Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoMoWri Results

Today's the last day of the now forever in my mind crazy month of November. It is a blustery month, one with swirling leaves and slight cold showers. The month started hot with highs in the upper 70's. The trees sported all their summer leaves and children wore shorts to school. High temperatures, high hopes for high word counts.

In a matter of days, the showers arrived and temperatures dipped into the 60's. I bent my head to my laptop and cranked and cranked at a novel I had plotted, complete with spreadsheets and timelines. But something happened at day 10. I hit 50K but decided this novel was stale. Lots of action but no heart.

Outside the leaves turned gold, orange, and red. I had never noticed it before. But fall color in the Bay Area is in mid November. We hit sunny days again. Freed from the burden wordcount, I started dreaming again. A romantic suspense. I had no inclination to write it for NaNo. But by November 15, I had somewhat a plot and somewhat a set of characters. So I wrote about what I knew. The world of computer programmers in an Internet startup. Throw in a murder and a maniacal villain, two hapless protags with secrets to hide, and boom. I started to type again.

Along the way, I shed my previous novel, Michal's Window, went through three edit rounds and sent it to my editor yesterday. Since I had no goal of 50K, I surprised myself with 60K in the new novel. I finished it on Sunday, day 27, and now I'm back to fix my official NaNo story.

November will forever be the time of change. A time to say good-bye to old characters and bring in the new. NaNoMoWri was the perfect opportunity to make the transition. The leaves have almost blown off now--the orangey-red hue of Chinese pistachio trees, the golden yellow elms, and the bright red liquidambars contrasting with the dark green pines and the purple plums.

It was not about wordcount. Nope. To me, NaNoMoWri was successful in kicking me out of Michal's Window, and landing me with new problems to solve and new characters to explore. What was your NaNo experience like? Was it satisfying? Enlightening? or pure drudgery?

I'm glad I did it, and I will participate again, if only to get me to try new stories and visit new experiences.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Purple Babies, Part II

I finished my read-aloud through Michal's Window before sending it to my editor. Here are a few more purple phrases that got the ax. Read and weep, or laugh.

His mouth bruised my tongue, and the stubble of his beard rasped my cheeks, plowing tart, tingling stings into the edge of my lips.

My abdomen tightened with iron bands of tension. I reeled him in with my legs, desperately arching to mate with the battering torrent of his anguish.

An explosion of stars burst behind my eyelids as he slapped my head against the wall.

His magnificent roar ripped the fabric of my consciousness as he surged and spread himself bare into my heart.

My left arm and shoulder cramped, as a cauldron of heat boiled and bubbled inside of me, causing me to wiggle to relieve the tension.

A cold web spread over my hair and tightened my scalp.

My stomach clenched as an avalanche of stones crushed my heart.

A monstrous tidal wave of pressure hammered me with swell after swell of raw delight.

Wasted, we wrapped our limbs around our battered bodies, our hearts scourged by spiked whips, bleeding rivers of eviscerating torture.

Now, why did my crit partners let me get away with these? Probably laughing too hard.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Accidental NaNo Story

Yesterday I wrote how frustrated I was with my official NaNoMoWri story, the one I plotted ahead of time with spreadsheets, plot points, mid points and pinch points.

After burning out on November 10, I took a few days off to bump around the Internet, give critiques and hang out at the Romantic Suspense class I took at I was fourteen days behind on the homework. But since I paid for the class I tackled the homework in the post-reply, making it up as I went along. Funny thing happened. I came up with a story concept. The instructor, Dee Lloyd, critiqued my prologue and first chapter. She suggested I drop the prologue, so I dropped it. She suggested a murder. At first I did not want to do a murder. I just wanted to do a computer crime and a kidnapping. But along the way, a body ended up under someone's car, so I got my murder.

Jennifer Cruz Jones has a new job, a new car, and a new apartment. Athletic and trim, she worked her way through college and 24 Hour Fitness. But she cannot hide from her past when the brother of her ex-fiance is murdered.
Startup founder Dave Jewell thought he needed one more cash infusion to launch his social shopping network. But when he finds blood on the frontend of his car, he is drawn to Jennifer for answers.
As Jennifer scurries to deliver the ransom, Dave uncovers damaging information about Jennifer while falling in love with her.
A hostage is taken. Dave must race against time to find his daughter while Jennifer avoids becoming the next piece of roadkill.
She headed down Trimble and turned left on Zanker. She needed to install a new fileserver. There was only one other car in the parking lot. She pulled next to it and hit the curb. Damn. She reversed it a bit and cut the engine.
A chilly gust blew dried leaves in a circle on the sidewalk. Jen locked her car and bent to examine the damage, a cracked spoiler. Her brand new Eclipse. She dropped her keys and spit on her finger to rub out the black scratch.
The car next to her stood higher and stretched over the sidewalk. That’s why she had misjudged. Her eyes widened. Dried brownish streaks flaked off the front of the grill. And there was no mud on the sidewalk. She picked off a flake and noticed a tuft of black hair pinched to the license plate holder.
Jen backed from the car and dropped her backpack. She must not scream. Drive away. Pretend she didn’t see it. Whose car was this?
She stooped to retrieve her keys. A pair of trousered legs met her on the way up. The scream erupted from her throat as strong hands clamped her wrists.
Steel grey eyes bore into hers. “Calm down. Stop fighting me. Are you here to install the NetApp?”
Jen’s breaths scattered from her throat. She tried to pull away, but the man, the CEO, the founder, Dave what’s his name, held her arms and brought her into the building.
“Let me go,” Jen cried. “I forgot something. I’m sorry. I can’t work today.”
“Look, it’s only a little front end damage. I know it’s a new car and everything. I’m sure insurance would take care of it.” He handed her the backpack.
He appeared calm, too calm to have blood on his car. Jen’s brain burst with silent screams. She forced herself to breathe evenly. Don’t be stupid. A CEO wouldn’t be driving a Camry.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NaNoMoWri Reflections

NaNoMoWri showed me I'm not a plotter. I went into NaNo month with a five pronged plot, and even though I finished my fifty thousand words in ten days, I became sick of my story. Writing felt like constructing a model kit. Glue this tab to that one. Construct the propeller assembly, then stick it on the wing assembly.

As I checked off my plot points and completed the scenes, I became more and more divorced from the characters. They were wooden. They did not belong to me, and I certainly didn't live their lives. Just actors across a stage, they flitted in and out of the pages. Their stomachs rumbled, their hearts dropped, their palms sweated, and chills ran down their spines. They bled and fought on schedule. Kissed or killed because the plot dictated it.

Can the story be saved? Yes. But I need to get away from it first. Then go back and rewrite. Let the characters go where they want, and who knows? Maybe they'll end up somewhere else. But I would have gone along with them and gotten to know them. And that takes time. Time to absorb their personalities, explore their desires, dig into their motivations, and discover their deepest secrets.

I started another story November 15. It's not a NaNo story. I'm up to 37K words, but I'm not racing the clock. I don't do character sheets, not really. I live the story, and daydream their backstories. I run scenes from their lives in my mind, and I dream their dreams. I cannot force the story out. It has to come to me organically. How to fake emotions on a schedule is a skill I do not have.

It was fun and I enjoyed it. The camaraderie was great. Would I do it again? It depends on whether I can resurrect my NaNo story or not. Will I ever get the enthusiasm back for those characters? Or did the NaNo  overdose inoculate me against them forever?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hit the big Five-O on NaNo Day 10

I just checked in at 50,196 words in the middle of my FMC's amnesia. I have no clue if this will remain after editing. But here it is, in the raw.

Kyra’s head felt like a blacksmith’s anvil. What was that pounding noise? She rolled over and opened her eyes. A cedar paneled room spun. Her mouth plastered to a lambskin, she pushed herself to a sitting position, but bent over immediately when her stomach turned. The pounding in her head intensified. Her legs would not cooperate and she collapsed on her way to the chamber pot. Whose house was she in? And where was Jery?

Kyra crawled on her hands and knees and threw up in the pot. She lay on the rug, breathing and waiting for her hands and feet to regain feeling. Was she trapped in a dream? The walls wove and shook. She rubbed the rug—richly textured and colorful. She was in a chamber of some sort, a richly decorated one with dark wooden furniture and a glittering mosaic on one wall.

She sat and rubbed her face. Her mouth tasted like dry wool. Why was she dressed in a silken robe? She patted her chest and side. Her weapons were missing. Stumbling to a table, she poured herself a cup of water from a glazed pitcher.

The door opened and three maids stepped in.

“My lady,” said the maid in front. “You’re awake. The master said to prepare you breakfast.”

“Where am I?”

“Mama,” Jery cried from the arms of another maid. She set him down and he ran to her bed, his cheeks ruddy and his eyes sparkling.

Kyra picked him up, but fell back into the arms of the maids when her legs wobbled. Kyra hugged the boy closely. Why couldn’t she remember how she arrived here?

“My baby’s healed. How did we get here?”

The first maid smiled and opened the windows. “You’ve been here a week. The master fetched Jery and took him to a doctor. You also fell ill and had a high fever. The master will be back any day now.”

Kyra relaxed and allowed the maids to bathe and dress her. She and Jery ate a delicious meal of barley cakes, toasted grain, and honeyed yogurt.

Something important nagged at Kyra’s mind. But Jery bounced in her lap and threw cake crumbs in her drink. Her dizziness receding, she spent the rest of the morning rolling a leather ball as he chased after it and threw it back at her.

Kyra tucked Jery into a plush cot for his nap. The door opened behind her and Baar stepped through. He opened his hands and smiled. “My dear, how are you feeling?”

Kyra stood carefully, the weakness had almost abated, but she was still a little unsteady. “I am well. What am I doing here?”

He took her elbow to steady her. “You mean you don’t remember?”

She blinked and tried to shake the fog from her mind. “No, well, maybe.”

He pressed her hand. “I’ve come to take the evening meal with you. Have you seen much of my house?”

“No, I’ve only been between the room I woke in and the nursery. Jery and I played a bit in the courtyard outside his door.”

“If you’re up for it, I’d like to show you after we eat. Are you sure you don’t remember anything?” His mellifluous voice caressed the edges of Kyra’s headache and soothed her.

“Baar, how long have we been friends?”  She didn't seem to recall how handsome he was. Strange. Did he really have gold-tipped eyelashes and a dimple on one side of his grin? His brownish red hair rippled like fall leaves strewn over a secluded walkway and Kyra wondered why she had thought him scruffy and uncouth.

He chuckled and led her into a dining room set for two. “I’m hurt that you don’t remember. We’re more than friends, Kyra.”

A sharp twinge poked Kyra’s ribs from the inside. “What are you saying?”

He sat her on down in front of him and leaned over the table. “You’re really hurting my feelings now.”

Kyra swallowed a lump and sucked in her cheeks. She grasped at threads in her mind, but like the hem of a fraying garment, the thoughts disintegrated before she could twist them together.

A servant set platters of poached fish, lentils, and quails with onion before them. Baar poured golden wine into a goblet and handed it to Kyra.

He toasted her and smiled. “To my wife. May your memories of our wedding return.”

Kyra dropped the goblet. It hurtled off the table and rolled onto the carpet.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NaNo Day 8 Summary

I'm pushing 40K as of last night, but do I feel good about it? The words run like spilled punch at the end of a drunken orgy, and the characters are just as wooden and stoned. There's a lot of activity, observations, and events, scurrying back and forth between point A, B, and C. Characters pop in and out like Whack-a-Mole, and gobble words like Hungry Hippos. But where's the depth, the meaningful look, the lingering touch? What about the trailing water off the end of a leaf, the damp, fertile earth between the toes, and the last ray of sunlight under a seagull's wing?

So I race onward and slam my story together with violence, blood, and endless perils. Events on a page of a history book, a filled in character sketch, connect the dots of the plot points, pinch points, and climaxes. But it is all dead. Dead words. Mechanical words to be replaced and refined organically, as a seed germinates, and the sprout pokes its downy head from the warm, moist soil and grows in the year to come.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Purple Gems - Part 1

I thought I'd share some deep purple phrases I struck on this editing pass. I labeled it part 1, because I'm sure I have more. These babies won't ever see the light of a pixel, so here you go.

David loved her so much that his heart burst into shards of penetrating pain.

My heart pounding as fast as the drum rolls, and my nerves screaming higher than the pitch of the chants, I looked to David for reassurance.

I swallowed large gulps of air as torrential sobs tore through my throat.

His gentle tone, with a dash of daring, held a tinge of bitterness.

My mind clouded with a maelstrom of anguish. Reeling, dizzy, spinning, crazy.

The door shut. It rattled against the wind, chattering like the bones of a corpse.

His mouth bruised my tongue, and the stubble of his beard rasped my cheeks, plowing tart, tingling stings into the edge of my lips.

… that ripped rhythmic feral screams out of my throat, louder and faster than the insistent drumbeat

I wonder if my editor will let me keep: The wind and rain howled like a thousand dying women.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNo Novel and Excerpt

It's day two and I'm at 7244 words. Wrote the first kiss today (the excerpt). Fair warning, it is all unedited.


The epoch was 1000 B.C. Kyra lived with a band of mercenaries in the badlands between Philistia and Israel.
Kyra thought she'd be the next chief. She'd trained hard, mastered weaponry and horsemanship. She even passed the manhood ceremony at the head of her class.
But the day Kyra killed the wild boar and earned his tusks, she found out she was female. Female? As in a woman? A whore? That was even lower than the eunuch she believed herself to be.
Along with her newfound identity come a host of trouble and the possibility of love. Stripped of dignity, humiliated and abused, Kyra struggles against a fierce enemy, one who is bent on subjugating her and claiming the tribe for himself.


A fresh footprint in the mud raised the hairs on the back of her neck. She scanned the dense underbrush and unsheathed her knife. Gripping the knife between her teeth, she dropped to her hands and knees and closed in on the tent. She might have heard a snore. She’d surprise him. She almost dropped her knife while smiling.
A flash of white swung toward her face. Kyra gasped and the knife fell, greeted by the husky laughter of a man. A bouquet of white lilies lay on the ground right under the knife.
“What do you think you’re doing sneaking up on my tent?” Niko held out his hand.
“Your tent? What are you doing camped so far from the troop?”
He pulled her to her feet. “I’m a man now, and I need my privacy.”
“You’re fifteen, and need I remind you, you have not made the boar kill yet.”
Niko fingered the tusk around Kyra’s neck. “But I have bested the holder of the boar’s tusk in a fight.”
Kyra slapped his hand. “Don’t touch my tusk. Next time, I’m going twist those jewels of yours off and you’ll be just like me.”
He closed in. “And how’s that like, to be you?”
Kyra stepped back, right into a tree trunk. Niko’s calloused hand touched her face. She drew in a shocked breath. His eyes were half-closed, his long lashes arched and fluttered, and he looked at her… as if… he cared?
Niko was the strongest and most robust of the boys in the camp and excelled at all sport. And he was also the quickest to point out her deficiencies and lead the others to tease and ostracize her. Many nights, Kyra had cried herself to sleep, excluded from the inner circle of well-endowed boys, those with natural gifts, the future great warriors.

He tilted her chin, his gaze exploring her face, as if she were an exquisite jewel. Why was this beautiful man, his strong, bronze man with the sturdy jaw and high-bridged nose looking at her so dreamily?
He pressed her against the tree, his legs on both sides of hers, his elbows at her head, and his hot breath fanning the top of her head. Kyra pushed his chest, urging her arms to give him a quick shove. But her fingers flexed over his hard pectorals. She exhaled, a little too sharply. She’d never have a chest like his, and the scent, musky and aromatic, like smoky lilies in a pine forest. She fanned her palms over his chest and moved to the planes of his muscular abdomen.
Oh, to not be a freak. She wanted what he had. She closed her eyes. If she could pretend she was manly, strong, hairy, able to whip a broadsword without raising sweat. If she could leap onto a horse without grabbing its neck…
A warm, firm hand caressed the back of her neck, and a set of tender lips descended on hers. Kyra should have pushed, she should have ducked, she should have at least struggled. But the lips enveloped hers, and the ground shook beneath her, and her fingers tightened over the sides of his rocking hips.
Reason flew away, as she opened her mouth and tasted his honeyed, cinnamon breath. She explored the warm recesses of his mouth and sparred and jockeyed with him for possession of his tongue, probing deeper and fighting a loving duel of lips and teeth. He slipped a warm hand under her leather breastplate and untied it.