11.1.11 - NaNoWriMo



My brother had this shirt when I was little, and it used to crack me up. Not only because of the cheery smiling stick figure below the words, so incongruous with my logical, quiet, determined brother, but because I got the joke. I was ten, I got the joke, and that made me cool in my mind. Plus, since I was a precocious little know-it-all, I could take the opportunity to explain to my not as verbally gifted local yokel friends what it meant.

Yeah, I was kind of an ass when I was little. No one likes a know it all.

I thought of the shirt the other day. I had turned off all distractions and was doing a Thursday Mo-Mo – write as much as you can in a nine hour period. Everything started to click. Not just click, it began to roar.

And I was reminding myself, in sheer vernacular, of the following:

I are a professional writer.

I’ve discovered an interesting pattern in my writing life.

I finish two books in a relatively short period of time, between six and eight months, then my mind shuts off. Sitting down to the computer each day is a struggle. Focusing on story a near impossibility. This state of mind exists for about three months, during which I only get 25K-30K done on a book that should be finished after three months, then suddenly, just as I'm about to bottom out, feeling like a fraud, a joke, a poseur, something magical happens. It is usually precluded by a massive meltdown in which I mope around for a few days, start smoking again, and decide I will never, ever have a career, much less write another decent book.

Then my husband and one or more of my fabulous friends takes me in hand, allow me to wallow, then remind me that regardless of good or bad writing days, I would never, ever, trade this job for another, and suddenly, everything clicks, and I can start writing again. The cigs are thrown away, I stop moping, I look forward to getting up in the morning because I have a STORY prancing through my mind.

Sometimes you need to be reminded from whence you came.

I tell you this story because today we enter November, which means National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo. It is a 30-day, 50,000 word sprint that aims to help you develop the habit of sitting down at the computer every day and mindfully writing a novel.

Just FYI – a NOVEL is usually 75,000 plus, (mine are usually 90-100K) while a NOVELLA is 20-45,000 words. Just so you don’t think you’ve written a novel at 50K.

To meet the NaNoWriMo goals of 50K in 30 days, you must write an average of 1666 words a day. To some, that seems an insurmountable number, which is why the whole goal of NaNo is for you to write without censure, turning off your inner editor, not worrying about plot or structure or voice or character, just writing. Getting words down on the page. Free as the wind.

Just so you know….1666 - That’s pretty standard output for a professional writer. With the exception of the times we’re pouting and moping, of course, we do that every day, and then some, five to seven days a week, 365 days a year. With deadlines looming, books releasing, and the necessary issue of worrying about plot and structure and voice and character, satisfying contractual obligations… etc… etc….

I love NaNo. I think it’s a great exercise. The first 60K of 14, the second Taylor Jackson book, was a NaNo winner in 2006. I use November every year as a fun challenge to myself to see how much I can write in a month. It’s always the start of the cycle - two books in quick succession.

As you sit down to your computers today, remind yourself of this one thing. Should you succeed, should you finish the 50K, and go on to write another 30-50K on this story, then edit and edit and revise and revise then submit to agents, get an agent, who sells the book, you will be asked to do it again.

When you work hard to fulfill your dreams, they have a tendency to become reality. And reality for a professional writer isn’t just a month of intensity. It isn’t just 1600 words a day. It is months of intensity. Thousands of words a day, sometimes. It is deadlines and jubilation and triumph and setbacks and heartbreak and bad breaks and sheer unadulterated bliss coupled with some luck – always luck. But none of that happens with seriously hard work.

So if you want to do this for real, stick that in the back of your mind as you fly through the month of November. Do that, and you too can say I are a professional writer.

And best of luck to you all!

(My friend Tracy Lucas put together a listing of all the word counters, and inside her post is stashed a most glorious tool - the yearly word counter. Check it out. I will be using it from here on out.)

The Men Without Faces

Happy Halloween! As promised, here is a spooky, creepy short story by S.A. Newby, grand prize winner of the Haunted Contest. Chilled me to the bone....


by S.A. Newby

We guarded our secret closely, as only the young can do, savoring it as we told our tales in the bright sunlight of day. At night, it became all too real and our fear too personal as we cocooned in our beds, praying for safety through the night.

There were only four of us in our unusual little club. At nine, Fred was the oldest, while I came in second at eight along with Jimmy. Little Mary was the youngest, but it was through her that we all came together.

In the projects, we played in the space between the buildings. Four of us had secrets held tightly private. On a hot, bright August day we realized we weren't alone. All thanks to young Mary.

We were bored and deathly tired of the same old games. Maybe it was the heat of the day, but as we debated games, finding fault with one after the other, three gasped almost as one as Mary offered her suggestion.

"Let's play Men Without Faces."

While the others made fun of Mary, three pairs of eyes set in suddenly pale faces quickly found the truth as we glanced around the group. We weren't the only ones who had seen them. Fears, once ours alone, were now shared.

As one, the three of us quickly pulled Mary from the larger group. "Tell us about the Men Without Faces," we demanded.

"You know, they come at night to visit and their faces aren't there; they're all fuzzy. Momma says I've got to quit making up stories, but I'm not. Haven't you seen them? Why doesn't everybody see them?"

If possible, even more blood drained from our faces. One look around was all it took to confirm the fact we'd all seen them—the Men Without Faces.

Soon the tales began to pour out of us, as if we could expel our fears with their utterance in daylight. Our stories all held similarities and soon we were connecting the threads.

Indeed, we only saw the Men Without Faces at night. Late, late at night when our parents thought us tucked safely in bed.

And our sightings were generally tied to the attic crawlspace that ran the full length of each building. For the longest time, I had been spooked by the panel at the top of the stairs. Especially when I found it askew, partially or even fully uncovered.

Mom, heavily pregnant with my youngest sister, wasn't given to walking up those stairs except to get to the bedrooms at night. Especially to investigate the fears of an overly-imaginative eight-year-old.

"Tell your father," she'd say. But Dad was going to college, playing baseball, and working in a factory at night and I knew better than to add to his burden.

So when the panel was open, partially or fully, I'd know the Men Without Faces would probably be out and about. And they scared the bejeezus out of me.

My first encounter with the Men Without Faces came the night we moved into our apartment. Securely tucked in by Mom with our traditional "Good night, sweet dreams, and I love you," I was soon off to the Land of Nod.

But not for long as I awoke chilled to the bone. Reaching for the blanket at the foot of my bed, I quickly froze. For surrounding my bed were three men. Not just any men, but men without faces. Blank spaces where a face should be: no nose, no lips, no eyes. Just about the time I convinced myself I was dreaming, somehow I heard them say, "This one's okay. No need for aid."

The next morning I assured myself it was all a dream. After all, how could men without faces, no mouths, speak?

And so began the saga of the Men Without Faces.

They never did anything to me, nor any of us. It was just those faces. Or the lack thereof. And the air of sadness and fear one felt all around them. And the fact that sometimes, just sometimes, they would look at you. Or at least we all felt that they were looking at us. Hard to tell, really, when there were no discernible faces.

We told our tales, but, given our rampant imaginations and the times, the Men Without Faces were nothing so mundane as ghosts. We had decided they were aliens here on some mission we had yet to fathom. But, believe me, we were working on it.

One morning there was a commotion at one of the apartments. The police and an ambulance came. Parents gathered outside, talking in hushed whispers and shooing us youngsters away. They always underestimated our resourcefulness.

Soon we reconnoitered around the side of the building to share the information we had gleaned.

"They found him on the stairs, on his mattress. Halfway down," one reported. "He's a wino, my dad said, and must have pulled that mattress down the steps before he had the heart attack."

"They're saying he was delirious or crazy. He was mumbling about people without faces coming to get him."

We looked solemnly at each other, 'til Mary piped up, "They were here last night. They were trying to save him. They were awful sad when they left."

But Mary's insights were lost to us, as bound as we were to our fanciful theory of aliens. Last night, we decided, they had to take a human for experiments and Old Man Webb was probably a good choice since he lived alone and was thought to be "a little off the beam."

One evening much later, Mom hollered and I rushed down to find out that Dad had been hurt in a baseball game and his friends had taken him to the hospital with a broken ankle. They were on their way home and I was to stay out of the way.

I reluctantly headed upstairs to my parents' bedroom window where I could see what was going on. Soon our car pulled up and Dad's teammates got him out of the car, supporting him as well as they could.

When I'd seen the Men Without Faces before, they were already there. But that night, before my very eyes, they just kind of materialized. One minute they weren't there, then they were.

I wasn't scared for Dad and his friends. I was dumbstruck. And then it hit me: they weren't a threat. Moreover they seemed to be solicitous of my father, walking alongside his friends as they brought him in. Maybe Mary was right.

I rushed downstairs to see if they had come into our apartment, but they were gone.

I would see the Men Without Faces only once more.

Months later, I again noticed the crawlspace panel ajar. Lately the fear that once engendered had turned into a tingle of anticipation. I tried my best to stay awake, but all too soon drifted off, only to be awakened later by more loud voices, this time from our living room.

Jumping up, I padded as quietly as possible down the stairs, peering around the corner to find, to my amazement, my parents forcing a glass of buttermilk on a clearly inebriated man. Soon enough I was spotted and shooed upstairs where I made for my parents' window.

The quietened voices downstairs moved and I heard the door open. The "buttermilk" man staggered down the sidewalk, but he wasn't alone. The Men Without Faces accompanied him, one on each side, one following behind.

As it goes in life, Dad graduated from MTSU and got a coaching job at another small Middle Tennessee town. I never heard from Fred, Jimmy, or Mary again.

And the memory of the Men Without Faces receded into the far corners of my mind, soon cataloged as an oddity, surely a childhood fantasy. Whenever I allowed myself to recall the reality, that memory always carried a frisson of wonder, tinged with amazement.

It was only decades later that it hit me.

Traveling to the sprawling university town that once-sleepy Murfreesboro had become, I drove to one of the malls on a route that took me right past the old "projects" we had lived in during the year of the Men Without Faces.

Stopped dumbfounded at the red light, I stared straight ahead at what I had seen a million times before without really seeing.

The pieces of the puzzle soon fell into place.

The Men Without Faces weren't aliens on a mission.

They were ghosts on a mission.

A mission to aid their fallen comrades.

For straight ahead of me lay Stone's River National Battlefield—one of the many Civil War battlefields across the state where soldiers killed in bloody combat are said to still wander in the night.

There the Men Without Faces may well still roam looking to aid their fallen comrades, not realizing that they, all those years ago, were among the fallen.

September 30, 2011 | S.A. Newby

Happy Halloween Giveaway

A Spooky Collection of Stories from some of today's finest writers

From the editors: Laura Benedict and Pickney Benedict...

This third entry in the Surreal South series is the best, densest, and most exciting edition yet. The stories it contains offer brilliant prose and unabashed plots. They are highly intelligent and compulsively readable. And they all celebrate ghosts and monsters. We really like ghosts and monsters. We're betting that you do too.

Includes a brand new short story by JT Ellison called Gray Lady, Lady Gray.


The Best Cold Weather Comfort Food

Spaghetti alla Carbonara



  • Fine sea salt
  • 7 ounces thick-sliced flat pancetta or bacon
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese plus more for sprinkling
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound spaghetti


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut pancetta into ¼-inch batons. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, grated cheeses, 1/3 cup water, and generous pinch salt and pepper. In a medium nonstick skillet, combine pancetta and oil; cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned, about 15 minutes. 
About halfway through pancetta cooking time, cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente (ideally pancetta and pasta will be ready at about the same time). Reserving ¼ cup of the pasta cooking liquid, drain pasta and return to pot. Add pancetta and its rendered fat; toss to combine. Immediately add egg mixture and 2 tablespoons pasta cooking liquid; quickly stir to combine. Moisten with additional pasta cooking liquid, if desired. Serve immediately, passing cheese and pepper at the table.
Serves 4-6 - or two very, very hungry people... ; )

from La Cucina Italiana  October 2010 The Pasta Issue

Writers Read

From the Campaign for the American Reader, by Marshal Zeringue

What is J.T. Ellison reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: J.T. Ellison, author of Where All the Dead Lie.

Her entry begins:
I’ve just started The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Fellow author and friend Jeff Abbott suggested it, knowing that I’m struggling with the knowledge that I’m reading less and spending more time online. Twitter and Facebook and blogging and the omnipresent “author marketing” has me flummoxed. I used to read at night, now I Tweet. I want to take back my time.

Hamlet's Blackberry, a brilliant book by William Powers, made me cognizant of just how much time I was spending online. The Shallows is giving me a deeper understanding of why I’m doing so. And, I hope, will give me the tools, the willpower, or at the very least, permission to step away from the Internet, and reclaim my mind from the influx of constantly streamed information on my tiny little screens.
More from the CAFTAR Network
The Page 69 Test: All the Pretty Girls.

The Page 99 Test: 14.

The Page 69 Test: 14.

The Page 99 Test: Judas Kiss.

My Book, The Movie: the Taylor Jackson series.

The Page 69 Test: The Cold Room.

My Book, The Movie: The Cold Room.

The Page 69 Test: So Close the Hand of Death.

Writers Read: J.T. Ellison (March 2011).

Writers Read: J.T. Ellison.