Medal No. 17, Stranger Things 2, Halloween, NaNoWriMo

In the interest of time and space, here’s a recap of how I ran 13.1 miles in the pouring rain and ruined my phone, how we celebrated Halloween and Salem’s Supposed 10th Birthday, and why I’m taking another stab at National Novel Writing Month with my third novel.

My goal to run 20 half marathons by the time I turn 40 is moving along nicely. On Saturday, the day it monsooned in East Tennessee, I ran my 17th long-distance race. Before readying my cell phone for a wet run in ziplock baggies, I snapped this photo of the windshield.

Oh, the irony.

Fast forward two and a half hours and I crossed the finish line fully drenched but pleased with my run. It wasn’t until I was safely back in the car that I realized water had seeped into the baggie and, therefore, into the phone.

{insert expletives here}

I tried to make a call and couldn’t. The camera wouldn’t work. The speakers wouldn’t work. I was so mad at myself for deciding to run with the phone. I thought listening to an audiobook would distract me from the rain (it did!), but I also thought I’d taken enough precautions to keep my phone dry (I didn’t!). I drove home and immediately put the phone in a bag of dry rice for 24 hours.

The screen is streaked and the phone works fine, from what I can tell, but the forward-facing camera still does not work, which is the CRUELEST IRONY OF ALL for a photographer.

Still, I earned Medal No. 17, and I plan on getting Medal No. 18 in two weeks.

In between the race and Halloween, Chuck, Jackson, and I binged the second season of Stranger Things. (Jeremy opted out.) I loved it as much as I hoped to, but I was disappointed in the amount of profanity in the second season, particularly since Jackson was watching. Every episode I reminded him, “We don’t talk this way, remember?” It was just too much, and frankly, unnecessary. That complaint aside, I thought the plot of Season 2 was an excellent continuation from Season 1, particularly with the inclusion of Max. (I could’ve done without Max’s brother and about 85% of Episode 7.)

This, by far, was my favorite scene. I melted:

Halloween rolled around and we took Jeremy (as Ron Weasley) and Jackson (as Big Nate – his imaginary best friend and book character) to our friends’ house to trick-or-treat. I don’t have a photo of them because I didn’t bring a camera.

Actually, that’s not true. Here is a photo from trick-or-treating:

Only the front camera works (i.e., the selfie camera), and it’s actually terrible.

Oh well.

Before Halloween got away from us, we took a few minutes to celebrate Salem, our wonderfully fat black Halloween cat. As I’ve mentioned before, we have no idea when his actual birthday is, unlike Major, whose birthday is December 9. So, we selected October 31 for our favorite feline and celebrated what might be his 10th year on Earth (we aren’t sure about that either) by giving him a can of tuna.

Finally, since today is November 1, I am making a second attempt at finishing my third novel during National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated three times before and was successful in both 2013 and 2015. Last year was a wash, but here’s to trying again! (Maybe I only write novels on odd years?) I fully admit to starting the month ahead of schedule because I still have 3,000 (or so) words from last year that I’m recycling. There’s only one story to tell right now, so I’m not starting a new one.

NaNoWriMo 2015 update

Despite all the distractions, like Jackson swallowing the wire from his braces, National Novel Writing Month is going very well. I’m close to 20,000 words and have reached the point in the story where the scene shifts from one place to another, we jump in time a bit, and horses come finally into play. It’s time to draw upon my visit to Franklin in March and pick the brains of riders I know around here.

Jenny leading a horse

It would be misleading to say I like this story more than the first one, but I wager the writing is better. There are rules I’m following, bits of advice I’m following, and I’m careful to make each sentence as important as it needs to be. Though it will need editing for sure, I’m trying to write a story that has little fat to trim.

I’m also on my 50th book for the 50 Book Reading Challenge of 2015, and it’s no coincidence that the 50th book I’m reading is Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. Of course it is, and no, I didn’t plan it this way. Providence continues to weave its quirky web around my writing efforts and I’m thankful for it. Each night I read and each morning I write.

Fingers crossed. Everything forward.

Big Magic for NaNoWriMo

On October 21, in the middle of a crazy busy week, Lesli, Susan, and I met in Nashville to attend an event on Liz Gilbert’s book tour for Big Magic. (Book review coming soon.)

Girls at Flip Burger 2015

The night was an informal discussion between Liz and fellow novelist Ann Patchett. Their conversation centered around creativity – how it manifests and what to do with it.

I was on the verge of tears the entire evening. As I tried to explain to Chuck later, listening to Ann and Liz talk about writing brought me to a place of emotional convergence: fear and doubt smacked right into courage and confidence. Dread faced excitement and anxiety was challenged by calm. It was all too much and not enough at the same time.

Patchett and Gilbert 2015

Our evening in Nashville was providential as it unfolded just prior to National Novel Writing Month and my big push forward on the second novel. The same thing happened in 2013 when Liz was on her Signature of All Things book tour and I had just started NaNoWriMo for the first time. Though some might say the intersection of Liz Gilbert’s book tours and my own novel writing has been a coincidence, I say hogwash. It’s providence. It’s big magic.

It’s only November 2 and we’ve got the whole of the month to go, but when I look at our family calendar, I see that it’s fraught with busy-ness. It will take effort on my part to carve out substantial writing time. NaNoWriMo isn’t about perfecting a manuscript and getting it all right the first time. It’s about transferring the ideas from my brain to my hard drive and harnessing the energy of writers everywhere who are doing the same thing.

The blog won’t be well-attended to this month, but I know you understand. In fact, I’ll just end the post with my favorite quotes from the evening:

writing quotes from Big Magic


Blog Challenge Day 16: Dream Job

What’s my dream job?

I’ll give you ten guesses.

A handful of you have approached me cautiously, carefully, to quietly ask, “How’s your novel going?” When asked, I answer, but I don’t go around talking about the novel because it’s so dear to me, and the whole process of writing a novel and submitting it to agents is like stripping naked and going door-to-door in a neighborhood full of really attractive people, arms out and asking, “So what do you think?”

Thank you for handling me with kid gloves because it’s been a challenging year. I’ve been rejected 38 times. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been rejected 22 times and ignored the other 16.

But let’s be Silver Lining People for a moment and look at the bright side. I’ve had three agents ask for the full manuscript after reading the first three chapters – which is a big deal – and all three of them were from well-known national and international agencies. One agent in particular wrote a lengthy rejection letter that included some inspiring words, like:

“You’re one to watch,” and –

“Many writers have to write that first novel and get it out of the way so they can write the one that will sell,” and –

“Don’t let this discourage you,” and –

“I hope you’ll consider submitting to me again.”

I jumped on the last part and told her I was already at work on a second novel, and when it’s finished, could I send it directly to her? She said absolutely. After a good cry, I resolved that her rejection letter was the best out of the bunch and I was lucky to have captured her attention.

It’s true that I’m working on a second novel and I’m loving it just as much as the first one. The difference between now and then is that I’m not finding (or making?) as much time to work on it. I could sound off a list of excuses, but instead I’ll tell you that I’m participating in NaNoWriMo for the second time and hope to use the month of November as a catalyst for finishing the story in a timely manner.


So what’s my dream job? Doing exactly what I’m doing now but with a solid shelf of published books in every bookstore and a faithful group of followers who enjoy reading my stories.

Everything forward.

Ever Thankful

When we go to Chattanooga, we squeeze in every moment we can with friends and family. It used to be our home, so not only is the city nostalgic, it’s also home to some of our favorite people.

This year Thanksgiving was with Chuck’s family. I admit that I was glad to be a guest and not a host, but only because November has been a tiresome month. Normally, I enjoy all the cooking and whatnot. This month,  I enjoyed lounging.

Miller Family ThanksgivingDo you think these two are related?


So grateful Tami and Jeff could host this year. I can’t say that everyone was well-behaved (Chuck), but that’s how little brothers are (Chuck).  SiblingsOrnament reflection

Before we stuffed our bellies with turkey and dressing, Chuck and I got up early to meet Karin and run the Turkey Trot 8K. It was Karin’s first road race and I was so happy to run alongside her.

Turkey Trot 8K

On Black Friday, while everyone was blowing cash and fighting lines, we were with our Fred and Ethel Mertz.

Valovcins and MillersValovcin and Miller kids

We also drove down to Santa Land Tree Farm to get our Christmas trees. That’s right – plural. As in two trees. I’ll post pictures of that tomorrow.

Finally, for those who are wondering, I haven’t finished the novel but I’m in the 70,000-word range. I completed NaNoWriMo, which was really satisfying, but I have a little less than two weeks to finish the story and turn it in to my creative writing professor. So far, so good.

Novel Writing and Schizophrenia

In my limited experience, these two things are well-paired.

I hit 60,000 words last night and completed Part Two of what could be a four-part book. I initially thought it would be three parts, but the characters are telling me otherwise. I’ve strayed so far from the outline I wrote four weeks ago that there’s no point in looking at it anymore. The characters are in charge and I’m doing my best to accommodate them. Like everything else I try to control, it has slipped out of my hands.

Last night’s bout of writing is a great example. I was skating along in a chapter, going where I was being led, when the scene suddenly ended. It didn’t end where I originally planned, but the character made it clear that it was time to stop and shift. So I did. (She’s a bit bossy.)

Likewise, my main character surprised me last night with a bold move and I let her roll with it. I couldn’t say no.

In other news, I’m on the verge of completing my last assignment for Literary Theory and I’m thoroughly relieved about it. It was a required class, but it couldn’t have been more out of my realm of interest and ability. You know what’s not well-paired? Novel writing and Literary Theory.

Have you missed the boys? I’ve not forsaken them completely. Here they are, all three of them:

Autumn day at the park

The Wall

I’ve hit it. I knew it was coming and today I ran smack into it with my eyes wide open.

The Wall showed up at 49,975 words. My story is at its midpoint, so this novel has a long way to go. It feels a lot like when I ran a marathon in 2009 and crossed the 13.1 mark after two hours. Theoretically, I could’ve been done at 13.1. I’d already run a few half marathons so that felt like a natural stopping point. But, I’d signed up to do a full marathon, all 26.2 miles of it, and I was only halfway done.

There was the Wall.

It isn’t that I don’t know how the story will continue or even how it will end. It’s that I’m exhausted from juggling everything in the air and trying to write at the same time.

The momentum of writing three thousand words every night after the boys go to bed has waned. Now I want to lay in bed and watch reruns of Mad Men.

The thrill of getting in a few hundred words first thing in the morning has fizzled. Now I want scroll through Pinterest and think about Christmas.

The boys are tired of my absentmindedness too. Are you gonna do school work again tonight? How much longer until you’re done?

That’s a great question.  I’d like to be done right now, tonight, so I can turn my attention to the holidays and wrapping up the boys’ school assignments for the semester. Unfortunately, we’re behind and I’m in over my head.  I feel like the living example of “Women can have it all, just not at the same time.”

For today, I think I’ll lean up against the Wall and take a nap. I might write tonight, but I might not. There are nine days left in November and I’m determined to finish. If anything, I’m only 25 words from hitting 50,ooo. So in that regard, I’m all set.

Word Count with a Ladybug

As of last night, I’ve hit 45,700+ words of the required 50,000. The catch is that I’m only halfway through the plot, so I’m looking at an 80,000-word novel at least. My goal is still to finish by the end of the month, but our creative writing professor has allowed us until December 13 to complete the project. That’s really good news and it means I’m set to accomplish the terms of NaNoWriMo.

In other news, our house is still a haven for ladybugs, particularly in the master bedroom. A few have even wandered out into other areas of the house. Seriously, aren’t they supposed to be gone by now? Or are we just special?

LadybugMajor has been in fits lately. He’s so bored, and I don’t blame him. I’m not running with him as much as I had been this summer and early fall, but frankly, I’m busy. I’m not even running as much as I’d like to, but that’s the deal with November. Major obviously didn’t get the memo.

Hence, he’s chasing his tail wondering when the heck I’ll show him attention again.

Chasing tails

Novel progress and a baby, unrelated

The novel is sailing along at more than 32,000 words. No doubt I’ll hit the 50,000-word limit by the end of November to meet the terms of NaNoWriMo and my creative writing class, but this book will be well over 50K when it’s finished. I’ve employed my dearest friend, Corey, to read it and advise me, and by “employ” I mean that I’ve cashed in 20-plus years of friendship in exchange for her expertise as a creative person. She has no idea what she’s agreed to. HA! Sucker!

Yesterday was a labor of love, but not with writing. I agreed to babysit our littlest cousin for the day, so in addition to the boys (and their school work), the dog (and his nonsense), graduate school (Lit Theory sucks), and really, really cold weather (hello, winter!), we had a tiny blue-eyed visitor. Seriously, why would you say no to babysitting this guy?

Connor at 11 months old

The boys thought babysitting Connor meant a day off from school, but nope! HA! Suckers!

School with Connor

Connor was a complete angel, and I’m not just saying that because his parents and grandparents will probably read this blog entry. He really is a calm, cheerful baby. He did not cry or whimper or thrash around or vomit or explode in his diaper, all of which I was geared up to handle. The boys can vouch for my babysitting report. They were even trying to convince me to adopt another baby, and I was all, “NO WAY.” We are just fine here, thank you. Have you met Major? The dog who ate your Mandarin action figure last week? Who steals your peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the plate? Yeah, we’re good here.

Speaking of the dog, he was oddly very sweet with the baby. After sniffing every inch of Connor’s tiny little body (he’d never seen a human that size before), Major followed him around everywhere he crawled. When Connor sat still, Major laid down next to him and waited. It was a nice display of canine loyalty and protectiveness that made me think, “Okay, we’ll keep you another week.”

Major and Connor

Plotting on a walk

This is our neighborhood. Well, sort of. It’s the space behind our actual neighborhood where I like to walk Major. Recently, it’s been in this space that I’ve created much of novel’s plot. It’s nearly four miles to the end and back, and the time it takes  to circle around depends on whether I’m walking or running, or if Major gets sidetracked by squirrels and curious cows.

East Tennessee is most beautiful right now, so I thought you should see it.    camera_20131107163836374_20131107171647368NaNoWriMo Word Count to date: 20,350 (out of 50,000)

Write like mad

National Novel Writing Month begins today, but I actually started last night at midnight since I couldn’t rest my brain about it. Of the 50,000 words I must write in one month, I’ve written 3,638. I only stopped because it was 2 a.m. The story flowed like liquid from my fingertips. For the first time in my entire life – and this is true, if you know me – I feel confident.

For my novel writing class this week I compiled a graphic of my favorite advice from Chris Baty, creator of NaNoWriMo and author of No Plot? No Problem!  It will serve as the fuel in my tank to keep moving forward.

NaNoWriMo advice

Halloween was fantastic since the rain held off. We trick-or-treated with friends and hung out afterward. I promised you a photo, so here we go: Iron Man, a zombie, Walter White and one of his Blue Sky customers. Of course, you’d have to know Breaking Bad to fully appreciate our costumes.

Miller Family Halloween 2013So off I go to write like mad. The story is ready to come out. If I’m absent online it means I’m present in Jesup, Georgia, which is the primary setting of the novel. Thanks to all of you who’ve been so encouraging in this journey.

Novel Progress

NaNoWriMoIn one week I’ll start writing a novel. I’ll have 30 days to complete it per the agreement of the National Novel Writing Month program and my graduate Creative Writing course. The minimum word count is 50,000, but I’m striving for far more. The fictional story that’s been in my brain for more than a year will finally make it to the hard drive.

But, just because I’m not starting until November 1 doesn’t mean I haven’t already started. I’ve been taking many, many notes.

Novel notesThis story is consuming my thoughts. It feels real, like the characters are flesh-and-blood people, like everything that happens to them is a part of history. I’m not nervous about writing it down because the words are already clawing at the door to be released. What I am nervous about is everyone else.

I’m typically a very present person in all of my roles as wife, mother, friend, pet owner, church member, homeschooler, bill payer, house manager, watcher of Project Runway All-Stars… But a large chunk of my day-to-day will have to subside in November so I can accomplish my goal of writing a novel. It reminds me of when Chuck and I decided to run a marathon in 2008 and we took turns taking long five-hour runs for many Saturdays in a row. While the race was fantastic, the training was time consuming and it turned our whole household upside down. I’m thinking this is how November might be.

If you are a writer, then you know there is no such thing as reoccurring, productive, scheduled writing time. Writing happens when it feels like it’s supposed to happen, whether it’s convenient or not.  Sure, there’s productive deadline writing, and that’s partly why I chose to participate in NaNoWriMo. The rush of a 30-day deadline is exactly the thrust this former journalist needs. But, until we reach the last weekend in November, when the deadline is looming, I’m going to rely entirely on instinct and inspiration, whenever and however they might transpire.

So, if you see my family wandering the streets of town next month, hungry, unclean, and confused, please direct them to a restaurant or drive them home because I’ll be busy writing.

Oh right! I have a blog.

We are in the muck, people. It’s only been a week and I’m super-duper thankful I didn’t try to squeeze in one more activity for the semester. I already reviewed the boys’ curriculum for you, but I don’t think you have a full appreciation for the work I’ve put upon myself.

On top of Literary Theory (which involves reading and analyzing Plato, Horace, Wordsworth, Dante, Dryden and a dozen more), I’m also taking a novel writing class this semester. In agreement with the class parameters, I have committed to participate in NaNoWriMo this November.

What’s that crazy word you just used?

I’m glad you asked. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Let me translate this concept to you more clearly.

In November, I will not brush my hair or take any special effort towards self-grooming. I will not socialize, have any fun away from my computer, or speak in coherent sentences. I will not remember anything you say to me beyond the first few words. I will not take on extra projects, like laundry, dish washing, or grocery shopping. I will not participate in late-night phone calls, unless I need to call someone in tears because my plot has reached a roadblock. (You better answer your phone, Corey.) I probably won’t update this blog or do anything beyond the bare minimum for the boys’ school. (I will feed them, though.)

That being said, if you don’t mind, send me a word of encouragement every now and then throughout November. Tell me to KEEP GOING or PUT AWAY THE CHOCOLATE. Be funny, stern, and helpful. Tell me I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t finish. Give me permission to be imperfect for 30 days so I can crank out 50,000 words and honor my commitment. This novel will most definitely be a rough draft, which is the point. Editing comes later. November is for quantity. December is for quality.

Normally, I wouldn’t make something like this public, but Chris Baty (NaNoWriMo’s creator) suggests it. Pulling friends and family into the loop of insanity brings about fear and terror. Through fear and terror, I am more likely to finish.

For now, I must construct an outline for Literary Theory (Zzzz…) and get the boys started on math. Before I go, look what the hubs brought home on Saturday: Orange RosesHe’s so dang sweet.