NaNoWriMo 2016

I am taking part in NaNoWriMo this year.  I went back and forth on it a few times before I decided to just suck it up and do it.  It’s not a question of whether I can do it.  I know I can do it; I’ve won NaNoWriMo four times in the past.  No, it’s a question of whether I will do it.

This blog used to have entries dating all the way back to 2008.  Every time I wrote something I would come write a blog entry about it after I wrote.  John Shea used to poke fun at me because some of my blog entries were longer than the stories they were about.  I was trying to document my process and my “writer’s life”.  After a while, though, the “writer’s life” became a lack of same, and the blog degenerated into horrible, self-recriminatory “I am such a lazy writer” type posts.  I finally deleted it all at the beginning of this year, hoping to make a fresh start.

I love to write.  Writing is a catharsis for me, helping me to escape the stresses of my everyday life by describing alternate worlds and helping my characters identify and solve their own problems.  I have always been an extremely lazy writer, though, preferring to sit around and watch TV, scroll around on Facebook, and play Candy Crush instead of writing.  However much I love writing, I have never been diligent about pursuing it, especially in the last four years.

My longform writing efforts have usually centered around NaNoWriMo.  For those of you who might not know what it is, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November.  There are no prizes for winning; it’s for bragging rights and the pride of completing such a difficult goal.  To “win”, you have to average almost 1,700 words a day for the 30 days in the month.  It can be done, and some people go well beyond that number, but it takes discipline and tenacity.  I do not possess those things in abundance, so my own history with NaNo is checkered.  Every year between 2008-2011 I went over the 50,000 line, but have not managed it since.

In 2008 I wrote a fantasy story called Silvershield, set in a secondary world called Sov that I was developing at that time.  I wrote just under 51,000 words and finished what I thought was a halfway decent story.  Over the next few months I tried to work on revisions to the story, found several things about it that I wanted to change, and realized that it was going to be easier to just completely rewrite the whole thing from the beginning.

I made the Silvershield rewrite my 2009 NaNo novel.  I wrote just under 51,000 words again, but did not finish the book this time.  I was about 75% through the story when November ended (you don’t have to have a finished novel to win NaNo, you just have to be over 50,000 words when the month ends).  I took a break to clear my head after the frantic rush up to 50K at the end of the month and then never went back to it.  It remains unfinished to this day.

In 2010 my wife gave me a challenge.  She said, “You always write fantasy.  Try something else.  Write a love story.”  I did.  I wrote The Girl in the Corner, a romance.  It was a romance my way, though, which means there was some fantasy in it, some science fiction, and some action and adventure.  It crossed quite a few genre lines.  This one was completed, and came in right around 51,000 again.  I like it quite a bit, actually.  It was a lot of fun, and my wife loved it, and was proud of me.

NaNo 2011 signaled the beginning of a long, arduous period of writer’s block , frustration, and laziness for me, although I didn’t know it at the time, and wouldn’t realize it fully for almost two years.  I started an alternate history called Red Skies at Night.  I wrote Red Skies as a conscious attempt to follow a traditional three-act structure.  The first 20,000 words (the first act) are, in my opinion, some of the best writing I have ever done.  The other 30,000 words I wrote that year were crap.  I won NaNo, but I got to a point where I couldn’t continue the story any more.  I had no idea where to take it.  So, I tried to fix it a year later.

2012 was the first year I started NaNo but didn’t win.  I chucked the last 30,000 words I had written for Red Skies the year before and started over at the beginning of Act 2.  I got about 25,000 words in and realized that I was hitting another wall, so I bailed and didn’t finish.  I have never come up with a way to finish that story and it is one of the great frustrations of my writing life.  I am completely blocked on it, and it has hurt my efforts to do any other writing.  I have been unable to write anything else of substance since because Red Skies has filled my headspace for so long, and built up so much scar tissue, that’s it’s been near impossible to get sunlight to any other ideas.

I didn’t even try NaNo in 2013.  In 2014 I decided at about 8 p.m. on November 1 to give it a try.  I had no idea, no plot, nothing.  I completely pantsed about 2,000 words, which I published on this blog earlier this year as “Snowflakes”.  I never did anything after that first night.  Last year, I was going to make another attempt to continue Red Skies.  I wrote one night, then my mother passed away and writing didn’t seem important any more.  I came back a couple of weeks later with a completely different idea and wrote about 1,800 words about an atheist who decided he was called to preach the gospel.  It didn’t go anywhere either.  If I can ever get my writer’s head back on straight I want to go back to it, as well as the “Snowflakes” story from 2014.  I like them both.  I just have to be in a better place in order to write them.

So now we are at the brink of NaNoWriMo 2016.  For the first time since Red Skies At Night in 2011 I am actually looking forward to NaNoWriMo.  I am finally coming into NaNo again with a strong idea that I really like, a sense of how I want to structure the story, and a feeling of excitement about writing it.  I feel like i can do this.  I hope it’s true.  I hope I can get beyond my own laziness and lack of discipline and get this done.  I miss writing.  I miss my escape.  I want it back again.  Wish me luck.

I’ll do another post tomorrow and tell you about my idea for this year.  I think it’s a good one.  I want to tell you about its long, convoluted history–some parts of it go back  more than 20 years!  I’m looking forward to telling you about it and I’m looking even more forward to November and to writing it.  See you tomorrow.

Chuck Wendig: Weehawken

This week’s Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge is to genre-flip an iconic scene from a movie, book, etc.  I have chosen to take an iconic scene from The Princess Bride and mash it up with an equally iconic scene from Hamilton.  Hopefully it’s as much fun as I think it is. Please to enjoy.

Also, note that I am planning to do NaNoWriMo this year.  To that end, I am going to catch up on all the Chuck Wendig challenges I have missed since March in an effort to get my writerly muscles used to flexing again.  WATCH THIS SPACE.  FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FLASHY FICTIONAL GOODNESS.

End shameless self-promotion, begin story.

Weehawken.  Dawn.  Guns.  Drawn.

Fog rolled in off the Hudson.  Two men stood atop the cliffs facing each other in the purple gloaming, which was already fading to grey.  Soon the sunlight would break through and the morning would show her face to the world.  The men were there to conclude a matter of honor.  Words had been laid down that could not—or would not—be taken back, and proper etiquette must be maintained.

They stood, pistols held loosely in their left hands, pointed at the ground.  They were positioned to present their left sides to each other, showing the narrowest targets they could.  Their seconds and a few other men stood around watching.  One, a doctor, stood away from the others, facing away from the dueling ground.

One of the men stood to the south of the other.  He called out a greeting.  “You are a decent fellow, Hamilton!  I hate to kill you.”

Hamilton smiled, though it did not touch his eyes.  He did not answer aloud, but murmured to himself.  “You are a decent fellow as well, Burr.  I hate to die.”  He raised his pistol to point at the sky, and pulled the trigger.  The gunshot echoed in the early morning air, the sound rolling out over the river towards the city on the other bank.

Burr tilted his head, confused.  “You are throwing away your shot?”

Hamilton nodded.  “I thought it fitting.”

“You must expect me to do the same.”

“It is said that men of honor will do so.  You, however, are not always a man of honor.”

“I admit it,” said Burr.  “You are better than I am.”

“Then why are you smiling?” asked Hamilton.  He still held his gun pointed toward the sky.  A thin, wispy stream of smoke was curling out of the barrel and drifting up to blend with the fog around them.

Burr’s smile widened and his eyes twinkled merrily.  “Because I know something you don’t know.”

Hamilton frowned.  “And what is that?”

Burr’s eyes were suddenly cold, his voice flat, without inflection.  “I am not left-handed.”  He turned to face Hamilton directly, deliberately moved his pistol from his left hand to his right, looked into Hamilton’s eyes, and summoned all the courage he required.  He raised the pistol.

He fired.  The gunshot echoed in the early morning air, the sound rolling out over the river towards the city on the other bank.  It seemed to be a deeper and more sinister sound than the earlier shot had been.

Hamilton collapsed without a sound.  He lay bleeding onto the rocky ground.  The bullet had hit him just above his right hip.  It fractured a rib and did significant damage to his internal organs.  The doctor hurried forward to attend him.  Burr made a move towards him as well, but was quickly hustled away by his second.  He was stunned, and told his second, “I would as soon destroy a stained-glass window as a man like Hamilton.”  Making no further comments, he and his second boarded their boat and headed back across the river.

Hamilton was overcome by his wounds and slipped into unconsciousness.  Wanting nothing more than to get him back into the city, his second and the doctor placed him into a boat and took him back across the river.

He was taken to his home, where he would die the following day with his wife at his side.  He regained consciousness long enough to hold her hand and speak to her one last time.  His final words, before he slipped into the silence of the longest night of all, were this:  “Find Burr, Eliza.  Find Burr and tell him…tell him I’m not left-handed either.”

Chuck Wendig: The Path Not Taken

This week’s Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge is short and simple.  True flash fiction.  Write a story that is only five sentences long.  Here is my contribution.  Please to enjoy.


The Path Not Taken

The bass makes her fillings vibrate.  She knows he’s talking to her; she can see his lips moving.  She points to her ears then gestures futilely at the throbbing air, as if to say I can’t hear you.  He starts to lean in closer, then stands instead and leaves the club, going out alone into the night.  She continues to sip her drink, head bobbing to the beat.

Chuck Wendig: Title

This week’s Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge is all about the seven deadly sins.  I chose sloth.  Those of you who know me will not find this a surprise.  Please to enjoy.


That’s a terrible title, but there’s not much I can do about it, is there?  If I was going to do something about it I’d have to think of a better one.  I’d have to consider options.  God help me, I’d probably have to sit up while I did it.  They say that sitting up while you think is supposed to make you more alert and stimulate your creativity.  Why, I ask, would I want to do that?

There were supposed to be a couple of additional characters in this story.  Some setting, too.  Maybe even world-building.  Not today.  I had a long day at work and I’m just not up for it.  I’m going to knock out a few hundred words then go sit on the couch and play Flow.  Or maybe Candy Crush.  Eventually I’ll turn the TV on, I guess.  “The Voice” is on tonight.  I think it’s the last night of the blind auditions.  I don’t want to miss that.  I hope I can find the remote.  I did something with it last night before I went to bed, but I don’t remember what.

I’ll need to eat at some point.  There’s hot dogs in the fridge, but I’d have to walk all the way to the kitchen to get them out and cook them.  ALL.  THE.  WAY.  To the kitchen.  How can you expect me to do that?  I’d have to find my slippers first.  I think they’re by the bed, but that’s way the heck over there (Ordinarily I’d wave a hand in the general direction of “over there” to show you where the bed is, but I’m not going to.  Like I said, it’s been a long day and I’m trying to type.  Can’t be bothered with extraneous gestures that you can’t see anyway.  This is WordPress, not YouTube.).

There’s a little black dog laying on the couch beside me as I type this.  She’s sleeping, curled up in a little ball with her paws tucked under her nose.  Every now and then she twitches and her ears give a little shake.  She’s snoring, very softly.  I know how she feels.

The couch is not far from the foot of the bed (again, the bed is “over there.”  You’ll have to continue working out for yourself what that means).  To get to bed and go to sleep later, I’m going to have to move a few feet and climb into the bed.  It’s so high, though (how about those italics?  I hope you appreciate the extra effort I put in to make that happen (and look, I just did it again!).).  My wife has the right idea.  She put a footstool on her side of the bed to use to get up.  I’d ask her to toss it over to me, but I’d have to give it back after I used it and that would probably involve bending over.  OK.  Yeah.

This story is only about 500 words long right now.  We have a thousand words to play with this week, but I don’t really feel like making the effort, even if I did just type out “a thousand” instead of writing “1,000”.  That was five extra keystrokes, not to mention this whole tangential sentence.  I have no idea where I’m finding this kind of initiative.

Like I was saying, I’m well short of the word limit for this week but I’m finished.  I mean, seriously.  I have TV to watch, maybe some hot dogs to eat, and a bed to climb into later.  That’s a lot.  I have to save my strength.  You’re lucky to be getting even 600 words out of me today.  I can’t believe I got even that many.  I’m done.  I probably won’t even bother to finish the last senten


Chuck Wendig: Snowflakes, Chapter 1

I already submitted a story for this week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge.  As I said in the other post, the challenge this week was to take one of ten reader-submitted first sentences and begin a story with it.  I decided to post a bonus story, because one of the reader-submitted sentences chosen for the challenge was submitted by me!

I used the sentence myself a couple of years ago and decided to post the story I wrote back then.  It was NaNoWrMo 2014.  I decided at the last minute to participate, and on November 1st, I wrote what you are about to read.  I never wrote another word, for a number of reasons, most of which boiled down to me being lazy.

This is, in theory, the opening chapter of my NaNoWriMo novel for 2014.  I never fleshed it out any more than what appears here.  This chapter was completely pantsed, and I never did any additional worldbuilding or plotting or anything.  I may come back to it someday, because I kind of like the concept.  It’s a high fantasy story set in a near-future cyberpunk world.  I think there are definite possibilities.  Check it out, and thanks for stopping by!  I hope you like it.


Snowflakes, Chapter 1

The bald man grinned and capered madly in the alley.  The air seemed to grow colder as he whirled and pranced and his breath steamed from his nostrils as he danced like a dervish beneath the glow of a streetlamp.  Snow was falling, fat flakes showing in the light from above.  They hissed as they struck the hot neon of the sign on the back wall of the bar.  Marco looked around, struck dumb by the snow.  It was August.  He was wearing shorts. What the…?

The bald man turned around and stuck his rear end out in Marco’s direction.  He reached back with both hands and drummed a tattoo on his cheeks as he shook his hips in time with a rhythm that didn’t come close to matching his drumming.  He turned around, still grinning, and stuck out his tongue, blowing a vibrant raspberry that echoed in the alley then cut off abruptly as a pebble-filled beanbag bounced off of his forehead and fell to the ground at his feet.  Shocked, he looked down and so missed seeing the second projectile, this one a fist sized stone, that hit him on top of the head.  He slumped, unconscious, to the pavement, blood seeping from a cut in his bald scalp.

“God, El,” Marco said, “I didn’t think he was that bad a dancer.”

“Dancer my ass,” said El, pushing her ginger bangs back out of her eyes as she emerged from behind the bins she had been using as cover.  “You were taking too long.  He was drunk and you were playing with him and letting him act the fool.  I want to get this over with.  It’s cold.  Get it, and let’s go.”

Marco nodded and moved carefully forward.  He thought the guy was out cold, but it paid to be careful.  He jerked a thumb back down the alley and El nodded, moving behind him and keeping an eye out for unwary intruders.

Marco brushed snow off the pavement and knelt beside the man.  He felt for a pulse.  Out, but alive, he thought, relieved.  He put a hand inside the man’s jacket pocket.  Empty.  He checked the other pocket.  Empty as well.  Inside pocket?  Didn’t have one.  Worried now, he checked pants pockets, inside socks, anywhere he could think of.  He didn’t want to strip the fellow naked in the alley in the snow, but he didn’t really have a choice.

El saw what he was doing and jogged over, her blue ponytail swinging.  He looked up at her.  “He doesn’t have it,” he said.

“What do you mean he doesn’t have it?”

“He’s naked, El.  Unless he has it inserted somewhere, it’s not here.”

“He’s cute, but I’m not going to be checking for insertions.”

“You see what I’m saying, then,” said Marco.  “Face it.  He doesn’t have it.”

“Joaquin’s gonna be pissed.”

“Joaquin is always pissed.  Look, take some pictures here, to show that we actually did try, and let’s get out of here.  That weird snow has stopped, but it’s still kind of chilly.”

El nodded, and pulled out her cell phone.  “This is not going to be on Instagram, okay?” Marco said, as she started taking pictures.

“Hashtag duh,” she muttered under her breath.
Marco dressed the bald guy again before they left.  No reason to be disrespectful, after all.


“Who the hell is this guy?” asked Joaquin.  He held El’s phone and was pointing at the picture on the screen.

“That’s the guy,” Marco said.  “Maeready.  We tried to get the artifact, but he didn’t have it on him.  I even stripped him and searched.”  He shifted his feet uncomfortably.  “It wasn’t inserted anywhere.”

“This isn’t Maeready,” Joaquin said, shaking the phone.  “This doesn’t even look like him.  Maeready has a goatee and a blond mullet.  This guy is bald and has three snowflakes tattooed under his right eye.”

“He has so got a mullet,” said Marco.  “Look!  It’s right there!”  He pointed at the picture.

Joaquin’s jaw dropped and he squinted at Marco.  “Do you even know what a mullet is?” he asked incredulously.

There was a sudden shout from across the room, interrupting them.  “Wait!  Wait!  Dammit, Joaquin, what did you say?  He has three what?”  A tall, gangly man wearing an augmented reality visor looked over at them from the computer console they had set up in the far corner.  His haptic gloves clattered as he flexed his fingers spasmodically.

“Three snowflakes,” said Joaquin, “tattooed on his face under his right eye.  Zoom in.”  He held up the phone so the man could see it.  The man reached out with his gloved fingers and spread them, making reality expand within his visor.

“Aw shit, Marco,” he said.  “Shitshitshit.  Shit!  You stupid son of a…”  He trailed off and swatted the air in front of himself, swiping reality back into its proper place.  He put his head in his hands.

“What is it?” asked El.

“Tech, what’s going on?” Joaquin asked, his voice tight, worried.

Tech looked up.  His forehead wrinkled as his eyebrows rose inside his visor.  He shook his head and ran his hands through his spiky hair.  “I told you to send me to do this, Joaquin.  Never send a ranger and a thief to do a wizard’s job.  I should have been the one to hit Maeready and you know it”

“You’re too noticeable with the visor, Tech,” said Joaquin.  It was an old disagreement between them.  “You know how I feel about this sort of thing.  Even with holograms to hide your gear, you stick out.  I needed stealth and supposedly these two are stealthy.”

“Stealthy, yes,” said Tech, “but you also needed to send someone with intelligence.”  He shook his head and laughed bitterly.  “Instead, you settled for these two.”

“So tell me what’s going on,” said Joaquin.  “Who is this guy?  Why do you care about his tattoo?”

“I’ll show you.”  Tech wiggled his fingers as he typed on a virtual keyboard only he could see.  A holographic projector came to life in the corner, and displayed El’s picture of the unconscious man on the air between Tech and the rest of the group.

“This is the poor unfortunate soul you baited, koshed, stripped, searched, and left laying in an alley,” said Tech.

“I dressed him again before we left,” muttered Marco.

“It’s good that you did,” said Tech as his fingers continued to dance.  “Maybe we can use that to show that you didn’t really mean him any harm.”  Joaquin began to ask a question.  “Shh!” hissed Tech, waving him to silence with one hand.  “Wait for it.”  He typed and gestured for a few more seconds, then grunted in satisfaction.  “Ah, here it is.”

The projected image changed.  El’s picture shrank, moving into the upper left corner of the display and another picture, this one a detailed shot of three snowflakes that looked like the bald man’s tattoo, appeared and dominated the image.  Tech’s fingers danced some more, and the second picture shrank and moved to bottom right.  In the middle, appeared six words.  Two in English, two in Russian, two more in English.

Three Snowflakes

Три снежинки

Tri Snezhinki

 “Oh, shit.”  It might have been any of the others who said it.  In reality, it was all three, speaking in unison.

“You understand our problem?” asked Tech.

“I understand it,” said Marco quietly.

“The Snezhinki are crazy,” said El.

“Yes, they are,” said Tech.  “I’m one of the most powerful wizards I know, and those guys make me look like a first-year apprentice, and they are the very embodiment of crazy.”

“Tri Snezhiki,” said Joaquin.  “Damn, Marco, you’d think the three snowflakes tattooed on the man’s face might have been a giveaway as to who he was!”

“I was looking at his mullet,” said Marco.  “You didn’t say anything about Maeready having tattoos so I wasn’t worried about it.”

El spoke up.  “Besides, you didn’t know what they meant, either, until Tech said something.”

Joaquin conceded the point.  “I don’t speak whatever language that is,” he said, pointing at the display, “but I’ve always heard of Tri Snezhinki.  We all have, I’m sure.  But I never knew it meant anything.  I thought it was just some crazy name they came up with!  I didn’t know about the tattoos, either.”

“Well, the tattoo is not real widely known as a symbol of the Snezhinki,” said Tech, “but if you know what their name means, it makes sense.”  Seeing their confusion, he walked over and pointed at the non-English characters.  “It’s Russian.  It’s a name that represents where they come from and what they believe in.”  He pointed at the bald man’s picture.  “If that guy knows who you are, and knows where to find you, it will be getting very cold here, very soon.”  He looked at Joaquin.  “We should go.”

“But the artifact–” began Marco.

“Forget the artifact,” said Tech.  “We won’t have another chance to look for Maeready tonight if the bloody Snezhinki are looking for us.”

Joaquin nodded.  “You’re right.”  He pointed at El and Marco.  “You two screwed up.  I don’t know how.  I don’t know how you could possibly think that guy was Maeready.  Somehow, though, you did, and if we don’t get out of sight fast, we could be done for.”

“We may be able to make another search for the artifact soon,” said Tech, as he took his gloves and visor off and began to pack his gear.  “We’ll see what the Snezhinki do.  Maybe they’ll stay frosty and we’ll be able to resurface in a day or two.”

“Let’s hope,” said El.

“You better hope,” said Joaquin.  “I’ll be pissed if we lose this commission because you two don’t know what the hell a mullet is.”