Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

With October approaching, the time has come for me to begin planning my next NaNoWriMo project. The rules state that you can work our your plot, work out your character descriptions and research all you like, as long as you don’t start actually writing until November 1st at midnight, so I like to spend October in the planning stages.  So far, I have one finished novella from NaNoWriMo (The Christmas Wager) and I’m getting close to wrapping up last year’s project, Murderous Requiem.  Obviously, NaNoWriMo is a good way for me to force myself to come up with a new novel every year.

I’m tentatively planning another murder mystery, but since Murderous Requiem breaks the rules of traditional murder mysteries — and its popularity may suffer, as a result — I’m digging up a very traditional mystery I plotted out in college, or possibly even as long ago as High School.  A magazine — I think it was Woman’s Day, though I can’t say for certain, and I can’t recall how I even came across it — was sponsoring a murder mystery contest, hosted by Mary Higgins Clark (I think).  The only rule I can remember was that it had to include a certain number of clues from a list provided in the magazine, and the only clues I can now recall are a red dress, an answering machine message and…actually, those are the only two I can remember.

I diligently plotted out my mystery, creating a number of characters and a complex plot, but it soon became obvious that my mystery, featuring gay characters, wasn’t particularly suited for Woman’s Day (not in the 1980s, anyway), and was going to end up being too long for the contest, anyway.  I was also not really up to writing it, at that time.  I started it, but didn’t get very far.  It would be decades before I learned how to finish writing projects reliably.

I’ve been searching through boxes in the attic, looking for my original notes, but this may be a lost cause.  I know they’re kicking around somewhere, because I’ve stumbled across them several times over the years, and every time I did, I thought to myself, “I should really finish this someday.”  They might turn up over the next few weeks, but for now, I’m just going to dredge as much up out of my memory as I can.  Chances are, I may come up with better ideas now, anyway.  I know the basic idea behind the mystery, but it isn’t the greatest mystery ever conceived.  With or without my notes, I’ll need to put some effort into reworking the story, if I don’t want the reader to solve it in the first chapter.

But I’m getting excited about it and NaNoWriMo, in general.  I keep poking at the website and tweaking my profile.  If I recall, they’ll open the site up for people to enter the basic info about their novel projects at the beginning of October.

In the meantime, I’ve finally worked out an ending for Murderous Requiem, and now I just need to write it.  Hopefully, I can get that done in the next week or two.  It will require a lot of rewriting, I already know, to fix inconsistencies in the plot and possibly to obscure the solution to the mystery a bit more.  It seems far too obvious to me, at the moment.  But I’ll just finish it and see what the final result looks like.  I still think it’s a fun read, and hopefully others will agree.

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Filed under Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Writing

Solving the Murder

Okay, so I’ve set up the muder scenario in my occult mystery, Murderous Requiem; I know who did it, I know how they did it, and I think I’ve obscured it enough so that my amateur “detective” doesn’t seem like a complete idiot for not figuring things out immediately.

Now what?

The murderer probably shouldn’t get away with it.  I think we’re all agreed on that point.  (Be quiet, Tim!)  But how is Jeremy (my main character) going to solve the crime?  I’ve been dropping clues, but most of them are meant to send him off in the wrong direction.  And at the moment, there’s nothing really pointing to the murderer, other than the fact that said murderer doesn’t really appear capable of killing anyone — always a dead giveaway in a murder mystery.

Then there’s the added problem of Jeremy not knowing that the murder has occurred….

Oh, he knows one murder has occurred.  But not the one that’s critical to the plot.  The way it’s set up, I’m not sure if he’ll find out about the second murder until the very end.  If he did, it might mess up my carefully constructed misdirection.  Of course, since this is my first murder mystery, my carefully constructed misdirection might be as transparent as glass to the reader.  But I’ll have to worry about that later.  For now, ignorance is bliss, and I choose to believe I’m a plotting genius.

Except that I can’t figure out where to go next.  I know it can’t be a slip-up on the murderer’s part.  That would just be lame and make my detective look like a halfwit for needing the solution handed to him.  So a new clue has to turn up somewhere, preferrably connected to the mysterious manuscript the entire story is revolving around, and one that points to the identity of the murderer.

Maybe when Jeremy finishes translating the 14th-century Italian manuscript, it will say, “Verily, the murderer is….”

Oh, dear.  We’re back to Jeremy being a halfwit again.

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Filed under Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Writing

Where do we go from here?

It’s been a moderately busy week for me.  First Lou Sylvre kindly let me rant about creating romantic suspense on her blog.  I used examples from two of my favorite M/M novels, Dark Horse, by Kate Sherwood, and Bear, Otter and the Kid, by TJ Klune, and ended up making a two-parter out of it:

Riding the suspense roller coaster in a romance novel – Part One

Riding the suspense roller coaster in a romance novel – Part Two

And We’re Both Straight, Right? received a wonderful review at Miz Love & Crew Loves Books!

I’ve also just turned in my first edit on The Dogs of Cyberwar, which is slated to be released by Dreamspinner Press in November.

I’m back at work on my occult murder mystery, Murderous Requiem, though it’s been a bit slow.  Only one more chapter added this week.  But it’s been a busy week at work and at home, so I’m hoping to ramp up my writing on that, now that I have a few days to breathe.

So having a full-length novel submitted (published is unlikely) by the end of the year is one goal I’ve set for myself, as a writer.  Everything I’ve had published in the past year has been under 60,000 words.  And there is a subtle bias in the industry that tends to favor novels over short stories or novellas, when it comes to readership.  I also still keep being asked if I can produce physical copies of my “novels.”  Until I have something over 60k, I won’t actually have a printed copy from a publisher to show people.   And the fact of the matter is, until you can produce a physical book with actual pages people can touch, they tend not to believe you’re really a professional writer.

The frustrating part is, I already do have two novels sitting in the wings, waiting to be published.  One of these — Seidhman — is, according to everyone who reads it, my best work.  It’s certainly the most polished, having been re-written five or six times and fact-checked by an Icelandic historian.  But it’s YA, and not suitable for my current publisher.

So my goal this weekend, is to draft a query letter and the whole package to submit Seidhman to an agent.  I have one picked out, but I won’t say which one, in case I jinx it.  🙂

By That Sin Fell the Angels — my other finished novel — needs one or two re-writes, before I consider sending it out.  That one isn’t suitable for Dreamspinner, either.  Not because it’s YA (which it isn’t), but because there really isn’t much romance going on.  I’m not sure where to send that one, but it’s time to start thinking about it.

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Filed under Cyberpunk, Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Writing, Young Adult

Editing frenzy

Well, for me it’s a frenzy.  I edited Zack and Larry before submitting it for publication (of course), and went directly from that to editing both Seidhman and Murderous Requiem, at the same time. 

Murderous Requiem is, frankly, still a bit of a mess.  Since it’s only half done, and I’d written that half during NaNoWriMo, the quality of this first draft was…rough.  Very rough.  Was it good?  Well…parts of it were.  The rewrite helped.  But it will still require a lot of rewriting, when it’s finished.  I got through the chapters I’d written, and now I’m plowing ahead with the rest of it.  So far, the requiem isn’t very murderous.  At about halfway through, we have yet to have anything happen, apart from ominous foreshadowing.  It’s still entertaining, but the interest comes from the relationships our hero has with the other characters, and his rediscovering of a life he thought he’d left behind.

Seidhman, on the other hand, is getting close to the point where I’ll start sending it out.  My friend, Roxanne, handed a copy of the manuscript back to me with copious notes scribbled in the margins — good notes, for the most part, since she knows her history and is a writer, herself.  I don’t agree with everything she says (of course), and sometimes decyphering exactly what she’s saying can be a challenge, since her handwriting is…interesting.  But a lot of it’s worth considering.  So I’m about halfway through the manuscript now, using her notes as a guide.

A friend of a friend, who lives in Norway, gave the manuscript a read and said she loved it, and found it to have a very Scandinavian feel to it, which was tremendously encouraging.  She gave me some notes, as well, but they were mostly minor details, except for some matters of “You can’t get there from here,” which I’ll have to take into account.  When you don’t live in an area, you often don’t realize that what looks like a simple route on a map has a towering cliff or a raging river that you can’t cross, forcing you to pick a different route.

I also have a reader in Iceland going over the story, and since she’s an Icelandic historian, that’s nerve-wracking.  Hopefully, she won’t come back with, “Foolish American!  Don’t ever write anything about my country again!” 

So, I’m about halfway through the current draft and it’s getting pretty polished.  Depending upon what the woman from Iceland tells me, I will hopefully be able to have a final draft done by spring.  Then I have to make decisions about whether to send it to a publisher or to an agent.  An agent is preferrable, but these days they appear to demand that you already be published, before they’ll look at your work.  I also know of some publishers who might be good fits for the story.  But those are small press.  And considering how much of myself I’ve invested in this particular novel, I might want to aim at the bigger houses, to begin with.

In the meantime, I’m still fretting about Zack and Larry.  I should probably do a final draft of my still-untitled cyberpunk story, so I can have something else ready to put out there.  In the event Zack and Larry gets rejected, I’ll at least have something else to pin my hopes on.


Filed under Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Romance, Viking, Writing, Young Adult

Zack and Larry is out the door!

I’ve submitted my novella, Zack and Larry Make a Porno, to Dreamspinner Press today!  If it gets published, this will be my first non-holiday story out there.  (Of course, The Meaning of Vengeance , doesn’t really feel like a “Christmas story,” in the sense most people think of it, but it was included in a Christmas/Holiday anthology, so it probably won’t get a lot of attention for the rest of the year.)

Preparing a manuscript for submission is always nerve-wracking.  Not only does the story itself have to be polished, but it has to be correctly formatted according to what the publisher wants.  Dreamspinner isn’t too difficult about that, but the manuscript must be in Times Roman, 12-point, with one-inch margins.  The hardest part, for my first submissions, last Fall, was figuring out how to put a header on the document which would put “Jamie Fessenden / Zack and Larry Make a Porno” on the top left of every page, and the page number on the top right.  It doesn’t seem too hard, now, but the first time I did it, it kept breaking.  Microsoft Word is far from intuitive.

Once the submission itself is prepared, you have to come up with a “short but complete story summary and/or synopsis.”  This is where I probably need some more coaching, because my story summaries are long.  For this 15k-word novella, my summary was two and a half pages.  Once upon a time, I gather that was expected, but I think writers tend to do shorter summaries, these days. 

So, you attach your story and your story summary to an e-mail, and then you have to write the dreaded Query Letter itself.

I’ve written a few successful queries, by now — successful, in that I was asked to submit the story, after the editor read my query — so I’m fairly confident, in that regard.  I just keep it short and to the point, making sure all of the important info is included.  They want to know what genre the story is, assurance that it has never been published elsewhere, and how long it is.  They also want two paragraphs describing the story and a brief list of your credentials, as a writer.  Here is the query I just sent to Dreamspinner:

February 13, 2011 

Dreamspinner Press LLC
Genre: First Time for Everything

Dear ,

I have a 15,400-word previously unpublished novella called “Zack and Larry Make a Porno,” which I would like to submit for inclusion in the First Time for Everything anthology.   The title is obviously a riff on the title of the popular Kevin Smith film, but the story is otherwise a completely original work.   (If the title presents a legal issue, I would of course be willing to change it.)   The story is a dramatic comedy.

Zack and Larry have been best friends since Middle School and are now comfortably rooming together in college.   But when Larry hears that other guys they know are getting paid a lot of money to have gay sex in videos, he convinces Zack that they could pick up some quick, easy cash by being in one of these films…together.

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If Zack thinks making a gay porn film with his best friend is disturbing, he is absolutely horrified when Larry proposes that they “rehearse” for the film, so they won’t be nervous, in front of the director.   As the two young men fumble their way through a checklist of sexual positions and acts, Zack finds himself seeing Larry in an entirely new light — a very sexy new light.   And possibly a romantic one, as well.   But does Larry feel the same?   Or is this all just for fun?

I’ve attached the entire manuscript in .doc format, along with a summary of the novella.

Previously, I’ve had two stories published through Dreamspinner Press.   My short story, “The Meaning of Vengeance,” and my long novella, “The Christmas Wager,” were both released this past December. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Of course, my contact info is included on the bottom. 

Now, we have yet to see whether this query is successful.  But it has everything that should be required for the editor to make a decision.  (Out of habit, I’ve blocked out the name the letter was addressed to, but the name of the editor is right on Dreamspinner’s submission page, if you’d care to look her up.)  This is the first time I’ve ever listed credentials in a query, since I hadn’t been published before submitting The Meaning of Vengeance and The Christmas Wager.  (Both queries were sent off within days of one another.)  If you don’t have any credentials, it’s best to just say nothing.  The editor isn’t interested in the fact that your mother loved your story, or that you feel being gay has given you insight into your characters.  (Yes, I did once say this in a query.  That one was not successful.  My defense is that I was young and stupid.)

If you’re an Icelandic historian — or you happen to be a Viking — you might mention that, for a book about his Vikings.  But mostly the editor just wants to hear if you’ve been published before.  In this case, it might seem strange to list my previous Dreamspinner credentials.  After all, the editor I’m submitting to was involved in the publication of those two stories.  But Dreamspinner has expanded considerably over the past six months — the list of writers on their site seems to have doubled!  I’m not sure the editor will remember me.  Besides, it’s requested in their submission guidelines. 

Now, I get to wait.  In agony.  Although it would probably be more productive to work on something else, instead of just sitting around fretting.  This particular anthology will be out in June, so I can’t suffer for too long.  One of my biggest concerns, as I noted in the letter, is the title.  Parody law covers things like that, but I’m not sure if it will disturb the editor or not. 

In the meantime, I have that cyberpunk story that’s nearly ready to go out.  It just needs a little tweaking to make it feel a bit more futuristic and “tech-y.”  But for now, I’m going to get back to Murderous Requiem, the occult murder mystery I started for NaNoWriMo.  I only made it to 27k-words, and it’s a bit weird, in terms of pacing.  I’m not sure “murder mystery” is the proper categorization for it, since the first murder isn’t going to occur until about halfway through the novel.  But I still think it’s interesting, so I’m working on tightening up the rather slow and dull first chapter.  Then we’ll see how the rest of it goes.


Filed under Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Romance, Writing

Getting back on track for NaNoWriMo…sort of

Now that I have successfully married Erich and turned in my final edits for The Christmas Wager (coming out on December 22nd), I’m attempting to get back in gear for NaNoWriMo

It’s not going to be easy, catching up.  As of today, I should have a word count of 28,334.  I do not.  My current word count is 17,201, thanks to four days of inactivity.  I’m starting to make headway again — last night, I wrote 1,700 words — but I’m going to have to start flying through, if I’m going to have any hope of hitting 50,000 by November 30th.

And of course we have Thankgsiving coming up.  This should be…challenging….

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Filed under Christmas, NaNoWriMo, Romance, Victorian, Writing

NaNoWriMo, Ho!

No, I don’t mean I’m a ho for NaNoWriMo.  But I’m finally off and running on my NaNo novel, after falling behind by about three days last week, due to other responsibilities.  I spent the weekend writing and managed to crank out almost 5,000 words.  That’s not a lot by some people’s standards, but it brings me up to just over one day behind.  Hopefully, I’ll make up the rest soon.

My wedding is this coming weekend, and of course, we have Thanksgiving weekend coming up two weekends after that.  So this isn’t the ideal month for me to be writing a novel.  But so far it’s going fairly smoothly, as far as the actual writing goes.

Once again, I discovered that the most difficult scene to write was the sex scene.  I agonized over it for hours, as Erich can attest.  I would write a line or two, then walk away, stuck, until I could think of what to write next.  The funny thing is, I consider setting up sexually charged situations and creating sexual tension to be one of my strong points.  I love putting two guys together in ways that challenge their conceptions and opens them up to the possibility of becoming lovers.

But I’ve always skipped over the sex scenes themselves, find them rather dull.  As I’m often heard to say, “When it comes to the part where we’re inserting Tab A into Slot B, I start to tune out and skip ahead to the next bit of actual character interraction.”  However, the publishing market where I’m beginning to get my foot in the door, at last, prefers steamy sex scenes.  And ultimately, I don’t object to writing steamy sex scenes.  I simply need to figure out how to make them about character development, in order to keep them interesting to me. 

So I ended up with a sex scene that touches upon past conflicts between the two characters, and the fact that they can’t resist each other, despite the fact that they don’t think they have a future together.  And I don’t think it came out half bad.  One challenge, though, with having a sex scene at the beginning of the novel, is where to now?  They’ve already hopped in bed together and we already know they love each other.  So what’s next?  I’m going to have to explore the issues in their past that have kept them apart.

The main thing, right now, is to keep moving.  Normally, I would have to write 1,667 words a day to keep up, but since I’ve fallen behind, I’m shooting for at least 2,000 words tonight.

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Filed under Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Writing


Things are not going well for me, at the moment.  Oh, I don’t mean anything catastrophic.  Just stuff piling up and getting under my skin, making it difficult to write.

First of all, though I don’t want this to become a political blog, I have to say the recent election was rough.  I knew the Democrats were going to take a beating, and I can cope with that.  But locally, we now have some newly elected conservatives who have made it one of their primary goals to repeal gay marriage in New Hampshire.  I can deal with people having differences of opinion on how money from the State budget should be spent.  I can deal with differences over gun control, marijuana legalization (which can lead to a lot of problems like dificulting people to get a job, I recommend to visit this site to learn how to get through the urine tests on job intervires), security issues, etc.  But as far as I’m concerned, this is an assault against my personal rights by people who really aren’t affected in any way by me marrying Erich.  They get to wake up in the morning, kiss their spouse goodbye and head to work, where they get to dedicate their time to preventing me from having a spouse.  They are ignorant and vile.

Erich and I will be married before any of these bigots get the chance to prevent it.  In the past, when states have overturned gay marriage, anyone who has been married already has been allowed to keep that status.  So maybe we’ll be safe from their machinations.  Maybe.  But other gays in the state won’t be.  So it may come down to a long, very ugly battle to retain something we’d already won.

Another thing that’s stressing me out is my galley proof for “The Christmas Wager.”  Not because there are any major problems with it, but because there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to work on it.  I have to go through the entire thing and accept all the corrections the editor has made, one by one, or reject them and explain why.  It’s incredibly time-consuming.  Not to mention that Microsoft Word’s change tracking is cumbersome and awkward to use.  I keep trying to accept changes and having to fight to get the correct menu to pop up. 

There are also some minor changes to the story that need to be done.  A line inserted, here and there, to explain certain points.  Other lines corrected to eliminate inconsistencies.  And all of it has to be done by tomorrow.

I also foolishly decided to tackle NaNoWriMo this year, and I’m falling behind on my writing.  Largely because I’m too unhappy to get into the story.  It’s coming along, but not nearly fast enough, and watching my word count slip is just chipping away at my motivation even further!

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Filed under Christmas, Gay Marriage, NaNoWriMo, Romance, Victorian, Writing


I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo ( National Novel Writing Month ) this coming November.  I did it last year and, though I didn’t quite make it to the 50,000 words needed to “win,” I did produce a not-half-bad Victorian Christmas romance novella that I was able to finish up and submit to Dreamspinner Press.  That will be my first published novella, come December 2010.

Since I’ve written a few YA novels and currently have no idea where to market them, I thought I’d tackle another adult novel this time.  Not “adult” in the sense of pornographic, but simply in the sense of having central characters who are out of High School.  In this case, they’ll be about 35.  Dreamspinner does like a certain level of eroticism in their publications, so there will be sex.  But I tend to keep that to a minimum, preferring romance, innuendo and foreplay to blatant sex scenes.  That’s not at all a condemnation of authors who do like graphic sex scenes.  It’s just a personal preference. 

Anyway, my story this year is an occult mystery, a bit in the “Ninth Gate” or “Name of the Rose” vein.  It involves a 700-year-old manuscript of an alchemical mass by a student of Marsilio Ficino, a 15th-century Italian occultist who wrote about the occult properties of music (among other things).  He was also, incidentally, gay.  Oh, yeah — he was also the first person to translate Plato from Greek to Latin, making that philosopher’s works available to Europe.  Remember how everybody was obsessed with Aristotle in “The Name of the Rose?”  That was because Aristotle had been translated into Latin, at that time (13th-century, if I recall).  Plato was pretty much a non-entity, until Ficino did his translations.

So we have our hero working on translating an ancient manuscript in a religious commune which is somewhat akin to the Ordo Templi Orientis that Aleister Crowley founded.  Then people start dying.

I’m attempting to plot the mystery out before NaNo starts.  Otherwise, I’ll get bogged down in the intricacies of the plot.  Once November 1st kicks off, you have to churn out a minimum of 1,666 words per day, in order to hit 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th.

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Filed under Mystery, NaNoWriMo