Another NaNoWriMo, Another view from the bleachers

ac7c06ef35a71959b153e428bc5aae21November 1 hails the start of NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. During this time writers are encouraged to write a novel in a month, also known as pounding out 50,000 words with arbitrary attention to plot, spelling, grammar, characterization, and form, which all in all pleases my professorial heart. Truth be told,  I’ve just about had it up to here with my red pen and all that it entails, and would love to go all in with ur and and ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) , and enough emojis 😺 😸so I wouldn’t ever have to correct a misspelled word or misplaced modifier again.  See, that’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo, having the freedom to tap out all that wheat and the hell with the chaff — we’ll sort it out later.  And don’t think I won’t. I’ve got a new novel banging around in my head demanding attention. And November 1 seems as good a time as any to indulge it.

Ass in chair time, folks!

Been a bit occupied, but better late than never.

mess-with-me-and-youll-get-what-forYes, it’s true. I’ve been a bit preoccupied this week. I mean seriously, with all that’s going on with the election season, I’ve got to be a writer and a college professor, too? Boy-oh-boyo — there’s just too much to comment on this cycle. Since I can’t, I’ll just sit back and let this shitstorm roll over me. Makes for great media, though, no matter what side of the aisle you sit on. One thing’s for certain, if I were ensconced in that particular House, I’d know what side of the aisle I’d WANT to be on.  and laughing my ass off, for sure.

Graphic courtesy of Periods for Politicians, formerly Periods for Pence. I mean come on. Why should he have all the fun.

How can you call yourself a writer when writing’s the last thing your doing?

vintage-frustrated-writerOver the summer I started a new book, banging out enough for a proposal then kind of put it aside when the sagging middle showed up early. Being well-acquainted with that particular pain in the ass, I knew it was just a plot problem in search of a solution. So I went to a writers retreat, and with the help of a friend, hammered the issue into submission. With copious notes and a new outlook on the project, I felt ready to jump back into the swim, then my day job reared its ugly head. Suddenly, time became of the essence, and again, the manuscript moldered. Still, I told myself I’d get to it as soon as things eased up, and then another work-bomb exploded immediately followed by a family crisis. All of a sudden,  writing became as superfluous as whipped cream and a cherry (in most circles anyway),  and I knew if I was ever going to get back to it, I’d need to resolve what was in front of me first. Not that that realization made me feel any better. I fact, I still felt quite the slacker. Because In the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t the day job or the family or anything else I could use as an excuse.  I knew it was facing that sagging middle again, and I was terrified the plot prop I devised would hardly lift it an inch. And therein laid the rub.

To be a writer, one has to write, and no one has shouted that louder than me. But how can I preach the mantra of writers’ write when I had a novel just lingering in my hard drive, bereft? Was there something genuinely wrong with me, or was I just a hypocrite? Because surely one can’t still be a writer and not write at all?

Real life intrusions aside, every writer faces dark moments when the impetus eludes them, and I’m not referring to what’s commonly known as Writer’s Block. What I mean is when the will to write is gone, when doubt overwhelms you, when you can’t even think of yourself as a writer. Most often, times like these occur after a rejection, whether from a teacher, editor or agent, but more likely from a rebuff totally unrelated to anything literary. Rejections of this kind cloud judgment and sap confidence, eating away at the one fact that should always keep our writing mojo in perfect sync: that in the literary world, it’s never about you.  It’s always about the work, and it’s that work that sustains us. No matter how terrible or disappointing or unreliable things seem, at least there’s the writing, being the one reliable recourse that will always shape itself to our moods, and more than likely, become better for it.

Okay, enough wallowing in it. Ass in chair, bitch. Now.

Where the Eff is Autumn?


One of the nicest things about living in the Northeast is the stunning weather we enjoy each fall. Sunny, crisp days, cool, sleepable nights, it’s a welcome respite after the hot, sweaty summers. We get to wear our new sweaters and boots, festoon our homes with bright mums and pumpkins, go apple picking and lose ourselves (and occasionally our kids) in corn mazes, grab a mug of hot and liberally-spiked cider, ooh and aah over the changing leaves, while the scent of wood-smoke settles like incense over our towns. But guess what? Here it is, nearly the middle of September, and I’m still wearing sandals, the cicadas are still chirping and I’m still running the air conditioner.  What is this–Miami?  Christ- this is New Jersey! What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on?

Look, I totally believe in global warming–not that it’s a belief system as some deniers swear it is–and I’m almost convinced carbon dioxide is the New Oxygen. But I want Autumn. I want Autumn so bad, I’m willing to give up my $65 pedicures until next spring so I can bring out my boots.  I’m willing to stand atop a mountain and screech Al Gore invented the Internet! if it’ll bring it any sooner. I’ll bury my swimsuit in the back yard and break my beach umbrella over my knee if the temperature will drop twenty degrees. I want to make pot roast and chicken soup and hot cider because I can’t stomach any more Caesar salad and iced tea. But most of all, I’m sick to death of bugs, moths, spiders, and mosquitoes, and the fact their very existence keeps me from entering through my front door when I’m out after ten PM because they’re flash-mobbing around my porch light.  There used to be a bat hanging from my awning taking care of those bastards, but I haven’t seen them in a month. They’re probably so sick of summer too, they’ve already gone into hibernation.

Damn, I’d be happy if I could just blow-dry my hair again.

I know why this is happening.  I know why Summer can’t make peace with Fall and give up the whole thing already. I’m fairly certain one or the other has dug in on the opposite side of the aisle and is refusing to budge.  Apparently, yielding to Fall will look like they’re “cooperating,” and we just can’t have that, no way, no how.  So don’t expect Christmas or Hanukkah this year, either. Unless, of course, it comes with sunscreen.

My Retreat from Reality


Yessiree friends, reality sucks, and it’s the wise novelist who knows this, and precisely why we choose to retreat from it so often.  Which is why every now and then it’s beneficial to go TO a writer’s retreat, which I am this weekend…

Write Now Writers Retreat 2016

Imagine dedicating an entire day to writing your book!

Whether you long for a quiet place to work without interruption or you crave the inspiration & energy that ignites when writers gather, the Write Now Writers Retreat at Old York Cellars Vineyard in scenic Hunterdon County, NJ is for you!

Join our writers retreat where YOU get to decide how to spend your time!

Leave your worries behind. Write Now Writers is a distraction-free retreat designed to keep you moving forward on your manuscript. Designated writing areas are no Wi-Fi, no phone zones. With no interruptions, you have no excuses.

This is your time to write!

Spend the day working distraction-free or participate in these optional activities:

  • Writing Sprints (for prizes).
  • Group walks through the vineyard.
  • Recharge with a relaxing neck & shoulder massage free!
  • Sample wine in the tasting room.
  • Brainstorming & craft help.
  • Critiques: get feedback on your project and then get back to work right away.

You’ll enjoy writing in a beautiful outdoor environment sure to spark your muse. Indoor provisions also available.

Retreat also includes a delicious picnic lunch and snacks.

Coffee, tea, and water are available throughout the day, as well as encouragement from your retreat hosts, authors Stacey Wilk, Chris Redding, and K.M. Fawcett.

But the real part that sold me was…

You can even win a bottle of wine!

Okay! I’m there!


Liberty States Fiction Writers 2017 Create Something Magical Con Registration Opens Sept. 1


Want to Write? Love to Read?

Mark your calendars for

the 8th annual Create Something Magical Conference.

Whether you’re indie published, traditionally published, not quite published, or simply love to read, in all and all genres of fiction writing, we have something for you. Join us on March 18-19, at the Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel in Iselin, NJ

2017 for a magical event!

LSFW Banner

See Liberty State Fiction Writers for more info!

Methods for your madness

990488Most writing follows a certain form, whether fiction or nonfiction. Newswriting and creative non-fiction are fact-based, humor amuses, biography chronicles a life. Fiction tells an invented story, whereas, genre fiction adheres to certain inherent strictures, ie, mysteries leave clues, romance relates a developing relationship, horror shocks, fantasy world-builds. Readers expect when they pick up a thriller or an autobiography or a true crime that it’ll follow whatever form’s intrinsic to that genre, but what if you want to define what you’re writing even further? This is what I call writing for context, or putting that extra level of specification into your writing–for clarity, for authenticity, to strike the right mood. Shall I explain?

Historical fiction is one of the best examples. Aside from not including an HD TV in your Victorian drawing room, certain phrasing and references will lend you writing more credibility, as well as anchor your reader in the era. The best way to get this is to read works not so much about the time of which you are writing, but from the time. For example, from the 18th century, Jonathan Swift or Henry Fielding, 19th century, Charles Dickens or Mark Twain, early 20th, Sinclair Lewis or F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Pay attention to the cadence of their dialogue, their use of phrasing, their historical references, the position of their wording. He was a hale fellow, or Shall we meet at half-past seven? will lend a certain credence to your writing. Now, no one will expect you to construct your exposition with thees and thous, but if you’re writing about 18th century Quakers, you might expect to see a few of those whiskered words in their dialogue.

Another example is writing in the first person. I find this type of writing gives you the most license to experiment. Take the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. In this novel he writes from a the perspective of a 15-year-old with Asperger Syndrome. He includes the protagonist’s tics and phobias, sprinkling the narrative with logic and math, numbering his chapters with only prime numbers. By writing with this context in mind, Haddon places us firmly in the character’s mind, and makes the experience resonate long after we put the book down.

There are many examples I could go into to illustrate this principle, but basically, it’s almost like Method Acting, or maybe even a little bit like time travel. As soon as you sit down to write, put yourself into the mind of your character, in both time and setting, and let it lead you down its little garden path. If it’s engrossing enough, your minions will soon follow.


Writers! Seek out your own!

IMG_0114In past posts we’ve explored from preparing for a writing project, confronting the blank page, priming your plot pump, getting past your slumping middle, to wrapping it all up and sending it out the door. But what if you’ve got the will and the way, but you still can’t get your motor started? And what if you’ve got it started, but can’t figure out how to shut it down? Or what if you’re stuck in that sagging middle, and it’s got you so daunted you want to hurl the whole kit-and-kaboodle against the wall? Then maybe it’s time to give both the laptop and the sheet rock a break, because you know what they say: when all else fails–retreat!

No, my dear writers, I’m most certainly not saying you should quit. Five noogies to the head for even considering it! What I’m saying is perhaps you need a change of venue, to step out of your everyday and try a different milieu. Where would you go? Why don’t you try these…

1. Writers Colonies – If you’ve got the wallet for it, writers colonies or residencies are about as close as you can get to literary nirvana. Usually in a picturesque location or town, at a college or camp or hotel, they give you uninterrupted time to write, plot or just stare off into space. Many come with social activities so you can network with fellow writers, some even come with stipends, others you have to qualify for. Check the wonderful website Agent Query for their list of colonies and residencies.

2. Writers Conferences – Every writer should attend at least one a year. I certainly do, have for years, and if you just happen to be in New Jersey in next March , you might want to take a look at Liberty States Fiction Writers’ “Create Something Magical” Conference. It’s for one day, but take the weekend and bookend the schmooze, panels and workshops with some serious writing time. Writers Conferences can range from an afternoon to a week-long series of events, many of them grouped by genre, such as the Romance Writers of America in the summer, or the Backspace Writers Conference in New York this November. Full of workshops, editor/agent appointments, panels, readings, book fairs and the chance to meet some of your favorite authors, if you don’t come out energized and ready to attack the page, then perhaps you’re in the wrong business. Again, here’s another look at Agent Query, and their rundown of upcoming conferences.

3. Book Expo America BEA is one of the premier industry events if you are any way connected. If you’re a bookseller, agent, editor, librarian, educator, book club member, writers’ organization officer or published author you can’t afford to miss it. Held over three days in May, last year in Chicago, but next year back at the Javits Center in New York City, anyone who is anyone in the industry is there. After one hour trolling this convergence of Every Publisher in the Free World, if you don’t feel like closing down that WIP to get in the game, then stay home on the porch. You ain’t gonna be runnin’ with the big dogs.

4. College Literary Festivals – Held by the English Department at a college or university, these usually weeklong events hold readings and signings for writers and readers alike. If you’re alumni, this is a good way to connect with your old professors who no doubt have a line on the writers attending, so you never know who you can meet. I go back to my alma mater twice a year for their festival held during their MFA residencies, meeting many of the visiting writers. I even had dinner with Francine Prose one night, though being one of twelve at her banquet-seating table, I doubt if our conversation went past pass the salt.

5. Create your own – Batton down the home hatches and take off for the weekend, to a vacationing friend or family member’s house, to a off-season cottage by the lake or ocean, to a campsite up in the mountains, or even a bargain-basement afternoon with the laptop or legal pad at the library or Barnes and Noble cafe. Perhaps even send the kids off with the spouse to the zoo and stretch out on the back porch, a glass of your favorite libation at your side, letting all those ideas in your head bounce off the trees, the alleyway, the horizon. It doesn’t take much, just a firm commitment and the time to percolate, and perchance, of course, to dream.

The Writer Entitled

img_13631Dear Deadbeat Writer: Who do you think you are?

You get up at the crack of noon, saunter to your desk wearing nothing but your PJs and that smug expression, munching on multigrain pretzels and bouffe from Trader Joe’s. While the rest of us actually BUILD something, you’re hoisting your feet atop your desk to “ponder” and “plot,” your baby-soft fingers tapping the laptop with Call me Ishmael, or It was the best of times, it was the worst of times or other such blather. Instead of putting those keys to work by shaving some stock and buying on margin you’d rather “create,” not even bothering anymore to print your “genius” and pack it into a respectable manuscript box to ship off USPS. Even ink and paper are too much trouble for you anymore! Now we’re all about “attachments,” and “uploads,” and “streaming,” even calling “creative” such linguistic aberrations as blogs and podcasts and tweets. And in your ennui, you can’t even bother to bind your books anymore, leveling them to some ethereal creation called an e-book, packing them on a virtual bookshelf while your compensation floats through cyberspace to directly deposit itself into your bank account.

Oh it’s the life, fooling us all, and getting money, it appears, for nothing.

Be warned: we are so onto you.

Seriously Snark

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