Achievement Unlocked: Camp NaNoWriMo

So this month I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time. And I won!

Now, you might be wondering a couple of things: what is NaNoWriMo, and what does it mean to “win” it?

NaNoWriMo means “National Novel Writing Month,” and traditionally it is held in November. The idea is to write 50,000 words of a manuscript in 30 days. One might argue that 50,000 words is just the very barest minimum you could have for a manuscript and consider it a full novel, and in some ways one would be correct in thinking so.

There are some generally accepted word length requirements for different types of fiction forms, which can be verified in multiple places on the Internet, should you choose to do so, but for simplicity’s sake, feel free to go with these distinctions:

  • microfiction: under 100 words
  • flash fiction: under 1,000 words
  • short story: under 7,500 words (sometimes under 10,000 words)
  • novelette (which seems to pop up primarily in the various genres of speculative fiction): 7,000-17,000 words
  • novella (which sometimes encompasses novelettes as well): 10,000-50,000 words
  • novel: over 50,000 words

Obviously one will find some overlap here and there, but these are general guidelines.

And what does it mean to “win” the NaNoWriMo? Completing your goal!

You might be wondering how anyone can get that much writing done in 30 days, especially when we have day jobs and (in the US) the Thanksgiving holiday and other things going on in our lives. That’s a totally fair question. For me, as a full-time high school teacher who also has a family and who hosts Thanksgiving, the idea of writing 50,000 words on a single manuscript during the month of November is unrealistic at best (and insane at worst), and my thoughts on that craziness are well documented. And apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way, because NaNoWriMo also now hosts “camps” — such as the one which occurs in July every year.

Anyway, I have been working on a new novel and made it a goal for 2020 to reach 50,000 words on it, and my friend Christa encouraged me to do Camp NaNoWriMo with her this month, and we did, and I made it past 50,000 words! Yes!

Is my novel done? Hell no!

And there are a few important reasons for that:

  • first, this novel is probably going to be closer to 100,000 words long when I finish the first draft;
  • second, once I get to the end of the first draft, that only gives me something to then work with;
  • third, the path to publication is long and sometimes winding and definitely has a lot of repeat steps on it (see also: revision and editing).

(One thing that has unfortunately given self-publishing a rancid name is the slew of first-draft NaNoWriMo projects that turn into badly written self-published ebooks on Amazon every January. Ah well. It’s a shame, too, because there are quite a lot of self-published and independent authors who are churning out excellent work, and their marketshare is tarnished by the people who don’t quite fully participate in all parts of the writing process.)

Some brilliant novels got their start as NaNoWriMo projects: one of the more famous examples is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. If I’m not mistaken, I think I read that she worked on it three Novembers in a row. (Case in point of how really good literature often takes quite a long time to make really good.)

Anyway. I’m just pleased that I managed to unlock this achievement, and I’m going to keep working on the new novel in addition to my other projects. (More on those later.) I’ve created a new goal for this manuscript for August and will keep doing so each month until this manuscript is done.

Have you done any version of the NaNoWriMo? Drop a note in the comments here about your experience!

So, cheers to you. Stay safe by staying home when you can, wearing a mask when you can’t, washing your hands frequently, and paying attention to science over nonsense and legitimate doctors over politicians. All the best.

***

Want to read more of my writing that’s already published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books at Blue Willow Bookshop and my books and poetry art cards at Ella’s Apothecary, and I hope you will! 

Monday Earworm: (Deleted)

EDIT:  It has recently come to my attention that the song I included here today was by a band whose members included a known perpetrator of sexual assault. I had no idea. The song I played here is the only one by that band that I ever really knew, and I hadn’t paid attention to anything else they’d done. I regret that and hope that my post didn’t cause anyone distress. I will leave up the anecdote but not the reference to the song, which I’ve removed.

Instead, please feel free to post in the comments on whatever music or book you’re enjoying right now to make your own part of the world better and more enjoyable for you. 

 

I’m cleaning out my classroom at school this week. Plans for the fall semester are still in flux, of course, but I know that some stuff needs to come out of there, so. One thing I’m doing is bringing home my classroom library so I can make more room on my shelves. These are primarily books which have been withdrawn from our school library and given away free to a good home. These are books which belong to me personally that I keep around for my students when they are looking for something to read for fun and need some inspiration.

Those who know me well know that I might be slightly obsessed with books. They were my most enduring form of entertainment the whole time I was growing up, and that has never really changed for me. I’ve been reading stories on my own since I was four and writing them since I was eight. And I cannot seem to stop acquiring books.

One of the reasons I have a Little Free Library — aside from the desire to provide free books of quality to anyone walking past my house — is so that I don’t feel I need to hoard books. So I brought home a literal carload of novels and culled through them this afternoon to figure out which ones I wanted to keep and which were going to the Little Free Library, either because I already owned a copy or because the story blurb didn’t interest me overmuch. Four large bags of books are destined for the LFL, and one large bag went up to my bedroom….

…where I already have a TBR stack that is, I kid you not, an entire bookshelf plus three tall stacks on top of my dresser plus two stacks on top of my nightstand plus my Kindle.

I might have a problem.

And what have I chosen to read for fun this week? I’m rereading Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston because it is, hands-down, my favorite alternate timeline I wish to all the gods that have ever been that we were living in right now. It’s also hilarious and sexy and deeply smart and character-driven and just all-around well-written. It makes me genuinely happy to read it.

*le sigh*

In the comments, tell us your favorite book obsession — whether it’s your favorite storyline or your author obsession or your book boy-/girlfriend. Inquiring minds want to know!

 

HOMECOMING Cover Reveal

Okay, not gonna lie, this is some very exciting news. The last eighteen hours have been a mild frenzy of posting on my various social media and to my newsletter, because I am finally able to reveal the cover of the new book!

Homecoming is the second book in the Animal Affinities series, and for those of you who are fans of Finis., rejoice, because at long last the next book is coming! I hope you’ll enjoy it. It’s a bit longer than Finis. and focuses on the wolves. I’ll do a first chapter reveal here on the blog in the near future, so stay tuned for that.

But here is the gorgeous cover, designed by Lauren Volness, who also did the incredible cover art for Finis.

cover design by Lauren Volness

The pandemic has delayed the release of this book but not canceled it — so keep an eye out for it late this summer. More details as I’m able to share them!

Also, now might be a great time to remind you that if you’d like to get Finis. or my most recent book of poems, The Sharp Edges of Water, both are available from Blue Willow Bookshop!

In Which I Give A Virtual Reading For Spider Road Press…

So in case you’d like to see me reading one of my stories online, you can now.

Last year I wrote a flash fiction called “Mother” which placed in the annual Spider Road Press flash fiction contest. They even nominated it for Best Small Fictions. (This year’s contest is going on now, by the way, until June 1st, so do enter a story if you’ve got one that fits their guidelines.)

And this spring they’re posting online readings of flash fiction from their authors, and today my story went up! I hope you’ll take a look.

Have a great weekend!

Poem-A-Day: Rukmini Kalamangalam

And so we come to the end of April, and thus the end of National Poetry Month 2020 and this series for another eleven months. It has been a wonderful series this year, and I’m so grateful to all of the poets who participated by letting me share their work on my blog. If you’re just coming to the series, I hope you’ll click through the past posts and have fun reading the poems.

There’s a note toward the end of each post this time around about participating in a cento together. Although there weren’t a lot of contributions at the end of the first post this year, there were some really good ones. Thank you to all who posted there!

I’m still interested in doing a cento, though, so I want to open things up a bit. Cooperative art is super important right now, so I’m inviting anyone who is interested to select lines from any and all of the poems in the series this year to create a found poem. Look back at the first post in this year’s series for more details on how. Then send me your cento to forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com with “cento” in the subject line, and I’ll post them here.

Tonight’s oh-so-relatable poem is by another Mutabilis Press poet, Rukmini Kalamangalam. Do enjoy.

And thank you again for tuning in to this year’s series. Monday Earworms will resume next week, so you can look forward to that — as well as some very exciting new book news! in the near future.

Until then, be well. Stay safe at home as much as you can. Let’s beat this virus. Best.

 

Fishbowl

it annoys me when people say they hate
poetry
and their lips curl like
if there’s no plot there’s no point 
their eyes resembling
the Fishbowl i broke in the third grade
when it was winter
and i shivered through time out while the kids turned red
playing soccer on the field
it annoys me that they will read these words
without wondering which way
my breath left my lungs
whether it
wisped in a twisted waltz
or
tumbled out of my mouth,
wild and heavy
they’ll say it doesn’t matter
what color my jacket was
or who scored the last goal
just that
i killed the Fish
and i sat on the curb of a playground for five extra minutes
***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Rukmini Kalamangalam is a first-gen page and performance poet from Houston, Texas. She is a current sophomore at Emory University. In 2018, she was named Youth Poet Laureate of the Southwest as well as Houston Youth Poet Laureate. Her poem “After Harvey” was set to music by the Houston Grand Opera. She has been published by Jet Fuel Review, Blue Marble Review, Da Camera Museum, GASHER, and SAND Literary Journal, among others.

Poem-A-Day: Stephanie Pilar

We had some interesting weather in Houston in the wee hours of this morning. A hundreds-of-miles-long squall line of impressive thunderstorms stretching from west of Austin to east of New Orleans tore through the region, the thunder and lightning interrupting our sleep. Even after all the hurricanes I’ve lived through, and there have been some doozies, I admit I still like thunderstorms at night when I’m sleeping and my whole family is home and safe. This morning we awoke to an area-wide internet outage that lasted for many nerve-wracking hours, but others in our city fared far worse by losing all power.

My relationship with the weather is complicated. I was terrified of storms when I was a child; I stopped having anxiety attacks over them literally in ninth grade. I remember the exact moment of it: I was sitting in my French class on the second floor of the school building, facing the windows. The view was normally filtered through the green foliage of the trees in the courtyard below us, but that day was a thunderstorm day, and everything past the window blinds was wet and dark and eerie. I said to myself, You’re in high school now. It’s time to grow up. It’s just rain.

I cannot explain the mechanics of how that miracle occurred.

So now I try not to get worked up about storms, and on the menu of things I could panic about, somehow these have mostly fallen off. I’m not going to question it; I’m just grateful and hope it lasts.

Tonight, I hope you’ll enjoy this poem by Mutabilis Press poet Stephanie Pilar. It touches on some of the bonkers contradictions of Houston’s rich and weird culture.

 

Hurricane Years Are Snow Years

My overgrown oak,
she hides the world from me.
She has sucked up all the hurricane.
Now she houses birds, all the birds.

Winter has hard killed so much of the bayou.

The neighbors say that this is what happens,
a hurricane later brings snow,
and that this was foretold, it has happened before,
hurricane years are snow years.

I never know where science is in all this.
The bayou is filled with magic and superstition
and God and Fox News.

“Have a blessed day,” they say.
I say it right back.

Does it matter what you believe?
Or does it matter what everyone else believes?

Even the most materialistic says,
not just that the hurricane foretold snow
but the solar eclipse may have set things in motion,
or at least been a sign of what had already been set in motion.

The universe shifts gears uncomfortably, we feel the grinding.

Are the gods angry? Or just laughing?

The sky is framed by branches more beautiful
than any sculpture in a museum.

We walk the installation of our streets.

Every tree reveals its nest.

Sea mists and mockingbirds.
Gray and white and silver and still.

So still.

Still.

 

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Stephanie Pilar first visited Big Bend National Park in 2010 and had the good fortune of moving to Friendswood, Texas, in 2011. Before that, her adventures in Texas included a childhood road-trip from Colorado to Guatemala, during which time she saw her first roadrunner and giant cacti while listening to her stepdad yodel, “I’m A Long Tall Texan,” as he pretended to drive the long, straight roads with his eyes closed. She would always “Remember the Alamo.” And the Riverwalk. And the silence. And all the stars…

Poem-A-Day: Susan Scheid

This is the week during lockdown when I find myself celebrating every little sliver of good news as if I had won the lottery. Not the big megamillions, but at least a pretty good scratch-off ticket. I’m trying to curb the impulse to share with most people any good news because I’m sure that gets annoying. (I’m told it doesn’t, but something possibly cracked inside of me isn’t sure it’s safe to believe that.) Regardless, I’m saving up some good stuff for my next newsletter, but I’ll mention it on the blog here too after Poem-A-Day exeunts for another eleven months.

Tonight on the blog we have this lovely poem by Mutabilis Press poet Susan Scheid that also celebrates something arguably beyond its worth — but the poem, on the other hand, is certainly worth your enjoyment.

 

Praise Song for Ants

Praise the tiny black ants.
Praise their resilience
to be knocked down, drowned out,
killed, trampled, worn to nothing
and then to bloom again.
Praise the ants who insist on finding a way inside
through hairline crack or gaping crevice. Praise their
strength, their fortitude in finding
that last crumb of bread or the sticky
syrup of fruit juice on the floor. Praise
their skill at moving every part and parcel
of a nest when a pitchfork upends them
in spring. Praise the teamwork of
carrying six times their weight over
and over again while seeking shelter.
Praise their ability to disappear and
reappear so quickly. Praise their queen
in her fertility and the workers in
their loyalty. Praise their multitudes, their pathways,
their ant mounds, their single-mindedness.
Praise their force of nature for showing
me time and again how little
of this world belongs to me.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Susan Scheid lives in Washington, DC, but has strong ties to Texas. Susan’s husband of 27 years was raised in Arlington, Texas, and went to school in Austin, where extended family currently lives. She has worked for 27 years at a high profile law firm based in Houston. Susan is the author of After Enchantment. Her poetry has appeared in Truth to Power, Beltway Quarterly, Little Patuxent Review, The Sligo Journal, Silver Birch Press, Tidal Basin Review, the chapbook anthology Poetic Art, and other journals. Susan serves on the Board of Directors for Split This Rock.

Poem-A-Day: Rumi

I’ve posted here before meditations from Mala of the Heart. In this time when so many people’s priorities and lifestyles are recalibrating, I happened upon this fragment from Rumi which I hadn’t seen in a while. It seems fitting.

 

If you want money more than anything,
you’ll be bought and sold.
If you have a greed for food,
you’ll be a loaf of bread.
This is a subtle truth:
whatever you love, you are.

 

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Rumi (Jalāludin Muhammad Rumi) — 1207-1273, Persia (Afghanistan) — was born in Balkh on the eastern edge of the Persian Empire and at age eight settled in Turkey with his family, where Rumi eventually succeeded his father as head of a dervish school. At age thirty-seven Rumi met the whirling dervish Shams-e Tabrīzī, whose divine presence awakened Rumi’s own love for the divine. Rumi thus abandoned his scholarly position and began writing poetry, using metaphors to express his experience of mystical union and his intense longing and search for the divine. Rumi reached across cultural and social boundaries, and it is said that his funeral was attended by Persians, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Greeks.

Biographical information respectfully quoted from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt.

Poem-A-Day: Anne McCrady

I was reminded recently of paper maps.

The first time I drove across the country by myself — well, in my own car with no other passengers, even though I was caravanning with a friend from college, but that’s a crazy story for another day — I was driving from Houston to Austin to Schulenberg (where I would meet up with that friend) to Los Angeles. Even though the directions were simple (get on I-10 West and go until you reach the ocean), I still made excellent use of a AAA map that I marked up with a ball-point pen and a hi-liter when dust storms forced us off the interstate in New Mexico and we had to wend our way through back roads, mountain passes, and reservation lands until we could find our way back to the 10 in Phoenix.

I love maps, a little. They give me a sense of agency that using a nav system in my car or on my phone will never offer, but can only take away.

Please enjoy this poem by Mutabilis Press poet Anne McCrady.

 

Maps

Once omnipresent,
mashed in bottom drawers
crammed into shelves,
stashed in the back
of glove compartments,
they waited patient as saints
for our supplications.
Geographic Gideons,
in answer to our confusion,
they offered gentle guidance,
when foolish misdirection
sent us searching the horizon
for wisdom, for the way.
Folded and refolded,
highlighted and penciled
with X’s of we are here
amid red-lettered scripture
and black-gridded gospel,
they plotted our progress, A2 to J7.
Like stained glass images,
some were water-colored topos
to illuminate our path forward.
Others, shiny park folders
of forest greens and rocky browns,
noted scenic visions not to be missed.
A few—coastal nautical guides—
flagged routes right through blue oceans.
The most beautiful maps curved
in lines of latitude and longitude,
spinning as a spherical model
of planet Earth—globes of painted paper
wrapped around a hollow ball set on an axle
so that, when spun, continents flew past
and seas swirled, blurring the boundaries
between friends and enemies…like the one
I have kept from my father’s study,
along with a note scribbled on a napkin
in his script, directions to a daughter
for how to always find the way home.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Anne McCrady is a poet, speaker, and peace advocate whose award-winning writing appears in her poetry collections and in dozens of literary journals, newspapers, arts magazines, and American and international anthologies. Her work has been included in civic and religious programs and performed at universities as art song and libretto. She has editorial, review, and critique publication credits and is a frequent contest judge, workshop presenter, and conference guest. McCrady is a Poetry Society of Texas councilor and the 2018 Austin Poets International Poet Laureate. She lives in Tyler, Texas.

Poem-A-Day: Nikki Loftin

Today we have another Mutabilis Press poet, Nikki Loftin. The story in her wonderful poem “Fireflies” reminds me a little bit of an Ani diFranco song. How well we can relate to this idea, that layered into a girl’s childhood is going to be longing, ambition, ingenuity, and the subtextual threat of a previous century’s notions about gender.

 

Fireflies 

I didn’t know how to shine
on my own back then:
drab, tangled,
brown as a berry,
stiff Tuffskin jeans all that kept me
from a boy’s bike-skinned knees.
How do you do that—
I asked the golden Jennifer Brown,
goddess of the home-perm, owner of
a genuine lava lamp,
her sweaty, glimmering skin
in the August heat
the closest thing to glamour I’d ever seen.
—how do you shine?
Like this: She caught
one struggling firefly
between thumb and finger
smeared it down her bare arm.
Running, she lit up the night
and I understood:
poor girls had to steal shine,
had to take it
from the air around us,
press it into our skin
and run fast, faster, across the
summer lawns, in between
the whooping boys
the beer-drinking men
shine fast as we could
without getting caught.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Nikki Loftin writes novels and poems in the Texas Hill Country, surrounded by dogs, goats, chickens, and rambunctious boys. Loftin’s novels for young readers include the award-winning Nightingale’s Nest and Wish Girl (Penguin Random House).