• Diaries,  writing

    Update on writing Insomniac Cafe

    I’m tearing through my Friends rewatch now. I’m trying to make sure I finish it about the same time that I finish the rough draft of my book, Insomniac Cafe, which is a surreal horror Friends redux. Ergo my relentless Friendsposting on social media lately.

    I’m working on season five out of ten. Phoebe’s surrogacy for Frank+Alice is still weird (mostly because Frank+Alice are gross). Remember Frank+Alice? She was his high school teacher? They married when he was 18 and she was 44? I knew people this happened with IRL and I didn’t really grok how repulsive it is at the time. I’m currently 36, and the very idea of hooking up with an 18-year-old, much less someone I have power over like a student, makes me wanna peel my skin off.

    I forgot Chandler and Monica got together so early on the show. Although I always kinda think Chandler is a homo so deeply in denial he doesn’t even know it, I still love his relationship with Monica. They’re so freaking cute together. They manage to remain real friends while also being super enthusiastic about each other.

    It’s stark contrast to the relentless drama of Ross and Rachel, who I will never stop hating as a couple. Ross just doesn’t have redeeming qualities! (Note I must make on every single post: I adore David Schwimmer’s performance. Just wanna say, all the crap I talk about Ross doesn’t apply to the actor. The actor is hysterical. Ross is probably so loathsome because David’s so good at it.) And when the two of them are together, they are mi se ra ble. When they’re not together, they’re fighting and horrid. He’s so petty. Jealousy is one of my least favorite traits, and he’s *obsessively* jealous.

    I find it difficult to believe Ross and Rachel could ever be friends, much less long-term romance partners. She would just be constantly henpecked by the dude. I will not be doing nice things to Ross in my book.

    Speaking of names (were we speaking of names?), I decided not to play with the copyright protections of “parody” for Insomniac Cafe. So none of the characters are gonna be named Ross/Rachel/etc — they’re getting names based on the actors’ other comedy roles, mostly. Rachel will be named Joanna, after Aniston in Office Space. Monica is Gale, a la the horror-comedy Scream character. This is similar to Final Girls Support Group, which named actual horror movie characters after their actors (iirc).

    But I totally recast Ross because I love David Schwimmer and I’m gonna do bad, bad things to Ross. I call him Adam instead. As in…like…I mentally cast Adam Driver to play Evil Ross. lmao. Can you see it? I think this is the funniest thing in the world. The book is a little funny — black comedy, maybe — but calling Ross “Adam” because everyone is played by the Friends except Ross, who is Adam Driver, kills me every time I think about it.

    I’m still waffling about whether I actually kill off Ross and hook up Rachel with Joey, though. I love the pairing, but it’s pretty unpopular, and I don’t want people to be distracted from the ending by something like that? I’d prefer to keep the focus on the book’s themes. And all the really gross stuff in it.

  • writing

    It’s only slightly harrowing to revisit the past

    First of all, please just let me say the important thing: I have published a new book.

    Fated for Firelizards is a paranormal romance where a gal ends up with a dragon. It’s mostly fun. It’s consciously didactic and radically eco-punk. I fear I’m not putting my best foot forward coming back with something that is so goofy, but hey! I like goofy. I am a goofy person. It’s a fair representation of my interests, just like my doorstopper gothic fantasy literature and my avant garde horror.

    Links are here, assuming my websites haven’t exploded from an unfamiliar volume of traffic.

    Yay! New book!

    I rewarded myself by buying a foot bath massager thingy. I’ve been doing a lot of walks out in ye olde Nevada desert, and I do most work at a standing desk, so my dogs are barking. My feet are tired too.


    What was the last book I published?

    That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m honestly not sure.

    I think it was either one of the Mr. Poe novels, or it was Shatter Cage’s last book, Rise of Heroes. It definitely happened *after* the beginning of the pandemic. But that’s now four years ago. It’s been a while.

    I tried to finish the last Lincoln Marshall book, but I’m still only about 1/3 of the way through. That one is difficult. It’s not my favorite series I’ve written, and I was going through weird stuff when I worked on it. Going back brings up a lot of Feelings. A lot of them aren’t great. Plus, it’s a really complex series drawing on many aspects of the Descentverse, which kinda flushed from my brain circa 2020. So I didn’t publish that one.

    What did I publish last? Has it really been three years since I put out an entire novel?


    It’s not like I’ve been lazing around.

    I had a book fail on submission to traditional publishing houses in 2021. Nobody wanted “You’ve Got Nudes,” a small-town romance take on “You’ve Got Mail.” There were a few reasons. For one, having a disabled sex worker as the hero wasn’t a popular idea. For another, there were other You’ve Got Mail takes that were more mainstream, so the market was kinda saturated.

    I wrote a book over 300,000 words long, too. I haven’t finished editing it.

    And I wrote about 50,000 words of a horror novel.

    Plus several other small projects.

    Perhaps more time-consuming is the fact I spent the year 2022 in college. I thought it was time to get my degree. Then I remembered I’m really bad at school, and I took a step back in early 2023 to figure out why the hell I can’t grow up and just do it. A whole year of working time! Gone. I really enjoyed it. The cellular biology class was outstanding, and I especially have made use of my art class. But I didn’t finish a degree.

    (I’m surely not the only person who feels like it would have been easier and more rewarding to set fire to money rather than fail college.)

    The second half of 2023, I spent crocheting and writing movie reviews. Plus that’s when I started on my interactive novel, Fated for Firelizards.

    And this year, I got sober-sober. That’s an accomplishment I’m especially proud of.


    The industry has changed and so have I.

    I’ve kept tabs on the industry, more or less, while I’ve been not-publishing. It’s not been a good few years.

    When I left, a lot of unethical practices had well taken hold in the market; the influx of AI-generated everything has only meant more Stuff produced that I can’t compete with.

    Surely if I had continued steadily writing my urban fantasy, I would have been fine. But trying to catch back up after seeing such seismic shifts leaves me a little lost.

    Nowadays, tons of authors launch on Kickstarter instead. Plus, things like BookFunnel have become major players for distributing books to readers. These require wholly different workflows/skills compared to what I used to do.

    The websites involved in publishing have changed a bit, my skills are rusty, and I have to talk myself through a lot of panicky bad feelings that come up whenever I approach the thing. I have a lotta business-related trauma that feels too private to discuss…anywhere, really.

    Just publishing Fated for Firelizards has been riddled with technical issues, major and minor. I don’t even know how to reach most of my readers at this point. Stuff has changed so much. Emails have expired. Rules around mass emails have changed. Social media visibility is hard as ever.

    And I don’t even have another book queued up to go after this one. I used to just pop ’em out, one after another.


    Well, I’m here. I might as well do it anyway.

    I always thought I’d get back to publishing novels — not just movie reviews, shitposts, and fanfic — so here I am.

    I’ve got more in the pipeline, albeit slowly.

    It’s weird to be here. But I am here.

    So I guess I’m doing it again.

  • image credit: Screen Media Films
    essays,  movies,  writing

    Say Less: 4 Lessons for Writers from Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

    Have I ever told you about one of my favorite good-bad movies, Willy’s Wonderland?

    Willy’s Wonderland is essentially an unlicensed Five Nights at Freddy’s-like horror movie. If you don’t know FNAF, you probably know Chuck E Cheese. It’s a family restaurant and arcade with animatronic mascots for entertainment. In both FNAF and Willy’s Wonderland, the animatronics are evil murderers.

    Willy’s Wonderland is one of those movies that isn’t good, but it’s kinda great: you won’t be scared by the horror content, but you’ll laugh, and the central performance from Nicolas Cage is one of his good ones. You’re never sure which version of Nicolas Cage you’re going to get. Here, he’s flawless.

    What makes Nicolas Cage so excellent is the fact his character has no dialogue. I’m not talking minimal dialogue like Mandy (2018). I mean, none. Reportedly, Cage agreed to do the movie only if they cut his dialogue completely.

    You’d think it’s a weird choice for the big-name star playing a hero to keep his mouth shut through a film, but I’m convinced that’s the only reason Willy’s Wonderland is any good.

    There’s a great history of low-dialogue characters across media. Gordon Freeman from Half-Life and Chell from Portal are notorious for their silence. One of Jack Reacher’s most common lines of narrative (not dialogue) is “Reacher said nothing.” I’ve used this myself: In my Descent/Ascension Series, Elise Kavanagh is someone whose dialogue is heavily limited to increase mystique.

    You can learn a lot about writing from Willy’s Wonderland.


    Lesson One: You don’t actually need character back story.

    Since Nicolas Cage can’t tell us what’s on his mind, or where he came from, we can only make guesses. His hero reacts to the horrifying situations without hesitation. What kind of man doesn’t seem to care about murderous animatronics on a job site? Over the course of the movie, Cage’s commitment to doing the agreed-upon job despite peril gives you the impression of Willy’s Wonderland accidentally hiring John Wick.

    By showing what he hates (bad work/life balance) and what he loves (his soda and a pinball machine), you get a strong impression of a sentimental but practical man who is a bit of a jaded, overgrown child with a hard life. It’s mounds better than anything the dialogue would have been capable of delivering, as evidenced by the back story everyone else shares.

    Give your audience some credit: Write less dialogue, and write less explicit back story. Events can do the heavy lifting.


    Lesson Two: Quiet characters provide opportunities for contrast.

    You can contrast a quiet character to more talkative characters, sure. That’s the most obvious utility. If you’re writing for fiction, where it’s a massive wall of text, distinguishing characters can be different; contrasting how much dialogue they use is a simple-but-effective way of delineating them.

    You can also contrast the character’s different emotional states to create a more dynamic narrative landscape. It builds punchlines into the narrative. You can’t help but laugh and get excited when the janitor tears into his animatronic foes.

    It’s shocking when the Janitor goes from working with his head down into a violent, roaring rage, beating the crap out of his attackers. The energy level of the film is also naturally improved simply by going from longer silent periods with occasional action, to a lot of action with less quiet.


    Lesson Three: Bolster your writing weak spots by working around them.

    The dialogue other characters have in Willy’s Wonderland is…not a highlight. Every single line could have been cut back dramatically. Nothing can go unstated, the actors struggle with long sentences, and little room is given for emotional displays that aren’t shouted at one another. So much of it is simply unnecessary.

    That isn’t to say the writing is all bad, though! The good in Willy’s Wonderland is general plot structure, the concept, and the heroic character. It’s simply fun to watch. One little edit (silencing the hero) took this from labored to a delight.

    When you’re writing, you can choose to bolster the stuff you’re good at and mostly skip over the stuff you’re bad at, too.

    Where are your weaknesses? If your dialogue isn’t strong, you might find yourself focusing on plot…which is what I tend to do. On the other hand, if you’re great at dialogue, maybe you want to enhance that at the cost of narrative. Play to your strengths! It’s your story.


    Lesson Four: Don’t drag everything out.

    Willy’s Wonderland is a brisk 1.5 hours long. Much like the hero, it shows up, does its job, and leaves.

    The story begins when Cage’s hero arrives in town. His work-life balance in this flick is legendary; he walks away from active fights when it’s time to take a break. In the morning, he clears out of town promptly, and that’s where the movie ends.

    My favorite writing advice I’ve received is “Enter the scene late, leave the scene early.” Willy’s Wonderland and its Janitor both exemplify this rule perfectly. It keeps things punchy, focuses on the delightful strengths, and doesn’t blow out its back dragging things out for an extra twenty minutes on the reel.


    Even though this campy, low-budget ripoff of a kids’ horror game isn’t “good,” the choices the team made transformed it into an outstanding delight of infinite rewatchability. You can take these lessons into your writing, whatever your format. When you find yourself struggling with a scene, try asking yourself: “What would Willy’s Wonderland do?”

    (image credit: Screen Media Films)

  • facebook,  writing

    Character blocking – less can be more

    I’m enjoying the work of reading the first Malazan book, but the prose itself, I do not like. The amount of character blocking bothers me. I get why the author does it (you can find his analyses of a scene or two online) but…it doesn’t read well for me.

    Character blocking is something most writers I know do. Including myself!

    I say “blocking” in the manner of a stage play. It is describing many small gestures of a character that doesn’t meaningfully add to a scene, or just doing it to excess. Character blocking is a broader way of describing something that is *usually* Eye Choreography.

    X looked at Y. He looked away.
    Y’s gaze cut to the ground.
    X looked at the thing, and then he looked at his sword.
    He walked to the bar with his gaze averted.

    There are two issues here.

    1) A book is less like a stage play and more like an impressionist painting you create in a reader’s mind. Broadly describing behavior will allow readers to fill in gestures themselves.

    2) Gestures don’t mean the same things to everyone. It’s unclear. I just touched a hand to my chin. What am I doing?
    Is this a thoughtful hand?
    Am I messing with a blemish?
    Am I hiding the cleft in my chin?
    Maybe I’m about to say something.

    Looking at things or moving your hands or whatever can definitely be relevant, necessary scene information…sometimes. *Writing* it can also be totally necessary for *you*, the author, to work out where things are in the scene and what is happening. YOU know why the character is Looking.

    A character’s mood and physicality can be conveyed throughout the scene in MANY ways. It should form a greater picture for readers. Save specific gestures for when you wanna “zoom in.”

    In editing, I get rid of all blocking except the stuff that makes a scene *less* confusing.
    If he absolutely needs to look at the window or nobody is going to realize he’s talking about someone outside instead of inside the room, then yes! Block that. It zooms us in on that “look.”

    But remember: Gestures mean different things to different people. A lot of people can’t read body language at all, even on the page. You are adding gestures that “zoom focus” without adding more information or experience for the reader. I am exhausted constantly zooming focus on characters’ faces when their whole bodies exist and inhabit a setting.

    There are alternative beats you can use, if you want to confer a pause in dialogue (though I think you can let readers infer a lot about dialogue cadence too). I will favor beats that embody characters in their setting in meaningful ways.

    I really like beats that add *new* description to a character or setting. That breaks up big blocks of description and adds color and vivacity.

    I also like character-specific beats. One character might mess with his ear a lot. Another has antsy feet. One can’t stay sitting.

    Using character-specific beats consistently across scenes, chapters, and books helps fix a character in the reader’s mind. And the reader will bring biases about the character to fill in smaller gestures (X looking at Y, then away) as appropriate to their personality.

    In Malazan, Character Blocking is frequent. I know from reading the author’s analyses of his scenes that he does intend these lines to confer information. “By looking at the sword, Tattersail is thinking xyz.” He doesn’t actually intend for anyone to know what that means though. The author generally doesn’t care if anyone knows what he’s talking about. While I respect the attitude, I find that his reliance on blocking to express information he doesn’t care about conveying isn’t NEARLY as well-thought-out as his worldbuilding details.

    I dislike the insulting connotations of “lazy” when I mean “convenient at the expense of quality,” but lazy is the word I think reading a lot of this dialogue. Perhaps less lazy, more cursory? Like “FINE I guess people have to inhabit this world I’m writing, and they talk.”

    Likewise, I can’t say the prose on Malazan is bad when what it actually is, is that the writer and I have way different priorities. That’s all.

    I see my prose on this level as the Welcoming Center of my book. It needs to get out of the reader’s way so that my story and world can thrive. I want my language efficient and my meaning clear. I am not deliberately puzzling anyone, unless the specific intent of a scene is to puzzle, and even then, I will communicate it wholly differently.
    Efficiency of language can be so beautiful.

    Malazan is legendary for its complexity, opacity, and demands upon the reader’s patience. The world and experience of conquering the books makes this worthwhile. For my writer friends, I suggest editing out Character Blocking in draft 2 because you aren’t writing Malazan, probably. Don’t worry about the rough draft. Write whatever you have to write in the rough draft. But consider taking a scalpel into your scenes to excise all but essential blocking.


    Blocking (and especially Eye Choreography lol) is super common in some areas of fiction. It’s an instinctive thing. We’re trying to think our way through a scene and conversation and we put in unnecessary information while we work it out, which is better removed later, imo.

    A story written so minimalistically need not be dry – action and dialogue alone can still be compelling if your story is compelling. I do like to add some physicality of gesture, commentary, inner thought, etc on those things, and that’s nice too.

    A novel writing class is probably bringing some of these thoughts out because I’ve had to read Hemingway. Hemingway does not do this in his dialogue at all, and his dialogue is still effective (imo).


    “Santiago,” the boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the skiff was hauled up. “I could go with you again. We’ve made some money.”
    The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.
    “No,” the old man said. “You’re with a lucky boat. Stay with them.”
    “But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we caught big ones every day for three weeks.”
    “I remember,” the old man said. “I know you did not leave me because you doubted.”
    “It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him.”
    “I know,” the old man said. “It is quite normal.”

    Then we can look over at Gardens of the Moon by Stephen Erikson for the other end of things.

    “Are you the last left in the cadre?” he asked.
    She looked away, feeling brittle. “The last left standing. It wasn’t skill, either. Just lucky.” […] She heard Hairlock laugh, the sound of a soft jolt that made her wince. “The tall one,” she said. “He’s a mage, isn’t he?”
    Whiskeyjack grunted, then said, “His name’s Quick Ben.”
    “Not the one he was born with.”
    She rolled her shoulders against the weight of her cloak, momentarily easing the dull pain in her lower back. “I should know him, Sergeant. That kind of power gets noticed. He’s no novice.”
    “No,” Whiskeyjack replied. “He isn’t.”
    She felt herself getting angry. “I want an explanation. What’s happening here?”
    Whiskeyjack grimaced. “Not much, by the looks of it.” He raised his voice. “Quick Ben!”
    The mage looked over. “Some last-minute negotiations, Sergeant,” he said, flashing a white grin.
    “Hood’s Breath.” Tattersail sighed, turning away.

    That is some dialogue from the beginning of Malazan, which I personally feel is too much blocking. The information conveyed is not important and it breaks up the conversation too much, distracting from the way the conversation is meant to propel the scene.

    But again, as I said above — This is an issue of different authorial priorities. The author here think it’s important we should know that the cloak this mage is wearing is heavy in the middle of an explanation about the situation and people in the situation, and I think it’s too much.

    (I originally posted this on Facebook on 2/12/23.)

  • Diaries,  writing

    Progressing on Dwarrow stuff for ATTBTM

    I spent a while yesterday working on nachīga, the language the Dwarrow use in my gothic fantasy novel. *Most* the work this new draft of the novel requires is actually on the Dwarrow, not the Àlvare, who are actually quite well developed.

    (I call dwarves Dwarrow for two reasons: Tolkien liked calling them Dwarrow, and also because “dwarf” means a lot of different things in English, including certain species of animals and a human skeletal disorder. Differentiating concepts linguistically should be done thoughtfully in fantasy, imo.)

    There’s so much work done on my Dwarrow that it’s easy for me to forget I’m missing some significant pieces. The Dwarrow were the first part of worldbuilding I did on this book, in fact. I wrote out this manifesto for the idea of how a society consciously aware of corruption and hierarchy might structure itself to prevent these things from growing.

    And that came about from thinking about Dwarf Fortress honestly – because in worldbuilding games, we take it for granted that we (the player/king/god) must provide every life form in our societies with food, housing, and medicine. But this is not the case in America and we find the idea revolting. We tell cultural stories about how unhoused people or those who are visibly ill are at fault for these qualities, villainizing the disfigured rather than the beautiful housed rulers who decided it’s okay some humans live this way.

    So I’ve got this weird manifesto about the society, I have maps, I have a lot of functional questions answered (levels of technology? applications of it? sanitation? fantasy mass transit?). But I actually didn’t do one of the most important parts of worldbuilding, which is the language itself for nachīga!

    It wasn’t essential to understand nachīga in the first draft. I wanted time spent with the elves to feel alienating, hostile, and foreign, so I integrated a lot of conlang words initially in order to distance readers from these hoity-toity fair folk. Meanwhile, Dwarrow were supposed to feel like a homecoming: wrapped in a big blanket of warm acceptance. I used common names for things to make it easier to follow and feel more familiar.

    A long time ago, years now, I created the Àlvare language-first. Every value I wanted for my elves, I put into the language. Being excessively elaborate. Deliberately obscure. Musical. Information-dense. Curated. So you can see why it would then feel weird coming “backwards” for my Dwarrow to finally arrive at the point where I need to design a language reflecting values/etc that have been elaborated on elsewhere. It’s a distillation rather than a foundation.

    Lots of fun getting into nachīga, though. Once I’ve determined rules for phonology and grammar and stuff, I use a software called Vulgarlang to produce my vocabulary. I go from “scratching my head over rules and IPA symbols” to “1500 vocabulary words in the dictionary” in a few minutes. It’s *really* satisfying.

    Since I spent so much time doing thoughtful worldbuilding stuff yesterday, I think today I should write cartoon dragon p0rn.

  • resembles nonfiction,  writing

    NaNo Eve

    October 31st is, in many circles, Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve or Samhain or what have you. And don’t get me wrong, I’m in the United States, so I definitely dress up and eat candy. But October as a whole is more of the Halloween celebration, and October 31st is the transition from that season to another.

    That’s right. For me, the last day of October is National Novel Writing Month Eve.

    For those of you unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo (referred to in the rest of the post as “NaNo” because I can’t pronounce “NaNoWriMo” out loud to my personal satisfaction) challenges the participant to write 50,000 words of a story in the month of November. I have won NaNo a total of fourteen times and participated in the November event* sixteen times before 2019. The stories aren’t anything to talk about – frankly, I’d drop them at the bottom of the ocean if I could keep personal access to them and still hide them away from the world – but NaNo hasn’t ever been about the destination. It’s all about the journey.

    (*The nonprofit behind NaNo also runs an event called Camp NaNoWriMo twice at other parts of the year, and they used to run an event called Script Frenzy. I’ve dipped my toe in both on my multiple occasions.)

    As someone who has undergone the journey regularly in my adulthood (and once under the age of eighteen), and made it to 50,000 on most occasions, here are some of my tips to muddle through to the finish line. What this isn’t: a way to write a decent book during that time. Rough drafts aren’t decent by nature, and I’m still figuring out how to have one that I can take through edits on my own. This post is about the sheer mechanics of cranking out words and sentences and paragraphs over the course of thirty days.


    What is your goal?

    One of the benefits to NaNo is its formal structure. You have thirty days to write 50,000 words on one story, which means there’s some outside deadline if you can’t set ones on your own (one of my classic foibles), and that’s what you submit to get the winner certificate on the site. But my golden rule of writing – of doing anything, really – is this: there are no universal rules, and as such, there aren’t universal goals, either. The habit book I read recently, Atomic Habits, had a similar idea in mind when they touted the formula to getting better at anything: repetitive practice just hard enough to be a challenge, but not so hard that you can’t do it.

    Obviously, NaNo is within this sphere for me, at least where cranking out word count is concerned. It isn’t for a lot of people. I use a computer all the time even if I’m not formally writing, so I type almost as quickly as I think. If you’re going for the “write the same amount every day” method (more on that in a minute), you write 1667 words, and if I have specific story ideas in mind, I can usually do that in a little over an hour. Even if I don’t, I can make something up within two hours and move on with my day. That’s not possible for everyone, whether because their words-per-minute is low or because it’s hard to think in story form or a million other reasons.

    Have you ever thought, “Well, guess NaNo isn’t for me”? That doesn’t have to be true! It’s part of the NaNo culture to approach it in your own way; I can’t remember a time when the NaNo forums didn’t have a NaNo Rebels section entirely devoted to people doing it outside the greater structure. This can include:

    • Picking a reachable word count.
    • Writing a bunch of shorter stories throughout the month and using that for your formal word count.
    • Picking up an already-started story and continuing it for as many words as you can.
    • Cowriting a story. (I’m not actually sure if this is NaNo rebellious or not, but it’s not the image of the lone writer bleeding onto the keyboard I have in mind, at least.)

    Official NaNo isn’t a competition against other people, despite some low-level competitive elements. It’s a personal challenge. It’s trite to say “just showing up is a victory”, but that’s because it’s true. One word during NaNo is a word you didn’t have before.


    How do you work?

    NaNo can be just as much a personal exploration as a story exploration. Your life needs to fit writing where it possibly didn’t before, and even if you were writing already, there’s still the fact that every day starts with a bunch of writing you haven’t done. Knowing what that looks like to you, and how you address it, is key to reaching your goal.

    There are more ways to write than people writing, which I anecdotally know because of myself and other writers in my life having multiple ways to write. There are locations: home office, coffee shop, library, park. There are methods: computer, notebook, dictation. There are times: on a regular schedule on any potential part of the day/night, whenever you can squeeze in a couple words, a mix of the two. There’s sprint length: 5 minutes, pomodoro, an hour. There’s daily word count goal: the even 1667, double 1667, more words at the beginning and less at the end, vice versa. I have my ways to work: brainstorming by hand, outlining as much as possible, writing on a computer wherever I have the opportunity that day, sprinting when I can but always a fan of midnight sprints, writing a lot when I first have all my ideas and then less as I run out of steam and need breaks.

    Make it as easy for yourself as you can. What easy looks like for you might not be what easy looks like for me, and it might not even be the same thing two days in a row.


    Who can you talk to?

    NaNo is fun because it’s a personal challenge. But it’s also fun because it takes what is often a very isolating and lonely experience and makes it communal. If you want to gripe about how far behind your word count is, but you don’t want to change out of your pajamas, you can go on the NaNo forums or social media and find other participants going through the same things as you. Maybe you have family or friends that are also doing NaNo, and you can turn regular hangouts or communication into NaNo write-ins. Barring that, many areas – worldwide! – have in-person meet-ups where you can write as a group in public. I’m one of the most agoraphobic people on the planet, and I’ve still gone to write-ins where I knew absolutely no one. Even if you do none of these things, there can be comfort in knowing that, as unique as the challenge is to you personally, there’s someone else somewhere who is feeling the same things as you.


    The pep-talk portion of the post

    One of NaNo’s traditions is to post pep talks by published authors all through the month of November, encouraging you through all points of your journey. (The second- and third-week pep talks, where I feel my lowest and the other authors understand, tend to be my favorites.) The post as a whole is my version of a pep talk, but pep talks are (often) less mechanical and more motivational. So here’s the ra-ra section.

    You can write this. Even if you’re reading this a week into November, thinking “this sounds fun, but it’s too late and I have no ideas”? You can write! You can find writing prompts online, you can think through cause and effect chains, and you can get to 50,000 words. You can enter December with a printed winner calendar and a manuscript document on your computer (and an external saving device, and the cloud – always backup your writing!). You can tackle an idea that’s smaller in scope but no less of a challenge for you. You can do any of it!

    And I’ll be right there next to you this November, as I am most Novembers.

  • resembles nonfiction,  writing


    Some years ago, I had major depression explained to me in terms of rivers trickling down a hillside. The rivers are feelings. Your brain is the hill. Wherever those rivers run, they’ll dig furrows over the years, and become so entrenched that rerouting them is difficult. When you’re depressed, those your river-thoughts dig horrible trenches, black and deep, and the longer it runs, the deeper it cuts. Therapy means more than taking pills to improve the water quality; it also means learning to fill in the old trenches and dig new ones. The work is difficult. It’s dirty. It never ends.

    I spent a lot of time writing as a child. I hit upon feverish obsession in elementary school, drafting lengthy stories about the things that interested me. When I was twelve, I wrote a 105,000-word epic fantasy tome that was slightly worse than Eragon, narrowly, and realized this would be my life. I had plans. I’d have published novels by the time I was eighteen, like my idol Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and never need another job. My life would exist in the space between myself and the blinking cursor.

    Writing remained a retreat through my teenage years. I moved from high fantasy to horror to science fiction, then urban fantasy when Anita Blake started raising zombies in my brain. My second original novel–and most of the next sixty-plus novels–would remain urban fantasy, and the first of them were written when I was in high school. I wrote and rewrote those books, painfully aware they didn’t yet meet standards. I relentlessly hunted agents. I joined critique groups to pick apart my style and learned what it feels like to bleed over fiction.

    Sometimes I didn’t go to school because I wanted to write. At school, I was lonely. I felt like a lazy fool because I couldn’t track deadlines, organize my binders, backpack, or locker, and I made as much effort to survive as it took to be a straight-C student. Writing at home was different. I sat in a dark room with my heels up on a desk, just me and a glowing CRT monitor, and I wrote stories about tough women who killed evil.

    I don’t think I was ever actually diagnosed with depression. The word floated around because my mother and sibling were diagnosed with it, so I knew what it looked like, and eventually I went into doctors’ appointments, informed them I had depression, and requested a prescription. They assented. If I wanted a dose change, I told them and got it. My depression was self-managed for years.

    My survival through that time is impressive, looking back. I had a total failure of executive dysfunction and seldom got off the couch. Cleaning was a non-starter. Yet I always had clothes and bus fare, I kept a job, and I never had a major breakdown at work.

    I must have written my first dozen published novels at that job. I worked at an isolated desk on a computer room floor, and my job was primarily monitoring, so there was nothing to do unless something broke. As a lightly supervised young adult with vague job requirements, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I never saw sunlight. I worked weird shifts. I couldn’t keep friendships.

    But I had the books.

    Perception is reality to the mind. Without enough serotonin, the world is terrible, has always been terrible, and always will be terrible. With too much cortisol, we’re all going to die and it will definitely be sooner than we hope. With a boost of dopamine, we’re in love with life, eternally perfect, always happy.

    For most people, these chemicals are stable enough to function with normal life. There are emotions, but you’re not consumed by them in perpetuity. When it rains, the rivers of your feelings will flow down the hillside, sometimes spilling into sadness or worry or joy. They’re always moving, though. Eventually it melds into the lake of your long-term memory.

    For the depressed mind, more feelings means more rivers going down dark trenches. It means the water floods, trapped within the deepest holes.

    You’re living in the bottom of that hole. You can drown in two inches of water. And people often do, if the trenches are deep enough or if it rains too much.

    My waking hours are consumed by writing, even now. If not the act of writing, then planning my books. I’ve developed myriad ways to imitate a normal life while living in my fantasy world. I listen to playlists when I drive so I can daydream creative ways to murder innocents. I’ll talk about the plots with my dog on our walks. Every time I watch a movie, I’m thinking about how I’d improve on it, or how I could tell the same story except with demons.

    When I go to bars for a few drinks, because I can’t stand being sober, I strike up conversations with people to get inspired for characters. I’m sexually harassed in reality and kill another man in my books. When I’m in the hospital, I make an inventory of sensations, smells, sounds. I get discharged and go home to write a character gravely wounded.

    I dwell on it, I wallow. Even the brightest days can be shadowed by threat of infernal apocalypse at the back of my mind, reminding me I have more to write.

    One time I wrote the death of a three-year-old while I was on vacation at a lagoon, gazing out at a perfect sunset. I had a three-year-old. I was pregnant. It hurt to write, like slipping razors over my tenderest skin, but I wrote it, wondering why all the while.

    Somehow, writing doesn’t feel like an escape. It feels urgent. Like I *have* to be writing, or thinking about writing, all the time. If I don’t, then I have to live in reality. I have to be myself, in my body, in my brain, in this world.

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a whole-life approach to treating depression, among other things. The idea is that you must get chemical support in the form of medications and then adjust your life to avoid deepening the trenches. You go to talk therapy. You learn to identify your emotions as you experience them: This is sadness, this is anger, this is fear. You desensitize to traumatic memories. Sometimes it means getting away from abusers, exercising more, or eating differently.

    Ideally, the result is that medication gets you out of the trenches of ill mental health so they can fill in. The rain forms new, different rivers, following easier paths. You have learned to argue without yelling. You take a walk once a day so the sunlight can purify you. You sleep more, talk about your feelings more, and stop dwelling in darkness. After a while, the dark places just aren’t as dark. You get to see the sunlight whenever there’s a break in the rain.

    I started taking antidepressants when my first son was a baby, eight years ago. I didn’t cry as much when left alone with him. That was good. I took them until my second pregnancy, then began again afterward. My medication remained managed by my general practitioner. One helpful GP changed my medication when I complained of low libido, and the experimental antidepressant threw me into wild panic attacks. I spent a week in a mental hospital.

    Since then, my medication has been managed by a psychiatrist, and things have been generally more stable. I’m more functional, anyway. Sometimes I get out of my hole to play with the kids, drive to appointments, and go to the gym. I clean the house occasionally. I’m raising a puppy, which requires a daily commitment to wearing pants and going on walks. Though I was fired by my last therapist for being argumentative, I did do several years of therapy, and my communication has vastly improved along with my understanding of self.

    Still, there are holes, and they are dark as ever. My eating disorder struggle reached a special level this year. I’m still seldom sober. I started using nicotine. My books are getting darker too. I’m trying to traditionally publish dark psychological suspense, with graphic depictions of abuse unlike any I’ve written before. And when I’m doing it, I feel that razor feeling again. The one that’s bad but good and irresistible. Perception is reality. It hurts right to write like this. But it also hurt right to starve myself, to bite my fingers until they bled, to drink until blacking out in public spaces.

    I attribute some of this to the nonlinear path of managing a chronic illness. Diabetics can stay on top of their insulin and still have problems. I have major depression even if I’m on bupropion, escitalopram, and alprazolam to manage it.

    Yet perception is reality. My reality remains between my body and the blinking cursor. When I write, I’m immersed in it, convinced on some primal level that these things are real. Old books feel like memories to me now, they’re so vivid, but faded. Some years of my life, I can only really remember what happened in my books. I’ve chosen to populate those memories with demons, hellfire, and death.

    Will I remember this year by the rapes I’ve written? Or will I remember going to the gym two or three times a week, walking my dog, and building LEGO with my children? Am I filling trenches with medication while digging deeper with my writing?

    I don’t know. I don’t know when I’ll find out, either. As I finish writing this, I’m already drifting to the problem I have to fix in my current manuscript, wondering how I can worsen my heroine’s life in a low-impact scene. There are wildfires in my head. I am filled with smoke. And I don’t know if I’ll ever quite find peace like this, or what life on the surface looks like if I do.