NaNoWriMo Progress Report

Today’s my sixth day of National Novel Writing Month. I started out with a bang and churned out a lot of words on the first three days, then goofed off and fell behind. NaNo has a nifty bar graph that charts my progress, telling me exactly how many words I need to turn out per day to finish in time and how long it’ll take me at my present rate.

Today NaNo says I’ll finish on December 8th, so I’ve got to pick up the pace. This is about the point I copped out the last time I tried several years ago, but I’m determined to stay the course. Fortunately my husband is understanding and supportive – he’s entered NaNo too. Right now I’ve got about twice as many words as he does, but he started late, and I expect he’ll pass me before too long.

I’m all too easily distracted. It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, perfect for leaf raking and putting the garden to bed, but I don’t dare go outside until I’ve written at least a thousand words. From my office window I have a bird’s eye view of my next-door neighbor’s roof. Two men are laying down new roofing, and it’s a pleasure to watch them, especially the younger one who’s wearing a black tee shirt and jeans as he crawls around with amazing agility. I’m admiring his musculature while I study their technique.

He’s working incredibly fast, while the older guy mostly stands and watches, hitching up his pants every once in awhile. This side show would be all well and good except for the fact that he’s using an electric hammer which emits a steady rhythm of “ribbet, ribbet,” conjuring up images of frogs. I’m tempted to give the men a neighborly shout-out of encouragement, but that would destroy my voyeur status.

Everything’s grist for the mill. I won’t be able to use this scene just yet, because my novel takes place in January, but maybe my observations will come in handy for a future book, so it’s good to take notes. They’ll end up in my 50,000 word count, and so will my thoughts as I worked in the garden yesterday.

Picasso's Woman in Mirror

But there are some observations I can use immediately. Yesterday I went to a vegan restaurant in Troy in hopes of meeting some other NaNo writers who’d said they’d probably be there. I met only one, but I ended up in a long conversation with a non-Nano woman who was unusually talkative and forthcoming with personal information, like the details of her incontinence problems. Only after I showed her a copy of my book MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS did she reveal that she was diagnosed bipolar. She said she’s doing fine without medication and by adhering to a strictly vegan diet. 

After I extricated myself from the conversation and left the restaurant, a light bulb flashed and I realized she’d make a perfect character for my book – maybe a ditzy secretary who drives the other staff crazy with her never ending self-referential chatter. I’ll transform her in most respects, of course – I don’t even how what she looks like yet – but I can envision her as a recurring character who adds some levity, like the grandmother in Janet Evanovich’s books.

Although I vowed not to get hung up on editing for this first draft, I find I can’t resist the urge to tinker with my words, at least a little. Yes, it slows me down, but I need to feel good about what I write. If I fall further behind, I’ll just have to put in more hours. And when I’m really feeling panicked, I can always paste in a short story I never published, but which I was planning to incorporate in this novel anyway.

Throughout the time I’ve been writing this post, those guys have been working nonstop on the roof. On this first day back on standard time, darkness will come all too quickly, but right now the sinking sun is throwing the young man’s face and arms into high relief. The pine trees framing the lake make a perfect backdrop, and on the opposite shore, there’s still lots of gold and red in the trees. All in all a beautiful sight.

So far, the biggest win for me in NaNoWriMo is the revelation that I can still write fiction, maybe at a higher level than I ever have before. In the year of depression from which I’m only now emerging, I’d seriously questioned whether I had another novel in me. Now I know I do.

*I found the cat photo above by Googling NaNoWriMo, and I don’t know what’s up with the spelling. But she does remind me somewhat of my tabby cat Lunesta, who is currently sitting atop the computer monitor batting intermittently at the screen. She’s still on daylight savings time, not having realized we’ve gone an hour backward, and thinks it’s time for her evening meal.

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – can I write a novel during National Novel Writing Month?

This is the first sentence of my new 50,000 word novel. Yes, I’ve signed on for the exercise in masochism known as National Novel Writing Month. That big a word count averages out to 1,666 words a day, according to the site’s organizers, or about six and a half pages. That’s not an impossible goal on a good day, but I’ve never cranked out a novel that fast. Now that the race is on, my anxiety is already kicking in – I’m hyperventilating and my heart rate is rising.

NaNoWriMo (www.NaNo.WriMo.org) was launched in 1999, and it’s grown steadily since then. Last year 200,000 people participated, and of that number, 30,000 completed 50,000 words or more. Those who reach the finish line get some kind of sticker and certificate. There’s no fee to enter, and no one sees or reads the finished manuscript. When you reach 50,000 words, you upload your novel to their web site to verify the word count. If you’re paranoid, you can do a “save-as” and scramble the book a bit to insure that no one can steal your plot.

So why did I make the first line of this blog the novel’s first sentence? Because I plan to make my 50,000-word manuscript a form of performance art in order to beef up my word count and blend fact with fiction. I’ll alternate fictional scenes with stream-of-consciousness ramblings about my creative process, some of which will end up on this blog. Who knows, the process may open up new horizons for me as a writer.

I entered NaNoWriMo several years ago but dropped out after a week because the break-neck speed made me excruciatingly nervous. As a writer, I’m accustomed to taking my time, backtracking and editing as I go along. I agonize over the perfect words and phrases and make changes directly on the computer, so that before I print out the new pages, I’ve got a fairly coherent and engaging first draft, or so I hope.

With NaNoWriMo, there’s no time for that kind of lollygagging. As in a marathon, I need to sustain my pace. No time to fix typos or check for repetition, let alone worry about the finer points of spinning a compelling tale – there’s only time to spew, no time to analyze the vomitus.

Word’s spell-check just underlined vomitus with a red squiggle, telling me it’s not a legitimate word. Normally I’d take time to consult an online dictionary for fine-tuning, but not now – I have to meet my quota. But then what does this Microsoft program know? It doesn’t even recognize the word “blog.”  

No need to agonize in solitude – NaNo has lots of online forums where people can share the misery. You can find out who’s participating in your own geographical region and even meet them in person. In three hours I’ll be dining on free pizza, hobnobbing at East Line Books, an independent bookstore in Clifton Park, where the owner, Robyn Ringler, is throwing a NaNo kick-off party. Apparently some NaNo participants converge on local libraries and coffee shops to write together en masse, but I think I’ll pass on that – I’ve never done my best writing in a group setting.

You too can share in this November madness. There’s still time to sign up. I don’t see any entry deadline on the website, but of course every day you lose means more catching up in the remaining days. As the say on their home page, with a nod to Maurice Sendak, “let the wild rumpus begin!”

Anyone care to bet on whether and when I finish my 50,000 words? Give me your best guess, down to the date, hour and minute, and I’ll send the winner copies of my two mystery novels, MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS and ELDERCIDE.

There, I’ve just written 647 words – over a third of today’s quota!

Venting negative thoughts in writing – is it always therapeutic?

Edward Munch

Commenting on my “Slump-A-Dump” poem in the last post, Bob Sanchez praised my quasi-rap rhyming and characterized the piece as “healthy venting.” He got me thinking – how healthy is using your writing as a way of venting negative thoughts? Can it be counterproductive? I’m afraid that sometimes the answer is yes.

This morning I attempted a poem about the depression that’s been plaguing me since May. One passage reads:

I score my mood on scales of one through ten,

with one as suicidal, ten as manic, trying to uncover

conscious weather patterns I can manipulate at will

by choosing wholesome activities that bring me pleasure

or failing that, alleviate the pain. Writing works sometimes.

Writing didn’t work today. I woke up with my mood at three or four, but wallowing in negativity for the hour it took me took me to come up with a first draft left me feeling like a two. I wrote about the heat wave that’s forecast to roll in tomorrow,* and how that will give me a more valid excuse for misery than I’ve had during the recent stretch of gorgeous summer days. Did committing my thoughts to paper have a positive cathartic effect? On the contrary, I felt even worse.

M.E. Kemp commented that short stories are one option for barreling through a creative block. I began one a few days ago about a woman who decides to take to her bed for good. She converses with a shadowy archetype who encourages her in her resolution, and speculates about how high a dosage of her favorite sleeping pill, Lunesta, would prove fatal. Only the need to feed her cats prevents her from carrying out her plans – for the time being.

As I wrote about Gladys’s sweat-stained sheets and wondered how long it would take for her cats’ hungry nudges and love nips to morph into full-blown attack mode – would she have to die first? – I realized I didn’t want to go down the path my imagination was taking me. I couldn’t envision an epiphany for Gladys, something for her to live for, nor did I want to accompany her on a slow and painful death. After three pages, the story peters out, possibly for good.

On the other hand, healthy venting fueled the fire that inspired both my mystery novels. Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is about transcending the stigma of mental illness, and Eldercide explores the ethical dilemmas that arise as our allotted life spans grow ever longer. For me, writing has to spring from conviction, something I feel passionately about that I’ve absolutely got to get down on paper. I’m waiting impatiently for that subject to manifest itself.

 *The heat wave is here, threatening to break all kinds of records in upstate New York, and sure enough, the external excuse for misery helps me feel a little better about myself. I wrote this post a few days ago but felt it was too downbeat to publish unless I could come up with a more positive ending. But what the heck – I need to get something up here regardless. Maybe you can come up with some more upbeat comments to help cheer me up.

 

Depression – forecast cloudy, cool and drizzly?

Weather report from the dreary Northeast: cloudy, cool and gray with intermittent drizzles – a lot like the weather inside my head the past few days. Outside, they’re predicting a positive change, and tomorrow’s forecast promises a perfect spring day, sunny with temps in the seventies. I wish my mental state would brighten too, but I’m not at all sure.

I’ve written here before about my bipolar diagnosis, but from the perspective of someone who has it well under control with medication. Over the past several years, my disposition has been amazingly, predictably sunny.  Now that depression is rolling in like low cloud cover and fogging my brain, my impulse is to hide, to retreat into silence. Who wants to read a blog that’s basically a downer? Maybe you’ll read it and never return. If I can’t say something nice and cheery, better not to say anything at all, right?

Wrong. I’ve always been big on self-disclosure in this blog, and it would feel hypocritical to change now, so I’ve decided to go public with these feelings of depression. My novel  Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is all about transcending the stigma of mental illness, and sharing feelings is one way to go about it. The book’s protagonist Erika Norgren reveals her bipolar diagnosis on the 11 o’clock news, and when the book was published, I came out of the closet as well, to my enormous relief. I’m hoping that sharing my feelings here will have an equally therapeutic effect.

I’m a firm believer in the biochemical nature of manic depression, as some still prefer to call bipolar disorder, and I know medications work. A couple of months ago, my shrink tweaked my meds, changing one of them to something less apt to promote weight gain, but in retrospect, maybe that was a mistake. Yesterday, after taking to my bed for the afternoon, I was  alarmed enough to call him, and I’ll be seeing him soon, but he wants me to monitor my moods a little while longer rather than changing the meds too abruptly.

I could launch into a whole laundry list of things to be depressed about, but realistically, I have far more things to be grateful for. This kind of depression isn’t about rationality, though – that’s what’s so frightening about it. Images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico come to mind – the toxic black muck keeps pouring up unstoppably from the depths.

Never fear, I have no intention of dragging you into my slough of despond on a regular basis. There’ll be cheerier postings in the days and weeks ahead, but I may occasionally offer progress reports on my mental status. Meanwhile, I feel like Tinker Bell in Peter Pan – my inspiration is flickering, and I don’t want it to die out. If you believe, it would be good to hear some applause right about now.

Dogs I’ve loved in life and fiction

Congratulations to Karen Walker, winner of my 50,000 hits contest. Though Karen lives across the country, we’ve shared a lot over the past year through the Blog Book Tours group. I invite you to visit her wonderful blog, Following the Whispers. Here’s the post I contributed to her blog for my Blog Book Tour last November.

Truth can be stranger than fiction:

the tragic saga of Lucky, my golden retriever

Lucky and Me (Author photo for Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders) Courtesy Hot Shot Photos

Dogs have long played a central role in my life and my fiction but Lucky, the beautiful golden retriever in my author photo for Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, may have been the last dog I’ll ever own. Six months after the photo was taken, he died of lymphoma, and in the years since then, I’ve switched to cats. Setting up this Blog Book Tour, reading my hosts’ reactions to the photo, I realized I’d never written about Lucky. Since Karen’s blog focuses on memoir and nonfiction, this seems like the perfect time.

But Rishi, the dog before Lucky, deserves pride of place. He’s a major character in Mood Swing. In fact, his image is in my cover illustration, and his name is the first word in the first chapter:

            Rishi was halfway out the window and onto the fire escape when I tackled him. Arms around my dog’s massive shoulders, I groped for his choke chain and yanked hard. Half a dozen pigeons flapped skyward, squawking.

            I described him on Page 2:

            He’s leaner and rangier than a German shepherd, stockier than a Doberman, bigger than a Rottweiler. Despite his forbidding looks, he’s a basically friendly beast, but sometimes it’s in my best interests not to let people know that.

That last sentence was literary license. Rishi was wonderfully affectionate and loving, but only to our immediate family, and he was never adequately trained. Despite a near-death experience with a neighbor’s hammer that left a permanent dent in his skull, Rishi lived nearly ten years, a good long life for a big dog. But his death threw me into a deep depression.

Enter Lucky, a year or so later. He came into our lives with what seemed at first to be joyous synchronicity. At a Woodstock party given by friends of my daughter Stacey, someone mentioned having a golden retriever who needed a new home. I was instantly intrigued – we’d owned a beautiful golden named Shawna when Stacey was a child, and except for her propensity to chew up the woodwork during thunderstorms, she’d been a wonderful member of the family.

Right after the party, I paid a home visit to meet Lucky, fell instantly in love, called my husband on my cell, and within a week we had a beautiful four-year-old male golden. He came with a tragic back story: he’d been the beloved companion of an 84-year-old man who lived alone in the Catskills, and when the man was hospitalized, one of the nurses befriended both him and Lucky. Shortly after the man’s discharge, he was brutally murdered by a neighbor he’d known and trusted for years, a handyman in search of money for drugs.

The nurse took Lucky in, and in turn passed him on to the folks who gave him to us for adoption. The poor dog was threatening the family’s togetherness. They already had a couple of young kids, a poodle and a cat, and a rambunctious young retriever sent them over the top. The husband’s job took him on the road a lot, but when he was home, he told us, he and Lucky slept together downstairs while the wife, kids, poodle and cat slept upstairs. Not exactly a prescription for marital bliss, so Lucky had to go.

Soon after the photo session with Lucky, his health began spiraling downward. He couldn’t seem to keep food down, and he was weakening and losing weight. After extensive testing, the vet diagnosed lymphoma. In a futile attempt to buy more time, we opted for extensive – and expensive – surgery. In retrospect, that was a mistake, but he’d been so young, so lovable, that we thought it was worth the gamble.

He died in early fall. We buried him in the garden out back, marked the spot with a marble plaque bearing an iris design my husband had carved years before. I planted dozens of bulbs – crocus, daffodil, and hyacinth – and they’ve bloomed luxuriously in the three years since.

Dogs play a major role in both my novels, but they never, ever come to a bad end. In fact the villain in my suspense novel Eldercide nearly refuses an assignment when he thinks it might mean harming the victim’s Jack Russell terrier. And I could probably never write that scene where the neighbor tries to murder Rishi with a ball peen hammer, with me coming between them, shrieking that he’ll have to kill me first, screaming bloody murder until the neighbors call 911 and the police arrive. On the other hand, maybe enough time has passed – and after all, the dog survived in the end.

 As I write, my cat Lunesta is writhing around on the desk next to my computer, tempting me to rub her tummy and doing her best to bat the mouse out of my hand and onto the floor. Does she sense I’m writing about dogs? Is she demanding equal time? For now, she’ll have to wait.

Post script five months later: it’s a beautiful spring day, and the green shoots of the crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths are pushing out of the ground atop Lucky’s grave. Lunesta is sleeping in a basket by my side, soaking up the sunshine.

I did the cover illustrations for both my books, by the way. The medium is pastel.

How about you? Any pet stories you’d like to share? Have your pets played a role in your fiction?

 

Support a struggling author – buy my books for the holidays!

For my recent Blog Book Tour, Maryann Miller invited me to post on her blog, It’s Not All Gravy, about why my mystery novels would make good holiday gifts. I decided to quote my own reviews. As a self-published author in the early phase of building my career, I treasure each and every sale, and I believe both my novels, Eldercide (2008) and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders (2006) would make marvelous gifts. But how to toot my own horn without being overly obnoxious? Here’s how I did it, and what some of my writing colleagues had to say:   

ELDERCIDE

Not Just for Old Folks

You don’t have to be elderly to connect intellectually or emotionally with this book. The story offers something for everyone: for readers of mysteries, a good story; for readers of medical thrillers, authentic (but not too clinical) health care scenes; for readers of literary fiction, an accomplished novel with believable, fully developed characters. And for all of us living in modern society: a contemporary exploration of unavoidable end-of-life issues. The narrative flows smoothly. The dialogue is always on the mark. The editing is sharp, uncommonly good for alternatively-published books. I read the book twice, appreciating its qualities even more the second time. And after finishing the last page, I couldn’t wait to talk about it with my husband. What higher praise for a book than that it provokes discussion?

                                                            Therese Broderick, poet

A Maven of Mayhem

In addition to the joys of combing through the characters and plot to untangle a mystery, Eldercide addresses the moral issue of euthanasia. Homicide – unfathomable. Mercy killing – a very real topic for discussion. Julie Lomoe braids compassion with murder in this page-turning whodunit. As a retired home-care physical therapist myself, I related completely. Ms. Lomoe’s experience as a home-care agency administrator gave depth to these defenseless patients and their caregivers with true-to-life dialog. Her artistic talents are apparent in the vividly painted scenes simultaneously combined with her suspense-heightening skills. She blurs the edges just enough where the answers to your questions reside. Colorful in all respects. I look forward to Julie Lomoe’s next work of art.

                                                            Fay Rownell, author of Death Straight Up

 MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS

 

Mood Swing is a Marvelous Mystery!

I began this novel with trepidation – like many others, I’m a little in awe, a little uncomfortable with people with “mood swings.” But as I read this terrific novel and got to know the myriad characters, my own mood swung a good ninety degrees – all earlier perceptions altered. This writer is a true professional, a bright, fun-loving, compassionate human being. I admire the high quality of the writing, the in-depth characterizations (often delightfully quirky); the fascinating setting (I love the details of the Manhattan Lower East Side); the realistic dialogue, the plot – all of it brilliant. I found myself going back to reread sections, to laugh (the author has a great sense of humor), to despair when the gifted WellSpringers die, to rage when the adversaries exploit Erika, the savvy but frustrated director. This is what a mystery should be: unraveling like a colorful tapestry until it is all in pieces – and in the end, put back together with love and with craft.

                                        Nancy Means Wright, author of the Ruth Willmarth series

Mood Swings to Murder

Julie Lomoe’s Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is an excellent read, a well written and exciting page turner. . . it took me into a world I know little about, people with mental health problems and how they cope with extraordinary character. Yet it did not sentimentalize these problems, which were clearly secondary to the plot. Lomoe knows the streets and the squats of a big city and the menacing characters that may wear Mafia black or Wall Street Armani. . . Lomoe’s main character, Erika, is believable as a savvy and smart denizen of the city who also has her vulnerable side. She may be Scandinavian, but she’s no ice princess.

                                        M.E. Kemp, author of Death of a Bawdy Belle

Rereading these quotes and typing them into this post did wonders for my self-esteem, and I hope they tempt you to buy my books. You can read the first chapters of both right here on this blog. To bypass the giants and support small business, you can order directly from my publisher, Virtualbookworm. You can also order online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, place an order at your local (and hopefully independent) bookstore, or ask your library to order copies of both books.

Thanks again to Maryann Miller for hosting me on November 10th. My Blog Book Tour ran from November 9th through November 20th, and I encourage you to visit the excellent sites that hosted me. You can find the links by checking my own posts during that time period. I’m still planning to post a summary of what I learned on the tour, with links to all the authors, but frankly, I needed a week off! I’ll get it up here this week, after tomorrow’s trip to New York City. I’m treating myself to a day at the Guggenheim, visiting my old haunts in SoHo, then going to the MWA New York Chapter’s holiday shindig at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park South.

True confession time: I’m a POD person, I’m out and I’m proud!

Mood Swing front coverEarly in this blog’s brief history, I posted about my bipolar diagnosis, saying I’m out and I’m proud. Today’s post is about an aspect of my identity with perhaps even more stigma attached – I’ve published my two mysteries POD, or print-on-demand, rather than with a traditional publisher. A discussion on Murder Must Advertise got me riled up this morning, and I realized I hadn’t come clean how my books made it into print. It’s high time to change that.

My history in a nutshell: I began writing fiction in the 1980’s, inspired by my work as an art therapist at Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie. After years as a free-spirited painter in New York’s SoHo, I found the institutional atmosphere overwhelming, but I was fascinated by the patients I worked with. The experience inspired my first mystery novel, and I produced a second as well. I managed to land a New York City agent, Kay Kidde of Kidde, Hoyt & Picard, but she didn’t sell my books. I stashed them in a drawer and forgot about fiction.

In the 1990’s I left the mental hospital and founded ElderSource, Inc., a Licensed Home Care Services Agency. The business did well, but it pushed me over the edge – it was while running ElderSource that I was first diagnosed bipolar. My husband and I sold the agency and moved further upstate to the Capital Region, where I did a year’s stint as Assistant Director at a psychiatric social club. They fired me the morning after I disclosed to one of the club’s consumers that like her, I had a bipolar diagnosis. Once again I turned to fiction as therapy: the experience inspired Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders.

Eldercide (2008)While attempting unsuccessfully to find an agent for Mood Swing, I wrote Eldercide. Perhaps mental illness was too specialized a topic, I thought, and I hoped for more success with the novel that drew on my home care experience. No such luck: the rejections continued. Approximately 18 rejections for each book – not many at all, but enough to throw me into a profound clinical depression. Once again I nearly gave up, until some writer friends convinced me to try print-on-demand publishing. I did due-diligence online research on POD companies and settled on Virtual Bookworm, a company in Texas that received consistently good reviews. Within two months of my decision, I had a published book in my hands. I had a major say in the design and layout, and I did my own cover illustration. Lo and behold, my depression lifted, and it hasn’t come back since.

Do I still want a big-time agent and publisher? Yes, that would be great, but my life no longer depends on it. And I plan to acquire them on my terms, when and if I choose. In the meantime, the people buying my books don’t care who the publisher is. Bookstores and libraries carry them when I do the necessary outreach, and they’re available worldwide through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. At my high school reunion last month in Milwaukee, I learned the school had purchased both books for their collection of alumni writers. And a fellow alumna from Norway, an exchange student back in the day, had bought them both as well.

Do I recommend POD publishing to other aspiring authors? Absolutely. I’ve got a lot more to say about it, so check back on Monday, when I’ll post a Q&A dialogue with myself about print-on-demand. If you have questions you’d like answered, leave them as comments, and perhaps I’ll answer them in my post. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

You can read the first chapters of both my mysteries by clicking on the tabs above or the pages on the right. If you like what you read, I encourage you to buy them! This fall I’ll be reissuing Eldercide with a new cover and a new title, Evening Falls Early. When I do, I plan to add a couple of pages with brief blurbs from other authors. These will include the authors’ own titles and/or websites, so it’s an ideal place to draw attention to your own work. Space is limited, though. I’ve already got some good quotes, and I can’t promise to include everybody, so act fast if you’re interested!

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