Archive for the ‘NaNoWriMo’ Category

A Pen Too Far

April 11, 2018

I write jokes for a living, I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen is too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.  — Mitch Hedberg, Mitch All Together (2003)

It’s often difficult for me to fall asleep.  Odds are, if I finish this tonight, it will be because I am having trouble falling asleep.  All of my best ideas come to me at night. Over the past few nights, I’ve thought of a way of breaking the stalemate I have with my current work in progress, delved back into a work that I abandoned several years ago, thought of a plot to a new project, and (most recently) started drafting out a speech that I am giving in September.  Tonight, my mind went back to that speech, as well as thinking of a different way I would have approached teaching a book back when I was still a teacher. I even dreamt up this post before falling asleep last night.

I perpetually have a problem with getting these ideas onto (virtual) paper. The problem is that life, and sleep, often get in the way of my writing. I’ve kept a note pad or journal under my side of the bed.  Both are mostly empty.  I may be tempted to write something down, but I am usually so desperate in my desire to fall asleep that I will gladly forgo that brilliant idea if it means that I will get to sleep faster.  I guess that pen is just too far away from where I want to go.

If it’s closer to the middle of the day, I have been known to use a dictation app on my iPod while at lunch or on a break.  If things are really desperate, I might write something in the margins of some scratch paper and hope that it doesn’t go out with the recycling. However, I pride myself in staying on task at work, and will only resort to such tactics if the creative part of my brain simply won’t shut up.  It’s not like a pen is too far when I’m sitting at my desk, but that’s not what I’m paid to do.

During NaNoWriMo, and especially just prior to the time change, I have been known to sty up until 1am and strike while the iron is hot. However, that is typically much more than jotting a few notes down on a page.  Back when I was teaching, this was an impossibility, as every night was a struggle just to get all of the work I needed to get done finished by midnight.  For that one magical, crazy month, nothing is too far away when it comes to my work in progress.

After several nights of wrestling with this struggle between getting to that pen and getting to sleep for what feels like hours, I thought of the Mitch Hedberg quote above.  Yes, I am guilty of that.  What about you?  What do you do when the creative part of your brain is operating at all cylinders while you’re trying to eat, sleep, shower, work, or otherwise go about your day?  When is this need to distance yourself from your creative ideas the worst? Feel free to leave your strategies in the comments section below.


Website Wednesday: Shelly King

November 1, 2017

Hi Everyone!  Well, it’s been a while since my regular Website Wednesday feature was actually regular.  I thought that NaNoWriMo would be an appropriate time to look at a few more author websites.  Let’s see how it goes!  The first website is for a local author.  Shelly King, author of LitFic book The Moment of Everything will be sharing her thoughts about writing the best story you can, publishing, and everything in between.  If you’re in the Bay Area and free tomorrow afternoon, check it out:

Shelly King NaNoWriMo Kickoff Event – Thursday, November 2nd at 6pm
Scotts Valley Library, Fireside Room, 251 Kings Village Road, Scotts Valley, CA

I, unfortunately, won’t be there, because there’s not going to be much room between work and NaNoWriMo this month.  Instead, I wanted to share my observations of Shelly King’s website.

Shelly King, Author of The Moment of Everything

Ms. King’s website is a modern website, with all of the bells and whistles that you’d expect from a “simple,” responsive design website (although it looks like some of the code breaks if you sign into WordPress).  Yes, this is the modern site, conforming to the standards for phones, tablets, and PCs.  The front page is pretty simple.  There’s a carousel that changes every fifteen to twenty seconds between advertising The Moment of Everything and her writing classes and editing services.  This occupies about two thirds of everything below the banner.  The other third is a form, prompting you to subscribe to Ms. King’s newsletter.  The banner itself is much like what I’ve come to expect in any author’s site: About the Book; Events; Writing Classes (somewhat different); About the Author; Contact.

The Good: There are two things that stand out to me with this website.  First, the extras that are all ancillary to the book. This includes blog posts about the book, a Sirius-XM interview about the book and the author’s influences.  The Sirius-XM interview is particularly interesting to me because of the content: which movies inspired the book?  It’s an interesting concept, and something that I will probably explore on my own (I have a similar topic that is ready for release, and I will save this for later this month).

The second item that is of the most interest to me is the “About Me” section.  It shares a lot of small, important details, and then ends with some humorous, self-aware little quips.  I love the fact that she shares items about her dogs and cats. This is her website, folks, it’s not what Ms. Editor wants her to place on her back cover!

The Bad: I never like it when the website looks like it’s there to sell you something.  Of course we’re coming to the website because of your books!  This is a cross between the two, and that may be fine considering Ms. King is also using this site to promote her (other) business.  The one thing that bothers me is the juxtaposition of this carousel of The Moment of Everything and her writing classes and editing services and the forms for signing up for her newsletter.

In my own web experience, I seldom want to be bothered with the sign-up.  If it’s there, I might sign up for a newsletter.  I do this all of the time for my job (research purposes), but newsletters are otherwise not bery important to me.  Putting a newsletter front and (just off-)center probably wouldn’t be a decision that I would make for my own website, particularly if I’m also including forms for first and last name, along with the email address.

Finally, I find it funny that she’s not advertising her own events on her website.  The current events page doesn’t have anything, even though we know better.

The Verdict: King does a lot of things that she should with a simple site.  The banner has all of the pull-down menus that you’d want, and access to a few extras.  In terms of website aesthetics, the images serve their purpose well.  My own preferences aside, there’s no real faux pas with the design.  The splash page for her website might serve as an advertisement, but you must dig a little deeper to get to the “buy it now” prompt.

NaNoWriMo participants, take note: Shelly does a lot of things very well, and she’s an active NaNoWriMo participant in her own right.


Visit with Ms. King tomorrow, November 2nd:

Shelly King NaNoWriMo Kickoff Event – Thursday, November 2nd at 6pm
Scotts Valley Library, Fireside Room, 251 Kings Village Road, Scotts Valley, CA


Countdown: Reflecting on Past Projects #1

October 31, 2017

Just seven(-plus) short years after I sat down and told myself that I’d get serious about novel writing, I am here again, at the cusp of another NaNoWriMo, ready to start my seventh project.  Each of the last five projects are somewhere in development hell. Absconded by Sin is going through another rewrite, and its successor Big Man will one day demand a full rewrite.  This year, I hoped to complete my current work in progress Their Sharpest Thorns, by the end of October.  That didn’t happen.

When I wrote my first novel, now in yet another round of editing, I was already about a month into it — a solid month of intense writing and outlining — by the time NaNoWriMo rolled around.  I had more than 60,000 words committed to Microsoft Word, and my characters had undergone a journey that took them from a military prison to an archbishop’s quarters, and on to the mighty Sierras. The story had momentum, the story had legs, and I was so convinced that NaNoWriMo would take me through the second third of the story.  As it turns out, I was pretty close.  I ended NaNoWriMo 2010 with exactly 60,000 words, as luck would have it. My first draft clocked in at 187,510 words – 303 8.5×11 pages, and more than twice that when transformed into a 5 x 8 book with standard fonts and margins.  In other words, NaNoWriMo did as I’d intended, give or take a chapter or two.

I completed my first draft of Absconded by Sin in April of 2011, put some author’s notes on it, and called it a day.  Eventually, I came back to it and gave a few passes of editing before I was ready to open the door and have others read it.  Back then, I was more concerned with making sure that characters were robust and vibrant than I was with actual word counts, so an extra 1,000 words here and there didn’t bother me as much as the notion that a character might be flat or simply obscure.  When those 187,510 words rolled out, I was sure that my characterization was spot on.

Absconded by Sin became the subject of many months, if not years, of frustration.  After getting good feedback from my wife, I sent it out to my beta readers.  Some of my beta readers came back with very positive feedback, and some didn’t come back at all, but the initial feedback on Absconded by Sin was empowering.  I had an inkling that Absconded by Sin would be a success.

Work intervened with my writing life.  I was still writing, but 2,000 words per night became maybe a few hundred here and there.  By the time I was ready to address my readers’ comments, it was time for my second NaNoWriMo, and I didn’t have time to make those fixes.

One project rolled into another, and Absconded by Sin became lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t until April 2016, five years after I’d completed my first (or even “zero” draft) of the novel when I started looking for agents and publishers.  I sent out a handful of targeted query letters, and frequently heard nothing in return.  Those few responses I’d received were concerned that it wasn’t quite their genre (it is a bit interstitial that way) or that the word count was just too high to market.  Eventually, I found Perfect Analogy publishing, but even they said that the word count (to borrow from Jimmy McMillan) was too damn high.

There I was, on a cross-country flight to Charlotte-Douglas Airport (a stopover for Portland, Maine) with a binder full of my 187,500 words, trying to get them down to even 120,000.  It took several weeks from that point, and I failed in that mission, but 121,966 wasn’t too bad — not even a third the length of your typical George R.R. Martin book.

Toward the end of October 2016, NaNoWriMo 2016 was on the horizon.  I had a great outline, with just a few missing steps between the climax and the ending, and I was ready to go.  Unfortunately, as I was cleaning out our home office, my cat ran past me, I spun around, and I knocked my computer, USB-stick first, to the floor.  This USB stick, which carried the latest versions of at least three of my novels, was smashed, damaged irreparably (unless you have money to burn).  The last word on many of my novels, as well as the only outline I had for Their Sharpest Thorns was lost.

Their Sharpest Thorns, a combo police procedural / horror novel set in the Sierras, started out with some bumps.  I couldn’t decide on what to name my main character, my map for the town and critical locations was lost, and my notes for important symbols also went by the wayside.  I persevered; several months after NaNoWriMo ended, my 100,000 word first draft was complete. The problem was that this draft was ultra drafty, and I’ve been working to simultaneously tighten existing scenes and expand some lean scenes ever since.

This year, I’m coming into NaNoWriMo with some outline, a few test cases for my characters, but no real momentum in my writing.  As the calendar page begins to fold over, I am nervous about how this will turn out.  50,000 words is quite a commitment, even if I’ve been able to surpass it every year since 2010.  As trick-or-treaters are out roaming the streets, I am counting down to Halloween’s witching hour.  I might get in a few words after midnight, but I will be slapping the keys in earnest tomorrow afternoon.  Hoping to get a good lead on The Best of You before I’m behind the pace.


Kicking off NaNoWriMo 2017

October 29, 2017

This past Wednesday was a big day for me. I attended a meeting to kick-off National Novel Writing Montb (NaNoWriMo).  Thanks to the lovely and benevolent JungleMonkey, and the Santa Cruz Public Library, I was able to meet with a few future superstar Santa Cruz area novelists.  Among those, we had two authors who were working to complete the third installments of their own respective trilogies (both had both previous books published in some form), one first time novelist, and two who were doing it for the second time.  I sat across the table from one of those latter two, a high school history teacher who is hoping to create some alternative history short stories this month.

I remembered my first time at a NaNoWriMo event; it was the first week of December, 2010, and I’d just tacked on the middle 60,000 words of my ultimately 187,000 word first draft for Absconded by Sin.  Back then, I didn’t have a name for the novel.  Heck, I still don’t — at least, not really — so I decided to call it “Call Me the Breeze,” a name lifted from one of my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd songs.  Back then, I was still just 26, was six months removed from my own misheard calling as an educator, and was newly married.  When I attended the TGIO “Thank God it’s Over” party, I felt like I was the youngest person there who could legally drive a car.  There were a few teens (and one who happened to be a UC student knocking on 20’s door), but most of the writers there were a good ten years older than me.  I suspected that I was the novice.  As more writers discussed their failures in hitting 50,000 and their seemingly far-off aspirations at getting published, I had a much better sense that I belonged.

The one question people had for me back then was the question of where I got my unique title.  When I told them it was a song, one of the writers (still perhaps in her 30s) said she’d thought she’d heard of it.  She then snapped her fingers and started singing “Call Me the Breeze” as if it was some kind of Bobby Darrin tune.  Perhaps she was thinking of the JJ Cale original, but it didn’t sound like the tune I knew and loved.

Just seven short years later, I was sitting there, talking to someone who was still looking for his first “win” as a NaNoWriMo participant.  He seemed very cordial, but perhaps a bit distant, when we first began talking, but as soon as he’d heard that I’d won NaNoWriMo, and that I’d actually finished  previous novels, he listened intently as I answered questions about my process, what it was like editing a long work, and what it was like trying to market my book to agents and publishers.  He had a lot of questions, and I had a short time to answer them and think of questions to ask him myself.

It was strange thinking of myself as the voice of experience in this matter, especially considering that I’ve never successfully published a book.  It was humbling, and also provided a huge shot of confidence.  No matter where I was in the stream, there was somebody back on the shore, wondering if it was safe to enter.

I had the benefit of asking questions from the voice of experience when I sat down with multi-genre author Linda S. Gunther, author of Finding Sandy Stonemeyer.  While I haven’t yet been able to implement some of the wisdom she shared about getting published, I was (and am) grateful to have heard some thoughts from the voice of experience.

I’m going into year seven of my own NaNoWriMo excursion with the desire to get this and so many other books published.  To those of you who have more experience, I salute you, and wish to learn from your experience.  To those of you who are doing this for the first time, I salute you, and wish to learn from your experience.  To those of you who are coming in having started NaNoWriMo in 2010, glad to see we jumped in together; I still wish to learn from your experience.

Mr. Owen Ventures into Podcasting

July 9, 2017

Author’s Note: Apologies for the delay.  The July 4th holiday (America’s Independence Day) has fouled up my schedule, and I am trying to get back on track.  This coming week is going to be very busy for me, but I hope to post another author website feature on Wednesday.

Jim “James” Owen’s podcast appeared on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.  To hear it, click here.

Four months ago, I answered a post on Nanowrimo about being part of a podcast.  A few missed connections later, I was moving forward with my first foray into voice media since I was broadcasting basketball games at my college’s radio station.  I was on my way toward being a guest on The Modern Meltdown (For more about the Modern Meltdown, click here), an entertainment website that has scores of podcasts about everything from books and movies to video games.

It was not necessarily an easy process, as The Modern Meltdown is Australian, and Holly Hunt, the host of the Beyond the Words (click here) podcast, resides in Canberra. Canberra is seventeen hours ahead of the Bay Area, my stomping grounds.  Thus, 12:05AM Thursday here is 5:05PM Friday there, and 7AM here is 2AM the next day there, and so on.  Due to this significant time difference, and the fact that we both work more or less regular hours, either a Skype call or a phone interview would be out of the question.  I had to get creative, as I was looking forward to this opportunity, and I wasn’t about to let a time difference get in the way.  Thus, I had to make my own recording studio.

My Makeshift Recording Studio

Over the years, I have also done some recording for my company’s webinars.  Through this process, I’ve grown accustomed to using Audacity.  Audacity (click here) is a free, open source digital audio recording software package that has editing capabilities.  Designed and released in 2000, this package may not have great aesthetics, but basic capabilities are easy to find and intuitive to use.  All I needed was a microphone.

One of the problems that I’ve noted is that a lot of computer microphones don’t pick up bass nearly as much as they pick up higher registers, which makes my voice sound nasally.  When I was working on the webinars, the best microphone I’d used was a lavalier microphone that we’d simply used as a computer microphone.  Somewhere, I also have a wand microphone, but I haven’t bothered to look for that in years.  The microphone on my laptop picks up too much sound from my fan, and my phone?  Ha ha ha, that’s a good one!  I had a few other workarounds that I couldn’t get working, so I was left with a few interesting alternatives.  By using the microphone on my camera (very good quality sound), and capturing myself on video, I was able to pick up a broader register of sound.  I used another program (Lightworks) to separate the audio from the video by converting an .MP4 file to an MP3, and then used Audacity to clean up the audio.

This still left me with the issue of where to get the optimal sound.  While working on the webinars, our recording studio is an office with paned-glass doors and windows.  No matter where I sat in the room, the audio would pick up the sound of my voice bouncing off of the glass, giving everything a slight echo (or, if not, then the sensation that I was recording in a tunnel or a bathroom stall).  Luckily, my home office has two small windows and a great deal of solid wall.  Thus, while recording, the only things I needed to worry about were my voice, the content, and my cadence.

I was tasked with addressing the very beginning of a story.  How do I construct an opening?  Well, that’s a long story for me, but Holly Hunt (click here), a fellow author, was kind enough to provide me with a few questions so that we could play off of each other.

For my podcast debut with the host, Holly Hunt, please click here.

What I’ve Learned

Through this process, I noticed a few things:

  1. Mapping this out allowed me to be much more succinct with my answers, and (hopefully) more informative.

2. It’s hard to sound like an authority when the item over which I have authority, my book, is not even published yet.

3. I had a bit of trouble anticipating my audience, as my only experience with Aussies has been discussing basketball video games (as well as a few web comics I’ve followed over the years).  Was I over-explaining a little by describing The Scarlet Letter as if they’d never heard of it? I don’t know.

4. I think there was some broken communication about the intent of the questions, and a few questions were not as I remembered them (funny thing, memory).

5. Ultimately, Holly Hunt was great to work with, and I feel like she did a great job of putting together the final product.  It was an experience that I’d definitely take on again.

I listen to a few podcasts, and one thing that I notice in those podcasts is sound quality, but another is the amount of energy that the participants bring to the table.  If they bring too little, it makes me feel a little bored, but if they bring too much, it’s like listening to monster truck commercials for half an hour.  I think that both Holly and I brought the appropriate amount of energy, and I’m fairly certain that our Audacity-augmented process helped.  What do you think?  Did we do well?  Is there anything else you’d like to know surrounding getting started with a novel?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Did you miss that link for my turn on Holly Hunt’s Beyond the Words?  Click here.

About Holly Hunt:

Ms. Hunt, host of Beyond the Words on The Modern Meltdown, is a Canberra, Australia, -based author.  She has published a dozen graphic and written word novels spanning the fantasy and horror genres.  In July 2017, Ms. Hunt published The Devil’s Wife (Click here), a print novel in which Lucifer is alive and roaming the streets of New York City.

About James (call me Jim) Owen:

Mr. Owen, a native of Santa Cruz, California, is an author who is looking to take flight.  Absconded by Sin, his first novel, is currently in closed beta.  A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California (with another stop at UCSC), Mr. Owen has spent the past 6+ years in market research.  Prior to that, he taught high school English… and lived to tell the tale.

Writing, Basketball, and Other Things

June 26, 2017

Author’s Note: For those of you looking for another website tour, don’t worry! One will come.  I will continue my website tour on Wednesday, as I evaluate the website of author Suzanne Collins, writer of the famed Hunger Games trilogy.

As writers, we are so fortunate.  We get to share our thoughts with the World.  The format doesn’t matter so much. Poetry, songs, prose; blogs, flash fiction, novels.  They’re all what we get to do.  Often times, they are what we must do.

On Saturday, poet Stephen Kessler (link here) shared his poetry with us at the Santa Cruz Community Writers monthly meeting.  He shared the circumstances of his poems (a nice glass of pinot noir, if you go for such a thing), the places that inspired his poems (the San Lorenzo River, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center) and the feelings that he had that inspired his poems.  He is one of those authors who likes to write in crowded places, and he would bring his notebook to Kuumbwa to write before, during, and after concerts.  He gets to write in the places that inspire him.

I’ve enjoyed blogging, as I get to share my thoughts with you.  I’ve also enjoyed sharing my work with the Santa Cruz Community Writers, a group that I am beginning to feel comfortable calling my own.  I am also learning, time and time again, that I need to work on my skills as an orator.  When I read my work, I often go too fast.  I just need to remember the lyrics to “Feelin’ Groovy.”  I need to record myself in order to better understand my pace and my diction.  It’s the easiest way of overcoming my chronic speed-speech.

At some point, I will share my fiction with you, dear readers, so please be on the lookout for when that time comes.  Right now, my work is in beta, with another work still months away from reaching my alpha reader.  I am glad that I get to share my fiction with friends, and greatly anticipate the day that I can share these with the wider world.

I don’t have a long, semi-connected diatribe to share with you today, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts about things going on in and around my life.


I’ve been editing my latest work, Their Sharpest Thorns.  It has not been as consistent as I’ve anticipated, and I might not finish this editing effort until the Fall.  Nevertheless, I have a few long weekends in front of me, so I might be able to carve out more than i think I can.

New Projects

I’ve begun work on an untitled project that is classic horror, with particular emphasis on body horror.  I’m thinking of making it more comical.  My primary focus right now is world-building.


I will be featured on an upcoming episode of The Modern Meltdown’s Beyond the Words, and would like to thank Holly Hunt for putting this all together!  I will provide a link in a bonus post this week, once it hits the Internet!

Camp NanoWrimo July 2017

I’ve toyed with the notion of completing another Camp Nanowrimo next month.  Given the season, and the fact that I have a lot of other projects going on, I don’t think that I will participate in July’s event, even if I can manage a sizable word count.

The NBA Draft

If you came here for the writing, then I’ll bid you farewell until next time, because the rest of this is all basketball!

Ever since I was young, the NBA Draft was like Christmas in June.  When I was at the height of my basketball fanaticism, I watched easily 60+ Warriors games per year (I’d say more, but let’s play it conservative).  I awaited the NBA season, wondering if Antawn Jamison would go for 50 again, wondering if Adonal Foyle would find a bigger role in the offense, and wondering if Donyell Marshall would put it all together.  I rejoiced when the Warriors added names like Tony Delk and Muggsy Bogues, and lamented the trade that sent Jamison, Fortson, Mills, and Welsch to Dallas for Van Exel, Popeye, and cap relief.  Whether the Warriors were rumored to draft Todd Fuller or take a flyer on Chris Porter, I was inspired by all of the potential that these young men held.

Many professional basketball players come from dire circumstances.  They do not come from the suburbs, or even those penthouse apartments overlooking the Embarcadero, they come from the projects, the rural country bunkhouses, and the oppressive city.  Regardless of race, religion, or national origin, these players often come from places where they have to live in fear of the bullet, the switchblade, or the needle.  They have friends, brothers, and neighbors that have succumbed to addiction, joined gangs, or been gunned down in a case of mistaken identity.  It’s not all bad for these players, as many come from loving families, with dedicated mothers and fathers, but it can get so much better for those who click in professional basketball, either in the NBA, or the many esteemed overseas leagues.  Players sometimes find their niche in places like Iran, where they use basketball to overcome prejudice and preconceptions, and live within a society that many of us might consider hostile to Americans.  Even if players do not “make it” in the NBA, they OFTEN get to make it somewhere else, and get to spend ten years out of their lives doing something that they love for a living.

I didn’t have much of a horse in this race for the 2017 NBA Draft.  My cheering interests didn’t have many NBA-bound players, and my teams didn’t have many (or any) picks.  There’s a few players that I really wanted to see go to certain teams, and certain teams that I really wanted to see do well.  Here’s a few quick hits:

  • I feel like both the Celtics and the Sixers got what they needed out of the trade of top picks, and that the Sixers have really hit a home run.  They’ll be exciting for years to come, provided they’re all healthy.  If the Sixers are healthy, they should be a playoff team this year.  If the Celtics are healthy, they might take down Cleveland this year.
  • I’m happy to see the Suns get a star.  I have a feeling that Josh Jackson will be the best player out of this draft.
  • De’Aaron Fox and Jonathan Isaac went to the exact two teams that I wanted them to go to.  I have a feeling they’ll be great fits, and I’m glad that the Kings got a high character guy.
  • Speaking of the Kings, I think that they have two immediate starters that come out of this draft, and two more that will eventually become major contributors in the NBA. I’m just not exactly sure who that second immediate starter will be.
  • Thank you, Philadelphia, for breaking the streak of players that I’ve heard about all year long. Anzejs Pasecniks, I hope to one day pronounce your name correctly.
  • Jordan Bell!!!! Jordan Bell!!! With the Warriors getting Bell and signing Chris Boucher, I think that they’ve come out as real winners in a draft where they didn’t even have a pick!
  • Nigel Williams-Goss and Jabari Bird were vastly underrated.

Some Suggestions for More Robust Characters

April 3, 2017

Author’s Note: this started like an excerpt from a memoir, but eventually turned back to some fair reminders for characterization.

There are two aspects that are powerful when writing about characters, as everybody can relate to them on some level: nostalgia and jobs.  Everybody has their moments when they think back fondly on some period of their life, or when some aspect of their life reminds them of the way things were. Everybody has worked, does work, or will work at some sort of job, even if the job isn’t exactly the paying kind.  In order to create richer characters, and in order to draw readers into your characters’ world, bring relevant aspects of the characters’ pasts, as well as their roles in society into your narrative.

I’ve been pretty nostalgic lately.  Today, we went on a hike that reminded me of when I was first dating my wife.  We discussed her grandmother and her childhood friend, who are both since deceased.  Those memories spurred more memories, and so on.  I was fortunately enough to know her grandmother before she passed, and discussion of her grandmother hiking that trail reminded me of seeing this woman, then over 80, cutting the rug with her granddaughter at our wedding.  Aside from that, some alfalfa sprouts in my sandwich reminded me of sandwiches that my father used to order when I was a kid; I don’t know why he stopped having them, but you never see alfalfa on the menu anymore.  After that, tortellini with pesto reminded me of my childhood friend.  The point is, memories can flare and smolder like a campfire, depending on the kindling.

When discussing a character, and having that character advance through that plot, nostalgia doesn’t need to play a prominent factor.  However, consider all of the times you’ve been rolling down Broadway and you remember that swing-set that was there when you were a kid, or how that old theater reminds you of your first kiss.  Your characters aren’t going to reminisce of times passed when they’re busy hunting a serial killer, nor will they necessarily reminisce of times passed when they’re waiting for the bus, but there should be something there that hints at a time before your story began.

I’m in my early 30s.  My tenth college reunion is in the rear view mirror, and I’ll be closing in on forty by the time my next reunion (high school) takes place.  What this means, of course, is that I am part of our nation’s workforce. Regardless of what adults do in the workforce, from custodian to CEO, work takes up a great deal of their time.  How they go about their work, and what they feel about their work, is an important part of their character, as well.  My father repeats this one-liner from a movie (I think it might be the barbershop scene in Gran Torino) that goes something like “real men complain about their jobs.” It’s funny, but we all have stories from our jobs, whether mild frustrations or flat out grievances, peppering a character’s conversations and thoughts with complaints, worries, or even successes in their jobs makes for a more believable characterization overall.

For all of my fellow writers who are out there trying to paint a picture, use these thoughts and experiences to shape your character.  Is your character a former high school footballer who is stuck in the kitchen at the local diner?  Put in a little something about him grumbling about the big game.  Does your character know she is paid less than the manager’s underqualified nephew?  Add an interaction between the two of them!

Writing: A Little Gael Pride

February 20, 2017

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my alma mater: St. Mary’s College of California.  A sophomore in the Integral Program called me to learn about what I’ve done since college, and to try to convince me to donate.  She was an outstanding representative of the college, and knew that the best means of encouraging an alumnus to donate is to get them to reminisce and to talk about themselves.  Over the course of the conversation, it came out that the student had participated in JanNoWriMo during St. Mary’s College’s Jan Term course.  In that month, her professors set a goal for 32,000 words in a month.  This is well short of the 50,000 words that participants in NaNoWriMo target, but it is a great target for a college student.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past six years.  In that time, I’ve worked on a different project every year.  Two of those projects have completed drafts, and I’m finally making a push to publish the first one, Absconded by Sin.  In each of those years, I’ve made an effort to knock down at least 1,667 words per day in order to get to that 50k.  During some years, that has been easy.  I’ve knocked out 5,000 words in a day before.  If word counts are the object, then that puts me well in the black (as opposed to the red — accounting analogy).  As my faithful readers have seen in my other posts, a long story doesn’t make a novel.  So, whether 50,000 in a month or 32,000 in a month, it’s quite a task to get the right words on the page.

When I went through Jan Term at St. Mary’s, it wasn’t always about the classes.  Yes, some classes were amazing.  Adam Desnoyers gave us a truly memorably short story writing class in my first year.   As a senior, my ’60s in Film class was also amazing.  Learning about the whole vampire mythos and C.S. Lewis was fun as well. However, I could probably speak for many in my social group to say that Jan Term was also the biggest social month in the school year, and there were tons of distractions to keep me away from my studies.  Every week was a four day week, meaning Friday and Saturday would often be a combination of trips to the City, hikes behind SMC’s cross, and late nights with the gang. If I had NaNoWriMo to look forward to (I hadn’t heard of it at this point), I would have been the most antisocial person during the most social month at SMC.  To borrow from Carl’s Jr.:”don’t bother me, I’m writing!”

To say that 32,000 words in a month is NOT a challenge would be a grave mistake, particularly when your world is full of distractions.  To all of those SMC students who hammered out 32,000 words during their January Term, I salute you!  Even starting a novel during the most distracting month of the year is quite a task!  Mitali Perkins, facilitator for JaNoWriMo, this was a great idea! I wish I had that push when I was at SMC!

My distractions usually come from being too tired (as I suppose they did back when I was in my early 20s).  When I get home from work and have dinner, the call of YouTube is frequently very strong.  As a slightly-reformed gamer, I’ve been getting into the “Let’s Plays” that appear on the Internet, and watching the likes of WhiteHawke, NintendoCapriSun, CarlSagan42, and Grand POOBear play Super Mario Maker over the past year.  It’s a nasty habit, and I initially started this in order to better capture natural speaking patterns (believe it or not) through hearing individuals say what they will when they’re relaxed and focused on something else.  Nevertheless, as I have come to learn, good writing cannot continue when distractions sap what little energy you have.  I am trying to cut the LPers out of my habits, particularly as my dream of being published seems so close.

Interested in anything I’ve said above?


St. Mary’s College of California:


Mitali Perkins:




Grand POOBear:

A Story about a Stag Party

April 10, 2016

About a week before my wedding, I had a bachelor party.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – but the only pasties that were involved were the five of us up in the upper deck, and the only booze that was imbibed was whatever beer was on tap – and I don’t think all of us had imbibed.  As far as I know, there are only a couple of blurred pictures of us sitting in Coliseum.  In typical Jim Owen fashion, my bachelor’s party amounted to hiking, burgers, and a ballgame. You need to worry about this guy; haven’t you heard he’s a wild man? Sure, it was a subdued affair, but it was one last hurrah before I became a married man.

What does this have to do with writing, you might ask?

The rise of the modern bachelor party in the 20th century probably has little to do with the festivities that Spartan soldiers held for their comrades in the 5th Century B.C., but the modern bachelor party has become a time when the bachelorette conveniently looks the other way on her future husband – and vice versa – before the big commitment.  That’s one night in which Mike Tyson may sing Phil Collins, Ed Helms may get a face tattoo, and even you might be left atop a Las Vegas casino.

And this is where I get to the writing.

Today, I took my second step (or first, in a roundabout way) toward publication.   In September, I’d reached out to a publisher about getting my first novel published.  In many ways, I like what they’re selling.  However, they didn’t have the “bandwidth” or the “manpower” at the time, and encouraged me to look elsewhere, while still leaving the possibility open for me to join their stable.  Things got busy, and then they got very busy.  Less than a month ago, I began to see openings, wherein I could potentially take the time and reach out to agents – the first step in getting published by a major imprint.  Today, I finally took the time.

So, you might ask, does this metaphor of a bachelor’s party extend any further?

It might.  My first query letter to an agent is the equivalent of the intrepid bachelor going out to a club and then hitting on the most attractive woman in the room.  Is it wise? Probably not.  Does success with this agency mean something? Yes, it probably does.  Unlike the ill-formed decisions of a bachelor at his own stag party, the first signs of this success will not happen right away.  Heck, these signs probably will not happen within a few weeks; the auto-reply message stated that I will likely have to wait eight to ten weeks for a reply, if I hear a reply at all.

In the meantime, I have missed the start of Camp NaNoWriMo by ten days, and was thinking of playing catch-up this weekend.  That’s right, I was thinking of writing 16,670 words in two days.  I’ve heard of far worse, including people who somehow manage to hammer out more than 50,000 in just a few days, but this would’ve nearly doubled my daily maximum for two consecutive days.  Committing 8,000 words to paper in a day is not a laughing matter, and may also be ill-advised, or at least ill-formed.  With a goal of so many words in so little time, you might be left to wonder just how many words I managed to eke out.

The answer is zero, my dear readers, as in even less than one.

Coincidentally, that’s the number of drinks I’ll have during this literary debauchery.

NaNoWriMo – Challenge Met

December 1, 2011

I would imagine that the news has already passed among my most faithful readers through other means, but for those of you who may have missed it: I finished my second NaNoWriMo challenge a little over a week ago, on November 23, 2011.  I don’t know exactly when it happened, because I updated my word count at 11:47 PM and it was already there–50,147 words.  In all, I tallied 2,622 words that night, in one of my strongest and fastest periods of sustained writing this November.

I now run into the problem of trying to wrap everything up.  In terms of my outlining, I’m 80% of the way done with the book.  In terms of NaNoWriMo-dedicated outline, I’m 57.1% (give or take) of the way through that outline.  As of this writing, it is December 1, 2011, and I haven’t written anything of substance since Sunday.  All things considered, I’m fairly pleased with my progress and my writing from the past month.  Editing will be interesting, but I’m possibly another 25k from that.

At any rate, thank you, gentle reader, for being patient with me as I continue my drive towards novel #2.  I am still trying to find the right title for it, but as it stands “Big Man” is most in line with the topic and the theme.  I’d like to expound a little upon topic and theme, as it has been drilled into my head through teaching and reading, but I also want to be brief, as I am itching to dive back into my 12th of 15 sections.

Stephen King isn’t alone when he says that theme is best left to editing, as with symbolism.  Others believe that theme should be the first thing you have, before you have a story. What is a theme?  Well, it is a good guide.  The only issue is this: if you start out with a theme in mind, what happens when your characters defeat your theme, flout it, or do nothing more than go about proving it?  King deals with theme admirably, though he also has Mother Abigail serve as a ‘living’ reminder of the theme of “The Stand.”  He isn’t always that transparent, and even though Mother Abigail discusses the theme of The Stand at length, a tome of that tonnage has room for more than one theme.  Some tales don’t delve into the theme, and that seems to become more and more prevalent as time marches on. Perhaps that is preferable to Hawthorne, whose themes were always discussed in essay-like detail at either the beginning or the end of his romances.  All of this ranting serves one function, me thinking out loud: how do I deal with theme?  How would you, gentle readers, if you were to write a novel?

For quick reference: I’m using “theme” in the sense of ‘what an author has to say about a topic.”  Themes are not definite, though some authors will make themes overtly definite (“Be True! Be True! Be True! [etc] for example]; there can be more than one theme, but there has to be evidence to support each.  e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird’s theme might be “Prejudice condemns innocent men,” as Tom Robinson is condemned because he was a black man who felt sorry for a white woman, which ruined what little chance he had of being acquitted by a white jury.