Let us begin with a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference.

In The One Where Phoebe Runs (video here), Rachel is embarrassed by Phoebe’s headlong running style and shuns her, not wanting to seem ridiculous by association. She doesn’t get the value or appeal of such a thing. Phoebe explains that it brings back the fun of running, the joy from when you were a kid and ran so fast you thought your legs would fall off.

NaNoWriMo, to me, is like running until you think your legs are going to fall off — and loving it.

When I first began writing in grade school, I did it because it was fun and made my friends laugh. When I took up fiction writing again as an adult, I did it because I’d had a really tough couple of years with unemployment, the loss of my dad, and my toddler’s bout with melanoma. Writing was therapy. Writing my heart out made me feel happy again. Alive again. Put color back in the world. I still love it. I still enjoy it. But now I spend most of the year fussing over it, getting serious, running it through workshops and critique groups, agonizing over every word, stressing at deadlines. Worrying about what people will think.

Then November and NaNoWriMo arrive with arm-flailing abandon, reminding me to let go every once in a while,  feel alive again. Join the galloping, galumphing, windmilling parade.

Writing is usually a solitary pursuit. Lonely. Even when you belong to a class or a critique group, you’re all pursuing different goals, are at different points in your stories, and you’re there to get down to business and be serious. These are not bad things. Most of us belong to writing groups and are grateful for the resulting improvement. NaNoWriMo, however, is different. In November, writing becomes a social activity. You no longer feel alone. You’re in it together. Writers from all over the world congregate on one site to crash its servers celebrate the joy of writing until our legs fall off. We’re allowed to cheer each other on, we bring back the joy, and we walk away with a stitch in our sides from laughing. And sometimes a couple of new friends.

Do I think this is the way to go full time?


Do I think I’m there to write a masterpiece?

Heck no. It might happen, but I’m not concerned about that.

I’m just there to run my legs off and rediscover the magic. I want to put aside my inhibitions, limber up my twisted imagination, and fall in love with what I do again. When I’m doing NaNoWriMo right, I know it because I once again feel that heady rush of new love. I can’t wait to get back to the story, I think about it day and night, and I (obviously) can’t stop talking about it.

I wasted too many years of my life not knowing or enjoying who I was because I was too busy toeing the line, forcing myself into herd mentality because the moment I stepped out of the mold, the Eternal Junior High Mean Girls of the world were ready to taunt me, torment me. Shun me. The world would see I was “crazy.” As much as I hated to be noticed and labeled as a brain (You’re such a brain. I hate you!), I feared the least deviation from perfection and hard work because that would expose that I was a sham, an idiot, and thus subject to more ridicule.

So I need NaNoWriMo’s help to let go of that. I like being allowed — encouraged — to be BAD, to be WRONG, and to see that no harm will come from it. In fact, a lot of good comes from it. Being able to laugh at yourself is a major skill in life.

People complain that those of us who are celebrating writing “crap” are wasting an opportunity to do something serious and valuable and “good”. I disagree. First of all, one man’s good is another man’s crap, and vice versa. Second, I think they’re missing the point of what this month means to people like me. This isn’t my only opportunity to write. I write all year long. I revise, rewrite, and edit all year long. I treat my primary novel with the care and seriousness of a parent. I don’t go into NaNoWriMo with the aim of producing the next great classic. I don’t pose for a woodcut portrait on Barnes & Noble’s walls.  I use NaNoWriMo to revive my creative energy so that I can go on to strive for a masterpiece,  whether through extensive rewrites and editing of my NaNo novel or through starting something new with the momentum I gain. It’s a workout.

I should have a better concluding paragraph, but I don’t. I’m sleepy and have thousands of words to write before I rest. That makes me happy. So I leave you with the following — a dramatic recreation of how I feel about the sound of crackling paper and amplified tap shoes, brought to you by Ms. Phoebe Buffay and Ms. Pacman.


30 Covers, 30 Days – Redux

30 Oct

On Tuesday, NaNoWriMo will begin posting covers for the 2011 30 Covers, 30 Days challenge. I was the gleeful recipient of a cover last year (go day twelve!), and I made a collage of the entire collection. For old time’s sake, here it is again. Can’t wait to see the latest batch!

Novels & Nostalgia

13 Aug

Every so often, I drag out my journal from 1993, the year I studied abroad in Russia. At a rate barely faster than that of glacier migration, I’ve been transcribing the yellowing handwritten thing into a Word file. I was tired last night and needed inspiration, so I chose a Russian classical playlist on iTunes and searched the web for a photo of the Smolny Cathedral in the snow. I found a good one on Google Images. Then realized it was from this blog.

Oh yeah. The blog. How I have scorned it!

I’ve devoted most of my summer to revising my NaNoWriMo 2009 novel and ordering various proofs. I’m finally at a good resting point. A few kind souls have volunteered to be beta readers, I have the cover I want for now, and so I’ll pull back from it for a while. If anyone wants to join the beta brigade, let me know. I have pdf and epub versions.

Here’s the cover:

Nocturne Cover (proof three)

Click on the image below for a link to the first two chapters (on

Those of you who read my 99th Page blogfest entry will recognize some of this. I moved a middle chapter from my original novel to the beginning of this one (the alternate version).

Now I’m waiting for the next prompt for NPR’s Three-Minute-Fiction…

Anna Karolina

31 Jan

Eighteen years ago today, I was just getting settled in here for my semester abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia.

We took our classes in the lower blue buildings surrounding the cathedral. Our housing was a block away.

I’m transferring old handwritten journal entries into a Word document, which is a cringeworthy experience.  Talk about an unreliable narrator!

Have you ever read old journals or letters from an experience you thought you remembered clearly, only to find that time has given you a clearer perspective, and you were no more than an [expletive]?


Just me?

Because my semester in Russia plays out like a really pathetic version of Anna Karenina without the dramatic train incident.

I call this one Lady with a Swamp Rat on Her Head.

Me freezing inside St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Sqaure

What Were They Reading When You Were Born?

10 Jan

A fun dealie-bobber, courtesy of the fine folks at the Office of Letters and Light today. We’ve all seen the site where you can find out what the number one song was on the day you were born. Now there’s a literary version!***

If you go to Biblioz and enter the pertinent data, you’ll find out the fiction and non-fiction bestsellers from the week you were born. (Be sure to use the correct date format of DATE-MONTH-YEAR, not MONTH-DATE-YEAR.) Then your job is to come back here and report your findings in the comment section below.

I did it. I was imagining happy little families out in the happy little maternity ward waiting room, reading happy little stories, awaiting my birth.

Which books were they, I wondered.

Well. Lemme tell ya.



Is it any wonder I turned out the way I did?

What were your books? I look forward to the answers.

*** Brilliant reader M. Howalt pointed out that BibliOZ can be used as a tool for writers who are researching a particular time period for their stories!


7 Jan
Vivian Maier self portrait

Vivian Maier: Nanny or Great Photographer?

See the video below…

A late nanny’s possessions reveal hundreds of thousands of negatives, tremendous unknown talent, and a vivid portrait of mid-century Chicago.

I want to go to Chicago. I want to help scan the photos. I want to see them all.

This is the kind of story that makes me greedy — unearthing history, art, and the mind of the mysterious photographer. One hundred thousand moments of Ms. Maier’s life & Chicago history, many never before  seen.

And that’s what makes it most exciting of all — that there is still uncharted territory, new treasure to be found.

Naturally, I’ve been waxing philosophical about the story. I won’t bore you with the details, but, basically, I’m thinking about how we can see exactly what the photographer saw and get a feel for her opinion on each subject, but we will never know the exact story or what she was thinking. And maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the raw image and the viewer’s reaction is the story.

With a writer, you can read the story and what the author was thinking, but you can only catch a glimpse of the actual images in the author’s mind. Unless the author is a talented artist, no one will ever see what they see, no matter how evocative their descriptions. And maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the images created in the readers’ minds are more important.

But back to Vivian Maier…

I have a box of glass stereoscopic slides from the 1920s-30s, showing random scenes of Chicago. One thing I love about them is they’re not professional — just amateur photos from a family who lived in the Beverly Woods neighborhood. They aren’t as clear or artistic as these, but they’re pretty nice, and they are in 3D, which adds an element of magic to unguarded moments of the past:  horse-drawn buggies mingling with automobiles downtown, landmark buildings surrounded by others which have since been torn down, old cemeteries, an airship over skyscrapers, their rather Edwardian living room, etc. And you feel like you can reach right through the age spots, peeling corners, and scratches into that black and white world. Grab it. I hope that someday I can scan them before they decay too far.

Literary Christmas Genius

25 Dec

Proof that my sister is a creative genius.

Oz gift theme

This is the third year in a row that she’s created a literary theme for her gifts. I love them.

This year was The Wizard of Oz.

  • Ruby slippers (literally slippers)
  • poppy seeds
  • lions and tigers and bears (oh my)
  • emerald earrings (green crystal & silver, she made them)
  • apples (a la the angry trees in the movie)
  • a silver heart frame (tin man)
  • a book of word puzzles (scarecrow/brain)
  • a bottle of Professor Marvel’s Liquid Courage for the Cowardly Lion (mini wine bottle with a custom label she created)
  • Wizard & Gale’s Wicked Witch Repellant (bottled water with a custom label she created)
  • a gingerbread village to represent home

Last year was Alice in Wonderland.

  • tea
  • teacup
  • drink me (soda)
  • eat me (a cupcake, not shown, eaten)
  • pea soup (more pepper)
  • marzipan (in lieu of mushrooms)

The inaugural year, 2008, she did Little House on the Prairie.

  • a “tin cup”
  • sticks of candy
  • little heart-shaped, golden-brown cake
  • a shiny new penny

Dumb Dora Is So Dumb…

23 Nov

Today, I realized that my children have no idea why I reply to their assertions that something is sooo [whatever] by shouting, “HOW [WHATEVER] IS IT?”

They’ve never heard of The Match Game. Heck, most adults in their twenties and thirties probably never heard of it. But, in my head, I’m hearing a studio audience roar it in unison as Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers snicker drunkenly in their upper tier seats and Richard Dawson tries to hit on everyone in America from front row center. Someone was always smoking, too.  That’s how old these memories are.

Hi, I’m the Dennis Miller of my own household. Which…in and of itself…is an obscure reference… Sigh.

Old Mama was sooo old [that’s your cue], she went to blog about something interesting but instead wound up {BLANK}.

I Woke Last Night to the Sound of Thunder

19 Oct

I fell asleep last night to the sound of neighbors playing bass drums and rolling boulders down the street. This is a Monday night ritual, although most call it wheeling three mammoth waste cans to the curb.

My dreams were fitful since I’d gone to bed feeling sick, and when I heard someone bowling beneath my bed, it seemed about right. It scared me, but it fit the mood. Took a moment to realize that, hey, that’s not right. Husband eventually discovered that one of our apparating mice apparated onto a tupperware full of sugar and knocked it out of a cabinet to the floor where it then rolled across the tile. I sleep just above the kitchen. Thanks mice (who are obviously in league with the ants).

Thusly awake at an ungodly hour, I discovered there was real thunder, too. I watched the rapid, flickering lightning that usually occurs only in horror movies, listened to distant thunder, and then the inevitable happened:

The Depths of Despair.

I believe the great Sir Elton John said it best when he declared, “It’s four o’clock in the morning. Dammit!”

It was five, but same difference. Just as many Dementors on the loose.

A song crept into my head that used to play a lot on the classic rock channel when I was in college:

I woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off, I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain’t it funny how the night moves
When you just don’t have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves

…When autumn’s closing in

The verse follows a crescendo of exulting over being young and restless and bold, and it seems to be him as a middle-aged man looking back. I thought it was kind of sad when I was twenty-three. At forty, it’s kind of tragic. At least, it’s tragic at 5 AM, and it set me off in reeling despair about age and wasted time and doors closing and no CTRL-Z/Undo.

Bob Seger eventually gave way to Pink Floyd. Yesterday, I hurtled along the road with my five-year-old in the backseat enjoying Dark Side of the Moon, so the lyrics to “Time” were readily available to my nighttime brain.

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

In the wee hours, a lyric can seem like an epiphany, a message crafted just for you. And even if you wake up later that morning and most of its poignancy is lost, even if it’s lost all meaning like those dreams with ideas you think will be brilliant that turn out to be gibberish, some of the emotion remains.

I need to get writing to burn off some of the irritating angst. I blame Bebe. In trying to put myself in her head while plotting Upper High Hog, I seem to have opened a few dark little doors in my own life. Let’s just call it inspiration that I can use in my story.

It’s a dangerous thing, waking before the sun. Too easy to see what lurks in the shadows when you aren’t blinded by the light.

I’d Like to Publicly Humiliate Myself, but…

8 Oct

One of the writing blogs I follow had a challenge recently where writers were supposed to blog embarrassing snippets of stories or diaries from their reckless youth. This appealed to me on a few levels.

  1. I’d get to read through old journals and short stories.
  2. I might enjoy people laughing at my idiocy for a change.
  3. Unearthing earlier scribblings might make me feel better about my current writing.

I thought maybe I’d make that a periodic feature — once a week, once a month, something. So I looked into it.


I shake my fist at thee, Facebook. Too many of the people in my high school journals are FB friends now or friends of friends, and there’d be a heck of a job changing the names to protect the innocent. (See above about being an idiot and then apply that to teenage crushes and resulting behavior.) Not that many people make it over here from the old Book of Face, but I suspect that would be the moment that they did.

I did enjoy reading old journals, though, so people might not be safe, after all. I’m going to see what I can do.