Saturday, October 30, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021: Yes, You Can Write a Novel in a Month

Scott D. Parker

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? I am, and I can’t wait until Monday.

For those of y’all who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a fun event where writers are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November. I’ve done it multiple times, sometimes succeeding and other times failing.

What I enjoy about it is the virtual camaraderie. On any given day that I’m writing a book, I know that there are thousands (millions?) of other authors also writing. But it’s a little different when you’re doing NaNoWriMo. We’re all in this same boat together. We have to manage our writing time, our day jobs, our lives, and just when we plan to get our words in on Thanksgiving Day.

Throughout this month, I will be updating my progress and offering helpful tips and encouragement to keep going. Because every time you write “The End” on a novel is special, but it’s just a tad more special when you do it during NaNoWriMo.


I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks preparing. This will be my first murder/mystery that might lean cozy. As I’ve never written a murder/mystery, I took time to create characters (not named at first) and situations they will have to deal with. Who will be the victim? Who will be the killer? Who will discover the crucial clues?

It was this past Thursday when I knew I was ready to start. I mapped out the first few scenes because I wanted to hit the ground running come Monday at 5am (my writing time). During that little session, my imagination began veering and including little tidbits. I’m a hybrid pantser/plotter. I have just enough framework to give my imagination room to breathe, but breathing with focus. That my imagination was already chomping at the bit, I got even more excited about 1 November.

Typing Names

For the longest time—up until yesterday, in fact—I had no names for my characters. They were just Mom, Son #1, Son #1’s Wife, Girl, Guy, etc. I knew that wasn’t gonna fly come Monday, so I named my characters in a first-for-me manner: I typed them to see how they’d feel and to see if my typing speed and fingers misspelled them often. It’s all well and good to name a character Chrysanthemum Bannington, but can you imagine typing that over and over again? Sure, there’s autocorrect but I prefer to type the names.

So I took some names for a test drive and started filling in my list. I also paid attention to the first letter of those first names. I only repeat one letter one time: B. Every other character has a name that starts with a unique letter. Easier for me the writer and it’ll be easier for future readers to keep everyone straight.

Track Your Progress

The nuts and bolts of NaNoWriMo breaks down to 1,667 words per day. If you do that, you’ll hit your fifty thousand by 30 November.

Over the years, I’ve developed a spreadsheet I use to see where I am. Here’s a screenshot of the first couple of weeks.

You’ll see that I track the obvious stuff: date, the 1,667/day pace, Idea is the pace of 1,667/day, Actual is what I wrote that day, Total is obvious, Diff is how far under or over I am on the 1,667/day pace. I also like to track time spent doing the writing so all those other columns do that.

The “Diff” column is very helpful. Not only does it give you a daily reminder of where you are, but it also enables you to build in a buffer. Remember what I mentioned about Thanksgiving Day? Well, if you are, say, 1,000 words ahead, you can get by with fewer words on any given day.

But let me give what is perhaps the best piece of advice: do not skip a day. If you do, you will get behind, and there’s nothing more demoralizing that running behind.

There is still an even better piece of advice: Have Fun! If you do, it’ll be nothing to reach “The End” in a month.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Happy Beauversary

On Beau's DSD anniversary, he takes a look at Catriona Ward's The Last House on Needless Street.

This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. And an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet they are all lies...

You think you know what's inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you've read this story before. That's where you're wrong.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

End the Film with a Scream

by Scott Adlerberg

It is that time of year again when film lovers watch a lot of movies in which people scream.  And within the horror genre, there is a select number of films that memorably end with a character screaming. When well done, that climactic shot of a person letting go at the height of fear or despair or anguish, or simply revealing in their howl that whatever sanity they once had has now gone, can make for a very powerful ending.  I don't know exactly how many movies end this way, but in the spirit of the Halloween season, I thought I'd write down here the scream endings I view as my favorites.

Witchfinder General (1968)
directed by Michael Reeves

Michael Reeves' masterpiece about the real-life 17th-century British witch hunter Mathew Hopkins, in which Vincent Price, after years of hamming it up in the Corman Poe adaptations, plays it absolutely straight as a chilling, evil man, has an ending that is harsh and perfect.  And I've always wondered, but still don't know for sure: is this the first film ever that actually ends, with its last shot, on a scream?

Four years later, in 1972, Hammer films released the psychological horror film Demons of the Mind, directed by Peter Sykes.  It too ends precisely on a scream, and it's not an ineffective ending, though it comes at the end of a film that, while not terrible, doesn't nearly have the impact of Witchfinder General.

Carrie (1976)
directed by Brian De Palma

The hand comes out of the grave and Amy Irving wakes up screaming.  I saw this when it came out, at 14, and left the theater with my legs shaking.  A total shock, that hand. Who can blame Sue (Irving) for screaming?  This doesn't end precisely on a scream the way Witchfinder General does, but close enough.

I can't overlook here, of course, the ending to Dressed to Kill, in which De Palma does a variation of the Carrie ending but this time with Nancy Allen waking up from a bad dream screaming (though again the film's very last shot is not actually her screaming), nor can I forget what may be the most painful scream, in its way, to ever end a film. I'm talking about Blow Out, when John Travolta is listening to the final sounds Nancy Allen made before she was killed.  It is, as he says, with the bitterest of irony, "a good scream".

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
directed by Philip Kaufman

The inhuman sound, and expression, that Donald Sutherland makes in the final scene of this version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which in turn prompts a scream from Veronica Cartwright) ends a great sci-fi horror film on an extremely unnerving note.

Tenebrae (1982)
directed by Dario Argento

I couldn't find a clip online to show the final scene of this Argento thriller, but that may be just as well. If by chance you haven't seen Tenebrae, I wouldn't want to spoil the final five or so very twisty and bloody minutes.  But the end is a classic scream, with Daria Nicolodi cutting loose in a way Edvard Munch would have been proud of.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
directed by David Lynch

It was on TV, but let's call it a film.  Eighteen-plus hours of David Lynch's magnum opus ends with Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee in a scene where all certitudes involving time and space and even identity have vanished.  With that much disorientation to deal with, who wouldn't scream?  

Anyone have any films they like that end on a scream?


Monday, October 25, 2021

A little flash...


Using her old fancy Foster, I begin splitting a few of the Galas I brought from my kitchen. They aren’t perfect for cooking, the flavor too delicate, but it isn’t the right time of year for Honeycrisp, so I make do. Still figuring out the process, I’m not too concerned with flavor.

Feeling petty and knowing she is picky, I set the big knife down and use her boning blade. Like always, she turns her nose up at my ways and makes disgusted noises while I work. I know I should be the better person. If I had the heart to settle her mind, in these final moments, I would tell her she was right about one thing.

But the house smells so sweet from the cornbread loaves, having dried in the window sill all day, and I don’t want to spoil this moment. So, after wiping the rolling pin clean, I crush the crunchy bread cubes into crumbs and add sliced celery and onions. Next, I put in the apples, garlic, sage and egg. Salt to taste. Mixing it all until it’s moist, but not wet.

I turn my attention to the old bird, untucking the scrawny legs and upturning the neck so I have more room to work.  “Haven’t I treated you well. Better than what you’re used to?” Those words, her words, repeat; giving my arms the strength to wrestle her to the middle of the table. I use the rolling pin again, to quiet the course.

Pushing my sleeves up until well over my elbows, because stuffing the bird is the messiest part of this meal, I take a wide mouthed ladle from her kitchen drawer and mix up the dressing, then stuff the neck and body. Done, I tuck her legs back in position; trussing and securing her with twine. I prop the arms under to hold the neck in place.

Since there is no pan large enough, and I’m sure the oven is too small, I haul my ingredients and tools into the living room, making use of her large, fine fireplace. Taking a step back I consider my work. It’s not an appetizing sight; most uncooked birds aren’t, but that will change once it reaches a delicate golden brown.

After I push her into the pit and light the fragrant logs, I close my eyes and decide to share a truth with her. “You’re right, I am a terrible wife. I can’t keep house, and I’m an even worse cook.” Shaking my head, I open my eyes and reach for the blackened fire screen, slamming it into place. “But I promise to keep trying.”

*Thank you Beau Johnson.