NaNoWriMo 2016 is over, the end of the year holidays are here. I’m working through the last of the chapters of my “work in progress” and revising the story. This has been an interesting project and North Carolina will never be the same.

This work, with the working title of Alien Alliance, will be the last in the Spirit Missions series, so I have to make certain that I wrap up all the little nuanced loose ends I left in Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers.

All the action in this new book takes place in North Carolina and a little in Virginia. Zombies in Asheville, aliens in Raleigh, and the end of humanity as we know it just hours away. Jealousy, anger, love, joy, pain, and desperation, all play out in the story. So, I’ll soon have to write the cover blurb and include all that in just a few sentences.

Merry Christmas

I will probably not post again until after Christmas. I’m working on the book, getting some other projects done, and spending time with the family.

I also selected a new site theme. As I tweak this and get it working, let me know what you think of it. Getting a theme, with colors, font, layout, and widgets, all organized takes a little time. The basic theme is in place and most of my standard widgets are there. I just need to make sure it is all working and set up correctly.

So, if something isn’t behaving correctly, post a note and I’ll get right on it.

Thanks for your support this year and following along on this blog. It has been an interesting year.

I hope you and yours have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Keep writing.






Today I passed the 50,000 word mark and am now an official NaNoWriMo 2016 winner! My word count for November 29 is 1,816. My daily average was 1,751. The total word count uploaded for the win today: 50,793.

The first draft is not finished, though. There are a couple of chapters yet to write as there is still one more problem/conflict to manage.

My personal goal for this project was about 60,000 words. I suspect I’ll meet that–or, be close–in the next few days. I’ll finish this draft soon, as this last bit will not need tons of writing.

I even have an epilogue.

This process was fun. There were days where it was difficult to get any words written, but I kept at it. That’s where the value of NaNoWriMo is. It gives me a structure, a deadline, to work in. I have daily goals to meet. I get support from friends on Twitter and Facebook.

Best of all, I get a first draft at the end.

Believe me, this is a very rough first draft. I’ve already gone back over several chapters and rewritten or added some material. You’re not supposed to do that in NaNoWriMo, but I did. You’re supposed to just keep charging ahead. I did keep charging ahead, but I found I kept forgetting something and had to go back and add it. Or, maybe I thought of something new and different for a particular place.

In any case, it all worked and I’m a day ahead of the 30-day schedule. I’m a winner. I don’t get anything for it other than improved self-esteem, congratulations from friends, and that all-important first draft.

Soon, the rest of the work begins. Editing, revision, rewriting. I want to get this ready for a good editor to look at. I think it’s a good story and I’ve learned a lot in the three NaNoWriMos I’ve participated in. A good editor will help make it a better read and a stronger story.

I hope you followed along this month. If you didn’t take part in NaNoWriMo, think about doing it next year. If you’ve wanted to write something, or you’ve been struggling to write something, this is a great way to get the first draft done.

I’ll be posting more information on the progress of this project as it moves through the process to publication. Thanks for your support and encouragement, those of you on Twitter and Facebook.

Keep writing.



Day Twenty-Two

Home Stretch

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200This is Day Twenty-two. My word count is at 39,707 words. I wrote 3,047 words today, and I’m averaging 1,804 word per day now.

By this time next week, I should have passed the 50,000 word mark for NaNoWriMo-2016 and be well on the way to my personal goal of 60,000. Or, I’ll be done with the first draft.

Things are going along very well. I’ve done my best to lay waste to much of North Carolina (the setting), and develop my main character, Amy. I’m pretty excited about how this is working out.

Some of my writing friends on Twitter are doing well, too. I do my best to encourage and support them as we make our way through this month of writing.

It isn’t as hard as folks might think. And it is. The key is getting started. Once you start, it isn’t hard to keep going. There is the struggle each day to pull up the application and open the document and pick up where you left off. But, that just takes about a half-cup of coffee.

The other day I had this great idea for an epilogue. Yesterday I wrote the epilogue as part of my work. It gave me a finishing framework within which I’ll work the rest of the novel.

So, things are going well, even with a little travel and some interruptions. I’m on track and making progress, and within about 15,000 words of a finish.

Keep writing!


Day Fifteen


nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200This is Day Fifteen. The word count for today is 3,470. I’m averaging 2,019 words per day. My total as of today is: 30,299. This is half way through the month and half way to the end of NaNoWriMo 2016.

If my goal was 50,000 words–which is the goal for NaNoWriMo–I would be three-fifths the way to the word count goal. But, my personal goal is about 60,000 words, so I’m halfway there.

I’m cheerleading friends on Twitter and Facebook. Some even cheer me back, and that is a wonderful thing. I like seeing friends succeed at this as much as I like succeeding at it.

Both Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers, the first two books in the Spirit Missions series, were the result of first drafts done during NaNoWriMo. No, they didn’t go from that to published right away. They went through numerous rewrites, edits, revisions, and more edits. That’s what got them the “Spirit Filled” awards and the great ratings and reviews on Amazon.

So, this project, working title of Alien Alliance, will have a similar process. Edits, rewrites, more edits, revisions, all that. Of course, my wife will be my first reader because … well, she IS my wife. And she deserves a reward for her patience.

The main character, Amy, appeared in the first two books. She was the secondary character to Paul in those, but this time, she’s the main character. There are reasons for that. But, I’m not spilling any beans here. You’ll have to wait for the book to come out.

Can you tell, yet, that I’m having a great time putting this one together? Well, I am. Yeah, there are days when it is hard to sit down and hammer out the story. But, I try to push through. The last two days I’ve logged more than 3,000 words each. That helps. Holidays are coming. I’ll need the buffer.

Keep writing.


Day Eight

Day Eight

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200I just finished writing on day eight of NaNoWriMo 2016. So far, I’m averaging a little over 2,000 words per day. Today’s count was 2,150 words. I’m kind of hitting it as a chapter each day. Tomorrow, I’ll start with a fresh chapter. That seems to work pretty well.

So far, the total word count on NaNoWriMo is 16,179. the NaNoWriMo November target is 50,000 words. My personal target is 60,000 words. I should hit that with no problem. I include about 2,000 words in the personal target from some effort prior to NaNoWriMo.

This story uses Amy Grossman’s point of view. She has a bit more internal dialogue than if it was from a male point of view and I’m having a lot of fun with it. The hard part is getting it right when things get tough. And things are getting tough. I’m already thinking of what I have to rewrite tomorrow to do a better job of expressing Amy’s …

Whoops, don’t want to give anything away.

The working title is Alien Alliance. I have a feeling this title won’t work well and a couple of ideas have come up since I started the book.

Those of you who’ve been waiting for this, know that it is in progress. After November, I’ll let it “cool” for a few weeks, then get into the editing, rewriting, and polishing phases. This is a lot of work. I’m hoping to hire my editor again and she’ll help get this story in it’s best shape.

For now, though, I’m hitting it hard every day and increasing the word count. Lots of action. Interesting characters. Can’t wait until we can get this finished and out to the public.

It’s amazing how much fun this can be.

Keep writing.


First Day

First Daynanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo 2016. That’s National Novel Writing Month to those of you not paying attention.

I started at midnight. I joined fellow writers at Denny’s on North Division in Spokane just a little before midnight on Halloween, set up the laptop and got ready.

Apple crisp and coffee. Check.

Scrivener up with new document. Check.

Power. Check.

Our municipal liaison got everyone ready and counted down. At 12:00 midnight, we all started.

I wrote for about an hour and got a little more than 600 words into the new first draft. Then I packed it up and drove home. Had I not just spent the day getting ready for Halloween, spending the evening wondering if we would get any trick-or-treaters and playing with the grandkids that did show up, I might have stayed longer.

As it is, I had an early errand. Once done, we got home and I got busy again. So, I got a total of 1,883 words. Nice start for the first day.

If you do the math, you realize you can average about 1,667 words per day for 30 days you’ll have 50,000 words. But, November has holidays and other interruptions that will tear into your word count quickly if you don’t put a little more on your daily word count. In the past, I tried to stick to 2,200 words. That helps cover those days where you just have too much to do with the family.

Like Thanksgiving.

Black Friday.


You get the idea.

If you stumble one or two days and fall behind, know that with some determination and grit, you can get back in the race. Try to keep your goals sustainable. Write on!

Keep writing.

P.S. By the way, today, November 1, is National Author’s Day. Yipee!

NaNoWriMo 2016

Plot or Pants?


NaNoWriMo 2016

I will take part in National Novel Writing Month this year. That’s NaNoWriMo.

Starting November 1, participants start writing their novels. If they write every day, meet a target number of words each day, and keep at it, they will reach the goal of 50,000 words or more by November 30. If they do, they win!

Winners get a cool little certificate to print out and hang on the wall.

But, that’s not all. Participants who win now have a 50,000-plus word first draft.

That first draft is one of the most important benefits of participation. For most participants, though, it is a first draft. From that point, revisions, edits, more revisions, rewrites, more edits, beta readers, more revisions, more edits, and so on until the novel is polished and ready for submission to a publisher, editor, or agent.

But, the all important first step is there. The first draft.

For me, this is a useful way to get the work done. I work best under deadline. Always have. I guess it is the old print newspaper journalist in me. Sudden Mission was a NaNoWriMo first draft in 2012. I did very little plotting, planning, or prep for it. I just jumped in and started on November 1. So, in 2012, I was a pantser (seat of the pants).

Nasty Leftovers was a NaNoWriMo first draft in 2013. I did a lot more plotting and outlining for it. Granted, the characters and story took off in directions I had not anticipated. But it all worked out. In 2013, I was more of a plotter.

Both were winners of NaNoWriMo, in that I completed the first drafts of more than 50,000 words for each novel in the 30 days. After revisions, rewrites, professional edits and all, both novels were about 52,000-54,000 words.

The working title of this third book is Alien Alliance. That may stick, it may not. We’ll see. Here is a short blurb:

In this third installment of a series now called Spirit Missions, Amy Grossman hopes for a normal life. Well, as normal as it could get after the events in Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers.

The zombies flow out of Asheville and overrun western North Carolina. Paul Shannon, Amy, and the community join forces with the “soldiers” from the Appalachian Mountains to try to hold the horde back. It isn’t working. Paul and his squad disappear during an engagement near a small town and the rest of the force must retreat.

Then, the aliens come back.

Amy is fresh out of patience.

I’ve done a bit of prepping, planning, and plotting for this, and this time you’d call me a plotter. I have a paragraph or two for each chapter describing what should happen. If it all goes well, this one will probably end up closer to 60,000 words. Maybe more.

At the end of November, I’ll have that one important thing. A first draft.

Keep writing.






The story element What is a critical part of a story. Who is important, but without What, there really isn’t any story. The What generally amounts to an event, a romance, an accident, a speech, an election, or an apocalypse.

what-arrowNormally, What is your plot in the novel or short story and is what your character will focus on. You tie your  protagonist to the What, the plot, and the story proceeds through to a resolution.

If you read book blurbs, those paragraphs on the back of paperbacks or the inside flap of a dust jacket, you get a feel for the What. Well-written blurbs usually provide a clue to the main character and the What they will face. Since I mention “well-written,” that indicates there are poorly written … but, I digress.

A lot goes into What. An event, say a wedding, takes a lot of planning and coordination (think Father of the Bride). The event beginning brings in the planner, they select the venue, they redecorate the venue, they select colors, they select flowers, the bride chooses the gown, and all the other details. And, it takes up to a year to carry out.

How you structure that and how your character(s) behave and interact in it can make the story a classic comedy, a bloody thriller, a murder mystery, or an intense drama. Just for a mental exercise, take the movie mentioned above and envision it as a murder mystery. The What doesn’t actually change much, but the characters involved and how they behave do. Significantly.

In my own mental reboot of Father of the Bride, the wedding planner ends as a gruesome murder victim. Of course, the father is the prime suspect, but several of the characters have motive. I even have the groom as a witness to the murder, but he dies horribly just before the ceremony where he planned to name the murderer.

So, you see, the What is a mundane thing. How you, as the writer, treat it is what makes the story.

In my post a couple of weeks ago, we talked about the lead. Who and What are two elements almost always included in the lead. As readers, we care most about who did what, or what happened to whom. As authors, we take the What and break it down to its parts and have the character(s) work in it.

Keep writing.




One of the most important story elements in any writing is: Who.

owlgifsAs mentioned in the previous post, The Lead, the first paragraph of a news story should at minimum describe who, what, where, and when. Unless, of course, there is a reason to add why and how in the lead.

Who is always a critical element. We all want to know who did what to whom. That is what we connect with, what we find important, what drives our curiosity.

Of course, the who of any story is the character or characters. The main character, secondary characters, and the antagonist are all included in the who. These are who the reader wants to know about, read about, get involved with.

So we make the character is as real as we can. Use of a character sketch (see an earlier post on just that topic) or character interview helps to fully flesh out details to make a character as real as possible. A character with depth is easy for the reader to settle in with for the duration of the story. To care about. To love. Or to dislike in the case of an antagonist.

The character sketch contains a lot of detail that may never make it directly into the story. However, you use it to add nuance and flavor to the words you choose when describing what the character does, says, and feels.

Keep writing.


The Lead

If It Bleeds …


If it bleeds, it leads.

You probably heard a number of old print newspaper tropes like, “if it bleeds, it leads,” and “you buried the lead.” The word as I’m using it here (sometimes spelled “lede” lately to differentiate it from its homonyms) refers to the first paragraph of a news story.

The version of the term, lede, came into use circa 1965. That spelling just grates on me, so I’ll stick to the old way. The first paragraph of a news story should lead you into the rest by providing you with the most important elements. If I said it should lede you, you’d get all confused and think I committed a typo.

This is the first of a series of posts on journalism and how it relates to writing, specifically writing fiction. I was no famous journalist in my day, but I did work on a number of small weekly and twice-weekly papers. I had some good mentors both in the Navy and in civilian life.

It was through these experiences and practice of writing news stories that I developed my style, I think. An economy of words, precise description, active voice, all play a role in my writing. I’m not perfect, but I try.

So, what exactly is a lead?

In a news story, the first paragraph–usually no more than two sentences–is the lead. It normally contains four or five of the six critical elements of a news story: who, what, where, when, why, and how. It is the lead that draws the reader into the rest of the story which expands on the elements to offer a complete narrative of what happened.

Here is an example of a well-written lead from The Chicago Tribune, Tribune News Service, Oct. 3, 2016:

The Illinois state treasurer plans to announce that the state will suspend billions of dollars of investment activity with Wells Fargo.

This simple single sentence covers the critical elements of the story. Who (Illinois state treasurer), what (suspend investment activity with Wells Fargo), when (soon), where (Illinois). The bridge or body of the story will address these and the “why” and “how” elements in more detail.

Notice the economy of words. Real news writing still lives in Chicago, it seems. You get the primary information in a well-written sentence in active voice. It compels you to read further for more information.

Here’s a lead from the Associated Press in a story dated Oct. 3, 2016:

The Supreme Court has declined an Obama administration request to break its recent tie over plans to protect millions of immigrants, when a ninth justice is on the bench.

This lead is a mess and definitely not what I’m used to seeing from the AP. The sentence uses a passive verb and has a clause that is nonsense. Here’s how it should look:

The Supreme Court rejected an Obama administration request to break the court’s recent tie over plans to protect millions of immigrants.

I suspect the clause dangling at the end of the AP version was a cut-and-paste edit error that stomped on a part of the story’s bridge. The revision punches up the verb and helps drive the reader into the rest of the story without the confusion of the strange clause. Both stories are online and you may not see the versions I’ve clipped here if you go looking.

“So,” you ask, “just what does all this have to do with writing fiction?”

Using an economy of words and addressing the critical elements of the story (who, what, when, where, why, and how) are important in getting a reader to read initially, and continue to read. Fiction writing really isn’t that far from news writing.

The first element we address in a fiction story, usually, is the who. Tie the main character or protagonist quickly and actively to a what so you entice the reader to read more. If we spend too much time in all the detail of a who, or a what, in the first few paragraphs or pages, the book or story gets put down.

That first page of your book–or the first paragraph of a short story–is the lead into your story. You don’t need to go into excessive detail on the character’s description or personality disorders, or heavy description of the what the character gets involved in.

Just give the reader enough information to hook him or her into reading further. Salt your protagonist’s physical and character traits through your narrative, or use “show, don’t tell” techniques. Tease the reader with elements of the what as you go along. This keeps the narrative moving and the reader interested.

Keep writing.