My NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

In just a few short weeks, I will once again be taking part in the insane challenge that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those who are unfamiliar, half a million people from across all seven continents take part in a personal challenge to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. I discovered NaNoWriMo just three short years ago, and I’m proud to be¬†the head (Municipal Liaison) of my local region in West Virginia. This competition has done so much for me, from breaking down my own personal writing barriers to introducing me to a core group of local writers I now call my friends. But before I get all mushy about how much I adore NaNoWriMo, there’s a harsh truth that you should know… NaNoWriMo is HARD. Seriously! It takes dedication to push yourself to write at minimum 1,667 words of your novel each day. There are plenty of days where I just want to wave the white flag and hurl myself back into the comfort of my bed, far, far away from that daunting document on the computer screen.

That’s why I come prepared. While I’m still perfecting my NaNoWriMo Survival Kit, there are a few key elements that have remained a constant, and I’m willing to share them with you so that you can develop your own necessities to get you through the month of November. My Survival Kit includes:

 

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Just add wine.

1. NaNo Prep Materials
A lot of little items could fall under this catagory, but these are the things that I need well before November starts. Depending on how you prepare for NaNoWriMo, you will be known as either a Planner (you plan your novel in advance) or a Pantser (you “fly by the seat of your pants”, no planning, you start fresh November 1st with zero preconceived ideas for your novel). I’ve tried both methods, and though, while I “won” the year I was a Pantser, I ended up hating my novel entirely and never touching it again. I generally feel more confident in my ideas when I’ve planned. Therefore, you’ll note in the picture the large journal (for recording any sudden bursts of inspiration and outlining my scenes. This is much easier to carry around everywhere than the laptop I actually write on, and it makes it easier to refer back to my notes while writing.). There’s also an assortment of pens (can never have too many), post its (for outlining scenes so that they can be rearranged), tabs (for sorting character, plot, and setting outlines), and highlighters (so I can easily find the important bits!). You might also note my investment in munchies (Can we talk about how delicious goldfish crackers are for a minute?) and coffee creamer (Pumpkin Spice Err’thang! Don’t judge.) Our region’s first Plot In happens next week, so I’ll definitely be putting all of these items to good use by then, and I’m sure they’ll continue to serve me through the wild insanity that is November.

 

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I write…therefore, I am.

 

2. Ample Amounts of Caffeine and my Super-Official Mug
I adore this mug, given to me by one of my region’s Wrimos, and I use it far more than any other coffee mug I own. Why? Because it proudly proclaims what I’m doing. For many years, I struggled with the question, “When can I call myself a writer?” The word itself is subjective. Does a published manuscript make you a “writer” any more than the person with a hard drive chock full of stories? Not really, no. It’s having the drive to create and perfect your craft. Calling myself a writer has given me more confidence in my actual writing, so I like having this mug as a subtle reminder of that. I recommend finding a fun mug that fits you, and using it often throughout November when you are in dire need of that caffeine break. I keep copious amounts of coffee and tea on hand, not just because they are both delicious nectar of the gods, but because I find I’m more productive either at the crack of dawn or the wee hours of the night. A little boost during those times can keep me powering through my daily wordcount.

 

 

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Cute, right? I know he is. ūüôā

 

3. An Enthusiastic Support System

You’re about to embark on a rather trying and difficult journey. The more people who know about what you’re doing, the better. These are going to be the people who hold you accountable. Tell your husband, wife, kids, boyfriend, girlfriend, aunt, uncle, cousins, boss, coworkers – TELL EVERYONE. Proclaim to all of social media that you ARE going to write 50,000 words in the span of 30 days! Sounds terrifying, right? ¬†When no one knows the challenge you are undertaking, you feel less guilty when you fall short and give up. By telling everyone, you will have people pushing you to succeed, guaranteeing you don’t give up on your project. If your region has in-person write-ins, GO! If you can’t make the in-person events, be active as an online presence; whether it’s NaNo forums, a regional Facebook page, or just the #NaNoWriMo on Twitter. You’re sharing this wild experience with half a million other people. If anyone is going to understand the struggles you now face, it will be them, so use that to your advantage! Cheer each other on to the finish line.

 

 

They’re warmer on the inside.

4. Gloves

This has been a personal tradition for me. I tend to always have a pair of fingerless gloves around during our Write-Ins – A) Because I hate being chilly in the least & B) Because they just look so cool. I’ve gone from a pair I crocheted myself, to just regular compression gloves that help my not-so-old-lady arthritis, to these beauties. My TARDIS¬†gloves were a recent gift from a fellow Wrimo and Wicked Wordsmith, and I just adore them. Be jelly.

 

 

I earn merit badges just for being this awesome.
I earn merit badges just for being this awesome.

5. SWAG
Not in the YOLO sense, but what’s better than NaNo swag items? Nothing, that’s what. This is an added benefit of attending in-person write-ins. Usually, your region’s ML will dole out awesome NaNo themed items or prizes. I like to give out official items direct from Office of Letters and Light, like our yearly NaNoWriMo stickers, but I also like to include my own items to motivate my Wrimos. This can be ANYTHING. This year, I’ll have merit badge buttons made up for different achievements –¬†Little achievements¬†to work towards and strive for as my Wrimos push towards the ultimate goal of 50k. ¬†I also keep a prize bag full of random prizes, everything from flash drives to Rubik’s¬†cubes, to give out during our word sprints. I’ve found that a lot of Wrimos like to use these prizes as their personal motivators or mascots. Last year, I’d purchased a glass paperweight shaped like a squirrel for fifty cents from a Goodwill, and it surprisingly became one of the most sought after prizes at our Write Ins. While I worked on last year’s novel, I had a stuffed vampire mascot that would sit beside me whether I was writing at home or at one of our write-ins.

 

 

50k in 30 days is totally doable.
50k in 30 days is totally doable.

6. A Spiffy Calendar

This year, I’m using this one, found on deviantart. I set it to my computer’s background. That way, even when I’m not on the NaNo site, I can still be reminded of where my wordcount should be for the day. It also serves as a nagging suggestion to keep off of social media and other distractions until my count is met. The inspirational quotes are an added plus to this one.

 

That’s all I really need. I gather my Survival Kit, and on November 1st, I’ll open a new document on Scrivener and it’s ready, steady, GO. Feel free to buddy with me on NaNoWriMo – you can find me at earthsnake89. And remember… the most important rule to having a successful November, is to HAVE FUN. That’s all it takes!

Wicked Words – OUT NOW!

I’m a little late to the party, but WICKED WORDS is finally out! Actually, to be honest, we were able to release the anthology a few days before our official release date of October 1st, but the insanity that followed kept me from posting the update here. Pretty exciting though, yes?

I had ordered my copy the moment it was available, then sat in agony at work the next day after receiving the text alert that my book was at my local postal carrier, but wouldn‚Äôt be delivered for another 24 hours. If there’s one thing I have zero patience for, it’s waiting. On my lunch, I drove to the post office and begged and pleaded until the exceptionally kind postal worker searched through the packages in back just to find mine. There was a long period of time where I just sat in the car holding the unopened package, nervous to look inside. Finally, shaking all over, I held in my hands my very first venture into publishing.

It's really real!
It’s really real!

Sure, I’m still critical of my own work…there’s a giant glaring grammatical error in my story, but DAGNABBIT! It’s PUBLISHED! It happened! I can search my name on Amazon, and something I’ve written comes up! It’s real, and there are actually people out there in the world buying our book. That’s an amazing feeling to me, something I don’t have adequate words to describe, but that I won’t soon forget.

Want to get your own copy of this spooky collaborative effort from Wicked Wordsmiths of the West? You can buy the paperback copy HERE and the Kindle edition HERE.

I can’t express just how grateful we are to all of our readers! Thank you all so, so very much.

The Zombie Dilemma

Recently, a rather fierce plot bunny attacked me and sank its tiny little teeth in, refusing to let go until written. I haven’t been able to shake this idea for a story, and I have decided that it’s the perfect project for the upcoming NaNoWriMo season. Scenes are starting to form in my head and take shape in my outline, but I fear I’ve hit a snag. For, you see, I’m working with something entirely new to me… ZOMBIES.

My dilemma is this – In most anything I’ve read that involves these moaning and groaning monsters, it’s entirely too taboo to use the “Z” word. Call them “the infected”, “walkers”, “the living dead”, “undead”, etc….but never just zombies? I’m torn on how I feel about that.

The reason I’ve never written anything with zombies before is, well, because I thought they were pretty much the lamest monsters of all things that go bump in the night. Vampires? Yes, I’ll write those all day everyday. Werewolves? Sure, why not? But zombies? I didn’t see the appeal. There wasn’t anything scary about a monster that lurches towards you at the rate of a handicapped sloth. No, thank you very much. So, what changed? Someone turned me on to The Walking Dead recently. By recently, I mean, season five is starting next month, and I’ve marathoned all episodes up until where I’m at in season four. If I didn’t have to work and could sit at home with a box of Capri Suns and only my television for company, you can bet your bottom that I’d have not only finished all the episodes, but I would probably already be rewatching them all again. I thought I would hate it, honestly I did, but the biggest shock to me was that I just couldn’t stop watching. The storylines are compelling, I’m attached to the characters, and I’ll be honest…on more than one occasion, I’ve driven home in the pitch dark on the lookout for walkers.

Now I’m here with the beginnings of a young adult novel that has me more excited than any recent project I’ve worked on, and I’m stuck up against a fence full o’ zombies. What do I call them? Do I try to create some new alias for the creatures, use something familiar to readers, or do I just go ahead and drop the big “Z” bomb?

I asked a fellow writer for his opinion and received a somewhat unexpected answer. He said, “Call them what they are. Zombies. People get so caught up in creating other words for what something monstrous is, like how we have so many names for the Devil, but fear of a name takes away fear of the thing itself. Have a character rebel and refuse to call them anything but what they actually are – zombies.”

Interesting…I like it. I enjoy the name it, claim it attitude, and it could be used reasonably well alongside those less willing to acknowledge what’s around them. I¬†can even see the character who would say it. At the same time, I can feel my main character staring at me scrupulously from across the table, arms crossed, saying, “Zombies? Really?! That’s what we’re going to go with?” And that’s when I bang my head into the keyboard repeatedly, waiting for some better idea to spill from my brain.

So what do you think? Would seeing the “Z” word in the back blurb of a book turn you off from reading it? What’s your favorite name for zombies? I’m looking for any help I can get, because right now my outlining is progressing at a dragging zombie-walk pace until I figure this out.

Wicked Words

While writing my bio for the Wicked Wordsmith anthology, I realized two things:
#1 – I need a more professional twitter account with less “colorful” language than my personal account. Thus, you can now find me @JulianneTillis
#2 – If I’m going to list my blog in my bio, I might want to actually start posting on a more regular basis. So, here we are!

I started a writing group about three years ago after my first NaNoWriMo experience. The Huntington region at the time did not have a ML, and so I unofficially took over and found a core group of local writers to participate in the write ins during November. At the end of NaNoWriMo that year, we’d all enjoyed the camaraderie so much that we wanted to make our meet-ups a regular occurrence. Wicked Wordsmiths of the West was born, and have met every month for the past three years to discuss all aspects of our craft and participate in creative prompts and activities. At the beginning of this year, we had the wild idea to start working on an anthology. A loose goal of a collection of creepy stories in time for Halloween was set, and we began drafting all varieties of horror. It has definitely come down to crunch time, but I think we’ve just about got it! Our cover release happened just the other day, and I’m pretty excited about it:

The cover for our first anthology - due out October 1st!
The cover for our first anthology – due out October 1st!

The photo in the bottom left corner happens to relate to my short story, “Flesh and Blood”, which you can read when Wicked Words is released October 1st. It will be available in both paperback and kindle format through Amazon, and I will be sure to post the link as soon as it’s available. For anyone who happens to be in the Huntington, WV area though, we will be having an in-person signing and release party October 14th at Empire Books and News in the Pullman Plaza. Hope to see you there!

Oh, and don’t forget to like the Wicked Wordsmiths of the West page on Facebook to keep up with all of our updates!

Off the Shelf: A Review of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Fair Warning — Spoilers Ahead!

The back cover of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
The back cover of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

You see the back cover of this book? Did you read what it says? Do you believe that these will be the events that transpire within its pages? Well, DON’T. This book is a LIAR.

 

After finishing this book today, I tried to step away for awhile and examine the book as a whole, but I just couldn’t get past the disappointment that consumed me as I closed in on the final few chapters and realized that there wasn’t enough book left for anything to actually happen. Nothing. Zilch. NADA. This absolutely kills me because I had such high hopes for this book. My to-read list is a mile long, so when I want to immerse myself in a book, I’m extremely picky about which one I choose. The goodreads description of Dorothy Must Die interested me enough to add it to my to-read list, but when I happened to stumble across the¬†Epic Reads¬†site and saw how much hype and promotion they were giving this book, I figured it had to be something worthwhile. I ordered a copy for our Young Adult section, and I was also the first patron on the hold list. The day this book was catalogued, it was MINE, and I couldn’t wait to jump right in.

A little background on me: I LOVE retellings. Give me a fractured fairytale, and I’ll be a happy girl. My first NaNoWriMo project? A really poorly put together novel set in a fantasy world that combined characters from fairytales and classic lit, including the Wicked Witch from Oz. Another fun fact? I’m actually not-too-distantly related to Judy Garland through the Gumm family (I did enjoy the not-so-subtle homage in Dorothy Must Die’s main character’s name being Amy Gumm).

 

Things I wasn’t a fan of:¬†

What do I NOT¬†love? Well, when it comes to this book, frankly, a lot. I had such high hopes for this one, and those hopes crashed harder than Amy’s trailer-ride into Oz. The biggest disappointment was expecting to see Amy take on the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion individually to take back their gifts from the wizard, and instead, I got an entirely different story. *SPOILER* – Amy isn’t told she has to take out the three henchmen before she takes on Dorothy until the END of the book. You read that right! The WHOLE¬†book is spent mainly focusing on Amy’s arrival in Oz, her training with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to kill Dorothy, and her infiltrating the staff of Dorothy’s palace so that she can kill¬†the ruby-shoed princess. Sure, she encounters the other characters, but nothing is said about having to take out Dorothy’s biggest supporters until AFTER Amy flubs up her assassination attempt at the very end. Seriously?! You tell me on EVERY site’s book summary what her mission is supposed to be, and then she doesn’t learn that mission till the end? Sure, maybe I didn’t realize this was going to be the first book in a series, but what are you going to do now? Devote one book to each character Amy has to kill off? In that case, Dorothy will NEVER die.

Other things I don’t enjoy include overly blatant foreshadowing and giving readers flashing neon arrows, as if we’re not smart enough to figure things out ourselves. Paige is guilty of telling, not showing. Such as when Amy is met by the mysterious Pete the gardener in an ever-moving maze. He lays the foreshadowing on pretty thick to where it reads almost like, “Dorothy and Glinda HATE this maze. They pretty much NEVER come here. They are SCARED of it. Now that it knows you, it will remember you and help you, Amy. Oh, you want to know why I’m telling you all of this? BECAUSE SOMEDAY YOU MIGHT NEED TO USE IT.” Do you really have to make it that obvious? Although, of course, much like the rest of the book, nothing happens and Amy doesn’t end up using this maze…so, unless it shows up somewhere in one of the sequels, this scene was pretty much useless.

Speaking of Glinda, where is she? She’s introduced once in Amy’s first few hours in Oz, as she sees her from a distance. After that though? She briefly makes an appearance towards the end. Sure, we get to see this twin sister of hers that happens to be Wicked, but I would figure she’d be a much larger character. Also, if she’s so close to Dorothy, then why isn’t she part of Amy’s mission? Glinda as a whole just seems underdeveloped and underutilized.

The last thing that tended to bug me was the way the author sexualized Dorothy to make her a villain. I 100% believe that female villains can be both attractive and evil, and frankly, those are the villains I enjoy. But Dorothy? It seems that most every bit of description had to be about her appearance – from her cleavage hanging out to the ruby red slippers turned f*ck-me stiletto boots. The only image I get when I picture this version of Dorothy are the show-some-skin, Leg Avenue Dorothy Halloween costumes. It simply makes me cringe because it comes off as overly cheesy. Make her every bit attractive as you want, but if that’s the only thing she’s got going for her, then the character is just going to fall flat. Yes, we do get to see some of her twisted cruelty (which I will give credit, is one of my favorite parts), but not nearly enough background or development to make me feel anything except disinterest in the character.

 

Things I enjoyed:

I’ll admit this is list had few and far between, but the book did have some redeeming qualities. I do like a fresh take on Oz. The world building was clear and intriguing, and it added to the overall mood. I did like the twisted portrayal of -most- of the familiar characters like Tin Woodman, the Lion, and especially the Scarecrow. When the depths of Dorothy’s cruelty involving her former head handmaid was unveiled at the ball, that was the highlight of the book for me. It was creepy enough to make my skin crawl, and that was when I finally felt an emotional connection to the characters. The casual nods to L. Frank Baum’s text and to the movie were a nice touch and not overly in-your-face.

 

My Predictions:

Unfortunately, I do predict this series will drag out Amy’s “mission” for several books, to spend time focusing on her taking out each of the supporting cast before going after Dorothy. Will I read them? Likely not. It’s sad, but I don’t even care to guess what will happen in the rest of the series because I was just so unattached to the characters.
My Rating:
2/5 Library Cards

I considered 2.5 to be generous, but I’ve taken my time putting this post together, thinking that eventually my opinion of the book would improve. Nope. Didn’t happen. I’m stepping away from it, clicking my heels together, and wishing I was reading a better book. Maybe next time.

*EDIT* – Found this image floating around Facebook today, and I’ve deemed it “What Actually Should Have Happened in Dorothy Must Die“.

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