Nov 052019
 

 

What is NaNoWriMo? Is it a new erectile dysfunction drug? A political party? A space alien? And what is a NaNoWriMo rebel? Is it dangerous? Actually, it’s a shorter way to say National Novel Writing Month — a crazy, fun event that runs through the month of November. And, most of us rebels are pretty darned harmless.

The free, internet-based writing challenge began in 1999, with fewer than two dozen participants. The idea is to write 50,000 works (aka a lousy first draft) between midnight November 1st and 11:59 on the 30th. For some of us, 50,000 words is a pretty good stretch. I understand that for fiction-writers it’s novelette length.

Is NaNoWriMo a new erectile dysfunction drug? Click To Tweet

I’m not a novelist. I’ve been writing non-fiction for most of my life, only fairly recently transitioning from corporate and copywriting assignments to books. Shortly after moving to a mountaintop in northern New Hampshire to be with the love of my life, he handed me a newspaper article about the thing. I’m not sure I’d have found it on my own. Always one to “try stuff,” taking advantage of our relative isolation made sense to me. I had no idea what I was getting into but, after winning the first year I was hooked. With the exception of the year Favorite Husband and I moved twice between October 1st and December 1st, and maybe the year of the multiple surgeries I’ve done it every year since.

And I WON!!! Almost every time. (If you’re not familiar with NaNo,NaNo, please don’t get too excited about the “winning” thing. It simply means that along with about a kazillion other people, I completed my 50,000 words!)

So why would your average, nondescript author of only two non-fiction books (and a whole bunch of blog posts) spend her time rolling around in novel-writing stuff? Is NaNoWriMo a good idea for a non-fiction author? And how does it work on the years I don’t even bother to try to write fiction. (That, by the way, in the parlance of the site, makes me a NaNoWriMo REBEL!  A non-novel writing writer committed to cranking out 50,00 words in another genre? Yep. That’s a NaNoWriMo rebel. Yee-ha! I love being a rebel without a clue. I’ve done it a time or two before — in different disciplines. Usually it works for me.)

How can novel writing be good for non-fiction authors? Ask a #NaNoWriMo participant. Click To Tweet

This crazy-fast, smash words approach might not be for everyone but for me, it works like this:

  • The event helps me ignore the end of Daylight Savings time
  • It loosens me up. It’s hard to “write tight” when you’re going for quantity
  • My family re-connects with the fact that I sometimes disappear into writing and editing — especially when I’ve been editing for a lot of other people
  •  I feel more creative. Trust me, I’ve got to make up some stuff in a hurry if I’m going to hit my daily word count. All before my second cup of coffee.
  • The process gives me permission to fail… not on a quantity level but it is one time that I can try to care a little bit less about the quality of what’s coming off the tips of my fingers.
  • It makes a huge dent in the paralysis of analysis. It’s a lot easier to edit a crappy first draft than a blank screen
  • And, oddly enough, by letting go of the end result I am able to create a draft that may — someday — develop. The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head has some roots in NaNoWriMo and the endless community discussions about that wicked Inner Editor!

 

 

One year, (on November 28th) I took a friend to her outpatient surgery visit. She was appreciative and apologetic and worried about me getting any work done. Given that this was the third time that month I had been her designated driver, I was able to reassure her: medical waiting areas are wonderful places to jack up the ole word count — especially as a NaNoWriMo rebel trying to get a few blog posts drafted. When I took her back for a follow-up visit she asked how I was coming along with my goal. I was delighted to report that I had finished — more than twenty-four hours ahead of the deadline. I am a winner! (Phew!)

Medical waiting areas are a wonderful place to jack up the ole word count. #NaNoWriMo Click To Tweet

I think it was the year that we hosted more than twenty members of our precious extended family for Thanksgiving, that seemed to raise more questions than ever. There were family members who wanted to know why I participate. There were others who were more excited about the layers of paper covering the kids table and Grandrea’s great collection of colored pencils at every place. Still another kept asking why I don’t do 1,667 new words every day, all year long. (Note to self: is a careful look at the guest list in order? That one is definitely not my favorite relative.)

 

 

Look what they sent me: “You, wonderful author, spent this past November unleashing your creative powers, fighting back inner editors, and teaming up with thousands of writers around the world. We’re incredibly proud to welcome you to the NaNoWriMo winners’ hall. Congratulations on your superheroic achievement!” Is it strange that I find motivation in this sort of thing? Or in the comments that sometimes appear at the end of my blog posts?

It’s almost 6:00 a.m. and I’ve got a word count waiting, so, here in no particular order, are some of my past (and present) NaNoWriMo revelations.

  • I am fascinated by creativity and brilliance. The idea behind #NaNoWriMo certainly encompasses both. The project’s geometric growth is proof that there are LOTS of people who appreciate creativity and brilliance.

 

  • #NaNoWriMo exists to promote literacy. In addition to this crazy 50,000 sh*tty first draft in 30 days there are a number of ways the group seeks to encourage writing (and reading) in classrooms around the world. Actually, this seems like it would be a very good collaboration for the Amelia Island Book Festival or any other group that purchases books for classrooms. After all, isn’t writing sometimes the result of a love of good books?

 

  • Permission. Once upon a time, I have a brief but powerful conversation with one of the well-known authors headlining our local book festival. He asked a few questions and said, “You have permission: go ahead and write the one you can’t stop thinking about.” That memory, combined with the November  mantra “quantity over quality,” helps me uncover many of the” things I think I think.” I don’t know which ones will ever see the light of publication but it doesn’t matter. This is something I do because it makes me better at my craft.

 

  • I love the generosity and creativity of the #NaNoWriMo team. There are pep talks by well-known authors  and virtual rewards all month long and, seriously: who doesn’t like being referred to as a winner and superhero? (That’s the sort of language they use — even for the NaNoWriMo rebels!)

 

  • It’s a stretch goal that is — for whatever reason — important to me. I enjoy the gratitude and appreciation I feel each time the website’s massive “official word count validator” says “Congratulations — you did it!” It may be weird but it is what it is.

 

I now look forward to returning to our regularly scheduled programming: which includes some slow and focused editing, possibly sleeping in past 5:00, and maybe a slightly smaller daily word count.

 

My award-winning title The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head was conceived during a #NaNoWriMo Click To Tweet

 

 

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Andrea Patten’s award-winning title The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head was conceived during a #NaNoWriMo… and while she was working on a crappy first draft this month? Stay tuned!

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Apr 262019
 

In a two week period, my good friend Nancy Blanton and I had tables at two of our favorite reader events — the Amelia Island Book Festival and, the following week, a similar event at the main branch of the Jacksonville Library. And, while displays and travel and schedules are a lot of work, there’s nothing quite like having the opportunity to check in with other readers and writers. “In the face,” as a favorite kiddo used to say.

So what is it that connects a writer of 17th-century Irish historical novels to someone who writes non-fiction? Aside from friendship, there’s the obvious connection of being sounding boards for one another. While there are writers who prefer feedback exclusively from those who write in their same genre, Nancy and I have found that sometimes a person who is completely on the outside sees more clearly and can give the most useful feedback.

There's nothing quite like having the opportunity to check in with other readers and writers. Click To Tweet

There is other, wonderful input that, while it comes too late for building an individual book, warms an author’s heart and inspires her to do more and better. Book festivals and ‘meet the author’ events can result in emails and conversations worthy of back cover placement. Readers are complimentary and very kind.

But despite a great love for others working to find the right lane within the publishing field, connecting with other authors can be difficult. It is especially difficult when we trade books.

It is heartbreaking to pick up a fellow indie author’s book, only to discover that her name has been misspelled… on… the… COVER! Or that there are major typos in the first two or three pages. Or that the majority of the story stayed in her head, never making it to the page.

That’s something that doesn’t have to happen but there are lots of indie authors who only request input from family and friends. Those folks tend to either rip a manuscript to shreds or offer feedback such as “I like it,” or “it’s good.” The intent is both loving and supportive but does nothing to help the writer avoid pitfalls, both major and minor.

What you may not know is that most members of the indie author community are co-operative and collaborative. We have figured out that, unless our ideal reader is one who only ever reads a single book, other authors are colleagues, not competition.

Nancy Blanton and David-Matthew Barnes are two indie authors I admire and love. Click To Tweet

Nancy Blanton and David-Matthew Barnes are two indie authors I admire and… well, actually, the best word to finish this sentence is “love.” Over the years of exchanging critique, advance reading, attending events, and otherwise just lifting and holding one another up, we have become friends. And, over those same years, so many of our conversations have revolved around how best to support other indie authors: how to improve the quality of what’s being published while steering writers with less experience away from some of the predators and pitfalls we’ve run into along the way. Eventually, the three of us formed Amelia Indie Authors: a slow-growing “passion project” for each of us. It’s a place where “this is good but it could be better” is a form of love.

So what’s a reader to do? How can you better support indie authors? First, if you run into an indie publication that has major issues, you can contact the author and let him know — privately and respectfully — about your concerns. You may not get a response or, if you get one, it might be defensive, but at least the information is available. People don’t know what they don’t know.

Second? All of the Amelia Indie Authors with blogs are listed (and linked) on the right-hand side of that site. Check them out. Read their blogs. Leave a comment. You might even enjoy their books!

 

 

 

Apr 102019
 

What do you see when I say “passive?” Hankie-totin’ Southern ladies on their fainting couches? Perhaps a heroine, reenacting The Perils of Pauline, tied to the railroad tracks, waiting for rescue? The endlessly complaining, hand-wringing, opinionated non-voter? Or is it the teenaged lump, tethered to this earth by those ever-present headphones? When one is passive, there is no active resistance or response. We can see “passive.”

For writers, there’s that pesky passive voice. When using tools to check my work, I sometimes encounter the software’s dreaded yellow squiggles, indicating a voice that’s not quite active enough. The yellow lines taunt me, demanding a re-write.

But, as the one who installed said pushy software? I actively ignore some of its error messages, tenderly x’ing out yellow squiggles here and there. What I really want to do is to yell at it. “Shut up, dammit.” Use of the passive voice is not always an error. Sometimes it’s a stylistic choice. It’s a choice I make when I don’t CARE how the action occurred or even whodunit. It just is. And, I actively — very actively — more actively than you can know… chose those words.

That, my friends, is an example of an active voice. It leaves no doubt as to the actor: c’est moi. Out here on the printed page or floating in some google-verse, thick with electrons. I still don’t understand how that happens, but I don’t care enough to investigate. Passive. Not the passive voice: just passive. On my virtual fainting couch.

But just what is a voice? I like to think of it as the fingerprint of an artistic endeavor. Actors, singers, and writers all spend time honing and developing a voice. And it can change from time to time. Stories are told, and songs are shared, over and over. 26 letters. Seven plots. Eight whole notes in a Western scale. Voice distinguishes Romeo and Juliet from West Side Story. Ronan Tynan’s Star Spangled Banner from Roseanne Barr’s. Voice is what gives an artist ownership; it makes a thing their own. Finding one’s voice is a trip along that Mobius strip called a learning curve. Age and maturity can conspire to facilitate discovery. It could be a luxurious exploration — like journaling or time shared with a gifted therapist or teacher.

And sometimes it’s as simple as a semi-automatic rifle and unspent, swastika-bearing magazines. Hundreds of lives lost: thousands of voices found.

Think about your own voice for a moment. Is it a song or a sound? A noise or a growl? I think about theirs as well: a cry, a whimper, a protest, a scream. Like so many others before them, their voices were muffled for hours as they hid in closets, whispering calls to 9-1-1. Texting ‘goodbyes’ to their loved ones. Urgent voices. Whispers. Cries. Warnings. And when the scene of the crime was deemed secure, they cried some more. And prayed and laughed and hugged with snot and tears running down their faces. And ever since we learned the term “bump stock,” we’ve seen it too many times.

Thoughts and prayers were offered. Their happily-ever-after was taken.

We use passive voice when the action is more important than the perpetrator or when one wishes to be formal, impersonal, or academic. It is accepted proper journalistic style. Do you ever worry about the blurring line between journalism and entertainment? Perhaps editors launch these neutral headlines to help us take a breath or to feel more objective. Distant. Dispassionate.

  • Responsibility was accepted by the victim.
  • Abusive relationships are often sustained by unemployment.

This time when they started asking ‘why’ it was loud. Why were their friends dead? They allowed their rage and fury to fuel their fierceness. The mass shooting generation: they have never known schools as safe havens. Eighteen years since Columbine. Seventeen-year-olds have grown up with active shooter drills. Barricading doors. Avoiding windows. Knowing how to signal law enforcement that they are the unarmed victims.

College first-years have grown up with active shooter drills. Barricading doors. Avoiding windows. Knowing how to signal law enforcement that they are the unarmed victims. Click To Tweet

But, suddenly, these are not victims. They thunder. Neither victims or survivors: they are warriors. Their voices are urgent. Embattled. Strident. Rulers of the electronic universe, they are beyond able to speak for themselves. Every day they connect with those of us who love them — elders and others standing by to amplify their message. Who will be the loudest voice? The clearest one? The silent one? What, if any, action will be taken? I suspect it will be piecemeal, don’t you? And when it doesn’t work, underfunding will be blamed. And, yes, there’s a lot of passive voice right here, right now: I’m trying to protect you from my fury.

  • The road was crossed by the chicken.
  • The other side was reached.
  • The woman was strangled by her husband.

What are the causes of gun violence? The professional politicians tell us it’s a mental health issue, caused, in part by bullying, and a lack of armed teachers in the classroom. Suddenly there are lots of answers, none of them completely correct. Correct answers don’t make good headlines.

Are you ready for the secret hiding in plain sight? They one no one wants to voice? More than half of all mass shooters have a history of domestic violence: they are victims, perpetrators or both. For most, it hasn’t been a secret — at least until after they kill. The Sandy Hook shooter’s mother feared him. The one in Parkland had threatened a girlfriend and, apparently, the folks who took him in after the death of his Mom. The man who shot up the church in Texas had been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and 2-year-old child. The D.C. sniper terrorized his wife before he branched out to a community. The Boston Marathon bomber. The Pulse nightclub shooter.

  • Mistakes were made.
  • The teen was shot at school.
  • The young woman lost her life.

Let’s stop using words to hide the truth: she did not lose her life. It is not misplaced like so many mismatched socks in the dryer lint: she was murdered. Murdered by a madman with a gun, described by some as a ‘lovesick teen.’

Domestic violence is a women-only problem. A husband has the right. She made him angry. It’s a private family matter. Our current legislators are willing to regulate women’s bodies but not assault rifles. There are still schools in this country legally administering corporal punishment to students. Where women and children are property, domestic violence continues unabated. Unaddressed. It took years to stop publishing the names of the domestic violence victims and even longer to stop making school shooters more famous than those whose lives they stole.

  • Threatening calls were made.
  • The other cheek was turned.
  • Woman injured.

By whom? What was injured? All of her? Or just a little bit? Her dignity, her pride, her self- respect. When was she injured? Was it a single, distinct episode or a daily occurrence? Where? Where on her body? Where in her home? Where in her town?

The Latin origin of the word passive comes from the root 'passe-' meaning ‘suffered.’ But where did the political knee-jerk 'thoughts and prayers' originate? Click To Tweet

The Latin origin of the word passive comes from the root ‘passe-‘ meaning ‘suffered.’ But where did the often-unwanted political knee-jerk thoughts and prayers originate? While not inherently bad, their proffer seems to have become as empty as the ceremonial balloons sometimes released by survivors. Political hot air stands in for courageous action. Passive.

No wonder so many of the online grammar checkers slap my wrist. Passive voice. Perhaps instead of highlights and little yellow squiggles, I should find a different program. I want a program that responds to my passive voice like this: Stop it. Own it. Take responsibility or assign blame.

What action will you put to this?

Dec 242018
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was probably a high school reading assignment that introduced me to John Steinbeck’s novels. My guess is that we started with The Grapes of Wrath and, while I may have grumbled about the assignments as much as anyone else, guess who dominated my independent reading for some time after? I’d be hard-pressed to choose between Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, and Travels With Charley. I loved each and every character and was hooked on feeling transported to a completely different place and culture.

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know I’m fascinated by thinking. And brains. Click To Tweet

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know I’m fascinated by thinking. And brains. I’ve noticed that, as I think about various books and authors, they show up as a category. For example, when I was a single Mom with a young child, we were fortunate to leave New England in early spring and visit relatives in the sunny South. At the time, the release of John Grisham’s novels coincided neatly with those trips and became a bit of a tradition for me.  Runaway Jury comes to mind.

That leads to my love of series. Andrew Vachss’ Burke series is full of honest, gripping stories and compelling characters. It’s dark. And accurate. And has been described as “prose as forceful as a hollow-point slug.” When recommending a starting place, I can’t choose between FloodBlossom, or Hard Candy.  They all fit the bill as novels that tell the truth. Hard truth.

Every novel in Andrew Vachss' Burke series fits the bill as fiction that tells the truth. Hard truth. Click To Tweet

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money,   Two for the Dough) is as silly as Vachss is revealing. They’re a lot of fun.

And of course, there are my friends who write. I love them — no only for the feedback and encouragement they share but for the work they produce. They keep me traveling to genres that I might now always choose for myself. I enjoy David-Matthew Barnes’ short plays and romances. (Ambrosia is pretty funny.)

I turn to my sometimes-neighbor Barbara Bond for mature chick-lit that takes place on my island home… although I’m going to a launch party for her new release Everyday Enemies next week. And I can’t thank Nancy Blanton enough. Sharavogue — the first book in her series of 17th-century Irish historical fiction — boasts well-drawn characters and enough “action” to make me a fan of a previously untasted genre! There’s something wonderful (and a little naughty) about knowing The Prince of Glencurragh is waiting for me on the bedside table.

Do you read fiction? Please make a recommendation or two in the comments.

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