NaNoFeed: Back again, this time with feeling

So it’s that time of year again. This time I’m not doing a whole project from scratch, because there’s already a suite of novels awaiting expansion and revision. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last 12 years, it’s this: The starting point isn’t the novel, but the universe.
Watch this spot for more.

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NaNoFeed: on being a winner at 10K (2017)

So your Third Shift ML did a third-shift all-nighter the other day, which is a very sneaky beast because it looks like Normal Daylight Life, except I’m supposed to be sleeping during the day.
Anyway I did some of the discord server sprints and it was awesome and I hit 10K. Which is pretty much where I’m going to park. Meanwhile, my pre ordered winner shirt arrived in the mail, and I decided I was going to wear it.
Manifesto follows: “I scored 10K and I am wearing the winner’s shirt dangit”
  • I am wearing the shirt because on average I scored 58K every one of the last 10 years.
  • I am wearing the shirt for the years I did the challenge without knowing it existed. (i wrote 50K – by hand, in composition books – at least one November in the 2000s before I took up the official challenge in 2008.)
  • I am wearing the shirt because I made my goal – 10K this year – and I’m working full time and going to school full time, so no question I am a winner.
  • I am wearing the shirt because I like the design and there are years I won but didn’t get the shirt because I was meh about that year’s design and/or theme. (ok, low-res video games – not so much chez moi. ditto slaying dragons. I don’t relate.)
  • I am wearing the shirt because I am a recovering workaholic and I managed to do the challenge in a healthy way this year while writing the best prose of my life and feeling like a member of international writing community.
So, all o’y’all are winners. Seriously. You’re doing the thing even if it’s a small thing. A small thing is not No Thing, or worse, nothing. A small thing is a thing you did.
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NaNoFeed: this year’s challenge (Writing for the Beloved Reader)

National Novel Writing Month is a fresh challenge for me every year because I use it for an opportunity to try something new. Last year’s challenge, which has become this year’s practice, was Small Writing.

This year, I’m going back to the roots of storytelling and Writing for the Beloved Reader. My writing-brother Lev Mirov will be seeing my work for November in real time. Poet, editor, and scholar, Lev has had a huge influence on the way that I work. His brilliant essay On Small Writing has changed me, not only as a novelist and poet, but in my approach to work in the big world.

Lev and I did this challenge informally last year; his comments on character interviews for the Ship’s Heart novel cycle turned a minor villain into the hero of her own story. I realized that I’ve always written my best work as gifts to particular readers, but to do it consciously and in real time is exhilarating.

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NaNoFeed: Beginning again (2017 project)

It’s been nearly a year since I posted here, so I’m beginning again with my tenth National Novel Writing project, Night Shift Variations.

2017NightShift NaNoBookCover - 230 x 300

NIght Shift Variations: Tales from the Hidden Hours

On either side of the story-gate between here and there, strange things happen in the dark hours.

    • Two storytelling mages duel for control of the future.
    • A piece of the future lands in the past, rousing untold stories in a family of Black necromancers. In the shadow of a shuttered asylum, three generations face down the hungry spirits of a theme park to complete the blood exorcism of a roller coaster.
    • In a haunted railroad station, night shift security guards give directions to the multiverse and grapple with what the boss never told them.
    • An intelligent house who was once a starship explains the exodus to another generation of small children.
    • A family emigrates to a terraforming project to find themselves trapped in a nightmare of engineering hubris
    • A starship engineer commissions the greatest sculptor of her generation to create a ritual of iconoclasm.



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The Revolutionary Fluff Manifesto (No More Tragedy Porn for the Duration, kthxbai)

Given what just happened and what has been happening and what is yet to happen and some of us are dreading, I present the Revolutionary Fluff Manifesto.
Happy stories give us hope. They give us a shape for the future we want.
  •  They feed us while we’re at war
  •  they remind us that we’re human, because humans are distinguished by laughter.
  • They let us relax for a while

    They keep our eyes on the prize, a world where love and laughter can happen in he open square under the sky. They remind us of what’s important, what we’re defending.

    Happy stories written with ruthless realism – a clear understanding of how evil works, how it plays out, and how it can be defeated – that’s political education right there, and it tastes good too.Let’s have a moratorium on Tragedy Porn, given what is happening now. I’m really tired of privileged (rich, white, cisgender, male, het, and intersections thereof) who think they’re Elevated rather than Fucking Twisted in esthetic  contemplation of disaster that happens to someone else.

    Go forth then, beloveds, art your heart out, love your happy stories, and know you are doing something sacred.

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NaNoFeed: on sorting through the debris field, and the art of explosition

So in my NaNoFeed post about not being the pope of the non-existent One True NaNo, I wrote this piece of deathless wisdom:

Some of the best mysteries are about sorting through the debris field to figure out what happened.

Which of course turns out to be the frame for this year’s novel project. We open with a bang (which you can read here) and the rest of the novel is the answer to the question “why’d she do that? how’d she do that? was he really that bad a guy?” (spoiler: he was, and then some.)

I am writing the thing out of order, pretty much bits and pieces, in the grand tradition of the novel as bundle of secret papers. Someone else’s secret papers.

Make that: someone else’s secret papers that have been blown around by a category 5 hurricane and then pushed through a wormhole. (The hurricane is metaphorical. The wormhole is not.)

I am also Not Writing. Today, in fact, I am poking through the piles of random stuff and making lists of scenes to write next. Here on out, I’m going to roll dice to see which character my protagonist shares a scene with, and make a list of all the times they meet, and picking out the most explosive ones, the ones that are going to be a ball to write.

Actually, by Not Writing (in the Strict Sense of Wordcount) I am writing in the Small Writing sense. Stuff is cooking on multiple burners in pots of dubious provenance, some of which are going to shoot gouts of flame toward the ceiling when I take off the lid.

This is called the Art of Explosition, i.e. showing things by blowing them up. I know they tell you “show don’t tell” but I am telling you “blow it up, and then let all sorts of head-scratching ensue about what the heck just happened.”

Also, this year, I have a Beloved Reader riding shotgun with me, but that’s a whole nother post.


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Weekend Writing Warriors (Sunday 30 October) character interview #2, The Clone’s Complaint

​Each week, Weekend Writing Warriors presents a selection of excerpts from writers in a variety of genres. Check out the other offerings here.


A Ship is huge by the standards of a shuttle, but by the standards of a planet, it’s a tiny toy world, a little jewel of human ingenuity and theatrical deception.

V told me about their first visit planet-side, that sense of space and terror, the hair-raising sensation of oceans and poles driving the motion of the air. It’s one thing to know it in theory, yet another to feel it in one’s body. The Ships are designed to deceive planet-siders (myself, I was quite delightfully deceived) but planets have their own minds.

Behind the walls of the passenger quarters, of course, the Ship has vastness untold. It’s a forest world traversing the interstellar deeps, very much like its distant ancestor, thes seagoing cities of the ship-colonies of Karis.

From orbit, I saw the jeweled strings of light that mark the ship-colonies on the nightside.

The Ships are a marvel and a glory, but I’m happy to be home. 


In the approach to NaNo 2016 we begin conversation with the unnamed chronicler preparing Chaika’s case before the Great Council of Karis. Character interview for NaNoWriMo 2016 project The Clone’s Complaint. 

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Weekend Writing Warriors (Sunday 23 October 2016): The Clone’s Complaint (character interview)

Each week, Weekend Writing Warriors presents a selection of excerpts from writers in a variety of genres. Check out the other offerings here.


Who was Phila, anyway?

What a question to ask, after I’ve spent two decades working my way through the available records, learning all the things I never bothered with when I was told to do so as Naime.

I’m not Naime.

He nicknamed me Chaika, seagull, and laughed at my appetite (in all senses) and my bright flashing manner. If only one still wore dueling makeup outside of operas, he said. He’d flash in the sun for me, and I for him.

Like the soaring glittering love of winged raptors, I thought. Dive from a thousand feet to snatch a fish out of the water — not the eagle, though, but the opinionated gull.


Two decades into the revenge quest, vistas of mystery open. Character interview for NaNoWriMo 2016 project The Clone’s Complaint. 

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NaNoFeed: There is no One True NaNo and I am Not the Pope of It

Two years ago, I got recruited as a Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month. One of my less visible duties alongside my colleagues is to moderate threads on our regional forum.

So of course my first question was “What’s the most troublesome topic?”

Answer: “The one true NaNo.”

Which I guess shouldn’t have surprised me. Wherever people are doing a thing, there will be other people stepping in to tell them that they are doing it wrong.

It also gave away the secret behind the consistently civil and reasonable tone of the NaNo forums: one heck of a lot of work backstage.

So to today’s theme: There is no one true NaNo and I am not the Pope of it.

There are lots of different ways to create a project at NaNo scale (50,000 words). One of the artificial dualities NaNo novelists use is “planners vs pantsers” (lay out a plan vs fly by the seat of your pants). Fact is, they’re the same thing. It’s on the same order as the classic art-theory brawl “color vs line,” with the same answer:

Not either/or but both/and.

Improvisation has live energy, and the pantsers know this – as do the stand-up comedians and the actors. Yes, you prepare the role, but nothing really prepares you for the live-wire contact between the you, the unknown, and a really good prompt.

The terror of improvisation is the very real possibility of freezing in the headlights or flail-and-fail. That’s why the plan.

You need both.

The temperamental difference is which you give the conscious emphasis. My good buddy Devin Harnois is a self-described pantser, and he writes the tightest, cleanest first drafts I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, he has a really clear picture of what kind of story-energy he likes in the moment-to-moment. Reading his work as a beta reader (and a regular reader, once it’s published) I can feel how he’s integrated a certain kind of story-form at the level of the nervous system. It feels really similar to the freedom an actor exercises within the role/energy given by the playwright. The writer is an actor/playwright/set designer all at one time.

Different projects have different energy. You can strike out into the unknown and let a story take shape out of scenes juxtaposed one against the other. I’ve started from two characters talking or otherwise interacting and built whole novels.

Nor is there one true form for the novel. Gonna evangelize for a moment: in my profile I call myself a novelist and a shape-shifter. That’s redundant. The novel is the protean form that pretends to be something it isn’t: a diary, a set of memos or case notes, a stage play or a movie, a kinesthetic experience, or all of the above. The earliest novels are True and Authentic Accounts of things that didn’t happen, or bundles of someone else’s letters, or sprawling sagas. (for two really different experiences of What a Novel Can Be, check out Tale of Genji and Njal’s Saga. and yes, I classify the Icelandic sagas as novels, because they have all the goodies I look for in a novel, including courtroom drama and axe fights on skis).

I learned how to do mathematical proofs in part by reading murder mysteries backward. The classic murder mystery is plot-and-timeline intensive; it requires a skeleton of cause and effect fully as rigorous as an organic chemistry lab report, with the same ever-present potential for explosion.

Some of the best mysteries are about sorting through the debris field to figure out what happened.

Oh yes, let’s also talk about pathology. What Went Wrong (Ivor Kletz’s book of this title is one of my favorite nonfiction books, about process plant disasters – also an awesome title that made me reach that book right down off the New Arrivals shelf). Disaster reports are one of my favorite sources for ready-made plots.

And then there’s the Story Cookpot, the ultimate feel-good improv prompt. Fill up the pot with nonfiction stuff or fiction stuff, doesn’t matter, that you Want in a Story. The more heterogeneous, the better – that gives pattern-making brain something to chew on.

Both as a writer and a person in the world, I’m about breaking the rules. I’m constantly picking a fight with one version or another – and my answer to a fiction that ticks me off is to run another version that makes Original Flavor implausible forever. (No, I’m not the first writer to love a good knife fight – literary history is full of fictioneers yelling back at someone else’s version. It’s what makes our world go round.)

Another piece of advice for dealing with the NaNo forums – if somebody’s consistently bloviating and telling you How It Is, take a look at their novel word count and their years Doing the Thing. If they’re on the forums more than on their novel, take it with a grain of salt. And even if they have lots of novel-words, take it with a grain of salt.

Including anything I have to say. Keep your options open. Don’t get attached to brand-name approaches. There are thousands of paths to your goal.

(And some of them go through the sneaky woods where the trees play tricks on you, but that’s another story.)

Keep honest, rigorous track of your own forum word count vs novel word count. I’m having to do this now with social media. Did I do my work today? No Twitter hobnobbing till I’ve done my thing.

(Or in this case, let Twitter hobnobbing remind me of things I want to say at greater length.)

NaNoWriMo has been around since 1999, so it’s got a culture and a whole bunch of accretions. Feel free to ignore any or all, and do your own thing. A lot of us use the November challenge as a reset – what do I want to do differently in my writing practice going forward? This year I want to work on sustainable practice, small writing, and accessible community.

A lot of NaNo write-ins take place in settings that require money or transportation or both. One of my ongoing projects is figuring out how to create accessible artistic communities that don’t assume you’re a middle class White person with disposable income.

In person, I’m doing a lot of write-ins at libraries.

On line, I’m hanging out with a speculative poetry spoonie gang. And heeeere’s the Spoon Analogy, which has saved my life these last two years. I see how I fall into the workaholic trap.

My co-MLs are both highly productive writers who do the six-figure thing to perfection. So I’m going to try out the path less traveled – using poetry and self care chops to build a novel that (as my writing-brother Lev points out in his essay On Small Writing) is like a quilt: one exquisitely worked patch at a time, and then the decision about where it goes.

I’m also experimenting with movable and dynamic structure, and the idea that the patches could be strung together in another order.

One last bit of advice: if someone says something in general about the writing of fiction, feel free to go prove them wrong.

Write the fiction that proves them wrong.

And yes, I can happily co-exist in the state of “64,000 paths to salvation and more ways than that to write a novel” alongside “Mofo, you are so wrong, it would NEVER go down like that – let me show you what REALLY happened.”

After all, like my patron St Walt of Camden (NJ), I contain multitudes. Some of them are brawling even as we speak. Others are chilling with a nice cup of tea while they pet the cat, and still others are having a good snooze.
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NaNoFeed: banner reveal


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