Talk Like A Pirate Day

Ahoy! September 19 is "Talk Like A Pirate Day."

Yes, it's a real day! Sort of. As the official website says, "a goofy idea celebrated by a handful of friends has turned into an international phenomenon that shows no sign of letting up." In addition to a virtual presence, people organize everything from fundraisers to pub crawls in honor of the day.

It's true I love fictional pirates, as evidenced by my mystery novel Pirate Vishnu. But that's not the reason I find Talk Like A Pirate Day so fascinating. I think it's so great because it was a small idea shared by a few passionate friends, but it spiraled into something much larger than they ever imagined.

A similar thing happened with National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo.

In 1999, twenty one friends got together in the San Francisco Bay Area. They had no grand ambitions that first year, and were shocked with what they accomplished.

Year two: A friend set up a website, more than 100 people signed up, and they threw a "Thank God It's Over" party at the end of the month.

In year three, they expected maybe a couple hundred people to sign up. Five thousand did.

(You can read the full NaNoWriMo history here.)

I discovered NaNoWriMo in their sixth year, and signed up along with 40,000 others. Not everyone finished a 50,000-word novel that month, but I did.

Because of the random idea of a few friends who wanted to try something crazy, I completed my first novel. If it hadn't been for them, I might not have pushed through to finish a full draft of a novel. The first draft of a first novel is the hardest thing to complete, because it's before a writer knows if they can pull it off. Writing a first novel is a crazy endeavor. But thanks to those crazy friends, I learned that I could do it--and that it was fun.

So thank you to all the friends out there who are cooking up zany plans in their living rooms. I look forward to hearing about your creations.

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day!

The 2013 Night of Writing Dangerously Write-A-Thon

I didn't know if last year's Night of Writing Dangerously could be topped, but this year's National Novel Writing Month write-a-thon was a great night. The event raised money for the Office of Letters and Light, which funds literacy outreach like the Young Writers Program. 

In addition to being a good time for a good cause, the evening turned out to be surprisingly productive! In between catching up with other writers and dining on the tasty vegan dinner and donuts (don't worry future NOWD attendees, vegan was only one of many options), I wrote 3,000 words in the next Jaya Jones novel.

San Francisco's Julia Morgan Ballroom was packed with 250 writers for six hours of writing and other shenanigans. Writing is often such a solitary pursuit that the energy of events like this is invigorating. The theme of the evening was "noir," so we dressed accordingly.

With the Herron sisters, Bethany and Rachael.

Writing beside my partner in crime who I've been writing next to for 9 years!

The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of RWA had a great showing.

The Julia Morgan Ballroom during the Night of Writing Dangerously.

15 Days in France

I kicked off my sabbatical with 15 days in France. I wasn't playing hooky from my 100 days of being a full-time writer. True, I'm definitely still in post-cancer seize-the-day mode. But in addition to being a fun vacation, the trip also served a practical purpose as part of my sabbatical: it was a research trip for two books I'm working on right now.

Jaya Jones Book 3 takes Jaya to several destinations in France, a country she's never been to before. And in The Accidental Alchemist, the first book in my new mystery series, American-born Zoe Faust lived in Paris for many years before ending up in Portland, Oregon, and her sidekick Dorian the gargoyle is from Paris. (Dorian is related to my stuffed animal gargoyle Dori, who stowed away in my luggage on this trip.)

While my critique partners are reading a draft of The Accidental Alchemist this month, I'm writing the next Jaya Jones book for NaNoWriMo. I finished an outline for the book over the summer, so this trip was exactly what I needed to fill in some details and get inspired to dive into the book. Here are a few highlights from the trip.

Les Machines de l'ile of Nantes

The old shipping warehouses of this port city along the Loire have been converted into a mechanical wonderland based on Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci.

Les Machines de l'ile (The Machines of the Isle) includes amazing creations including the Great Elephant that roams the park, and a carousel straight out of a fantasy novel. If you're into the steampunk aesthetic, you'd love this place. I'd never been here before, but after I stumbled across it last year when researching France, I knew that I wanted to visit and that it had a part to play in the next Jaya book. 

The Great Elephant at Les Machines de l'ile in Nantes, France.

A sign warns people to watch their children while the Great Elephant roams.

Clisson Castle

No trip to Europe would be complete without a day trip to castle ruins. Clisson is a medieval town not far from Nantes with a wonderful castle. 

Dori the gargoyle exploring Clisson Castle.

Clisson Castle.

Mont Saint Michel

When we arrived at Mont Saint Michel, the small island off the coast of Normandy, it was Halloween and a storm was approaching. That made for an amazing Halloween to explore the cobblestone streets and ramparts as the clouds rolled in.

Mont Saint Michel with a storm approaching.

The storm also gave me a perfect opportunity to kick off National Novel Writing Month on November 1 while sitting inside a cozy hotel room with my paper notebook while the storm raged outside. Our hotel room was a converted fisherman's cottage high on the mount, overlooking the quickly-rising tides. 

View from the hotel room, overlooking low tide in the Mont Saint Michel Bay.

I first visited Mont Saint Michel when I was backpacking after college and I knew I wanted to return. It's such an amazing place full of history and mystery that it's going to get blog posts of its own -- not to mention being an important part of the book! (One of my favorite mysteries, Old Bones by Aaron Elkins, also has two scenes at Mont Saint Michel.)

Mont Saint Michel on a foggy Halloween night.

Exploring the Mont Saint Michel Abbey.


Eating out in France is fun, even for someone like me who gave up meat. I enjoyed many meals before we got to Paris, but it was wonderful to rent an apartment and do some cooking! I love going to the markets in foreign countries to try new things that aren't available at home. The shallots in France are heavenly and my favorite snack was chocolate-covered rice cakes.

The Louvre is in the new Jaya book, so I visited twice, once during the day and once at night. Nothing as dramatic happened as when I visited in 1998, but it still provided much inspiration.

The Louvre at sunset.

The Musee D'Orsay.

I stopped by to visit my old friends at Notre Dame.

Dori the Gargoyle Exploring Paris 

My stowaway Dori had fun, too. (Dori is distantly related to Dorian, the gargoyle in The Accidental Alchemist, but Dori is much fluffier.)

Dori the gargoyle at the Eiffel Tower.

Dori the gargoyle at Notre Dame.

Dori the gargoyle exploring the Marais neighborhood.

Dori hiding out in my luggage.

Time to get back to work on those books the trip inspired!

Completed Camp NaNoWriMo

On July 25 I completed my Camp NaNoWriMo July goal of writing 25,000 words in the next Jaya Jones book. (Apparently I forget all about blogging when I'm in the midst of writing a novel!)

The novel is a mess right now, but I've learned that's an important step in how books start to take shape. By signing up for National Novel Writing Month's summertime virtual camp with a publicly-declared writing goal, I was able to write some scenes and plot twists that I never would have thought of if I waited for inspiration to strike. Inspiration isn't a muse. It's the dedication of setting an alarm and getting started writing.

Camp NaNoWriMo

I'm participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month. It's a virtual writing camp, but it's effective—and a lot of fun—all the same.

Camp NaNoWriMo grew out of the original National Novel Writing Month, which takes place each November. November isn't the best month for some people to write a 50,000 word novel draft, nor is 50,000 words a good goal for everyone. That's where Camp NaNoWriMo comes in: it's in both April and July, and you set your own writing goal.

My goal: to write a 25,000 word outline/draft of the third book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series. (Book 2, Pirate Vishnu, is already in my editor's hands, and is scheduled for a Feb 11, 2014 release.)

Why am I going to a virtual camp to write the book? Yes, I know I could sit down and write the book on my own, but I'm someone who benefits from structure. Without it, I'm likely to struggle with a certain scene or plot point that isn't working, rather than moving forward and fixing things during revisions. And most importantly: some of my best ideas come when I'm writing quickly without censoring myself.

Here's what the "camper" page looks like. You enter your progress so you can see it visually (another helpful feature for those of us right-brained writers). I'm writing in Scrivener and upping my usual three days a week of writing to four days a week. This time, Jaya heads to France...

The Night of Writing Dangerously

I received a last-minute invitation to attend the NaNoWriMo Night of Writing Dangerously write-a-thon last night. So I scrapped my plans to try out a new recipe from the fabulous new Kris Carr cookbook, and headed to San Francisco!

The Night of Writing Dangerously serves the dual purpose of being a benefit to raise money for the Office of Letters and Light and providing a place where NaNoWriMo writers from all over the world can come together as a group to get to know each other and be inspired to finish their novels. I'm not kidding about people coming from all over the world. There were people at the event from all over California and across the US -- plus a couple dozen people from Canada and even a few people who traveled from overseas!

Writers who raise $250 or more can attend the yearly event and bring a guest. I've raised money and attended in the past, but didn't have the time or energy to do it this year. I thought it wasn't in the cards for me to attend this time, until it turned out Rachael Herron -- author, knitter, and wonderful friend -- had an extra ticket.

The event was a success. Their goal was to raise $50,000. They raised over $60,000. And on the personal level, I wrote about 2,000 words, bringing me to 40,000 words of the 50,000 NaNoWriMo challenge. I'm not a great night-time writer, though, so I don't think the scenes I wrote last night were very good. But the most important thing about writing events like this is to be inspired by other writers. I had fun with old friends and made some new ones. And by the end of the evening, I was positive I could turn the messy draft I'm writing into a great proposal I'll be able to show my agent.

The Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, filled with 250 writers.

Me and Rachael taking a break from writing. 

 Snapshot of my workspace: laptop, program, and vegan cupcake. 

NaNoWriMo Halfway Point

Heading to a Berkeley cafe to write after voting.
It's November 15th today. Halfway through November, meaning it's also halfway through National Novel Writing Month / NaNoWriMo.

I turned in the next Jaya Jones novel to my editor in October, so while she reads it this month, I'm using NaNoWriMo to experiment with a new project. I don't know yet if I'm succeeding, but I've got close to 30,000 words of a story. That puts me slightly ahead of schedule to reach 50,000 words by November 30.

Yes, 50,000 words isn't a full novel, but it's the number of words in the NaNoWriMo challenge, and it's a great number for a first draft!

I know a lot of people don't get it. If I'm a writer, why can't I write whenever I want to? I know a lot of writers can do that every day of the year, but that's not me. And it's not just because I have a day job. I love my day job, so it doesn't sap energy from me. But it takes a lot of focused work to write a good novel. The collective energy of NaNoWriMo gives me the staying-power to throw myself into the difficult stages of a new project and write every day, even when it's tough. Once this messy draft is done, then I can work at a more sustainable pace to turn it into something good.

I learned something else a few years ago. Even with my own study at my house, I can't write at home. I know it's psychological, so every so often I give it a shot. Last weekend, I sat down at my desk to write... and promptly got up to cook a delicious winter squash soup and chilled lentil cucumber salad. Sigh.

Green smoothie in my NaNoWriMo "Novelist Fuel" mug.

Luckily, I've got a lot of local friends who will meet me at a cafe to get a couple solid hours of writing done with minimal chit-chat. 

And when my friends aren't free, there are NaNoWriMo write-ins. The gatherings are listed by region on the NaNoWriMo site. I've gone to a few of them this year, and I've never left with fewer than 2,500 words, not to mention having had some inspiring conversations—though never too much talking, because we're there to write!

A NaNoWriMo "write-in."
Now it's time for me to sign off and get back to writing. If you're doing NaNoWriMo yourself, don't worry about how many words you've got right now. Just keep going!

Post-Chemo and Post-NaNoWriMo Updates

Now that the chemo drugs are out of my system and my immune system is back up, I've gone from working from home to being able to be back in the office part time! I love my office. Yes, I love my beautiful brick wall (shown below), but I'm mainly talking about my coworkers and the projects I get to work on as a graphic designer. While I drew a short straw on the health front, I lucked out with a dream job. That makes it much easier to count my blessings instead of feeling sorry for myself.

It's been three weeks since I completed National Novel Writing Month, and I haven't written a word of fiction during that time. Some people (perhaps Rachael Herron and Sophie Littlefield) might think I'm crazy for not feeling the need to write every day. But then again, some people (definitely Catrina Chaos) think I'm crazy for wanting to write novels in the first place. Me? There are some ideas and characters I can't get out of my head, so I need to write them down. But every day? Not so much. NaNoWriMo helps me get down my ideas in an efficient and fun manner, which is why I love it.

Now that I've written down my latest set of ideas, it's time to turn to my publishing plans. And there's a lot to do. Forming a company and publishing your own work isn't for the faint of heart. My list of things to do keeps growing longer. It seems like each time I finish one thing, I think of three more items to add to my list!

I'll do a proper publishing update in January, once I've completed a few more items on my list. For now, I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season! 

Milestones of the Month: Finishing Chemo & NaNoWriMo

Two milestones to report today: I completed my last chemotherapy treatment last week and finished NaNoWriMo last night!

Of course, things aren't all rainbows and ponies around here. I've still got eight more months of additional cancer treatments, and I whole heck of a lot of editing to do to turn my NaNoWriMo words into anything you'd want to read. But these two big steps forward are still making me smile today.

Instead of writing a book in my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series, for this year's National Novel Writing Month I tried my hand at writing a paranormal mystery. Two years ago I wrote a short story featuring an alchemist, Bethany Faust, who used her skills to help the police solve a baffling locked room murder. She and her pet gargoyle wouldn't let me forget them. They wanted their own book. I gave it to them this year.

I'm not going to read over what I wrote in November until the new year. Then I'll see what I might like to do with what I've written. I wrote a whole bunch of plot twists that are way too many for one book, but I bet they might be good ideas for other projects. I hope everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo this year had fun exploring some new directions.

Five Reasons You Should Finish Your NaNoWriMo Novel Even If It Sucks

A funny thing happened to me on the third day of November: I realized I was writing the wrong book. My heart wasn't in it. So four days late, I began writing something new. I'm still behind on my word count due to this switch, but now I'm writing something I know I can finish. Why does that matter? I'll tell you why.

  1. Finishing is the most important part of writing a novel. Period. Sure, there are many important pieces to a novel. But if you never reach the end, none of those other things will ever matter. I first participated in NaNoWriMo back in 2004. I'd toyed around with writing a mystery novel before, but it was NaNoWriMo that made me type "the end" for the first time.
  2. If you live a normal busy life, there's never a good time to write a novel. In November, you have the collective energy of thousands of other people around the world doing the same thing. If you want to write a novel, now's the time to try it. If you signed up as an official participant, you even receive helpful pep talks.
  3. It's good to learn the lesson "Don't get it right, just get it written." When I first started writing, I waited for the right words to come to me. That's a surefire way to finish one book every twenty years. It's a hell of a lot easier to edit a bad scene into a good one if you've already written down a cringe-worthy rough draft.
  4. It's also good to learn how to write on a deadline. If you want to write professionally, you have to learn to do this. It's hard to give yourself a deadline, so NaNoWriMo gives you one.
  5. You never know what might happen with this novel after November. The first novel I completed for NaNoWriMo back in 2004 was the one that went on to win writing competitions. If I hadn't discovered NaNoWriMo, I don't know that I ever would have finished a novel. Maybe you're the rare person who can motivate yourself, but for the rest of us NaNoWriMo is a great tool.