fiction

Sci Fi, Oh My's 2016 Reading Round Up

At the beginning of 2016 I decided to set myself a goal of reading 2 books a month. That might not sound like much to some but that’s 24 books total and a lot for me. Happy to say that I made it! Effectively tripling the number of books I read in 2015. Yay!

I tried to read a wide variety of book in 2016 everything from thrillers, romance, fantasy, British comedy and of course Science Fiction. With all that came many different writing styles. I can truly say that reading more makes you a better writer. Not only does it help your creative side it also helps you to realize styles and devices that you really like and don’t like.  It reminds you what a reader likes and then you can take that back to your own writing. Now, I’m not saying you should write for anyone but yourself but you should write something that you would want to read. Just something to keep in mind.

I want to talk about the books I read this year. I’m going to do my very best not to have spoilers. Mostly I want to talk about things I learned as a writer from reading these books. Here we go. (LOTS of book talk ahead)

In no particular order…

  1. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
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When I hear C.S. Lewis, one word comes to mind. Prolific. But I’ll admit the only thing I had ever read from him was of course The Chronicles of Narnia. So I saw this and had to get it. C.S. Lewis in space! How could I not. I went in not knowing what to expect and found of course that even though the words were coming for a blobby type alien they were deep, profound and spoke to me. Leave it to C.S. Lewis. This is the first book in a trilogy and I haven’t had the chance to read the others yet but I hope to in 2017.

One thing I have noticed in many space travel stories is the common theme that we on planet earth are oblivious to the vast life that spreads across the galaxy. Instead of painting the human race as a pack of idiots, C.S. Lewis gives us the feeling that it is more of a tragic state than a laughable one. I was surprised when I found this book to be so profound in theme but I’m not sure why since the author is so well known for just that. Looking forward to finishing the series.

  1. The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
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Another first in a trilogy, a Nomad of the Time Streams novel, I guess you might call this a steampunk science fiction. I very much enjoyed this book. Thought I would throw that out there before I say it was while I read this book I realized how much I’m not a fan of forwards and prefaces. I know they have a purpose I’m just saying they are not my particular favorite.  It was also while reading this book or maybe right after I finished it that I realized something I loved about it, it’s pacing! The timing and pace was wonderful, everything in it was pushing the story forward. No chapter after chapter of forest descriptions or paragraph after paragraph of how to make a sandwich (silly example). It made me realize I like a story that gets down to business. My imagination can fill in more of the blanks of what's around me. Tell me something about the plot.

This also helped me realize that an author who paces stories like this, then takes the time to elaborately describe something it must be because it’s important. An example of this isHarry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in which J.K. Rowling actually describes Rowena Ravenclaw's lost Diadem and its location, (We had seen the thing!) but it’s only a moment and doesn't come into play again until the Deathly Hallows.  

Good pacing can add weight and gravitas to other elements of a story.

  1. Veronica Mars, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham.
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If you were a fan of the show this is a great way to get more of Veronica’s Nancy Drew like sleuthing. It feels very familiar since in the show we often had Veronica’s inner dialog to tell us what snarky things she was thinking, this book has much the same feeling. Falling into the mystery/thriller category, it’s not a genre that I usually gravitate towards but containing a character I was already invested in made it easy for me to dive in.

The character of Veronica Mars does remind me of something I struggle with in my writing and that’s character development. Taking my character from being one person when the story starts to a changed in some way person at the end. I tend to make people who I want them to be from the beginning. I’m working on it.

  1. Red Dwarf by Grant Naylor
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The first 2 books in the Red Dwarf series says the author is Grant Naylor. Grant Naylor is really 2 different people Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. Something I didn’t realize till I started looking for the 3rd book in the series.

What can I say about Red Dwarf… Okay. Red Dwarf (Infinity welcomes careful drivers) is easily a stand out favorite for me! Bringing the idea of what British comedy is to a whole new level of storytelling. You might remember (or not) that this was also a show on the BBC back in 1988. I still haven’t tracked it down to watch it since I haven't finished the books yet.  

This space adventure comedy showed me that something can be totally, completely, absurdly ridiculous and still be fantastic! The British have a way of doing this. I can’t fully explain. This book had more moments than I can remember that I found myself in stitches thinking “Really? This this really happening right now? This is the most amazing thing I have ever read.” I enjoyed it immensely. So much that is made it onto my favorite books list and that’s a pretty short list.  

The other thing that I found interesting about the Red Dwarf series (and please don’t let this deter you from picking it up) is its lack of likeable characters. It almost feels like a whole story filled with supporting characters that in any other novel would be a background character that showed up for comic relief but instead these guys are what you get.

I realize that this book will probably not appeal to everyone, but in my opinion it’s pure brilliance.

  1. Better Than Life (Red Dwarf #2)  by Grant Naylor
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Continuing with a ship full of buffoons that you are now somehow inexplicably attached to, Better than Life takes us on to the next chapter of the Red Dwarf’s journey. Giving more of the crazy goodness.

  1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
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Talk about the kind of book I usually wouldn’t have picked out. But a friend suggested it and I did enjoy it. This falls in the romance drama category. Really, I should probably read a little more in this area since I find it difficult to write romance into my stories. This was very informative one ways to slowly grow two characters closer to each other. And SPOILER not all romance ends in a wedding and riding off into the sunset.

  1. Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
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This was an exciting book. Made all the more exciting by the fact it was written during a NaNoWriMo. Erin Morgenstern takes a beautiful story concept and weaves a magical tale full of whimsy. I didn’t love this book as much as it seemed many others did but I was still happy to take the ride. The author has a wonderful way of describing fantastic scenes of impossible things, but you know “magic” so…

Erin Morgenstern also uses a style in small sections of “Present Tense Writing”. A style you rarely see in novels. It reminds me a lot of the odd choose your own adventure books. “You’re standing in front of a forked path. To the left you see a forest. To the right an open glen.” That kind of thing. Writing that makes you feel like you’re living it. I can’t imagine an entire novel like this but it does remind me that you can try new things new styles?. Some of them might work some might not but it’s okay to try.  

  1. The Siren by Kiera Cass
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This is a  standalone novel by The Selection author Kiera Cass. It’s a haunting tale of a Siren’s life. You know a Siren, the mythical women that sing to bring boat crashing into rocks killing all that are one board. Yeah, those sirens. I like the originality of the concept. Though I had some small things I would have liked for her to explain more. This book reminded me how nice it is to read a standalone novel. A quick read that doesn't lock me into reading 3 or more books just to complete one story.

  1. The Crown by Kiera Cass (Spoilers)
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The 5th book in the Selection series. We are now following Eadlyn, the daughter of America. America is the heroin from the first three books in the series. I have liked the other books in the series but I wasn't overly in love with this one. I found that I cared about every supporting character more than I did Eadlyn. It might have been more about the kind of character I like more than the writing itself. What it lacked in keeping me invested it made up for in giving me what I wanted in the end.

  1. The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson
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An Autobiography of the actor that played Dwight K. Schrute. The only non-fiction book I read this year. It read like fiction as Rainn Wilson had the kind of life you would think had to have been made up. Nothing like  I would have imagined him in real life. It was odd to see behind the veil. If you’re interested in Rainn Wilson and his eccentricities this will give you deep insight but if you’re not it’s a pass.

  1. The Cosmic Puppet by Philip K. Dick
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Another author that qualifies for the word Prolific. You might not  recognize the name Philip K. Dick but you have probably heard of some of his work. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly are all his handy work. Can I also point out that Blade Runner is based on a book called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Now is that a name or what? (I love it).

This novel reads much like an episode of the twilight zone. (Spoilers) A man rolls into the town he was born in only to find that things are a little off and according to the current town, he was never born.

  1. FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell
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This was my first read from Rainbow Rowell and another that was written during NaNoWriMo. Since this is the only book I have read from Rowell I’m not sure if this is her usual subject or if all her books deal with different themes. This is basically what I would call a coming of age story. Set in the real world and driven by the relationships in the book. I listened to it on audiobook and enjoyed it for what it was. A not too heavy story about a girl figuring out how to life.

  1. Prodigy: (A Legend Novel #2) By Marie Lu
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Honestly, I read this early in the year and I having trouble remembering a lot about it. Which just reminds me that I wasn’t overly wowed with it. I think at this point I was getting burnt out on teenage dystopian futures. I remember I liked it enough that I do plan to finish the series. What it’s taught me as a writer is to work towards coming up with something new and fresh. Don’t get me wrong; nothing wrong with a dystopian future but unless you have something that really makes you stand out you might just get lumped into a category that readers are bored of.   

  1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Mass
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This adventure into a fantasy world of faeries was enjoyable. I like to read and learn how other writers do their world creating. Since I find that exhausting, it’s the thing I dread about writing fantasy more than anything. That’s probably why I tend toward Science Fiction where I can base my stories loosely in the ‘real’ world. In that aspect, my hat  is off  to Sarah J. Mass. She does a great job at painting you into a new place with magical and impossible creatures.

  1. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
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Alright I had to take a deep breath before this one. I LOVE this book! It was a gift and I read it without the tiniest idea of what it was about and I am so glad I did. I finished it in 3 days. (Which is fast for me.) This Science Fiction thriller came to me at the perfect time. I was dealing with writer's block and a heavy dose of laziness in my writing. Dark Matter was the kick in the pants I needed. Wonderfully exciting, clever, and original it’s very hard to put down. I’m pretty sure at one point I had the book in one hand and I was flipping pancakes with the other.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

16, 17, 18, 19, and 20. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series, The Restaurant at the end of the Universe, Life the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thank for all the Fish, and Mostly Harmless: by Douglas Adams   

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Back to my British sci fi comedy kick, I immensely enjoyed this series. Some of the books more than others but I see them all as one story. The first book is a fantastic nonsensical romp in the galaxy immortalized not only by Douglas Adams writing but also by Martin Freeman in the 2005 film adaptation. Though the script wasn’t as strong as it could have been, the casting was on point. With Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel being perfect matches to their characters. (In my opinion, which is the right one because this is my website ;D) But this isn't about the movies, I just appreciate that the Arthur Dent in my head will always be my hobbit friend in a bathrobe.

Each book the story becomes more exciting and even more confusing. It’s only one of the few times I find it pretty easy to let go of the glaring continuity errors. In fact, many times they are explainedlater. I mistook foreshadowing for plot hole more than once in this series. Sadly, Adams died in 2001 with the series uncompleted. There is only more “Official” book in the series but it is written by another author and I have yet to read it because am a skeptic.  

If you like British humor, it’s a great series. I even gave a compendium to a friend as a gift. I force her to read all the books I want to talk about.

  1. Armada  by Ernest Cline
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I’m a big fan of Ready Player One so when Armada came out, I had no hesitation in getting it. I wasn’t disappointed. It definitely felt like an Ernest Cline novel but that’s not really a bad thing, he just has a subject he really gravitates towards and that’s 80’s pop culture. A very different story and premise than Ready Player One but a similar feel that reminded me not only of his own work but also of Ender's Game. Definitely worth the read if you liked either of those books.

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
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Because it was a screenplay this was a quick read. Although not a “book,” I decided to count it on this list because… why not. Reading a screenplay requires a bit more imagination but lucky for us J.K. Rowling and David Yates have already established the visual aesthetic of the wizarding world.  Making it easy for me to create my own mental storyboard as I read it before seeing it on screen.  While I read this, I discovered that I wanted to write my NaNoWriMo project into a screenplay as well as a novel.

  1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Script by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling
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There was so much excitement around this script from Harry Potter fans everywhere and I was no different. Even more so once I started reading and found it dealt in time travel. (Insert fangirl squeal here)

I hear a lot of people say they couldn’t really get into it because how it’s written. (Script and not a novel) My brain sees everything I read in a film adaptation in my head so I had no problems and got REALLY into to. I read it in only 2 days. It’s a great addition to the story but I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t pick  apart the time travel.

The Prisoner of Azkaban had always been one of my favorite in the series probably because it has a time travel element. Moreover, it handles time travel as I prefer which is a fixed time line. (I’m not going to go into that right now, this post is already long enough. If you want to talk about it, message me.)    But in the Cursed Child, Rowling abandons the theory of fixed time lines and moves to using a Dynamic time line. A HUGE continuity error that drives me CRAZY!

I understand that the whole plot of the Cursed Child hinges on a dynamic timeline so I pushed it to the back of my mind and enjoyed the story. But since I hate plot holes and the like, and this story has many, it was a bitter sweet read for me.

  1. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
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When I found this at the used book store, I had to pick it up. I had seen the movie but wanted to read the original story and see how the author approached the unique situation.  Zero disappointment. Chuck Palahniuk blow me away with the odd style this is written in, that somehow works. Although I wondered if I hadn’t seen the movie first would I have been able to follow it as well as I did. (I guess I’ll never know.) I think it’s one of the best film adaptations from a book that’s out there. The film differs only very slightly from the book from scene to scene. This is a great book to read and take in different ways to foreshadow. If you already know the story you really appreciate all the small details more.

25.-ish (Reread) Ready PlayerOne by Ernest Cline

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I really do like it that much. It was my only reread of the year. It helps I have it on audio and Wil Wheaton narrates it. He’s amazing FYI. I enjoyed it just as much as I did in 2015 when I read it the first time. It’s another I highly recommend if you’re a fan of 80’s pop culture.

So that’s it! I’m looking forward to all the reading to come in 2017!

How to Construct a Story in 5 Step.

How to Construct a Story in 5 Step.

 

With NaNoWriMo on the horizon I thought now would be a great time to talk about how I come up with a Novel Idea. Get it. ;)  If you were wanting to participate in NaNoWriMo or simply wanting to start writing fiction in general but don’t know where to start I hope this helps! With the disclaimer that what works for me may not work for you. Feel free to take away what you like from my methods.

 

Step 1: Story Concept.

It always starts here for me. It usually comes to me randomly when I’m driving somewhere or while I’m in the shower. You know, doing mindless stuff, like when I’m at work.  It’s the question that drives us. “What if?”  For example: What if your planet was destroyed? What if you found out you were royalty? What if you lost something so valuable you would do anything to get it back?  

From here I start answering the question and other questions that it incites.  Almost like reverse engineering a story. What if your planet was destroyed? Well that tells me you must not have been on that planet. Why weren't you on the plant? (Maybe you’re an astronaut or you were vacationing on Neptune.) How were you not on the planet? (Mission to repair spacey type telescope or Space cruise liner.) Who destroyed the planet? (Natural disaster or pissed alien race.) Why was the planet destroyed? (Maybe those aliens were having a really bad week.) How will you now survive?

Keep the Q and A going. Keep what you like and toss what you don’t. Eventually a story concept will emerge and even a very, very rough outline.

 

Step 2: Characters.

Sometimes my concept and my characters come to me at the same time, sometimes they don’t. After you have your concept you can ask yourself; what kind of person would be in this situation?  How do they handle the situation? Are they funny? Are they serious?

There are hundreds of Character building lists on line. So I’m not going to get too crazy in depth with this section. Basically I flesh out my main Character then ask; who is their support system? Family? Best friend? Significant other? Then I have my secondary characters.  

Then time for what might be the most fun part. Who is making my hero’s life harder? My protagonist! Everyone loves a good bad guy these days.

 

Step 3: Building a Strong Outline.

So the world of writers boils down to two types of writers. Planners and Pantsers. I’m, (if you couldn’t already tell) a planner. Pantsers like to make it up as they go. Don’t get me wrong making it up as you go can be freeing but… every time I have tried this it’s like looking up to find out you're in the middle of a field miles from anything. Where’s my plot? It’s just not for me. So planner that I am, I start working an outline.

The setup: In which I do just that, introduce my character, tell ya a bit about their life. Right before a change it all.

The Trigger: Which is the event that sets the story in motion. (Boom your planet gets destroyed!)

The Midpoint: Now you throw rocks at your character. (Plot point rocks that is) Conflict, conflict, conflict!

Rising acting: Time to start solving some of your small problems and giving your character much bigger ones. All leading up to…..

The Climax: When your story reaches its crescendo. It all gets as bad as it can get and then you figure out how to fix it.

The Resolution: Where this all ends up after the conflict is over.

That’s all crazy overly simplified but that’s how I start simple. From these simple points we can build them into a lot-o-plot!

 

Step 4: Conflict!

After my outline I have to work out what the conflicts will be. I generally like things to be easy so I have to push myself to make life harder for my Characters. Sure the overall conflict of my story is there, but I have to work to figure out what rocks I will throw at my hero.

 

Step 5: Resolution.

The resolution, as I previously mentioned, is where everything ends up when the conflict is over. I’m going to so real and tell you this is my weakness. It’s always the hardest part for me. Nothing like having a story with no idea how you want to end. I usually come up with 3-7 options and stare at them for un undetermined amount of time.

So my advice to you and myself is this. Come up with lots of options. Stare at them for an undetermined amount of time. Then start the process of elimination. Cut the ones you know you don’t like. Cut anything that’s overly cliché. Till you’re left with only the top contenders. If you still don’t know, this is the time having a writer friend can really come in handy. They really don’t have to be a writer but having someone to bounce ideas off of can help you in your decision making process. Who knows, something they say might even inspire you to have a totally different ending than you thought. I’m, of course, not saying take someone else's idea. I’m just saying you don’t have to be alone.

And remember if at the end of your story you blame aliens in a story that had nothing to do with aliens till that point or you end it with a variation of “and then they woke up.” expect your readers to find you and punch you in the throat.

 

After those 5 Steps it’s all about putting in the work. Choosing to work on your story and write instead of watching Netflix or browsing Pinterest. Honestly this is really and truly the hardest part. Coming up with the ideas can but so exciting and invigorating that when the time to write comes it’s a snooze fest. Writing is a rollercoaster. The downs come very suddenly and the ups can be a long arduous climb. But at the end you have an amazing experience to look back on and hopefully a first draft.   

Things I’m Doing When I Should be Writing!

Things I’m doing when I should be Writing!

  • Napping
  • Watching Battlestar Galactica
  • Reading books (Written by people much more talented than me.)
  • Pinning tattoos I’ll never get on Pinterest.
  • Pinning EVERYTHING on Pinterest.
  • Forcing my dog to cuddle me. (Love me!)
  • Fantasizing about my dream job.
  • Napping
  • Working over time at my real job. (Gross)
  • Staring at my computer screen blankly.
  • Looking up random greek mythology.
  • Daydreaming myself into adventures instead of my characters.
  • Wondering how my brain got so disorganized (Who's in charge here?!)
  • Napping  

                 So it looks like I need to try harder to schedule my writing time. I should also start going to bed sooner apparently. With my new work schedule it’s safe to say I have been a bit thrown off my writing game. Not to worry I’ll be making a comeback, just need to focus more. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but so are a lot of things I have done. Fiction Friday will be a day late. I know, Friday is right there in the title, sorry. Sometimes life is exhausting.

I Hate Plot Holes

I’m not going to lie. I’m a person that has WAY too many pet peeves. Right at the top of my list of pet peeves is Plot holes! This hatred runs deep. Here is an example. Do you remember the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame? I do, well not the whole movie but here's what I do remember. At the end of the movie there is a big fire and Quasimodo almost falls to his death from the bell tower into the fire. Thankfully he is caught by... the blond guy. (I can’t remember his name, not important for the point I am making) After he is saved our three main characters come down from the bell tower and when they open the doors… the city looks totally fine, it’s a nice sunny day, nothing seems to be burnt, there is basically no damage from the crazy amounts of fire that had just been raging moments before. I remember sitting in the theater thinking, “Wasn't there just a fire? Why is everything fine now?”  That was in 1996. I was 6 years old. Movie mistakes, plot holes and things that just don’t add up in a story have been bugging me since I was 6!

Now, I tell myself it was just a kids movie, don’t worry about the magical non consuming fire, but the example just shows how deep my idiosyncrasies run. Flash forward 20 years from the questioning 6 year old to my current self. The person who decided to write a book heavily based around the most plot hole ridden subject of all time and I mean ALL time. TIME TRAVEL that is!

Plot hole problems slow my writing process way down. Because as much as I try to tell myself to just keep writing, I’ll go back and fix it later, I just end up stuck. I can’t stand to leave the tiniest potential plot hole in my book. I fall into those holes and I don’t get out till I solve them. This can be considered a good thing or a bad thing. Good for people like me that want all things to line up in the end and bad because it puts a heavy block on my creative writing process.

This is were a good outline comes in handy. Thankful I have a pretty good grasp on my story and where the plot holes are that I need to address. But those 3-4 unanswered questions are like giant gaping hole in my head. Things some people could just simply look past and write off as unimportant details. Not me though! Instead I sit and stare at the wall for what seems like hours trying to solve the problem. Don’t worry it’s not a blank wall, I have my entire plot outlined in color coded index cards on the wall I stare at. So not crazy at all.

I just don’t want to do the same thing that is constantly driving me crazy in books, movies and TV.  Don’t even get me started on all the plot holes that have developed in Doctor Who in the last 6 years. But I’ve digressed.

How do you feel about plot holes? Are you the kind of person that gets consumed like me? Or are you one to look past them and enjoy the story? If you are I’m jealous. Tell me your secrets so that I might learn. :D then maybe I’ll stop getting stuck in the hole.  

No NaNoWriMo for me.

No Camp Nanowrimo for Me

April is Camp Nanowrimo month. If you don’t know what this is, here’s a quick summary. A community of writers band together via the internet and support each other with the goal of each writer finishing an entire writing project start to finish with in the month of April. This is the spring Nanowrimo the sister to the original Nanowrimo that happens in the fall during National Novel Writing Month in November. See what they did there National Novel Writing Month, Nanowrimo, so clever.

I love the whole concept of Nanowrimo. I have even participated in the 2011 November Nanowrimo, and I failed miserably. Not even making it through half of my project. What an embarrassment. But I still think it’s a great idea and the support everyone brings each other is a wonderful help to motivate you through the monumental task of writing an enter book in one month.

However, I will not be participating in this April’s Nanowrimo and here's why. I know I will fail again. That’s not me not having the confidence or dedication, I just know I won’t have the time needed to get it done. I wish I did but with the full time job, my commitment to this blog, oh and of course it’s that time of year when we need to start up the yard work again, so it’s out of the realm of possibilities, the hours just aren't there.

I’m sticking to my plan, finish the first draft of my book by November 1st. That will set me up so I can then participate in the November Nanowrimo, yay! I already have a project in mind for that (Insert maniacal hand wringing here). I like to think this plan will simply help drive me in my goal to finish my first draft.

To all who are participating in this month's Nanowrimo, you’re awesome! You show that book who's boss! If you’ve never heard of Nanowrimo but it sounds like something you would be interested in, you can head over to https://campnanowrimo.org/sign_in to get more information and sign up, it’s not too late.  I mean it’s a little late, but never too late to start living your dreams. Have an awesome April, writers!