Saturday, November 24, 2018

NaNoWriMo - Week 3 - The Final Push

Scott D. Parker

Today marks Day 24 of NaNoWriMo 2018, and you now face the final push to reach 50,000 words in this month. When you come back here next Saturday, it’ll be 1 December. NaNoWriMo will be over. Consider this your last pep talk before we do a recap next week.

So, where are you in your journey to 50,000? Back in 2015, when I successfully completed my first NaNoWriMo, I hit the 50,000 mark on 23 November. True, I hadn’t completed the book--that would only occur on 5 December 2015--but I had crossed the threshold of 50,000. And this respective week was not without challenges.

Back in 2015, when I was writing a first draft, I rarely looked back. I forged ahead, crafting new words. If something occurred to to me, say in chapter 13 that affects something in chapter 7, I made a note in chapter 7 and then I go forward from chapter 13 *as if I had already written the extra stuff in chapter 7*. This way, I always have forward momentum. Later, I’d go back to chapter 7 and insert the new material in chapter 7.

Now, in 2018, I have modified my approach. Based on the process of cycling through the manuscript while remaining in creative voice, advocated by Dean Wesley Smith, in that above scenario, I would go back into chapter 7 as soon as the new idea occurred to me. Then, having planted a seed or a foreshadowing, I then charge ahead with chapter 13 and keep going. I have discovered, through practice, that this works better for me. It also works well for Smith and, well, he’s been working on his craft for forty years, so he knows a thing or two.

Last week, I wrote about a mid-book reset. Now, if you are behind on your word count, the best thing to do is ask yourself a simple question: What is more important: finish the book or finish the 50,000 words in November?

Here’s why. If you can conceivably complete the book by next Friday, then go ahead and get there. If you don’t think you can make that deadline...but do think you can complete the book a few days after 30 November, then make the adjustment. Because, when you get right down to it, the reason you started NaNoWriMo in the first place was to complete a book. The 50,000-word mark was only a trick, a hack, to get many writers started. Your book may only be 45,000. If so, then congrats! You’ve written a book. Your book may actually not be done until you get to 95,000 or more. Your book is your book. Do your adjustments as you see fit.

But this last week of NaNoWriMo 2018 is the final push. You can do it. I did it. Millions of others did, too. Come back next week and we can discuss what to do when you successfully reach your own end goal.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday Isn’t Noir At All

It’s Black Friday, which sounds like the noirest day but is really just the day where you hope you don’t run out of toilet paper if you normally get your TP at Wal Mart or Target. It’s been a weird year. Everyone I talk to has this feeling that some months took years and some seemed to peek their head through the door before heading off to wherever months go when they’re off the clock.

I didn’t put much thought into Thanksgiving beyond packing to head to my mom’s and driving. The whole state was just on fire, but it rained before I headed to her place where the smoke was making a constant dusk. I guess I’m thankful for rain. And the community of writers that I’m lucky enough to be a part of.

So Black Friday being a day where I’d really rather stay in, I’m going to get down with a book that’s been on my TBR too long, read some short stories, and remember that it’s the people you have surrounding you and not the stuff. If you brave the hordes, I’m not gonna judge you (actually, last night I was desperate to get out of the house and went to Target to pick up some Christmas gifts, and left just as I felt my blood pressure start to rise). I’m just suggesting we carry that grateful vibe into the weekend. Especially if you still have leftover pie. If you’ve got pie, you really don’t have an excuse to be grumpy.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

7 Minutes With: Episode 12

Episode 12 of the "7 Minutes With" podcast, brought to you by, with your host Steve Weddle.

As always, Jedidiah Ayres talks about film, while Chris F. Holm suggests some music, and Holly West discusses TV.

This week, we're talking about the top ten songs of the week, the movie WIDOWS, and the BBC show Bodyguar


Chris Holm:

In which a forty-something music geek a thousand miles outside his comfort zone evaluates the week’s most popular songs.

10: Lil Baby & Gunna “Drip Too Hard”
If you’d told me the tenth most popular song in America was Lil Baby and Gunna’s “Drip Too Hard,” I would have assumed you made every part of that up. There’s not much song in this song—ostentatious autotune’s still a thing we’re doing, huh?—but what little’s there is catchy enough, I guess.

9: Sheck Wes “Mo Bamba”
I don’t know what the fuck I just listened to. This song is like ear herpes. If this is “Mo Bamba,” please put me down for less.

8: Kodak Black ft. Travis Scott & Offset “Zeze”
This one’s straight pop rap. Not my cuppa, but fine. Bonus points for the steel drum sample. Minus points for autotune, and the fact that it took three artists to make.

7: Post Malone “Better Now”
Sadly, I’m at least peripherally aware of Post Malone, although I’ve never to my knowledge heard his music. He once took Jimmy Fallon to Olive Garden for a bit. It was marginally more entertaining than this air-quotes song, which features—you guessed it—yet more autotune. It’s the cowbell of the twenty-teens.

6: Halsey “Without Me”
This is the first song on the list I’m actually familiar with, because it was co-written by a young songwriter from my neck of the woods. (I read about her in the newspaper.) I’m gonna stop pointing out autotune, because so far we’re five for five. You can tell Halsey is edgy because she says fuck.

5: Juice WRLD “Lucid Dreams”
It’s super weird to me that this song is based around a sample of Sting’s “Shape of My Heart” off of Ten Summoner’s Tales. It’s also super weird to me that I recognized it immediately.

4. Marshmello ft. Bastille “Happier”
In my head, this song is the sequel to Pharrell’s “Happy” that no one asked for. There’s a dog in the video. I’m not sure if he’s Marshmallo or Bastille, but whichever he is, he’s my favorite.

3. Travis Scott “Sicko Mode”
The version of this that popped up on YouTube featured Drake. Also a horse. Sadly, Drake was not on the horse. Nor was he credited on the Billboard charts. Poor Drake. I enjoyed his “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” video, which he for some reason called “Hotline Bling.” Also, Travis Scott’s been on this list twice now, and I still have no idea who the fuck he is.

2. Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B “Girls Like You”
I know who all these people are, which probably doesn’t bode well for them, hipness-wise. When Google’s deep learning AI takes over songwriting, all songs will sound like this. It’s still on as I’m typing and I’ve already forgotten it.

1. Ariana Grande “Thank U, Next”
All in all, we could do worse than this in the top spot. Ariana Grande can seriously sing. Also, she’s been through some shit. This song’s a shockingly mature rumination on what she’s learned from her previous relationships, released after her breakup with Pete Davidson and the death of her prior ex, Mac Miller. (See? I know stuff about stuff.)

Jedidiah Ayres:

Widows +

Holly West:


Music in the episode: Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


One of the most celebrated short story writers of the previous century, Andre Dubus, used to write his word counts in a special notebook with "thank you" after the number.
I think that's a good approach to this writing affliction we have. Be thankful.

I'm thankful for all my readers. Chuck. Johnny. Juliet. Mark. That's a few off the top of my head. Thank you for sticking with me.

I'm thankful for my fellow writers. LB. Jen. Roxane. Josh. Lou. Joyce. Mat. Chelsea. Min. Alexander.

Writers who struggle. Ones who make it look easy. The wildly successful. The hard working. The leisurely dabblers. All of them. Those who write epics. The fan fiction writers. The poets. The comic book scribes. The screenwriters. Playwrights. Songwriters.
Every one.
We have a world of stories.
Stories are good.
Make more.

If you spend time with friends and family this week be thankful for your time with them. They'll tell your story once you are gone. And you'll tell theirs.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Where's the Enjoyment?

I'm going to ask what I'm sure will be considered a stupid question.  Does anyone get pleasure from the writing they do?  Or, put differently: does anyone enjoy writing?  I'm being facetious of course, because I have to assume that some people who regularly write like to write, but you might not think that based on the time you spend with writers, either face to face or on social media. By what often seems a wide margin, writers in varying ways discuss how hard writing is, how draining it is, how they dread doing it, how they have to give up doing fun things in life in order to carve out the time they need to do the writing they need to do. Now I'm not denigrating or mocking anyone in how they regard writing and what they say about doing it.  And there is no doubt that writing is difficult.  But it just surprises me how rarely, when you think about it, people just outright say they really enjoy the act the writing.

I should add that I'm talking in particular here about writers who don't solely write for a living.  If you're writing for a living, that's your profession, obviously and like any profession, pleasure may or may not come into it, though I certainly hope, for the writer's sake, it does. But the fact is, most writers I know have full time jobs and do their writing "on the side".  The "on the side" part of their life may be more important to them than the side that pays their bills and helps keep them and any family they have fed and with a place to live, but nevertheless, in reality, it's still essentially on the side. At least it is for most writers.  I've always found the concept of a "day job" amusing since again, for most writers, that silly "day job" is the place you spend way more of your waking existence than you do at a laptop writing.

So on an average day, after a day at work, or before work (for those who write early), isn't writing the most enjoyable part?  That time to yourself, to go into your head, your imagination, and chip away at whatever you're working on and the rest of the world, all outside concerns, be damned.  With fiction specifically, it's dreaming while awake, and not much beats that.  Writing can be maddening and frustrating and leave you feeling in the depths of hopelessness and despair, but is there anything unique to writing about this?  Nearly any activity you take seriously and give your all to can lead you to feel this way, just like any activity you want to excel at is going to be hard because of the demands you make on yourself.  Damn, when I played a lot of tennis, as I used to, I could feel close to suicidal (I exaggerate just slightly) if I played a bad match or lost a very close one. So what!  Playing tennis was still the best part of most days, and the same is true for writing.  

The author Will Self puts it well, so I'll wrap this up by quoting him here (though we have to overlook his references to outmoded forms of writing equipment):

"I gain nothing but pleasure from writing fiction...Frankly, if I didn't enjoy writing novels I wouldn't do it - the world hardly needs any more and I can think of numerous more useful things someone with my skills could be engaged in. As it is, the immersion in parallel but believable worlds satisfies all my demands for vicarious experience, voyeurism, and philosophic calisthenics.  I even enjoy the mechanics of writing, the dull timpani of the typewriter keys, the making of notes - many notes - and most seductive of all: the buying of stationery.  That the transmogrification of my beautiful thoughts into a grossly imperfect prose is always the end result doesn't faze me: all novels are only a version - there is no Platonic ideal.  But I'd go further still: fiction is my way of thinking about and relating to the world; if I don't write I'm not engaged in any praxis and lose all purchase."

Monday, November 19, 2018

You Know What They Say About Opinions ...

I'll be the first to admit I'm not much of a comic book reader. Even as a kid, I preferred immersing myself in words and I think the comics I did see when I was young weren't the best. Of course, I grew up in a town without a bookstore, before the days of Amazon, so options were pretty limited. 

And I certainly don't remember our library having a comics section.

Which means that I could have been a comics fan, with the right exposure. I think all I ever saw was geared to five-year-old readers. 

That said, we've always been very happy to encourage comic book reading. We're happy to encourage any reading, and a gift certificate to the nearby comic book store has been a regular holiday present for one of the kids for years. 

This past week, Stan Lee passed away, and Bill Maher barely held a breath before he took out a big stick and started bashing Lee and comic book readers.

"The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess."

Now, when I first saw headlines and links about this on social media, I wondered if it was a joke. I mean, he goes on to infer comic book reading is to blame for Trump.

"I’m not saying we’ve necessarily gotten stupider. The average Joe is smarter in a lot of ways than he was in, say, the 1940s, when a big night out was a Three Stooges short and a Carmen Miranda musical. The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important."

Now, I could easily slip back to my communication theory studies from college and talk Neil Postman and why Bill Maher is so very wrong and what he doesn't understand about communication theory, but that would detract from my intended point here.

Simply, there will always be people out there who will take a piss all over you the first chance they get. I think Maher is wrong, and it makes me wonder how sad he is that he has to criticize a person who just passed away and blame all the problems of the world on that person.

I'd say he (sadly) doesn't understand the concept of superhero stories at all, or why they resonate with so many people. What a shame that he doesn't grasp how beautiful and important stories are. That's truly tragic. Imagine living a life unable to appreciate great stories. Why go on?

He does prove a point, though. There will be people who are petty. There will be people who don't like you just because they knew someone named 'Sandra' or 'Bob' or 'Tim' or 'Susie' decades ago who they didn't get along with.

And some of those people may just be waiting for an opportunity to cut you down a peg or two.

When I started writing what became my first published novel, my goal was just to finish a manuscript. I'd started many and abandoned them over the years.

Once I actually finished the story, the goal changed. It needed to be a good manuscript.

Eventually, it needed to be read. Which meant it needed to be published.

In some ways, that felt like an unending series of changing goal posts that left me always falling short of some mark. You get published and that isn't enough, either. You want to get good reviews. You want to be read. You want your work to be popular and liked.

After all, we're all just trying to entertain people in our own way, right? That's what we, as novelists, do. We tell stories.

But man, there always has to be someone to rip you apart* for that effort.

You've attempted a manuscript? Actually put your butt in the chair and typed at it for days/weeks/months/years? Then you've done something that most people haven't, and that's an accomplishment. You've tried.

You finished a manuscript? Maybe it's a hot mess and needs extensive editing, but you've actually told your story and gotten a draft done? That's a huge achievement.

Wait ... You got published? Not by your mommy or a buddy? Some stranger took your baby and said it was beautiful and they wanted to help share it with the world?

That's tremendous. It's an extraordinary feat.

Don't let anyone ever take that from you.

Look ... On a certain level, anyone who starts submitting a manuscript has to have enough ego to think that they have done a decent job and that their story is worth publishing, but that doesn't mean every published author needs to be taken down a peg or two. I went to school. I got good grades in writing. I had a straight 4.0 in my journalism courses in college. That's how I know I can write. It's an objective assessment based on my education.

But I'm not going to run around going, "Me me me me me," because I don't happen to think I'm the hottest thing ever. I'm a storyteller. I set my own goals for each work and measure my success by whether or not I achieve my personal goals.

I'd love to be read. I'd love for people to connect with my characters. That simply means something that was important to me resonates with other people, and that's cool.

But in this business, there are a long list of people ready to tell you all the ways you don't measure up, and it's disheartening.

The flip side is, there are a lot of people who also don't consider anything but success level or friendship. I never thought writing books would be so much about popularity, but it is. "Big" authors who will only blurb other "big" authors because it raises their own profile, instead of endorsing newer unknown writers. Friends review friends, some focus on the "big" books because more people will read their opinions, etc. etc.

I'm not saying you aren't allowed to like what friends produce. I'm also not saying you aren't allowed to like what's popular.

It's just too bad that so much of what's out there seems to either be about tearing people down or buttering up people you think can help you.

Do you. Do it because it's sincere. Frankly, I don't trust anyone who isn't capable of being a total fan about someone living and breathing who is producing art in the field they aspire to. Have that author you unapologetically acknowledge is your go-to comfort book/entertainment source provider year in and year out.

If you don't hear that X author has a new book coming out and run to mark it on your calendar or pre-order immediately, if you don't read a book description and think, Hell yeah, I HAVE to read that and why is that author so freaking smart that they came up with that concept and I didn't? then I don't even know why you'd want to be published.

Be real.

And for those of you who feel like you're at the bottom, trying to claw your way in, take heart. Every single step in the process of publishing marks success. It takes passion to attempt to write a manuscript. It takes determination and commitment to complete one. It takes willingness to grow and learn and master skills to effectively edit and revise one.

And it takes nerves of steel to be published.

So, if you're anywhere in that process, a virtual hug from me. Or from a virtual avatar I create if you prefer something younger with perfect teeth.


1. Another person's success doesn't mean there's less success for you to have. It isn't pie. When people read a great book they want to read another great book. When people read a bad book they want to rake leaves in the forest.

2. You don't have to be mean. Sure you can jump on the 'is Franzen sexist?' bandwagon or join his hate club, but what does that get you? Hate. Negativity. It's kinda like the Democrats eating their young. Sure, Bill Clinton didn't actually write his novel, but I've been hired to ghostwrite and I know many others who have been as well. What Bill Clinton did do? Got some people who don't usually read much to read a book.

3. Have some integrity. I have mad respect for Heidi Heitkamp. She may not be a senator anymore, but she made a choice knowing that was the likely result. And she still made that choice:

"If this were a political decision for me I certainly would be deciding the other way," Heitkamp said in the interview. "History will judge you, but most importantly you will judge yourself."

Maybe nobody will acknowledge your accomplishments today. Some days, it would be nice to get an email saying, "You rock" or that you're a good writer or that you have a powerful voice and we need more from you. Most days you won't get that.

So hold on to those moments when you do and keep going. The only way we fail is if we quit. (Or, perhaps, if we join a clique and lose our integrity in the process of selling our soul for 10 seconds of fame.)

Side Notes

Now, since the question of legitimacy of 'best of' compilations has been raised, I'm going to share that my plan is to do an advent calendar of likes December 1-24 over at my site. There will be a new issue up this week and then we move on to the advent calendar.

And I'll disclose any connection I know I have to any source of entertainment I endorse.

Kinda sad it even needs to be said. However, I agree with Jim. I ignore almost all 'best of' lists from almost every single source. Brian writes a 'shit I liked' summary specifically to avoid the issue. 

(Of course, this sort of undermines awards as well, doesn't it, because not all books in any category published in any year are read and considered. That's another topic, though.)

The fact that this even needs to be said is evidence of another problem. Buttering up for personal gains.

If you're only going to review/endorse your buddies? That's part of the reason blurbs, endorsements and reviews mean so little to so many people. It cheapens the process.

*I'm not talking about legitimate reviews/critics. They have their place. I've been trained to write reviews in college, and when there's a system in place for standards they can be very helpful, for both readers and writers.

That said, even amongst "industry" standards, there are some reviewers who hide behind the veil of anonymity to poke at people they don't like. I've read reviews from amateurs and pros alike that are clearly personal. And I'm not talking about saying, "This didn't work for me because ... " I'm talking about reviews that are about the person rather than the product.

There's a real dilemma now with the ease of posting fake reviews for all sorts of products, books included. So much so that some book reviewing outlets have some clear guidelines about not making a book review personal and people have actually needed to talk about this issue and how to avoid personal attacks in reviews.

Some have been public about the fact they've felt reviews have been personal. I haven't read all the reviews, so I really don't know, but Morrissey does have one point here. Some reviewers want to make it be about them and their opinion. That's why I'm happy to post a review saying, "This didn't work for me, but check out this review over here and get another perspective - it still may be a book you're going to love, even if I didn't."

Oh, and here is a link to a review of Morrissey's book. I'm not sure I've even had a one-star review that's ever been this brutal.

PS: Oh, and when I review? I am always looking for a reason to like a book. I never start reading a book wanting it to be bad. I always want to be blown away.

Yes, I have to be honest if there are issues ... but I'm also savvy enough to know that sometimes, it's simply a question of taste, and sometimes it's simply a question of not being in the right place for a certain story. (First time we started the Leftovers we abandoned it and then when I tried again, months later, I loved it.)

Even when I have the reviewer cap on (and I have been a paid reviewer for several years now) I'm mindful of that.

And I am specifically reviewing a lot outside the genre these days to avoid presumed conflicts. And because there's a lot of great stuff being published outside the genre ... and sometimes, there's too much circle-jerk/I'll-only-link-to-my-buddy's stuff nonsense in the genre.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Fire Devastation and How We Know About It

Kristi Belcamino, a Do Some Damage alum, author and newspaper reporter, grew up in Paradise, Calif. This is her childhood home.

I’m sure you’ve heard that California is on fire. The devastation is worst just north of Sacramento in the Sierra foothill town of Paradise, which has been essentially destroyed. There are a lot of facts and figures I could throw at you—at least 71 people confirmed dead, more than 1,000 listed as missing, 9,700 homes destroyed—but what I want to talk about today is how the public knows all this.
Newspaper and TV reporters are out there in the middle of all this in order to bring vital information to the public. Where to send donations, where to go to volunteer, which shelters are open and which are at capacity, which schools are closed due to smokey air. The list goes on. What does it look like, smell like, who’s responsible for the clean up, what caused it in the first place.
Journalists are the link between the heroic first responders and the rest of us. They’re rushing in as everyone else rushes out. It’s dangerous, and it affects them. Sacramento Bee reporter Ryan Sabalow wrote about the haunting memories this Tuesday after spending six days in Paradise. 
Ryan Sabalow. Credit: Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee
Buildings were on fire all around us. The air was orange. We could taste the wood, the melting plastic and the scorched metal under our face masks, even inside our SUV.” For video of what he and photojournalist Hector Amezcua experienced, click here.
The scope of this disaster is so huge, it’s going to take Northern California a long time to recover. I know journalists will be there to document it all.
To donate to victims of the Camp Fire, follow the link here.