Word #38221: eh, close enough.

“This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.”

The important thing is that I’ve got some new drugs that seem to be working (like, legit medications prescribed by my doctor, not tainted utopium), so I should be able to get, well, not back on track. But on a track. Good enough.

So, this NaNo didn’t work out as well as I hoped, but there’s always next year.

Word #17014: it’s not failing, it’s just changing goals.

Okay, so, my new goal for NaNo is 41,514 words. Even though that’s an official NaNoFail, I will consider it a “win” if I hit that total. Look, you can’t blame me for the faults in my stomach lining (Can you?), and something, or actually more like everything, had to give. I’ve reduced my daily targets for this to accommodate the other projects I also have to get done.

Word #13053: I’m still here.

4,808 words yesterday, a bit short of my goal of 5k, but not bad considering the, you know, vomit. I’ll probably come short of 5k again today too, but the rest of the week should be good. Remember when I said there was no chance I would miss my goal of 60k? The universe frowns on the cheeky, people. But I’m hopeful I’ll at least hit the 50k required to officially win NaNo. I have an outline, so theoretically I should be limited only by my typing speed, except there are always parts of the outline that are dumb or just say, like, “They go somewhere and get a thing.”

Word #7575: okay, maybe now I should panic.

All right, now I must admit that I’m far enough off track to be alarmed. But everyone loves an underdog, right? Surely I can do it. Maybe I can do it. We’ll see if I can do it. Perhaps I should mention to my doctor the need for a speedy solution due to NaNo. As for the draft itself, well, it’s drafty, as my drafts tend to be. I know writers who write their books completely and pretty much finally the first time through, making sure they have all the right words in all the right places as they go. I am not that writer.

Word #… um… 5615? Well, crap.

So I’ve been struggling with some health problems for the past month, which I will spare you the details of because “details” mostly means “vomit,” and my NaNo word count is the latest in a line of things to suffer for it. I’m 9,000 words behind pace to hit my goal of 60k. But fear not! It’s only the 7th, and I’ve come back from bigger deficits than this before. In the meanwhile, I’m only 5600 words in and there’s been both sex and violence, so, totally off to a good start.

Your Complete Guide to NaNoWriMo Readiness

Last year, I skipped NaNoWriMo for the first time in twelve years, and I’ll tell you what, it just didn’t feel like fall. So this year I’m back with a vengeance. 60k or… or nothing, because there is no possibility that I will lose. BOOM! And because I’m out of practice, I’m reposting these important NaNo prep tips that I wrote back in 2013.


The debate between plotters and pantsers will be raging, as it does every year, in forums and blogs across the writerverse. People will be vehemently defending the merits of outlining in advance/discovering their novel as they write it, and in many cases judging the other side, even going so far as to declare how “real writers” do it.

I think a lot of time is wasted on this argument that could otherwise be spent on important pre-NaNo activities like shopping for the best price on Fun Size Baby Ruths. The way I see it, you’re probably going to fall naturally into one category or the other, and letting your brain work how it works is more important than how someone else wants to tell you to do it, or how your favorite writer happens to do it. So just figure out which one you are, and be that.

But plotter or pantser, NaNo requires a lot of preparation that has nothing to do with the actual content of your story. There are two reasons you don’t write at this pace year-round. The first is that it’s only suited to first drafts, and if all you ever wrote were first drafts you wouldn’t be getting very far. The second is: you don’t have time.

Well, you don’t have time in November either. That’s why you need to spend time beforehand setting up as many things as you can to run on auto-pilot. Things like:

Soundtrack
You’re going to need a playlist that can, among other things, energize you when you realize how much your novel sucks and don’t see the point in typing another word of it. How big a job this is depends on how much you think your novel will suck, but it never hurts to be on the safe side and get your music in place ahead of time. I like to have theme songs for all my characters, and a theme song for the story itself, and then some theme songs that are just for snacks.

Speaking of snacks
Stocking up on candy and caffeine is of course the top priority, but it can’t be the only one. Some of us have families depending on us for their survival, and all of us have ourselves depending on us for our survival. Take it from someone who’s been there: if week 2 finds you weeping softly in a junk-food-and-takeout-induced stupor, unable to focus enough even to remember your protagonist’s name, or your dog’s name, or your own name, this is bad for your word count. Somewhere along the line you’ll want to mix in something healthy and home-cooked. Something with vegetables.

I use a nifty app called MealBoard to plan my meals in advance and then generate shopping lists for me on the fly. When November 1 hits, I know what’s for dinner all 30 days, I’ve bought as many ingredients ahead as freshness will allow for, and I can get the rest each week with a list generated in the grocery store parking lot, solving plot problems as I walk up and down the aisles rather than thinking about what I need.

Also, NaNoWriMo is just one of the many experiences that can be improved by a slow cooker. Cooking Light has a great list of slow cooker recipes that I go back to again and again. But if even reading a recipe is too time-consuming, that’s fine too. Just throw in a slab of meat and whatever vegetables are in your fridge, add a cup or two of liquid (wine, beer, cider, and stock are all your friends here), shake in whatever spices strike your fancy, and there you are. You can do all that while your morning tea is steeping, and that’s the last time you have to think about your dinner until you’re actually eating it.

Household maintenance
This one is easy: clean really, really well right before Halloween. Then adjust your definition of “clean” for 30 days. If you’ve got a family member or roommate who objects to the new standard, be sure they know where the vacuum is kept.

Oh and by the way, it’s holiday season
If you’re American, maybe you’ll be hosting Thanksgiving dinner or traveling for the holiday. If you celebrate Christmas, maybe you’ll type your last word only to look up and discover, with much panic, that it’s only 3 weeks away. Plan, book, and buy what you can in October.

And speaking of holidays, Halloween is an important one for NaNo. Have more candy than trick-or-treaters. Apply leftovers to noveling.

So get moving, people. November, much like winter, is coming.


I have a fresh NaNo account this year. Buddy me at jen_rasmussen!

Eleven Questions for: Rebecca Chastain

Magic of the GargoylesWell folks, we are in for a treat today, because not only is Rebecca Chastain awesome, but she tells us how to make “healthy” chocolate turtles! This enables you to make a whole tray of them and eat them all at once at your desk, because they’re not bad for you. Naturally I tried this as I was putting together this post, in the name of research.

Rebecca’s got two great urban fantasy series going right now, Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles and Madison Fox, Illuminant Enforcer. Here’s the description of Magic of the Gargoyles, to whet your appetite:

To help a baby gargoyle, Mika will risk everything.
Mika Stillwater is a mid-level earth elemental with ambitions of becoming a quartz artisan, and her hard work is starting to get noticed. But when a panicked baby gargoyle bursts into her studio, insisting Mika is the only person she’ll trust with her desperate mission, Mika’s carefully constructed five-year plan is shattered.
Swept into the gritty criminal underworld of Terra Haven, Mika must jeopardize everything she’s worked so hard for to save the baby gargoyle from the machinations of a monster—and to stay alive…

 
Now on to the questions!
 
Q:
You’ve recently released the third Gargoyle Guardian book, and a new Madison Fox book is coming this fall. Do you have trouble changing gears between series, or do you find the variety energizes you?
A:
Six months ago, I would have told you that bouncing between series was energizing, but then I wrote Curse of the Gargoyles and Secret of the Gargoyles back-to-back, and it was heady stuff! A whole bunch of ideas for other adventures in that world started filling my notebook, but I have an obligation (and desire) to get back to the Madison Fox series and couldn’t pursue them (at least not yet). I think I’m better off sticking with one series until it’s done, or at least a major arc is wrapped up.

Q:
I’m a plotter like you, and I could not write without an outline. What can’t you write without?
A:
I definitely couldn’t write without my main outline. I also need my scene outlines, which are short, jotted notes to keep me on track hour by hour. I suppose if I were trapped on a desert island but could still publish books, I might be able to get by without Scrivener or my ergonomic keyboard, but I wouldn’t want to.

Q:
You get to pull one literary character through the fabric of reality to stay with you for a week. Who do you choose, and why?
A:
Any dragon from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. I would love to pick the brain of a telepathic dragon, and if he or she were so inclined, go for a ride. I can’t think of a more thrilling experience than being dragonback in flight! I imagine it would cause hysteria among the people (and dogs) in my neighborhood, but it’d be worth it.

Q:
You’re a gamer. Madison Fox is not a fan. What game would you introduce her to to win her over?
A:
You know when you eat MSG-filled food, and when you start thinking about it later, you drool? If my brain could drool, it would at every mention of Portal. It’s a super-fun first-person puzzle game that I find absolutely addictive. Madison would enjoy the fact that the game isn’t sexist and doesn’t involve complicated button sequences. After she was hooked, I’d introduce her to Chariot, a great one- or two-person side-scroller that involves way more timed jumping than I’m qualified for but is so much fun.

Q:
In a sea of vampires and shifters, elementals and gargoyles stand out. What drew you to these characters?
A:
Before I wrote Magic of the Gargoyles, I had never read a book where the magic system was based solely on the elements. The idea actually came to me when I was trying to feng shui my house. Balancing the elements in each room was a frustrating task, and I thought it would be so much easier if I could distill the elements into their essences—and the magic system was born. I don’t remember what made me consider gargoyles as a main fantastical creature, but the moment I pictured a baby gargoyle, I knew I had a story to write. Gargoyles ended up being so much fun, too. I could make them any shape I wanted, and once I decided on quartz for their body types, I could make them almost any variation of color. The possibilities were endless!

Q:
Best dessert of all time?
A:
Chocolate turtles! They’re very easy to make: take half a medjool date, stuff it with walnuts, drizzle it with melted dark chocolate, sprinkle it with sea salt, and then put it in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens. It’s snack-sized and almost healthy.

Q:
What books most influenced you to want to become a writer yourself?
A:
Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books (no surprise, since I want her dragons to come to life), Piers Anthony’s silly Xanth books, and Robert Jordan’s epic fantasies. I loved getting to experience their magical worlds, and it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that I’d write down my extensive daydreams. I got serious about writing in the seventh grade, and since then my school and career decisions were all geared toward becoming a full-time author. (I didn’t achieve my dream for another two decades, which shows how powerful my desire was…or how persistent I can be.)

Q:
For fantasy writers, the old adage “write what you know” isn’t always something you can take literally. What do you have in common with Mika and Madison?
A:
When I wrote Magic of the Gargoyles, I was in Mika’s position: trying to leave a dead-end job (in the corporate world, not a quarry) to pursue my dream job (being an author), and I was doing a lot of freelance editing to make the transition. I intimately understood Mika’s dream of freedom, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how readers have empathized with her plight, too, especially when she has to put all her hard work and her dreams on the line.

Madison and I have a lot more specific life details in common. I wrote the first draft in a month for NaNo WriMo, with only the sketchiest of outlines, so I didn’t have time to do world building. Which is why Madison lives not only in my hometown, but also in my old apartment. She works in the same building I used to, and her cat’s vet is my cat’s vet. However, that’s where the similarities end. She’s got that whole “I can use my soul as a weapon” thing going for her, and I’ve got “I can hide really well from the UPS guy” thing going for me.

Q:
Is there a genre you don’t write in, but have considered trying?
A:
I don’t know that I could write a book that didn’t have magic in it. The closest I came was Tiny Glitches, and that still is heavy with magical realism. I have a tentative idea for a paranormal romance, but I feel like the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is blurring, so I don’t know if that counts.

Q:
Music while writing, or silence?
A:
Music, but only songs I know.

Q:
After the third Madison Fox book, what comes next? How far ahead do you plan?
A:
I plan to write through book 5 in the Madison Fox series before turning to something else. However, while I plot individual novels with a manic obsession, I plan series like a pantser, so I have no idea where that’ll leave the series right now. If it feels like a natural pause point, I’ll turn to one of three other series ideas I have. If not, I’ll keep going with Madison Fox.

 

RebeccaChastainRebecca Chastain is the internationally bestselling author of the Madison Fox, Illuminant Enforcer series and the Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles, among others works. She has found seven four-leaf clovers to date, won a purebred Arabian horse in a drawing, and once tamed a blackbird for a day. Writing stories designed to amuse and entertain has been her passion since she was eleven years old. She lives in Northern California with her wonderful husband and three bossy cats.

Website: http://www.rebeccachastain.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rebeccachastainnovels
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Author_Rebecca
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5660379.Rebecca_Chastain
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Rebecca-Chastain/e/B00MW89XB0/

Gathering wool

Gathering Black 250x375How are my peeps? I’ve been underground again, finishing a book. Working so much I’ve been a social hermit didn’t stop me from seeing Warcraft twice while it was still in theaters, though, so you can see where my priorities are. What’s that? You hated it? I bet you’re Horde.

For those who are following the Devilborn series, book 2 is now live! You can get GATHERING BLACK for just 99¢ until July 21. The paperback edition is also live, although it’ll be a few days before Amazon links them up.

But for those who haven’t read book 1 yet, here’s an insider tip: GRIM HAVEN will be FREE July 25-27.

In other news, I’ve got an Eleven Questions interview with Rebecca Chastain coming on Tuesday, so be sure to drop back for that!

Eleven Questions for: Axel Blackwell

TWW
Timeless love.
Brutal cruelty.
An impossible decision.
So, The Timeweaver’s Wager, you guys. This book. People talk about page turners all the time, but this sort of redefines the term. It’s also dark and lovely and haunting and will stay with you long after you put it down. Do yourself a favor, and check it out. But do not open it until you have time to read it, because you will be really mean to anyone who makes you close it to do other stuff.
I was lucky enough to convince author Axel Blackwell to answer eleven questions about The Timeweaver’s Wager, writing, publishing, and life in general.

Q:
The Timeweaver’s Wager is the very definition of “couldn’t put it down.” Pacing is something a lot of writers struggle with. What’s your best tip for keeping the reader turning pages?
A:
If it’s boring, skip it. That’s what the readers are going to do, anyway. Save them the trouble. Both of my novels had a huge brick of text about halfway through—long boring explanations of backstory. This information was necessary to move the plot forward, but it sucked. In both cases, I slashed about half the scene, then broke up the rest by interrupting with current events or using other devices to keep the reader interested while I slipped the backstory in. It’s kinda like hiding your dog’s meds in a wad of ground beef.

Q:
You are being sent to live in the fictional world of your choice for one year. Upon your return, you may bring one thing back with you from that world. Where do you go, and what do you bring back?
A:
I’d probably go wherever they have dragons and bring one of those back. If you have a dragon you can pretty much get anything else you want.

Q:
Your books can get pretty dark at times. Have you ever scared yourself while writing a scene?
A:
When I was 19, I actually stopped writing (for several years) because I upset myself. The story was about an introvert who finally finds love. Unbeknownst to our MC, his other personality was very jealous, so he takes his girl on a moonlit walk through fresh snowfall at his mountain cabin—then chops off her foot and leaves her to die. It all made this horribly beautiful picture when I thought it up—the white snow, her white skin, the silver moon and a bright red blood trail to add a splash of color. But once I had created her character and his character, I couldn’t bear to do that to them. Fortunately, I have matured since then.

Q:
Planner or pantser?
A:
I have always been a pantser. Half the fun is finding out what happens next. When I sat down to write my previous novel, Sisters of Sorrow, all I knew was that Anna was hiding under a beached rowboat while the world was exploding around her, and something on the island wanted her parts. I had no idea, whatsoever, what the rest of the book was about, and no other characters in mind. However, The Timeweaver’s Wager is a rewrite of a story I first wrote in 2006 or 2007. The original, which was only about 12,000 words, acted as an outline for the final version. I was impressed with how much faster and easier the process went when I had a map to follow. So I am planning on experimenting with outlining my next project.

Q:
Fill in the blank: I cannot write a book without _____.
A:
Coffee. A good playlist helps, too.

Q:
Indie vs. trad is always a lively debate. What advice would you give writers who are just looking into publishing for the first time?
A:
I would advise them to ask someone who knows more about it than I. Seriously. There is an unbelievable amount of information available in various forums and online groups. And I would tell them none of that information will do them much good until they have written and published wrong a few times. There is so much to learn, and things change so quickly, OTJ training is probably the only way to get the hang of this gig.

As far as indie vs. trad, if you are just starting out I would say the traditional publishing route is a good idea IF you are willing to wait years for your first book to be published, willing to accept a pittance for your years of hard work and waiting, and willing to accept the high likelihood that your book will never be presented to a single reader, even if it is an excellent piece of work. But that’s just my opinion for beginners. If you make it big and the trads come knocking on your door, it might be worth your time to talk to them then.

Q:
Without getting into spoiler territory, if you were to sit down with Glen at those railroad tracks at the opening of The Timeweaver’s Wager, what would you say to him?
A:
“Just eat the damn casserole.”

Okay, I’d probably say a bit more, but Glen was on a good path. He was putting his life back together. He had realized that his grief had gone from serving Connie to serving himself, and he had come to the point of decision. Most of the time, tragedy in the past cannot be repaired. One must learn to accept life on the terms it presents. Glen was just on the cusp of doing this, which is why the Timeweaver’s wager is really a dilemma for him. I guess if I had any words for Glen in the opening chapter they would be, “Hang in there, buddy. This is gonna suck. Big time. But you’ll be glad you did it.”

Q:
Which of your own characters would you have dinner with, and why?
A:
I’d have to say Alan. That guy is just a joy to be around, makes you feel good about yourself, laughs at all your jokes, and somehow, no matter what life throws at him, he always seems to come out on top. Also, he’d probably spring for dinner at a much nicer restaurant than I could afford. I’ll just have to remember not to ask him about his past.

Q:
The Timeweaver’s Wager is a very different book from Sisters of Sorrow, but at their core they have some things in common. What would you say draws you most to a story? What kinds of stories are you most interested in telling?
A:
The world is full of darkness. It is dangerous and it is scary and if you encounter the darkness you will be permanently changed. Violence and disorder are the default setting for the human race. The artificial safety bubble we are born into is fragile as frost. But with sufficient courage and love and the proper application of force a hero can repel the darkness. The life that acknowledges and confronts this truth is much more vibrant than one built on ignorance and wishful thinking. Kinda like how the blacker the black on your LCD TV, the more brilliant the colors. I love stories in which innocence and evil come face to face, in which the heroes struggle to the very last ounce of their existence in defense of innocence, in which—live or die—the hero knows they did not capitulate or concede to the darkness.

Q:
Who are your biggest creative influences?
A:
My biggest influence, by far, is Stephen King, which I guess makes me a bit of a plebe, but the dude is popular for a reason. He is a master of his craft and he understands people—which is critical if one intends to invent people and direct their activities. I am also a big fan of Dean Koontz. My early influences were Bradbury and Lovecraft.

Q:
Best writing snack?
A:
Right now I’m really into Costco muffins. They are necessary to soak up all the coffee I drink. I also like Costco trail mix. But I pick out the almonds—one of the little ways I confront and repel the darkness.


If you’re an indie author and you’re up for answering eleven questions, email me.

Grimness

I’m not reposting the cover because it’s huge in the post right below this, but I wanted to let everyone know that the Kindle edition of GRIM HAVEN is now live at Amazon. (I expect to release the paperback edition by May 10.)

If you’re not on my mailing list, you’ve missed your chance to show off your awesome trivia skills for a free copy, but you can still get it for 99¢ through the weekend.