Life after National November Writing Month

NaNoWinEach year I participate in National Novel Writing Month, also known to the participants as NaNo. In 30 days we write 50,000 words which is the standard for a short novella. For the past four years I’ve been the Municipal Liaison for the Massachusetts Metrowest Region and like past NaNo’s, it was a tough process. This year, despite work, social obligations and general cluelessness I managed to finish. This year I decided to write the sequel to a prequel that involves time travel and people visiting the past and it was as confusing writing it as it is explaining the premise. I’ve spent the last two weeks in a fog trying to sort out what to do with myself again.

I feel as if I took time off to let my creativity have an outlet and now I’m feeling that it’s time to get back to work. I’ve dragged out the I.Am.Maine manuscript and started editing again. I can see the stories becoming more cohesive and painting a much clearer picture of my life as a Mainer. I’m also thrilled to be looking at the photography (from a delightful photographer) that will help show the visuals that create the landscape. It’s time-consuming as I edit and get lost in reliving my childhood before editing some more. It’s getting there.

I’ve also decided it would be a good chance to explore the possibility of a new creative outlet. I’ve begun talks with the lovely Amanda Kahl to create a one-shot graphic novel that will tie Suburban Zombie High to its sequel. There’s a story to be told that I was unsure of how to explain and didn’t warrant its own book, but it has potential as a comic. I also think Suburban Zombies could use some visuals. Oh it shall be funny.

Speaking of zombies (cause it’s rare that I’m not!) the second book of Suburban Zombie High is nearing completion. I just had a student read the book to provide feedback. He was extremely helpful in identifying the pacing issues and was hilarious in how he thought zombies should be killed. Be prepared, there will be more developments on this front soon.

I’ll be back to posting some regular stuff now. I owe a couple of people stories and I’m feeling it’s time to tackle some smaller projects before I take on the universe. Very soon!

Epilogue – Suburban Zombie High


Radio Guy 1: Boxford’s Graduation was cancelled due to lack of attendance. The handful of students who signed up to walk have been contacted and they’ll have their diploma mailed to them.

Radio Guy 2: That is a crazy story you have going there.

Radio Guy 1: I know right!

Radio Guy 2: Parents come home from their conveniently scheduled vacations to find their children have all gone missing, sounds like those moms will need some extra time at the day spa.

Radio Guy 1: And then the whole school burns down!

Radio Guy 2: I guess that’s a terrific way to celebrate graduation. But, I’m curious, what happened to the teachers?

Radio Guy 1: Nobody ever asks about the teachers.


“The tabloids started coming out later that week,” she said. “They were all over the place. One said we killed everybody,” she paused for a moment. “Technically we didn’t, they were already dead. The next tabloid said alien abduction. The parents believe a cult came and recruited them. They’re all a little bit crazy.”

“And what do you believe happened Olivia?”

“I don’t believe anything,” she replied sharply. “I was there, I saw what happened.”

“Are you sure?”

Olivia sat up from the couch and leaned in to stare at the person sitting across from her in an oversized chair. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

His white eyebrow raised. “What?”

“What do I ‘believe’ happened? You’re trying to make it out like I’m crazy. Is this some sort of cover up? Cadence said they might try that, do you work for the government?”

The man set his pad of paper down and adjusted his glasses. “Olivia, you need to calm down, I’m only here to try and help.”

“That’s all fine and dandy.” She stood up and straightened out her blouse. “But I’m only here for the happy drugs.”

She stormed to the large door on the far side of the office and then stopped short. She quickly hustled back to the couch and grabbed her purse. “Can’t forget the purse. Might need the gun.”

Without another pause, she walked back to the door and flung it open. Dione sitting in a plush leather couch waiting. Dione stood up and gave her a puzzled look. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, he’s obviously part of the cover-up conspiracy.”

“So Cadi was right.” Dione shrugged and grabbed her jacket and they continued out the door.

“Are you sure this is the right place? I mean, how can you tell? It’s not like there’s a sign or anything.”

Cadence smiled at Xander. “Xander has a friend who knows somebody that once had a roommate that worked here.”

Victor stopped Cadence. “Are you serious?”

“No you moron,” she rolled her eyes. “I looked it up online.”

Victor looked at Xander who held up his hands in a defeated manner. “Don’t look at me man, this is her idea. I wanted to go watch zombie movies.”

“You’re a sick man, you do realize that right?”

Xander kissed Cadence’s forehead. “You know you love me for it.”

“Guys, I don’t think I can do this.”

Xander punched Victor in the arm. “You? What about me?”

Cadence grabbed Victor’s hand and started walking forward.

The parking lot was dimly lit. The only real light was coming from the door and the rose tinted windows too high to see into. The sound of loud music came bursting through the doors. Cadence pulled Victor along and Xander brought up the rear, his eyes looking to every shadow and occasionally he would turn around to make sure they weren’t being followed.

They reached the door and Victor’s face was flush white.

Cadence pointed at Xander with a stern face. “Stop thinking that every shadow is going to kill us.” She turned to Victor, “Stop being a pansy or I’ll kick your ass.”

Victor’s back straightened and the threat. The barking voice brought back fond memories of his deceased drill Sergeant. “Fine, let’s go.”

Cadence swung the door open and Victor walked in, his puffed up chest leading the way. Xander walked in after them, his eyes lowered, staring happily at the floorboards.

Victor knew what he was getting himself into, but he hadn’t been ready for this. The sight nearly threw him to the ground. There were dozens, no maybe a hundred men, dressed in military fatigues. Some of them wore desert camo and some in arctic. Some of the men only wore pants, exposing their chests. Victor fought hard not to stare at the bare-chested men.

Cadence smiled as she saw the stage with two men wearing forest colored thongs and military issue boots. “Isn’t this great! Let’s get to the bar.”

Victor looked at Xander. “Why did you let this happen?”

Xander raised an eyebrow at the man. “I’m at military night at a gay bar with my girlfriend and my gay best friend, you think I was given an option?”

They reached the bar after pushing through the masses and Cadence had already ordered beer. Victor turned around, and as quickly as he brought the bottle down from his lips a man was standing in front of him. “You the real thing huh?”

Victor looked to Cadence to see she was already off dancing with two near naked men. “Uh, how do you mean?”

“You walk like military, you’re the real deal.”

Victor played clueless. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

The guy punched Victor in the arm hard enough to leave a bruise. “Don’t play with me. I just got back from overseas, been stationed here for a couple of weeks.”

Victor couldn’t help but smile realizing this was a fellow Marine. “Semper Fi.”

The man clinked his bottle with Victor’s. “Semper Fi,” he took a swig, “My name’s Rick.”

Min took a deep breath and exhaled and opened her eyes slowly. Before her stood several small children wearing matching gis. They each repeated her movements except for one little girl.

Min kneeled down in front of the short red head. “Why aren’t you following through?”

“I don’t know how.”

Min wanted to roll her eyes and yell at the small child. She found a warm happy place in her head. “Let’s try it one more time.”

She stood next to the girl and nodded at her as they started. The girl’s movements, while a bit sloppy, were fairly accurate. Min smiled at her. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”

She stood in front of each of them and took another bow and they followed suit. “Your parents are waiting for you,” she stated, “and remember to practice before next week!”

Each of the little kids ran from the mats to the lobby where happy mothers picked them up and smiled. She waved to the rug rats and worked her way to the back of the dojo. She saw her father sitting at the computer. “I told you, I would help you teach until your foot got better, not do it for you.”

“You do it so well!”

“What have you been doing in here father? What would other dad say?”

She walked around the desk and saw the all too familiar Youtube screen. “I cannot believe you’re watching this drivel.”

“Daytime soaps are good,” he looked at the screen and cooed. “So many gorgeous men.”

Min rolled her eyes and unsnapped the clasp on her collar when she heard a familiar voice in the room. “Nurse Harts?”

She checked the front of the dojo but didn’t see anybody. “Father did you hear that woman’s voice?”

“You’re acting crazy Min. It’s just the computer TV.”

Min leaned over his shoulder and looked at the small box. In the middle of the screen, on her father’s favorite daytime soap was a woman that looked far too familiar.

“You’re going to put me in a coma?”

“Is there anything wrong with that?”

Nurse Harts flung her arms around. “Generally, when a person goes into a coma, you throw a blanket over their head and fire the actress.”

The studio executive tried to appear stunned. “We would never do that.”

“Then what’s my next plot line?”

The man sat back in his executive office chair and stared at the beautiful woman standing at the front of his desk. “The truth is Mrs. Harts, some of the other actors are a bit scared of you. Ever since we did the zombie plot, you’ve been a bit odd.”

She scoffed at him. “That’s because you know nothing about zombies.”

“And you do?”

“Did you read my resume? There’s an entire section about being a professional nurse and freelance zombie slayer. God, you’re all morons.”

“Mrs. Harts,” the executive stood up. “I think you need to reexamine why you joined this profession in the first place.”

Before her mind even began to venture down memory lane she put a stop to it. She slammed her hand down on the desk. Leaning into the man she reached out and grabbed the front of his shirt. “Either you hire a new writer or I will come find you,” she waited for the fear to set in his eyes. “You have pissed off the wrong soap star.”

She patted the front of his shirt back down and stood up, straightening her blouse. She gave her hair a quick fluff and headed out the door back to her dressing room. The executive tried to inhale, tried to stop his racing pulse, but the terror he just witnessed wouldn’t go away.

Mrs. V quietly flipped through her database. She sneared at the numerous missing books. “I will hunt you down if those don’t make it back,” she hissed at the screen.

From across the room she heard a loud sigh and the sound of a student sipping their Grande Ice Latte through a straw. With a deadly precision she hissed, “Shhh,” and every person in the library froze. The volume dropped to a distant whisper. She felt the rush of power flow through her veins. She loved that an effortless sound did more than the loaded Beretta mounted underneath the desk.

Looking back down to the computer screen she heard the familiar ding of an open front door. Without raising her eyes she knew something was off in the universe. The hair on the back of her neck started to rise. She instinctively reached for her loaded companion.

“Mrs. V,” said a gruff voice. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

A red dot hovered over her heart. “Who are you?”

She pulled her hand away and looked up to the man wearing a custom suit and his female associate. His handlebar moustache showed his years. “Mrs. V,” he said quietly. “we’re here to take care of you.”

Her hand slid away from the desk up her leg to the revolver she kept on her inner leg holster. “I could drop you both before we had time to blink.”

“I know you could,” he put his hands on the desk and leaned in. “After all, you are a librarian.”

Her eyebrow rose. She was intrigued by the handsome man in front of her. “Then we’re at a draw sir.”

He reached into his jacket slowly, and tossed a small square onto the desk. “I’ve heard you’ve had certain experiences in your life,” she waited to hear the gunfire. “I want to recruit you.”

She looked up from the photograph of her former high school and gave him a confused look. “For what?”

“We need your help,” his lip curled into a smile. “Don’t you know, there is always a sequel.”

Practical Grammar Advice & Application (Book Review)

I am by no means an expert at grammar. I remember the exactly one quarter my senior year in English that we focused on grammar. Later as I would take creative writing classes in college, the focus would be on the content, not the grammar. While this hasn’t hindered me much during my process, as I’m preparing stuff for publication I absolutely feel it is causing me to not put my best foot forward. I have gone searching for books to help with the process such as Stunk & Whites Elements of Style and found that either they are extremely dry or focused on academic writing. I was thinking of resorting to taking another college class (which I might do regardless), and then I found Writers’ Devils.

Writers’ Devil by Dan Persinger was a monumental help in my writing. For me particularly, I needed help around the grammar of dialogue. I found other books focused too much on MLA, APA or Chicago/Tribune styles of writing and less on the creative aspects of fiction writing. The book gave guidance and clear examples. I say guidance because he is very straightforward when discussing “rules” and how they are not cookie cutter and nor will they work in every situation. He does however touch upon what I believe to be the bulk of creative writing.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 12.30.54 PMI can’t tell you a hanging modifier from split infinitives. It gives very little background on the terminology presented and instead spends the bulk of the book working on what it is and how it is used in fiction writing. Persinger is tolerant of writers who are lacking even the most basic skills and makes few presumptions in his writing. For the more skilled writer, he does a good job of not offending, but at the same time offering alternative suggestions to your style.

Who would I recommend this book to? I would suggest it to anybody who finds themselves spending more time using Grammarly or similar websites than you want to be. Some very simple tips have altered my grammar enough that I’m saving days on editing, which I would much rather spend on writing. His layout of the book is meant for fast reading and easy digestible information that doesn’t get wrapped up in unnecessary and cumbersome theoretical grammar. For a kindle book, and at $9.99, I have to say it’s a great first book to add to your arsenal if you’ve just written a draft of your novel. The only downside I found was that the book is relatively short. I know he picked popular topics and frequently made mistakes, but I would have continued reading more grammar faux-pas if he had written it.


Writing Prompts

There are times when writing that I just fight the urge to work on one of my novels. Right now my characters are not cooperating and I think we need a little time apart so we can reignite our flame. In the meantime I thought it would be fun to write some shorter pieces. When the goal is typically to write an entire novel, a short story is a bit more intimidating than I would have imagined. But let’s see what I can do.

One More Page
: Moon  VERB: Promise  GENRE: Western

The sheriff slammed the door shut to the holding cell in the large room. He ignored the drunk reaching through the bars, trying to grab at the sherriff’s vest. The gun in his hostler and the key ring hitched on his belt jingled as he walked towards his desk. He hoisted up his pants by the crotch, adjusting himself and sat down. He kicked his feet up on the wooden behemoth he called a desk. He pulled his hat down, covering his eyes as he folded his arms to settle in for a spell.

Just as sleep began to work its way into his eyes, he heard a commotion outside the building. He waited for the overtly dramatic entrance that seemed to accompany anybody who set foot into the Sheriff’s Department. The door swung open, banging against the wall. The man in the chair didn’t flinch.  He was used to the urgency of the towns’ people as they barged in to declare another tragic accident had occurred.

He lifted his head just enough to catch a glance of the General Store manager flailing his arms. He didn’t need to listen to the man’s incoherent mumbles. There was only one reason anybody disturbed him. There was trouble.

He pushed his hat back on his head, revealing his three-day stubble and scar across his right eyebrow. He moved slowly, stretching as he clamored to his feet. He touched the revolver on his hip and sauntered towards the door, ignoring the man’s ramblings. He looked to the old clerk who was pointing down the road towards the edge of town. The sheriff pushed his hat firmly down on his head as he walked towards the edge of town. Was it bandits? A robbery? Perhaps a damsel in distress?

He paused as he saw a shadowy figure at the end of the road. He recognized the signature dust jacket flapping in the wind. It wasn’t merely a bandit; it was the bandit; the notorious Timothy Hale. The sheriff looked down to his shirt to make sure his badge suitably displayed his position. He gave the shiny piece of copper a brush of his sleeve as his other hand found comfort in the wooden handle of his gun. Before he could draw his…

The man looked up from the paperback he was reading. The small lamp in the hospital room dimly lit his pages. The full moon shining through floor to ceiling windows illuminated the small figures’ face in the hospital bed. The man leaned forward and brushed the hair off the young boy’s face revealing the all-to-familiar scar crossing over his right eyebrow. The man’s sigh was drowned out by the beeping of machines and oxygen being pumped into the kid’s nose. He leaned back and closed the book.

A weak voice spoke up. “What happens next?”

The man choked as he responded. “We’ll finish it tomorrow Tim.”

“But dad,” the voice wheezed,  “you promised…”

Novel Editing: 5 Tips to Tackle the Necessary Evil


At any given time, I have two or three writing projects going these days. I’m currently writing two separate novels and editing another. There are long stretches when I will gravitate towards one or another, but mostly, its so I can edit in chunks. Without my works in progress, I would only be editing and let’s face it, I enjoy writing because of the creation, not the alteration. Thanks to my writing group, I’ve developed better editing habits that have helped make the process go a lot smoother. Without them, I’d be knee deep in edits all the time, and I’d forget the fun that is writing.

Tip #1: Distance
I’ve written my novel and minutes later turned to the first page to start editing. I tend to like barreling through the difficult step, and I found most often I left major plot issues untouched. When my beta readers would read my manuscript I’d hear a lot of, “I know what you meant to say here, but…” With the images so vivid in my head, it’s hard to see what is missing. I’ve also taken the approach of stepping away for a week, a month, in several cases years. When I come back, I’m approaching my novel as a reader, not a writer. I get to enjoy the characters again and even be surprised. It also allows me many moments to say, “WTF is happening here?” The red flag goes off, and I know that’s a place that needs serious attention. This happened recently as I couldn’t figure out how a character vanished from a conversation and never returned (upon investigation I had decided to change his name midway through the novel and forgot to make a note.) It’s different for each novel, but that breathing space allows me the chance to become a reader and see what future purchasers will see.

Tip #2: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
I have made the huge mistake of starting my editing by doing line edits (editing each sentence for spelling and grammar) right out of the gate. I can not emphasize how badly this should be avoided. In one of my first novels, I spent countless hours line editing. When I finally gave it to a friend for a trial read, it came back with a lot of comments and questions. I wound up reworking several chapters, fixed a major plot hole and changed a character dynamic. All that line editing I had done earlier? I had to do it again. I had treated the novel like an English Essay and forgotten that 80,000 words only needs one subtle change in plot to change huge chunks of the book. I also found myself resistant to change since I had already invested the time editing. The changes were made, and after another trial read, I went through and did another line edit. Now changes were small, and I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. A lot of wasted hours taught me that the first edit should focus on plot, character, pacing, and major mechanics of the story. I do some grammar along the way, but only at points where it is difficult to understand my point.

Tip #3: Include Human Contact
I used to think we were our biggest critics. This doesn’t seem to be the case with many writers. Instead, it seems that some writers create, develop, edit and produce their work in a vacuum. This is dangerous. As I’m reading more self published work and more independent writers’ works, I find that if they had a friend along the way to say, “Whoa, slow down, what the hell is going on there?” It has become more and more beneficial to me to have somebody read the book during the first wave of editing. These beta readers are important because they are looking at it with fresh eyes. I select my beta readers based on what I’m writing (and usually who can generate thoughtful responses to my questions.) They are the first people to say, “Uhm, this character is acting weird here?” Or even, “Why didn’t your characters simply call for help?” They help expose plot holes and can provide overall suggestions. A “this part dragged,” or “this scene felt rushed,” can be the difference between a well thought out novel and a toss aside. Make sure to include people in your work. My best moments have been when I’ve posed a question to my writing group and listened to their feedback.

Tip #4: Get Help Where you Lack
Nobody expects you to be a jack of all trades. You might have difficulty in one area of writing. Mine is my grammar. I never learned it in school, and since then I’ve been coasting. A friend pointed out that my grammar surrounding the dialogue wasn’t correct. After some research and inspection, she was indeed correct. I found a book that talked about fiction dialogue and did some studying on how to do it properly. It helped. I am now better for it. I also have discovered and utilized sites like Grammarly and Autocrit, which are great tools to add to my arsenal. If you need help in the description or discussing your characters, I’ve asked fellow artists to do sketches for me. Most recently I had a friend do some clothing designs for a set of futuristic characters that helped me get a grip on what I wanted them to look like. You don’t need to be the best, but you need to know how to improve yourself.

Tip #5: Deadlines & Goals
Okay, I know people groan on this one. I write so many words a day, and I attempt to edit so much a day. I decided for a while to just let it happen. In other words, I found myself procrastinating for as long as possible. The moment I pose a deadline (sometimes even unrealistic ones) I begin to plug away at my work. I don’t always make my deadlines, but I’ve made significant progress towards them. At any given time, I have a word goal when writing, sometimes daily, sometimes for the month. For editing, I set page or chapter goals and always try to complete it during my sitting. Without them, I find procrastination takes over, and I never make any headway on my writing.

There are plenty more tips to have I’m sure. I’d love to hear them. Right now this is what gets me through the pains of editing. Good luck and don’t forget the love of writing. Editing might not be your cup of tea, but think of how much better your writing will be once you get the mechanics of your story working. I think of it as a personal victory, and then I can go back to my first love, writing.


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