It was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Halloween Night House

Halloween Night House (Photo credit: Photo Dean)

Why is it that on Halloween Night I am seized by this urge to write a ghost story?

Cutting my teeth on Nancy Drew books as a child might be part of it. Being a sporadic NaNoWriMo participant might be as well. I’ve loved mysteries all my life – the real mysteries of genealogy and long-dead relatives, and the fictional mysteries of Mary Higgins Clark, Les Roberts, Tony Hillerman, and Mary Downing Hahn. My daughters and I love watching Masterpiece Mystery: Poirot, Marple, Foyle, Wallander, Lewis and Hathaway, and of course, Sherlock.

What would I do if I actually encountered a ghost?

I’d like to think I’d stay rooted to the spot, bravely facing the apparition with a mix of curiosity and trepidation, trying to communicate.

I suspect I’d scream and run like hell. Or it would take me so long to compose myself, the apparition would disappear and I’d spend days wondering if I’d freaked myself out so much I imagined it.

As an amateur genealogist and family historian, I see dead people all the time. They live in piles of statistics and the odd photo or two. But they’re not scary. They’re just telling their stories. They’re family, more often than not, and I love them. Even in their non-corporeal state.

If someone who’d been dead 200 years stood in front of me, I cannot guarantee your personal safety if you were standing near me as I retreated from the room.

We’ve lived in our house for 9 years. It’s only 35 years old – not even close to Victorian or Edwardian, which is where you’d expect to find a ghost. But I swear, one sunny afternoon, home alone folding laundry, someone sighed. It was a sigh of defeat and sorrow, and my own heart ached in response. For a few breaths, I thought I might not be alone. I looked around, wondering if the cats were responsible. Nope. Just me and a basket of socks and underwear. I shook it off and went about my business.

I think some of us have a secret desire to be completely freaked out, but not by something fabricated in Hollywood. We like a decent shock or surprise. We like to stare down the unknown and misunderstood.

Some us – the storytellers of the world – like to cause a stir. Spinning yarns of dusty attics and hidden journals, creaking doors and sudden chills, restless spirits and ancient injustices.

Millie entered the foyer from the parlor, the stale air heavy with dust and mildew. Her flashlight created a narrow beam of light through the thick darkness. Here and there, a pinch of moonlight found its way between the window boards, but not nearly enough to be able to see.

The only noise came from distant whisperings of Ericka and Lori debating whether to move forward or retreat to the relative brightness of the mansion’s overgrown garden. Lori seemed to be losing the argument.

Millie’s flashlight beam dusted the carved banister near the front door.

All right. I’m going up.

Out of the corner of her eye, a figure loomed. Millie gasped and jostled the flashlight as she faced the intruder.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” she whispered. Her own reflection stared back from a dusty mirror. “Millie, just get a grip.”

The cobwebs across the face of the mirror shifted…in a breeze that didn’t exist.

Eyes that weren’t her own looked back at her, from a masculine face. He gave her a sad half-smile, glanced up toward the second floor, then vanished.

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24K – and I’m not talkin’ about gold

Nanowrimo

Image by shaylamyst via Flickr

Twenty-four-thousand words.  That’s what I need to generate in the next twelve hours (or less) if I’m going to hit the magic 50-thousand-word mark for National Novel Writing Month. Even if I ignore all else – laundry, children, groceries, errands, meals, choir practice – or happen across one of those Atanik armbands from Stargate SG-1 that give the wearer superhuman speed and dexterity, odds are 50K isn’t going to happen.

And I’m okay with that.

I’ll squeeze in another 4-5K before midnight, which will put me at around 30-thousand words. And that is 30-thousand more than I had 30 days ago.

Anyone else out there who is attempting NaNoWriMo and not feeling very optimistic about your chances for success tonight, do remember this:  if you consider yourself a writer, and you are writing, then you have won.

I’m not advising you to quit right now. Not at all. Do what you can before midnight. And then on December first, open the document, or pick up your pen, and keep going. Participating in NaNoWriMo is as much about building a writing habit as getting the start of a novel.

I’m willing to bet that if you believed in your idea enough to attempt NaNoWriMo in the first place, then your idea – your story – is important enough that you’re not going to let the turn of a calendar page or the ticking of a clock keep you from finishing it.

When I confessed to struggling with my own story, a friend said, “Well, does it have to be 50-thousand words? Maybe it’s really a novella and only needs to be about 30-thousand.”

In my case, no, the story isn’t a novella. It won’t be done at 50-thousand words either. I suspect closer to 75-thousand when all is said and done. But think about your story:  do you have a novella? Or could it even be a short story?  50K is the NaNo goal, but maybe you can say all that needs to be said in 15K.  So keep working on that first draft, and fine-tune it later.

(By the way – does anyone else find it ironic that we sometimes nickname this venture “NaNo” when there’s nothing small about it?)

I still believe in  my characters and their digitized lives, and they have a story to tell. I’m convinced that the scope of their story requires a little more patience and deliberate thought than I can give it in a mere 30 days.  But I’ve at least learned that.

During the course of November and telling my couple’s story,  I started to fear I’d grown too misogynistic to write romance…that I just don’t believe in it enough or maybe that I believe in it too much and anything I write doesn’t do it justice. As I wrote in a guest blog for my Northwest Ohio NaNo Buddy, Feliza Casano, I can’t wrap my writer’s head around certain kinds of romances – as much as I enjoy reading them and may desire to write them, I don’t seem to be wired correctly.

I like my heroes to be real. They have graying hair, labor-intensive non-romantic jobs (or no job), and genuine fears. The hero of my NaNo novel has a disability. At the moment, it’s the proverbial gun on the mantel that Anton Chekhov says you should use by Act III if you introduce it in Act I – I’m working on making it work. But my point is, Real isn’t always pretty…but when it works, it’s beautiful. It appeals to the hopeful romantic in all of us. It’s a very delicate balancing act. I have to use grains of sand – not bricks – to balance the scale that is Real on one side, and Romantic on the other.

Also, I know of some NaNoWriMo participants who take shortcuts or play “fast and loose” with the word count just to hit 50K.  For example, I might consider including any blogging about NaNo toward the word count. I know of people who have done it, and I thought about it too. But in my mind and for my intentions, it defeats the purpose. I’d rather fail to meet the benchmark honestly. And since I plan to keep the manuscript around and continue working on it, what is the point of adding ten-thousand words of “fake” content that I’d have to go back and cut out anyway?

When the clock switches over to 12:01 a.m. and it becomes December 1st, your manuscript will not vanish in a cloud of sparkly fairy dust. It will not cease to exist. You may be someone who took on NaNoWriMo as a dare or a lark and have no intention of pursuing writing beyond November. That’s all good. Congratulations on sticking it out this long! Seriously!  But if you are a Writer, believe in yourself and your abilities, not the clock and the calendar. Believe in your characters and listen to what they have to say. They won’t stop talking at 12:01 a.m. So don’t stop writing.

Kudos and a peppermint mocha salute to all of my NWO NaNites who hit 50K!

End of the Year To Do List

Damaged portrait of Elizabeth I of England, To...

Image via Wikipedia

I should be freaking out.

It’s November 20th. Thanksgiving is in four days. Christmas comes in a little over a month. The New Year comes about a week after that.

Instead, I’m breathing.

At this point, I have ten days to finish NaNoWriMo and to break 50K, I have to pull in about 3,400 words daily. In the past, I’d have felt defeated.  Not this time. And on top of it all, I’m feeling encouraged to think about what else I’d like to do with the rest of my year.

My blogger friend Elizabeth at Mirth and Motivation posted her year-end-to-do list, and since I’d been thinking about what I’d like to accomplish before the end of the year so I can dive into 2012 without feeling like I’m trying to get caught up…I think I’ll join her in making it public.

1.  Finish National Novel Writing Month over 50K.  NaNoWriMo is going to end at 11:59 p.m. on November 30th whether I have 50,000 words under my belt or not. I’d like to chalk one up in the “win” column.

2.  Box up books and music I’m not reading or listening to and find a good home for them.  Odds are that book I bought 5 years ago that “sounded good” and yet never opened is not going to be opened any time soon.  Someone will enjoy it. And I’ll have room on my shelf for something new.

3.  Redesign and rebuild my web site and blog.  I’d originally planned to keep this blog separate from my business site, but I’m feeling more confident about merging the two. There will also be the addition of a business page on Facebook, and possibly even *gulp* a Twitter connection.

4. Post once a week during December with a Christmas story. I’ve loved Christmas as long as I can remember. All the shopping will be what it will be, but the Spirit of Christmas is infinite and beautiful.

5. Continue to cultivate the professional and creative relationships that began this year. I haven’t been as interactive as I would like with my fellow bloggers and creatives. Why wait till the new year to do better?

6.  Take my daughters out. Just out. Not sure where. Maybe the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art followed by lunch. Maybe I can get my mom to call in sick to work and join us.

7.  Develop new classes and a five-year plan for my freelance business.  I enjoy teaching as much as I enjoy learning.  Every class I’ve taught through Owens Community College’s Workforce and Community Services program has been so much fun and I’ve met some terrific people as a result. I want to construct more learning opportunities for writers and storytellers, and over the next five years, I want to add podcasting and webinars to my web site.

I’d add a general “declutter” to this list, but I don’t think I can get that done before year’s end.  Started, yes, but not completed.  But I can purge old catalogs and magazines; shred multiple copies of documents I no longer need; and, of course, the aforementioned book and music purge.

There are things that are totally out of my control. I have to give those over to God and let Him manage it for a while. There are things I can take care of.

I’m on it.