Saturday, November 3, 2018

NaNoWriMo Advice: It Comes Down to Two Words

Scott D. Parker

A few years ago, I discovered NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It’s an exercise intended to get folks to write at least 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. That's 1,667 words per day. It’s quite a daunting task if you’ve never done it. I failed a couple of times, but then succeeded 2015. Turned out the book surpassed 50K, but I got all 50K in during November.

The thing is, ever since then, and not only in November, I’ve been able to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. Because once you’ve done it, no longer does it appears as daunting as before.

But it’s still a major achievement. Over the years, as I’ve written more books, a few things have come to mind as tidbits of wisdom. Mine is yet another list, but so be it. We all learn from each other.

  • You should definitely raise a glass in celebration when you reach 50,000. It’s a major accomplishment. Celebrate!
  • If you don’t succeed, DO NOT castigate yourself. Go back over the month, see where things went off the rails, and fix it for next time.
  • I found it best to write in a common spot. There’s studies out there that indicate our brains get re-wired if we sit in the same environment and do the same thing. When we do that, it gets easier to get into the flow each day.
  • Try to write at the same time each day. Same kind of thing as above. Weekdays, it's 4:30am.
  • Get off the internet. Research later. You’re main goal for the 50K is to get through at least 1,667 words per day. Can’t remember a fact you need in your story? Write around it. Leave yourself tags in the text. For example, I write “TK” in spots where I know I have to go back, but I keep going. Just Keep Going. You can always go back, search for “TK,” and then fill in the blanks.
  • If possible, leave yourself a cliffhanger at the end of each writing session. You'll be dying to return to your keyboard and, when you do, the words will flow easier.

But if there’s one piece of advice that should remain at the top of anyone’s list, it’s this: Have fun. Have a blast. Writing is a joy. You are telling a story. You are the first reader. Entertain yourself. If you do that, then reaching 50,000 words is a breeze.

As of this year, no I’m not starting a new novel, but I am finishing up the one I started in October. I had a mental reset on 1 Nov and cracked the story open yesterday. Now, I’m off and running. Who knows? The book might actually be longer than I anticipate. If it is, it’ll be a NaNoWriMo by accident.

NaNoWriMo. Great idea. Love doing it.

Have Fun.


Young and Dangerous by The Struts.

Love. Love. Love.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

How Eating Black Licorice Made Me A Better Writer

By David Nemeth

I tried last year and failed. There was no planning or commitment of time. I had only a few notions of where scenes would go. It had no chance whatsoever of succeeding. I told myself this year would be different, this year I would plan ahead for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). [Builds up inner-Milhouse enthusiasm]

"Lighten up, Francis."
For some reason, peeps have got real issues with NaNoWriMo. Hell, even a writer I like a lot tweeted a few weeks ago questioning the value of "spurting a couple thousand words." NaNoWriMo might not be everyone, that's cool, but it is for those of us who need the slight nudge or big shove into getting the habit of writing EVERY day. Steve Weddle wrote here last year, "Other folks will say 'I think NaNoWriMo is dumb.' Fine. Whatevs. I dig candy corn. Other people like Air Supply. So what?"

A few years ago, Chuck Wendig wrote some thoughts for those participating in NaNoWriMo and he had some words for those who despise NaNoWriMo:
Professional authors — perhaps unfairly — sometimes look at the program with a dismissive sniff or a condescending eye roll. Look at it from their perspective: NaNo participants might seem on par with tourists. Professional authors live here all year. We are what we are all the time. And then others come along and, for one month, dance around on our beaches and poop in the water and pretend to be native. The point is, don’t act like a haole, haole. Don’t be like that girl in college who kissed girls and called herself a lesbian even though she was really just doing it to get other guys hot under the scrotum collar. And pro authors, don’t act like prigs and pricks, either. Drop the dismissal. Most of us are all trying to share the same weird wordmonkey dream, and that’s a thing to be celebrated, not denigrated.
The main reason why I am participating in NaNoWriMo is that I'm a perpetual revision writer. That opening scene has got to perfect or I can't go on. It would not be an exaggeration to say that two pieces of flash fiction, some 1,400 words, took easily over 10,000 words to write. I've got a problem. For me, NaNoWriMo is about pushing through, getting to the end of a book. Write a scene today and forget about it tomorrow.

So how did I prepare for this year? I spent August through October thinking about what I was going to write. Not a lot of good thinking, but thinking. I read Lisa Cron's "Story Genius" and listened to several old episodes of "Writing Excuses". Cron's book is heavy on the importance of understanding who your characters are. Cron is convinced the plot can develop from this. I found the book helpful in just getting me to think about the mechanics of writing again.

Weddle is a fan of the "Writing Excuses" podcast and I am now one too. Hosted by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brian Sanderson,  Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells, the weekly 15-minute long podcast focuses on writing. Though these folks might be from the science fiction/fantasy genres, most of their ideas about writing are portable to any style of writing. Even their podcasts about worldbuilding I found instructive: how is my town physically structured, where does everyone work, what's the racial divide of the city, who has the power, who doesn't. From my reading, I know too many writers who put no thought into their setting of their stories. Oh, and what I feel is probably most important, I wrote an outline . . . or should I say I wrote notes about different scenes for the book? Yeah, I have those notes this time around.

I also announced that'd I'd be participating in NaNoWriMo. The wife knows, you know, and even my office knows as it's been cleaned up for this month. Importantly, I found the time. Sadly, I won't be doing the Incident Report this month as those 8 to 12 hours a week are going to be key for me to sit my ass down and write.

At the end of November, my plan is to have written 60,000 words, NaNoWriMo's standard goal is 50,000 words or about 1,667 words per day. I started a few days earlier than Nov 1st and my daily writing goal is only at 1,764 words per day. And what am I going to have when I'm done? Most likely, all I'll have a trunk novel and a poorly written one a that. But by December 1st, I will have written a novel.

As you can guess by now, black licorice had nothing to do with me becoming a better writer. Though I like black licorice, the only way to become a better writer is by writing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Fair Notice

One learns a lot as an orphan. The first lesson, you can't accept help from everyone. If you're fortunate, you learn this as you watch your other orphaned friends be led away on pipe dreams they have a mommy and daddy, somewhere, if only they can just find them. The second lesson, of lateral importance, is to know what others do for you harms you in the ways it soothes you to have support. Every parent knows this, and every child, too, but then every kid screams bloody murder everyone else is being spoiled, save them, so although charity kills, it doesn't stop people from relying upon it in their planning and development.

The notion in all of the fairy tales is to go out and find your family. Replace the family you lost with a new tribe. That's the David Copperfield goal for the orphan, and it usually is how little kids get lured away into the worst situations with no agency. Feed yourself and no one holds back food for sexual favors. Clothe yourself and no one can give you an outfit to wear that compromises you. Transport yourself and you won't find yourself in cars with strangers being led away from folks who warned you don't go with them, no matter what they promise.

A lot of oppressed people think it's just a matter of finding the right folks to tribe-up with. We're all used to the group eating very well off the one bold person's idea. There are plenty of Microsoft support staff multi-millionaires, more than one would be comfortable with knowing, actually. There have been a bunch of Bill Gateses, inside and around Microsoft's often tottering dominance in the OS space. And yet and still, there will always and forever only be one Steven Gary Wozniak. Every crew has a Woz, age, race, gender nonspecific. You'll recognize them as the odd one, who speaks out of turn at the wrong times, and introduces ideas and concepts when everyone is worried about the grumbling in their stomach. Woz walks when everyone else is eager to accept a ride after school from someone who is waiting on someone else to pick them up. Woz moved his own feet, to his garage.

And where would any of us be without Woz's garage?

Woz lived longer, thought different, did better, pushed back on Steve Jobs and his totalitarian bullshit (he was a monster, full stop,) and left the world with a model for civic-minded dominance of his friendly competitors. Woz left behind a legacy for folks like me, who know that everyone wants to be king of the hill, but you gotta step on some backs and necks for that, and it's easier to grab other people's legs and keep them from winning than win yourself.

So this is fair notice. I don't think I have many friends in crime-mystery-thriller, certainly less than before. I include those authors of color, because what's that ever been, really? I thank all of you for the rough play I've experienced this past five years from you. You helped me see I can win without fighting dirty and rigging the rules. Now, I'm under no illusions. I know y'all want the prize real badly. You all taught me the game. I'm playing it. So, unlike an angry black man who will freak out, and more like your favorite motivational black athlete who freaks out over the scoreboard, if you're on the field, you're on your back, cuz Bronzeville gotta eat, and I'm the Mayor.

Meet you on the Midway. Come to play. Smashmouth. You in Chicago.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A Tig Torres Mystery

Last night after work, it had been six days since I made it to the gym, so it felt good to get back there and to begin my exercise, as I always do, on the stationary bike.  While pedaling, I either listen to music or a podcast.  This time, I chose a podcast, and in particular, I chose the first two episodes of the brand new Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher scripted Lethal Lit.  

To quote Alex, "Lethal Lit is a new, fictional 'true crime story', starring Tig Torres, a feisty NY teen who finds herself back in her hometown of Hollow Falls, where she must join forces with her new friends to face off against the perils of modern high school life, and a gruesome series of murders perpetrated by the Lit Killer - a serial murderer whose crimes echo stories ripped from the pages of English literature."

Tig is obsessed with finding out who the Lit Killer is because her beloved aunt, who died years ago, is thought in the town to have been the killer.  Tig knows that her aunt, a reporter for the town paper, was trying to solve the case herself, but her aunt was an oddball in the town and when she was found dead in mysterious circumstances, people in Hollow Falls believed she had committed suicide to put an end to her homicidal compulsions.  Of course, when new murders resume, the cops have to acknowledge, however reluctantly, that her aunt couldn't have been the Lethal Lit killer.

The first two episodes are called 'Into the Past" and "A Dark Obsession".  I found them to be absorbing and fun, and the acting and production values are excellent.  The tone is light but has suitable menace, and Tig's character is engaging.  I'm looking forward to following the episodes when they come out on Mondays.

Gotta say that Alex's background writing his Pete Fernandez mystery novels as well as writing about young adults and their adventures for Archie Comics have combined here quite well.

Here's a link to the podcast:

Monday, October 29, 2018

My All-Time Favorite Horror Flicks

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. When the children are screaming and people are bleeding and living in fear…. it’s the most wonderful time. Candy and costumes. Parties. The great existential event of death and what may or may not come after. Faith and terror. And movies. Don’t forget the movies. Here are a few of my favorite.

Number 10


The original. The 1974 classic where a small group of college co-eds are terrorized in their sorority house as they prepare to leave for Christmas break.

Many horror aficionados consider this one of the first slasher films and it went on to inspire John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and Fred Walton’s WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. With all the trappings of an exploitation film BLACK CHRISTMAS starts innocently and builds to absolute terror as the sick and violent predator stalks the co-eds with creepy phone calls and then murders them one by one.

As the sorority house and surrounding college neighborhood empties for the holidays there is a sense of loneliness and fear that wraps the women trapped in the story. The actual murders are telling in their own way. One victim is suffocated in the attic while she can still see the safe world just outside the window. Safety is just out of her reach. Then there is the use of a Christmas ornament to kill Margot Kidder. This movie broke so many rules it has to go down as a treasure.

Number 9


This absolutely gorgeous film might be Dario Argento’s most famous work. A young woman travels to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy. Soon, brutal murders rock the ancient school. The students are visited by visions and insanity, as it is revealed the school is run by powerful witches.

SUSPIRIA contains a genre-defining death scene so full of color, sound and gore it is hard to watch and hard to turn away. The sanity bending soundtrack, featuring Italian progressive rockers Goblin, is haunting in itself. SUSPIRIA is hard to forget.

Number 8


THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a dirty piece of American filmmaking, deserving of a place in movie history. Over the top disturbing and violent, though all the violence is actually inferred and not splattered on the screen, Chainsaw Massacre follows a group of kids on a journey across Texas. After their car breaks down and they search for help they encounter Leatherface, a grotesque psychopath wearing the skin of his victims, and his extremely disturbing and very hungry family. 

This was the first time I had seen cannibalism portrayed in film and it flipped me out. Crazy, violent, and raw, the film’s low budget and low effects made the movie seem like a documentary. As if we were a part of the brutality. It made me feel guilty and afraid and I loved it.

Number 7


Clive Barker dammit! HELLRAISER brought the spectacular Clive Barker to American shores and I for one am eternally grateful. HELLRAISER blends terror, sex, and fantastical nightmares to create a cinematic masterpiece.

HELLRAISER introduces us to the Cenobites, all formerly human, though now cursed to torment humans who dive too deep into their home realm. Gnashing, grinding teeth. Barbed wire. Leather suits and milk-pale faces, Cenobites were created to make man suffer and they kill and torture in many horrific ways. The sublime Pinhead is their fearless leader, crowned with sturdy nails all over his skin. He kills with hooks and chains, ripping sinners apart. HELLRAISER is a deep and bloody jaunt that will haunt you forever after.

Number 6


George Romero changed the face of horror films forever with his release of this classic piece of cinema. NIGHT of THE LIVING DEAD is considered the stepping off point for modern zombie lore. These were not zombies brought back to life by a religious zealot so their bidding might be done. These were zombies that were rising and moving because of some great wrong worked by the human race. These undead death machines were our punishment.

For $6,000 George Romero told the story of a brother and sister visiting their father’s grave when the dead begin to rise. They join with another group of survivors and try to stay alive inside an old farmhouse. The film shines a not-so-subtle spotlight on the Viet Nam War and race relations within the U.S. It’s our story told through the dead.

Number 5


Based on William Peter Blatty's novel of the same name, the film follows a single mother as she tries to save her possessed daughter, Reagan. Questions of sanity and faith fly back and forth as the Catholic Church agrees to intervene. Fragile characters and deep story lines help to lay a tremendous foundation for this one-of-a-kind movie.

The film received ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, making it one of the few horror films to be nominated for Best Picture. Disgusting special effects created such a stir when released, some theaters refused to show the film.

Number 4


This movie is a classic, from the film score to the expertly and carefully used first-person point of view. The original was all about ratcheting up the tension and prickling your nerves.

We learn about Michael Myers, a young boy who viciously kills his sister on Halloween night and is soon after institutionalized. As an adult he escapes the asylum and returns to his hometown to continue his killing spree. 

With its subtle blend of supernatural and realism, HALLOWEEN scares on a different level than most other genre movies. Though we know Michael Meyers is human he appears monster-like. He lacks humanity, covered by his pale, expressionless mask. He’s not like us. Add in the simply prefect score, by none other than John Carpenter himself, and you will have nightmares for years.

Number 3


Is it a zombie movie? Is it a plague movie? Apocalypse? No matter, 28 DAYS LATER is a gorgeous film filled with the dreadful loneliness of a dying society. When bike courier Jim comes-to in an empty London hospital he finds the world has begun to feed on itself. The opening sequence is stunning and triggers the feeling that we are witnessing the end of the world.

Though the monsters in Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER are fast-moving, strong and filled with rage, unlike the great George Romero’s slow and steady undead, the same sentiments remain. It’s a critique of humanity’s most basic emotions and desires.

The haunting film score featuring Godspeed, Brian Eno and John Murphy helps to frame this modern classic.

Number 2


The Tall Man. The Tall Man. Agh. What more do I have to say? One of the greatest “bad-guys” of all horror movies and so perfectly played by Angus Scrimm, with his long hair and deviant eyebrows. He is not the bumbling, ugly monster we see in FRIDAY THE 13th or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but a creepy, other-worldly creature who lives in a mausoleum, controls dwarf minions and zombies and elegantly kills with his brilliant death sphere.

One of the the film's best moments is a dream sequence in which the teenage protagonist, Mike opens his eyes, unable to move, and sees The Tall Man hovering over his bed. I couldn’t sleep for weeks after seeing this movie.

Number 1


Big-eyed and gentle Mia Farrow plays Rosemary, a young, out-of-place house-wife living in NYC with her ambitious, fame-seeking husband.  When she discovers she is pregnant with their first child she is, at first, joyous, but is soon overcome with fear as the couple’s strange and pushy neighbors encroach further in their life. 

Increasingly, she is isolated from the outside world and family and depends only on their new friends. Soon we see her husband has given his soul and their unborn child’s life to this group of Satan worshippers and their dark lord in return for success.

There are so many levels of discomfort in this film. Life in the big city, fraught with paranoia and pressure. Loneliness. The unfathomable betrayal by a husband. The idea that something that doesn’t belong is growing inside you. ROSEMARY’S BABY is a slow and steady attack on your sense of well-being.