The End

Quite unexpectedly, I finished my novel this afternoon. I still don’t think it’s sunk in yet.

As you may recall, I began writing “Dream Sailors” four years ago. Soon after moving in, Tara suggested we set aside time every Sunday to write. She has long been supportive of my writing – was, in fact, the first person to buy “No Time For Kings,” long before we even started dating – so I was strongly in favor of the idea. It had been a couple of years since NTFK was published, and I was feeling the writing itch again. There were a few false starts as I decided what to write; at one point it was going to be a sequel, but then I decided I wanted to go in an entirely different direction. First-person POV instead of third-person; male protagonist rather than female; a story with a sci-fi element versus a straight-up thriller. An NTFK sequel would have been easier; revisiting the characters I had grown to love would have been like slipping on a favorite pair of shoes, familiar and comfortable, but I feel it’s important to challenge yourself as a writer and not take the easy route.

I have long been fascinated with dreams. After all, a particularly vivid one brought me and Tara together, so they seemed like a topic worth exploring. Throw in my own personal lucid dreaming experiences, and the stage was set for my next novel.

Things went well in the beginning. For a few weeks, we set aside a good chunk of time every weekend to write. I worked on my new novel, and Tara blogged.

And then we both just stopped.

I don’t really know why. I think part of the reason is the fact that living together was a novelty, and we were both out of work at the time, so we filled our weekends exploring. And then I landed my dream job as a content specialist. Writing five days a week for eight hours at a stretch, I didn’t particularly feel like doing the same thing in my spare time, too. So 30 pages in, my novel languished. I had zero motivation to continue.

Time passed.

Years passed, actually. There was a wedding. I sold my townhouse. My daughter came to live with us. We moved to an apartment. I guess you could say life happened. I was now a professional writer, but was I truly a writer?

No.

Last year, I started to get the itch again. After publishing “No Time For Kings” in 2011 I was content to rest on my laurels for a long time, but I started to miss the process of writing. The “writer’s high” is a real thing, and I began to crave it the way an addict craves drugs. So I hatched this plan to try NaNoWriMo, booking myself a vintage trailer for a weekend writing retreat in order to kick-start my long-stalled novel and get back into the groove.

It worked. I “won” NaNoWriMo. Dashed off 50,000 words in 30 days. Breathed new life into my long-gestating novel.

But then November ended, and my frenetic writing pace came to a halt.

I expected it would take me another couple of months to finish “Dream Sailors.” It ended up taking four and a half. Because I am a creature of habit; once the daily motivation of word counts and monthly goals was gone, I struggled to continue.

But I knew I had something good, and the finish line wasn’t that far away. So I pushed on. I didn’t write every weekend, but I wrote most weekends. 50K words turned into 60K. 60,000 turned into 70,000.

The finish line was near.

I wrote for a couple of hours yesterday. The finish line was still near, but also distressingly out of reach. I figured I had another month or two to go.

Then I fired up my laptop this morning, and a funny thing happened: I quickly realized I was close to finishing my novel. Like, really close. Everything clicked and fell into place. This is how it works when you don’t have an outline: quite suddenly, it can all come together. And that’s exactly what happened today. I quickly realized the finish line wasn’t only within reach, it was right there, ripe for the grabbing.

So I grabbed it.

Around 1:00, I knew I was two sentences away from finishing. I didn’t want to rush the process – I still didn’t know exactly how the book was going to end, believe it or not – so I shut down the laptop and went for a long walk. I knew that I’d be mentally engaged in the ending and would come up with something, so I left the house and let my mind wander. 45 minutes later, I had my perfect ending. So I came home, added one final paragraph, and then typed the two best words in the English language – “The End” – and that was it.

“Dream Sailors” is finished!

“Finished,” of course, is a relative term. It’s simply a first draft. Now I have to go through and edit the whole thing. After finishing “No Time For Kings,” two years passed before I actually published it. I am 100% certain the process will be quicker this time around, but I’m still months away from publishing. And I’ll have to decide whether to go the traditional route (try to find an agent and a publishing house) or self-publish again through Booklocker. My experience with NTFK has been nothing but positive. I may very well end up going the same route, and there will be no shame in that if I do.

It’s all a little unreal. I did not wake up this morning thinking I’d finish the novel I’ve been working on for so many years, but lo and behold, it is done. So I’m drinking wine in celebration and allowing myself to bask in the glow of a job well done.

The Long and Short of It

I just finished reading my 5th book of the year! I know that isn’t a huge number to a lot of people, but for me it’s pretty good and puts me on track to blow my modest Goodreads 12-book reading goal out of the water. This no-looking-at-the-phone-in-bed rule I instituted at the beginning of the year – call it a resolution if you must – is paying off pretty well for me.

Just because the cool kids are doing it, here’s what I have read so far:

  • “Martin Eden” (Jack London)
  • “The Silent Girls” (Eric Rickstad)
  • “Born to Run” (Bruce Springsteen)
  • “The North Water” (Ian McGuire)
  • “Frozen In Time” (Mitchell Zuckoff)

That’s a pretty diverse list, actually. You’ll find both classic and modern literature, an autobiography, a stupidly cheesy mystery/serial killer/police procedural, and a fascinating nonfiction account of a WWII plane crash in Greenland and the present-day attempt to find the wreckage. They have all been, well, good reads with the exception of the stupidly cheesy mystery/serial killer/police procedural (no offense, Eric Rickstad).

Immediately upon finishing that last book, I “went to the library” and “checked out” book numero six. It’s a short story collection called “Crow Fair” by Thomas McGuane. I very rarely read short stories, but this book had excellent reviews from the literary community so I decided to try something new. (By the way, I added those quotation marks up there because going to the library actually meant going to the library’s website and checking out a book involved downloading it to my Kindle. Ahh, 21st century, how I love thee.) You know how sometimes you can read the very first sentence of a book and know right away that you are going to love it? That’s what happened with “Crow Fair.” McGuane’s writing immediately drew me in. Bonus: I finished the first story on my lunch hour, which is a nice sense of accomplishment. Can’t wait to dig in further.

I am actually fascinated by short stories. I have always wanted to try my hand at writing them, but find it a difficult art form to master. For some reason, I have a much easier time writing novels. Go figure. Maybe I’m just too long-winded, ha. I feel like it’s a real challenge to tell a tale concisely. How do you adequately develop characters and come up with a beginning, middle, and end in only 20 pages?! And yet, people do. I have written exactly one short story in my adult life, and I think it’s decent, but I’ve been stymied in my attempts to do more. I’m thinking “Crow Fair” will provide me with the inspiration I need.

Ironically enough, it was a short story that fueled my passion for writing to begin with. Back in junior high I entered a short story contest sponsored by my local library on a whim, and won first place. It was called “The Egg” and is a pretty dark and cynical tale of a post-apocalyptic America. I still have it, and occasionally dig it out to read. It’s actually not too bad. I think the prize was something like $50, and I could not tell you what I spent the money on to save my life. Probably Atari 2600 cartridges or something. After all, it was the 80s and I did love me some Pitfall. There were a couple other short stories in college that, come to think of it, were also  dark. Both involved bad people who harbored secrets. Hmm. This strikes me as odd, given my normally sunny disposition. The one I wrote 10-ish years ago is called “The Autumn Gate” and isn’t quite as dark as the others, though it does explore the theme of mortality. It’s basically the story of a guy walking down the street of his childhood hometown, which he is visiting for the first time in years, and watching some kids playing baseball. I actually have no idea if it’s any good. All I know is, it’s about twelve pages long, so GO CONCISE MARK! Good job.

Just writing this post really makes me want to take another stab at short stories! I suppose I should finish my novel-that-is-taking-forever first, though.


It’s been a pretty great weekend so far. Friday night we went out to our favorite neighborhood bar, Shanahan’s. Unfortunately we couldn’t grab our usual table thanks to a private event, which meant our regular server, who knows us (and our orders) by heart, couldn’t wait on us. We ended up sitting at the bar, but those tequila sodas and fried pickles tasted as good as ever, so no complaints.

Afterwards…well. Let’s just say I lead a fun life.

Saturday, we went to the Kennedy School – part of the McMenamin’s chain – for lunch, cocktails, and a movie. “Star Wars: Rogue One” was playing and we hadn’t seen it yet. The tickets were $4 and this theater has a collection of plush, cozy chairs and loveseats annnnnd you can eat and drink right there, so it’s always a fun time. Let me just say, the movie was excellent and we both enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t even on my radar when it first came out, but it does the Star Wars franchise justice. Go see it.

Afterwards we drove into Portland. I wanted to walk around the waterfront to see the cherry trees, which finally decided to blossom this week, a final dagger in the heart of what turned out to be the coldest winter around these parts in over three decades. The cherry blossoms were beautiful, and everybody else in town seemed to have the same idea. It great to get out between rainstorms, though.

Came home and watched “Deepwater Horizon.” Talk about an intense movie. I highly recommend that one, as well.

NNWM/30: Final Words

Happy last day of November! If you participated in NaNoWriMo, I hope you hit your word goal.

I, for one, am glad it’s over. NaNoWriMo was harder than I imagined it would be. 50,000 words in a month is tough. I did the math before signing up and figured 1,667 words a day – the number needed in order to reach your goal – was do-able. Well, it is, but if you fall behind even one day, you are stuck playing catch-up. And let’s face it: there will be days where you are unable to write 1,667 words. Life gets in the way, especially when you have a full-time job and a hundred other daily responsibilities, like cooking and showering and sleeping. Suddenly, you find yourself needing to write 2,100 words a day to get back on track, and that creates a lot of pressure. Four of us signed on at work. I’m the only one who successfully finished. I don’t blame the others, though. Maybe they’re the sane ones?

I basically devoted every spare moment I had over the past month to writing. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I did it. And yet, I still fell behind, and found myself scrambling the last two weeks. The long holiday weekend saved me. There were slow periods at work where I was able to knock out a few hundred words. As soon as I got home, I fired up my laptop. Weekends, in between errands, I focused on my novel. With that deadline looming constantly over my head, I had very little time to relax and have fun. I feel fortunate, at least, that I never suffered from writer’s block or ended up getting hung up on the plot. When I wrote, the words flowed. Research slowed me down more than anything else. So, yeah: great accomplishment and it was very inspiring and motivational, but I am mentally exhausted. Do I really want to put myself through this again? I’m sure in 11 months I’ll be all fired up again, but I reserve the right not to be.

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I kind of wish NaNoWriMo took place in a different month. One with 31 days, for starters. That alone would reduce your burden by 54 words a day. And preferably a month without a big holiday that required your attention. I think March would be perfect. Maybe we can circulate a petition?

As for the book, 50K words doesn’t even bring me close to the end. According to Dr. Google, most novels clock in at 80,000 – 89,000 words on average, and that feels about right. Here’s an interesting link showing the word counts of popular works of fiction. I probably have another 1/3 of my novel to go yet. But NaNoWriMo was instrumental in providing me with the motivation needed to pick it up again, wipe off the dust, and plunge back into the story. Honestly, if I had never signed up, I probably wouldn’t have ever gotten back around to working on Dream Sailors again. It’s too hard to find excuses not to write; NaNoWriMo provided me with the exact lift I needed and got me back into the habit of writing. It helped me rediscover the joy of creating fiction, and for that I will be forever grateful. I love how the story has unfolded and can’t wait to finish. I’m estimating that will happen in January(ish). Then comes the editing, which will take several more months, if the past is any indication. I figure I might be a year away from publication yet, but I will get there. Mark my words.

I have also really enjoyed the daily blog updates. They have been very helpful in keeping me motivated, as well, and have done wonders to hold me accountable. Life is busy and my blog has sort of fallen by the wayside this past year; I’ll make an effort to update more often moving forward.

So…that’s it! I’ll continue to keep you posted on my novel progress as I go along.

Just not every day!

Word Count Today: 622.
Total FINAL Word Count: 51,023.

NNWM/29: Turning 24 Into 10

When I got to work this morning, I told my coworkers how happy I was to be back in the office. They assumed I was joking, but I was deadly serious. I feel like I’ve been cooped up for days. Probably because I’ve been cooped up for days. Vacation felt like work, so in this backwards reality, work felt like a vacation. I did not have to spend hours toiling away on my novel and could instead participate in meetings! and edit documents! Once I convinced them I was not kidding, they assumed I was insane instead.

Actually, much of this morning was spent figuring out holiday schedules. I realized that with a little planning, I could turn 24 hours of PTO into ten days off. All I had to do was request Dec. 27-29 off. It took me all of five seconds to decide that was too tempting an offer to pass up. With so much time off, I should do something productive.

Maybe I’ll write another book.

Ha. I kid.

I did manage a couple hundred words today. I’m holding true to my promise to write every day. It’s so much easier now that the pressure is gone.

Here’s a photo I uploaded to Instagram this morning. This is Dewey Lake in Mount Rainier National Park, taken during a hike the end of July. With winter-like weather forecast next week, I thought it would be nice to share a little slice of last summer.

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Word Count Today: 220.
Total Word Count: 50,401.

NNWM/28: 50,000

I have a new favorite word in my vocabulary. That word is several. It’s a simple word, really. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an indefinite number; more than two and fewer than many.” I like it for another reason: it is the 50,000th word in my novel, Dream Sailors. Which means I have successfully completed my first-ever NaNoWriMo! With two days to spare, no less. Although, in all fairness, I got a jump start on my book two days early when I embarked upon my writer’s retreat in a vintage trailer on the Washington coast over Halloween weekend. Still, I completed it in 30 days either way, so there is no asterisk beside that accomplishment as far as I’m concerned!*

*Except one. But I’ll talk about that in my final post this month. I’m too busy celebrating now.

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Up until a few days ago, I wasn’t even sure that I’d reach my NaNoWriMo goal. You have to write 1,667 words a day, every single day, for 30 days, in order to hit that magic number. That’s a lot, especially when you haven’t so much as looked at your novel in almost a year. Doubly so when you’re working without any sort of outline or draft. But I’m a sucker for personal challenges and was able to plow through and pick up my pace over the holiday weekend. When I realized I was getting close, I decided to take today off and focus 100% on writing. And that’s exactly what I did. I forced myself to get out of bed at the usual time – 5:45 – and other than a walk, coffee, lunch, and a shower, I did nothing but write. And at 4:45 p.m. I reached my goal with the word “several.” Honestly, I am relieved as hell. I feel like I can finally take a breather for the first time in a month. No, my novel isn’t finished. I probably still have another 30,000 words or so to go. But I will get there, and I can do so on my own schedule now.

I’ll still update my blog the next two days. I promised one entry a day all month long, and that commitment is an easy one to keep.

Word Count Today: 4,580.
Total Word Count: 50,181.

NNWM/27: A Lot Like Christmas

I woke up this morning dismayed that the long holiday weekend was already coming to an end. It’s amazing how quickly the days fly by, huh? But I’m not ready to go back to work just yet, so I texted my boss and asked if I could take a last-minute PTO day on Monday. He gave me the okay, so – woot! My weekend isn’t over just yet!

It’s been incredibly productive but busy. We ended up decorating the apartment for Christmas, which turned into an afternoon-long project. But it looks great, and I love that we have a real tree again this year. It’s been a while.

I also hit 2,000+ words for a third consecutive day, so I’ve made up quite a bit of ground and am now rapidly closing in on reaching my goal. This is the main reason I decided to take tomorrow off. With an empty apartment and nowhere to go, I should be able to make a big push toward finishing. By “finishing” I mean hitting 50K words, not completing the novel. I figure that’ll take at least another month. But I want the trophy, dammit. Or whatever it is you win for a successful NaNoWriMo.

Please don’t tell me it’s only bragging rights. Those are so overrated.

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Word Count Today: 2,442.
Total Word Count: 45,601.

NNWM/26: Inception-ish

When I’ve talked about the plot of my new novel, a lot of people say, “Oh – like Inception!” And while both stories center around dreaming, that’s the only real common ground they share. But enough folks made the comparison that I began to worry. I saw Inception when it came out a few years ago, but only that one time. The truth is, I didn’t remember many of the details other than the fact that it was a visually stunning film and starred Leonardo DiCaprio. I began to worry that I might have inadvertently “borrowed” from the script and incorporated those elements into my book. The subconscious is a powerful tool, after all. Which is sort of the whole point of Inception, come to think about it.

So last night we watched it again. I’d picked up a BluRay copy at Value Village a few weeks ago for $4. God, I miss that store already. Tara had never seen the movie and I wanted a refresher course to ensure that what I was writing was, indeed, original. You’d think I’d have done this prior to committing to NaNoWriMo, huh?

But it’s all good. My book is, at most, Inception-ish. But barely. Overlapping themes aside, it’s totally original.

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Today we picked up my parents from the airport. They have been in New Zealand and on a cruise for the past month. I’m glad they’re back.

We bought a Christmas tree this afternoon from the Boy Scouts lot across the street. I was surprised when Tara suggested a real tree, given that we’ve relied upon her artificial tree the past few years. I love the smell of fresh pine. Tomorrow we will finish decorating the apartment for Christmas.

Tonight we went to Shanahan’s for cocktails and dinner. I don’t think we’ve ever gone there on a Saturday night – usually it’s Friday after work. We had a great time even if our usual server, Alicia, was not there. Tomorrow we will finish decorating. It is taking so much concentration for me to type this post without errors, so I think I’ll wrap it up now.

Word Count Today: 2,081.
Total Word Count: 41,130.