Category Archives: NaNoWriMo


I’ve added a page for NaNoWriMo 2013.  You can find the link at the menu up top.  Rather than bore the people who read this blog with regular updates, I’m going to place updates and the occasional excerpt there.  That way if anyone is interested in reading about the experience, you can find it there.  I will post at least once a week (hopefully more often), but I don’t think it will be the same day every week.  I’ve got too much traveling to do to be that consistent.

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’ve been debating this for a few weeks, and I’ve finally decided that I’m going to give NaNoWriMo a try this year.  I participated two years ago and managed to finish a novel, although it’s not in any shape to be seen at the moment.  I gave the program a pass last year because I had too much on my plate.

I suspect that’s the case this year.  I’m seriously behind on some review commitments, and there are some blog posts I need to write that require some research.  Plus there’s a blogging announcement in the post that immediately follows this one.  But I don’t want to limit my writing to blogging.  Don’t get me wrong.  Blogging is a lot of fun, but I want to write fiction as well.  Writing a blog post is a lot easier than writing fiction, though, and I tend to take the easy way out when I’m tired or there are too many interruptions.  Participating in NaNoWriMo will force me to make fiction writing a priority.  I hope.

I’m going to deviate from the stated guidelines in NaNoWriMo, though.  You see, the problem is that I don’t have a novel ready to go.  I’ve got a crime novel I want to write, but it’s still in the gestation stage.  I need a secondary plot to screw up the schemes of the main characters, and that hasn’t come together yet.  I could write the sequel to the novel I wrote two years ago, but I need to work out some details of the worldbuilding that will become problematic in the second installment.  Plus, I just need to clean up the first draft.

So what I’m going to do is write a novel’s worth of short fiction.  For NaNoWriMo, I recall that being 50k.  I tried to check a few minutes ago, and the site was down for maintenance.  Anyway, I’ve got a list of short story ideas that could fill a book.  I need to get started on them.

There have to be some ground rules, though.  To keep from violating the spirit of the program, all stories need to be completed in November, start to finish.  In other words, works in progress aren’t allowed.  Otherwise, I’d just work on the deep space disaster novel.  Any progress I make on something I’ve already started will be in addition to what I do for NaNoWriMo.

The advantage of writing short fiction is that if I get stuck, I can just work on something else for a while.  I’m something of an organic writer to begin with, so this approach works for me.  I may not make it, but I’m going to try.  I’ll keep you posted on how things go.

NaNoWriMo: It’s Over (Sort Of)

Well, I did it.  I managed to complete 50,000 words of a novel.  Fifty thousand, forty-five to be exact.  That’s nowhere near all of the novel.  I’m estimating this one will run to at least 70,000, possibly more.  But to “win” NaNoWriMo, you had to complete just 50,000.  Which I did in spite of myself.

I say in spite of myself because I turned out to be my own biggest obstacle.  This is by far the longest thing I’ve attempted.  I didn’t plan it out in detail well enough.  I usually have a general idea of where I want a story to end up.  Getting there is just details.  The devil, as they say, is in the details.  This novel has three viewpoint characters, four if you count the captain who only appears in flashbacks at the end of the major sections.  The characters are in separate locations when the book opens, and I alternate chapters featuring each of them.  I found myself writing more than one chapter about a character, depending how well I understood that part of the character’s story arc in relation to the other story arcs.  I would then go back and insert chapters where needed.  I found this to be both a stressful and liberating way to write.

Anyhoo, I’ve not been blogging much in the last couple of weeks because I was trying to make the deadline.  I’m going to step away from the novel for a few days, finish up a fantasy mystery novella that’s about 1500 words from being done, start reading some of the books that have been piling up.  I’m also going to think about some details I didn’t work out very well before I started writing a month ago.  I hope to finish the first draft of the novel over the holidays, get it to the beta readers, and get to work on the second book in the series.  I’ve learned a lot about writing and how (not) to approach a novel, and I’m eager to put some of those things into practice.

NaNoWriMo: Excerpt Two

Well, the second week of NaNoWriMo wasn’t as successful for me as the first week.  I got bogged down in the middle of the week with family commitments, then my wife attended an out of town conference from Thursday through Sunday.  That didn’t leave me much time to write, although I can’t complain.  Hanging out with my son for the weekend was worth the missed writing hours.

I should be at 25,000 words today to meet the 50,000 word “finish line” or 30,000 to meet my self-imposed goal.  I’m at just over 19,000.  I think I can catch up if I don’t miss too many days.  I knew I would fall behind during the first part of the month when I started and planned on catching up over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Here’s the second excerpt from the novel.  The storyline concerns the crew of a starship who wake up from coldsleep on a planet.  They don’t know where they are or how they got there and have to survive.  I’m alternating chapters between three viewpoint characters, who are on different parts of the planet when the book opens and whose storylines progress more or less simultaneously.  At the end of each major section, there will a flashback chapter involving a fourth character, the captain of the starship.  Where the captain is and what happened to her is going to be one of several mysteries the other characters will be dealing with.  The flashbacks featuring the captain will not be chronological, but instead will give a different perspective on events and discoveries in the section of the book each flashback concludes.

What follows is when we first meet the captain.

Captain Galina Vladimirovna Lyakhova would have paced her quarters if they had been big enough.  As it was, she had to settle for slamming her palm against the bulkhead and cursing Bixby again.  The first time she’d hit the wall, she’d done so with her fist.  The impact of the slap stung her wrist, and she suspected it was sprained from her initial strike. 
At the moment, she didn’t care, even though that was a mistake she wouldn’t repeat. 
The sealed orders had been waiting for her in an old fashioned envelope when she came out of coldsleep.  Bixby hadn’t wanted any electronic trace of them to be found and must have had them placed there after she entered the chamber.  She couldn’t bring herself to think of him as Fleet Admiral.  Only a bastard of the lowest class would pull a stunt like this, one that didn’t deserve such a title. 
At least this explained the makeup of the crew.  She’d noticed the unusual number of trouble makers and misfits.  It was her first command, and she’d gone over the list exhaustively, trying to familiarize herself with the people whose lives could depend on her decisions. 
It also explained some things about her recent promotion and why she’d been given this particular assignment.  She’d always suspected the smuggling ring she’d discovered and exposed went higher in the ranks than those who were court-martialed.  She’d just never dreamed it would have gone as high as Bixby. 
As punishment, she’d been given this command and a first mission that would get her and a number of trouble makers out of the way.  Permanently. 
Even the name of the ship mocked her.  C. S. S. Integrity.  What was the old axiom?  No good deed goes unpunished, that was it. 
She sighed and stared at the picture of her parents hanging over her desk.  Tears of sorrow came to her eyes, displacing the tears of frustration and rage that had been there moments before.
Oh, Papa, Mama.  Thank God you didn’t live to see this.  Not that they would have been able to see what was really happening.  Instead they would have gotten an official letter, also in an old fashioned paper envelope, only this one would be bordered in black.  Inside would be some official story about her ship being lost, either in an accident or just gone missing, containing the usual platitudes of “condolences”,  “service”, “debt of gratitude”, and the like.  And all of it would be a lie.  A coverup.
She stepped closer to the picture, and as she did Galina saw her face superimposed on first her mother’s, then her father’s.  She had her mother’s long, golden hair and voluptuous figure, while from her father she’d inherited his tall frame and grey eyes, as well as his sense of right and wrong. 
A number of men, and several women, had taken one look at her over the years and dismissed her as a piece of fluff who probably slept her way up the ranks.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but she’d let them think what they liked.  Never correct someone who underestimates you, her father had told her, not until it’s too late for them to do anything about it.  She’d outmaneuvered and outflanked them all.  At least until she met Bixby.  She was still realizing she’d never known who and what she’d been up against. 
“Rescue mission, my ass,” she muttered.
She put both her hands on either side of the picture, leaned her forehead against the plexiglass, and began to weep for her crew.
Eventually, she raised her head and wiped her eyes with her palms. 
The dozens of people in cold sleep were still her responsibility, even if they had all been sold down the river.  She’d be damned if she stood by and didn’t go down fighting for them. 
Captain Galina Valdimirovna Lyakhova headed towards the armory to obtain a sidearm.

A Nerve-Wracking Journey Across the Mountains

The Whitefire Crossing
Courtney Schafer
Nightshade Books
Trade pbk, $14.99, ebook $5.99, 300 p.

In the acknowledgements to this first novel, the author states that the first draft of the book was written during NaNoWriMo 2007.  That’s encouraging because I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and I can only hope to write something half this good.

This is a dark, at times disturbing, adventure story with villains who are deliciously evil, yet have believable motivations.  The heroes are young, flawed, make mistakes, grow, and learn about themselves and the world.

The suspense is intense at times, and the passage across the mountains, especially after the blood mage attacks, is downright nerve wracking.

The story opens in the country (city state?, kingdom?, the political structure isn’t clear) of Ninavel, a haven for mages.  There is no restriction on the type of magic a mage can practice in Ninavel.  All are allowed, including blood mages, whose magic requires human sacrifice.  The neighboring kingdom is Alathia, where just the opposite situation exists.  Magic is strictly proscribed, and only government sanctioned (and controlled) mages are allowed to practice, and then only in the service of the country.  Most forms of magic are illegal and practitioners strictly punished.  This is especially true of blood mages.  Neither is a place I would particularly want to live, for totally different reasons.

The story opens when Dev, a young smuggler, is told by the man who gives him his commissions that on his next trip into Alathia he’ll be smuggling in a young man named Kerin, who is trying to escape from some of the local banking houses due to certain poor financial decisions.  Dev is suspicious but needs the money.  He promised his dying mentor he would buy the man’s daughter from the crime lord who owns her before she changes.  It seems a common trait among children in Ninavel is the Taint, which is basically telekinesis.  Slavery is commonplace, and there are a number of crime rings which use children as thieves.  The Taint goes away at puberty, and the children are sold to whoever wants them, no questions asked.  Dev was a slave to the same crime lord until he changed.  When this girl changes, she’ll be sold to a brothel with a really nasty reputation.  Dev is doing everything possible to raise money so he can to buy her first.  And so he takes a job against his better judgment.

Dev is right to be wary.  Kiran isn’t running from a banking house.  He’s running from a blood mage, one he happens to be indentured to.  Kiran has no stomach for the torture and murder that are a part of being a blood mage.  Did I mention most mages in Ninavel regard those without magical ability to be little more than animals?  This is especially true of blood mages, who tend to be possessive, vindictive, and ruthless.

Kiran and Dev travel with the first caravan over the mountains.  Dev is a regular guide on these treks, and Kiran is posing as his apprentice.  It doesn’t take long before trouble follows after them.  They don’t trust each other, but soon they have to flee the caravan and depend on each other for survival.  Dev is one of the most experienced guides around, but he can’t fight magic.  Even if they make it across the mountains and pass the border crossing, their troubles will be far from over.  Just being in Alathia is enough to earn Kiran a death sentence.

Courtney Schafer is a rock climber, a passionate one.  It shows in her writing.  She brings the passage across the mountains alive.  The suspense, not just from the pursuit of the villains, but from trying to survive against the elements, gets intense.  Maybe I’d had too much coffee and not enough food, but I found that whole segment of the book to be one of the most nerve wracking things I’d read in quite a while.

This book has some serious themes running through it.  Betrayal, conflicting commitments, situations in which there are no choices that won’t leave innocent people dead.  Both Dev and Kiran have to learn about trust.  Both have to decide what kind of man they want to be and then pay the (excruciatingly high) price to be that type of man.  In many ways, this novel is a coming of age story, albeit a grim and bloody one.

I recommend it highly and am eagerly waiting for the sequel.

NanoWriMo: Week One

Well, I’ve managed to write every day of the first week of NaNoWriMo, although I haven’t quite made the daily goal I set out for myself when I started.  As of right now, I’m 2,000 words behind and have written just over 12,000, or to put it another way, I’m basically one day behind.  The weekend wasn’t good for writing, so I didn’t make my quota every day.  Tonight isn’t looking good at all.  My son’s final soccer practice is this evening; they’re playing for the championship this weekend.  I’ve got a stack of exams sitting here that I need to finish grading before tomorrow morning.  If the morning goes like today and yesterday did, then I can’t count on finding time to grade in the morning. 

On the whole, though, I’d say the first week has been a success.  Taking a day or so off shouldn’t kill my momentum.  I need to think about what each of the three viewpoint characters is going to go through next to get them where I ultimately want them to end up.

NaNoWriMo: Excerpt One

The first three days of NaNoWriMo have been productive.  I wrote 2,000 words the first day, a little over 2400 yesterday, and just under 1600 tonight, bringing my total to slightly over 6,000.  This is a good pace, and it will come to a screeching halt tomorrow.  I’ve got commitments tomorrow night which will keep me away from the computer.  There’s always the weekend to try to catch up and gain a little cushion.

I’ve written what amounts to three chapters introducing three of the main viewpoint characters.  I’ll introduce a significant fourth viewpoint character later in a flashback, whose present whereabouts will be a mystery for a while.  None of the three characters I’ve introduced have any idea where they are or how they got there when we first meet them, nor do they know anything about the nature of the planet they’re on.  Discovering that will be a major portion of the storyline.  I don’t have a working title yet, still kicking a few ideas around.

Anyway, here’s what will probably be the first chapter, in rough draft form with little to no editing.

Lieutenant Jacob Vasquez dangled over the river, trying to convince himself to let go of the branch he was hanging from.  There were enough rocks below, and the drop was high enough, even with this planet’s slightly lower gravity, to make such a course of action potentially fatal.
He looked back down at the base of the tree for inspiration.  Three creatures from a nightmare clawed the trunk.  They were as tall as large dogs and just as wide.  Short black fur covered their backs and eight legs, fading to grey on their undersides.  Square heads protruded from the bodies, connected directly to the torsos without benefit of necks.  One looked up at him, opened a mouth filled with needle sharp fangs, and gave what Vasquez could only think of as a cross between a yodel and a whine.
The call was answered from within the forest, and two more of the things scurried from the trees.  They moved incredibly fast for their size. 
One of the newcomers made a threatening noise at one the creatures already there, and received bared fangs in response.  The one that had yodeled ignored the arrival of the two and began clawing its way up the trunk. 

Fortunately the short, stocky legs weren’t suited for climbing, or Vasquez would have already been torn to pieces.  He’d spooked them while hunting and had barely been able to outrun them.  There were no branches low enough for him to grab without stopping on any of the nearby trees, and that would have been fatal.  He just managed to scramble up this tree.  It hung far enough out over the narrow gorge that he thought he could make the jump to the other side.  Unfortunately, his foot slipped on the smooth wood and he’d only managed to catch himself because he straddled the branch as he lost his balance instead of slipping over the side.
Still, he’d fallen almost completely off the branch before he could get a secure grip.  Now he hung from the branch, his inner thigh throbbing from the impact when he fell.  Vasquez doubted he could make the jump now, even if he could regain the running start he’d lost.
The beast attempting to reach him slipped off, but another immediately took its place.  This one was heavier, and the impact when it hit made the trunk shudder.  Vasquez felt himself drop as the branch bounced.  He managed to hang on, but his palms were growing increasingly sweaty.  Soon the decision of whether to jump would be taken away from him.
He tried again to lift himself so he could wrap his legs around the branch, but his hands began to slip.  He dropped his lower body as quickly as he dared.  Evens so, he almost lost his grip. 
The tree shuddered again as another of the beasts attempted to scale it. 
Vasquez looked down.  Heights didn’t bother him, never had.  He wasn’t afraid of falling or of the sudden stop at the end.  But he wasn’t a fool, either.  There were too many rock directly below for him to think he could survive the drop.
The tree shuddered again, and Vasquez swayed.  That gave him an idea.
As carefully as he could he switched his grip so that he was facing the animals and began to slowly work his way further out onto the branch where the rocking of the tree would have a greater amplitude.  A gust of wind blew their scent to him.  He tried not to gag; the things smelled like milk that had been left out in the sun for a week.  Lifting his feet he began to swing slowly. 
When the next impact came, he was ready for it and used the momentum imparted by the animal’s attack on the tree to increase his swing.
His fingers began to slip again.  The next swing out would have to be it.
Vasquez extended his body and felt the barkless wood slide past his fingers.  Then the air was rushing past him.  Everything slowed down.  It seemed as though he were falling in slow motion.  The world tilted and the river rose into his field of view.  The rocks and breakers grew larger as he closed the distance to them.  Somewhere above him, the beasts set up a chorus of their weird yodeling.
One particular rock, with a jagged edge, seemed to draw him closer.  At the last minute Vasquez tucked.  He didn’t know the depth and wasn’t foolish enough to make a head-first dive into the churning water.  He hit curled into a ball.
The air had been warm and muggy.  The water was like ice, and the cold coupled with the impact almost took Vasquez’s breath away.  His back grazed the rock, and time resumed its normal flow. 
The current was stronger than he’d realized.  It pulled him under, bouncing him against the bottom, slamming his body into rocks, the cold sucking his strength away.  Vasquez didn’t know which way was up.
He broke the surface, gasping and nearly swallowed a mouthful of water.  Then he was pulled under again.  His lungs burned and his vision began to go black around the edges. 
Then just as he saw the surface coming closer, the river dropped over a small fall and sent him plunging into a small pool.  The flow of water over the drop pounded him, forcing him under.  Vaquez managed to get his feet on the bottom and pushed off, uncertain of the direction he was heading.  The current caught him again.
This time it slammed him into a rock, washing him up onto the surface of a flat stone.  He managed to drag himself up out of the flow the water and lay gasping in the sunlight.  This planet’s star was red, and gave less heat than he was used to.  Still, it was better by far than the water.  His muscles ached, his exposed skin was covered with abrasions, and he knew when he took off his coveralls he would be painted with bruises.  A lump was rising on the back of his head.  He gently probed the knot with his fingers.  The skin was tender, causing him to wince, and when he pulled his hand away, his fingers were bloody.
Vasquez laid back, drawing air deep into his lungs.
After an indeterminate time, he tried to move.  His body was stiffening up.  If he stayed on the rock much longer, he would have to spend the night there.  The thought was not reassuring.  The two nights he’d spent on this planet since he’d awoken had not been cold, but he knew on the water the air would feel chill.  Despite the risk, he had to try to make it to the shore.
He climbed to his feet, his sore body protesting with every move.  Careful not to slip, he looked around. 
He was closer to the far shore than the one he’d jumped from.  That was fine by him.  He’d never be able to outrun whatever those things were if he encountered them again.  There was another rock just past him.  The water flowed through the gap between it and the one he stood on a rapid pace, accelerated through the channel by the weight of the water coming down behind it.  Normally he could make the leap without any problem.  Now he wasn’t so sure.  Still it was better than going back in the water and trying to swim.
From there he thought he could make it to the shore.
Vasquez took a step back, braced himself in as much of a runner’s starting stance as he could, and took two steps.  On the second step he pushed off as hard as he could.  He hit the rock and slipped, his feet slid into the cold water.  He managed to grab an outcropping with his right hand while he flailed about with his left.  The current began to pull him off the rock and around the edge.  His fingers were starting to cramp, and he was certain he was going to lose his hold when his left hand found purchase.  The additional leverage allowed him to brace his feet against the side of the rock.  It was slippery, but there was enough friction for him to begin to climb out of the water.
He did so mostly by crawling across the rock.  Eventually he managed to get clear of the water and stand up.  He was only about three meters from the shore, which consisted of a small beach.  Shrubs and bushes formed a barrier between the beach and the rocks beyond. 
Vasquez opted to jump rather than wait for his strength to come back.  He was afraid it wouldn’t before dark.  He landed in the middle of the water, and the current took his feet from under him before he could find his balance.  He ended up on a sand bank and pulled himself onto the damp sand further up the beach on his hands and knees.
The sun was beginning to disappear behind the cliffs on the opposite side of the river.  He didn’t have the means to start a fire nor the strength to go far up the slope. 
Vasquez climbed to his feet and staggered into the bushes.  Once inside them, he was able to walk mostly upright, and used the branches for support until he was far enough from the river that the air felt warmer. 
He collapsed into a pile of leaves and took stock of his situation.  Somewhere in the river he hand torn the fingernail from the middle finger of his left hand.  He hadn’t felt it in the cold water, but as he began to warm, the pain began to be noticeable.  Nothing seemed to be broken, just bruised and scraped. 
Hunger gnawed at his belly.  He’d not dared to eat anything since he woke up leaning against a tree two days ago, alone and without any survival gear.  He had no idea where he was, and until he knew if the local foliage was safe for his biochemistry, he’d prefer not to experiment.  That option was fast being taken away from him by time.  Vasquez had used the last of his strength getting out of the river and making his way to where he presently lay.  He’d have to eat tomorrow.  So far, nothing in the water he’d been forced to drink had made him sick, but he knew he couldn’t count on that not changing. 
He began to shake and knew it was more than the lingering chill from the river.  Shock was setting in again.  Some part of his mind wasn’t surprised.  He was supposed to be on a starship, on a mission to investigate some anomalous signals out on the edge of human space.  The trip was supposed to take a year and a half.
How he’d gotten on this planet, without any memory of being awakened from coldsleep was a mystery he had no immediate means of solving.   At the moment all his energy and dwindling mental resources were devoted to surviving.
As darkness fell, Jacob Vasquez slipped into shock.

NaNoWriMo: Day 1

Well, I got 2,000 words done today.  That’s not counting tomorrow’s exam that I wrote this afternoon.  If I can get between 1500 and 2,000 words completed every day, not counting any revisions, then I should make my goal, which is the minimum 50,000.  Since this is my first year to participate, I’ll have a better feel for what is a reasonable goal next year.  I know I won’t be able to match that number every day, but if I shoot for it, I’ll get closer than if I don’t.  I plan to write more than that on weekends and over Thanksgiving. 

So far, so good.  I won’t post a word count every day, but I will from time to time.  When I get a good chapter done, I plan to post it as a sample.  I’ve got several different viewpoint characters on different parts of the planet when the novel opens that will have to be introduced, so I’ll pick the introductory chapter I like best.  Tonight’s chapter isn’t quite done, so I figure at the rate I’m writing, a chapter every couple of days is what I’m most likely to get done.

NaNoWriMo Starts in 2 Days

National Novel Writing Month, usually called NaNoWriMo, starts on Tuesday.  It’s a month long project in which aspiring writers attempt to write a novel in a month.  For the month of November, I’m going to be focusin on my personal writing.  That’s not going to leave a lot of time for blogging, reading, or much else.  From time  to time I’ll post about how the writing is going as well as provide an excerpt or two.  I’ll still be doing some blog posts on both Adventures Fantastic and Futures Past and Present, but they’ll mostly be devoted to short fiction or brief news or opinion pieces.  I’ll review the novel I’m currently reading, and that will probably be it as far as novels go for a few weeks.

In case you’re wondering what my novel is about, it’s a sword and planet adventure with a lot of hard science thrown in.  Think of a blend of Leigh Brackett, Robert E. Howard, and Larry Niven with a dash of Jack Vance.  At this point, I’ll be focusing on two or three different characters from the same space ship trying to survive at different places under very different circumstances on the same alien planet.  Of course, I could change my mind and give each character their separate novel.  I’ll just have to wait and see. 

Fifty thousand words is the minimum required to “win” NaNoWriMo.  I know I can write that much; the thing that will be hard will be writing that much in one month.  Thankfully the Thanksgiving holidays should allow me some time to catch up if I fall behind.