To NaNo or not to NaNo

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The start of October always brings with it a certain melancholy for me. I miss autumn in New England. I’m always Homesick in Autumn.

But often that melancholy is overshadowed by the anxiety I get when my newsfeed starts to be overloaded with posts about National Novel Writing Month. I mean, NaNo isn’t until November…why are you pressuring me so early?! My stomach gets a little tied up when I consider all the technicalities of NaNo: Can I really get in over 1600 words per day? Will my kids leave me alone so that I can at least try?! Can’t I just neglect…I mean ignore…. I mean…oh forget it, there’s no escaping them! Perhaps I should show myself mercy right now and decide against this avoidable source of stress.

But the truth is, despite the anxiety that creeps in on me in October, NaNo doesn’t stress me out. I’m actually always happier, more fulfilled while I’m participating in it. Each year I tell myself that my goal is not to meet the 50,000 word target, but rather to get in a good amount of writing each day. I enjoy the word sprints and the overall NaNo camaraderie. I love that I make writing a priority during that month. I just love it.

So, I probably will participate. (I’m looking into nerf doors to drown out the sound and the inevitable banging).

But, oh my God, I haven’t planned anything! More stress!!

Not really. I don’t tend to outline my novels. Yes, I have a direction and ideas, but I love letting those ideas discover what’s in store for us. So I’ll probably just continue working on the project I have at hand. Or maybe I’ll get a better idea between now and November. In fact, the idea for the next bestselling novel stopped by the other day! It was awesome. I’m sure it’ll be widely read and make millions! The only problem is, it slipped away before I had a chance to catch it!

Too often, I let life get in the way, and my writing gets pushed to the background. NaNo is my chance to make it a priority again. And the truth is, most of the time, I like what I write. I was just re-reading the character interviews for Behind Picket Fences, and I found them rather entertaining.

If you’re doing NaNo this year, connect with me on Facebook and we can have virtual coffee as we do word sprints.

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. If you enjoyed this piece, you may enjoy reading an excerpt from Behind Picket Fences. Click here to read the first chapter.)

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An Unsatisfied Reader

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My aunt has been a longtime fan of Danielle Steel. I think she’s read every one of her books.

While she was reading her latest pick, Magic, she told me it was a real page turner. She suggested I read it, basically to see how such powerful buildup is done. I didn’t hesitate. I’d never read a Danielle Steel novel before, but I was looking forward to it. I knew there was something to be learned from such a successful author. I anticipated a great story and great writing. You don’t always get both in a book, but with acclaimed authors, you certainly expect both.

Now, I’m not a particularly picky reader. I like lots of different genres: sci-fi, young adult, crime fiction, historical fiction. I even read a Western once and I loved it. Yes, I do tend to stick with general fiction with themes of family, love, and overcoming hardship, but even when I venture away from my “usual,” I am rarely disappointed.

But I was disappointed with Steel’s Magic. While the story was ok, the writing was not. It seemed to have been written by an amateur and edited by someone with even less experience. Words were often unnecessarily repeated within a given sentence, and the flow of the narrative was sometimes discordant. The characters, while clear enough to be realistic, did not stay with me.

As I found myself delving further into disappointment, I started to wonder what was wrong with me. This is an author who has sold hundreds of millions of books. She’s probably won awards. Why wasn’t I enjoying her book when so many people loved her writing?

The answer came to me in the form of a rating for one of my own novels shortly after I’d finished reading Magic. The reader—who had a very strange username like Lmnopwxyjz—gave my book a one star rating with no review. I’d like to believe that this is a mistake, that  some little kid was playing with her mom’s tablet and through a series of random clicks managed to sign up to Goodreads using that anomalous name, land on my book and highlight one star. I mean, my kids have done similar things…it could happen! I know, I know…not likely. The truth is that it was probably a legitimate reader who simply didn’t enjoy my book.

And that’s totally fine.

While writers (and artists of any kind, actually) hope that our work will resonate with everyone, the truth is that that notion is the fastest route to feeling like a failure. Each and every person has his or her own likes and dislikes, and there is no way you can cater to them all. Not everyone likes caviar. Not everyone likes mangoes. Not everyone likes chocolate. I know! THAT sounds outrageous! I mean…chocolate?!

But that’s the truth: not everyone likes chocolate. And not everyone likes Danielle Steel books. And not everyone will like mine. That’s the way taste works.

So, I keep writing for my intended audience, and hope that they remain intrigued. And if some readers from outside of my audience happen to enjoy my work, well then that’s a wonderfully surprising win.

But what about me disliking Steel’s book? What does that say about me?

It says that I, too, have my own taste, and don’t mind one bit if I differ from her hundreds of millions of fans.

Being in the minority makes me unique; it does not invalidate my opinion.

 

Fun With The Kids

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I haven’t written a blog post in almost two full months. Partly I’ve been working on my novel, but mostly it’s because I really want to post something light, funny maybe, and lately, with the distressing state of the world, I haven’t felt that way. But the other night, I had a great time with my kids…

We just subscribed to our free month of Netflix. I know, I know, Netflix is old and I’m so behind. But I wasn’t even sure how it would work here in Egypt, and quite frankly, I totally plan on cancelling before the free month is over. Anyway…so we watched our first movie the other day. We chose ‘The Prince of Egypt’ as our first pick. I was rather disappointed by it all. The makers did it a disservice to the film by removing almost all religious context from the story. Throughout the entire movie, I kept having to tell the kids, “Well, that’s not the real story; that’s not how it is in the Qur’an…and probably not how it is in the Bible.” Disappointing.

After that let down we needed something funny. Scrolling through, we found ‘Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.’ Now, most parents would not encourage their children to watch a movie about a young student who ditches school and goes all over Chicago having a grand-ol’ time. Most parents would not want their kids to get ideas about how to deceive their parents, how to trick their school administration, how to take their parent’s car without permission…and after all this, never get caught. Most parents are far too responsible to expose their children to all of that….

Well not me! As soon as I saw it on the list, I yelled out, “YOU GUYS HAVE TO SEE THAT! It’s such a good movie!”

Clearly, there is something lacking in my parenting skills…but whatever! Now’s not the time to dwell on that…

We had a blast watching Ferris as he played sick, fooling his parents and his friends (not his sister, though!). We loved watching him take the restaurant reservation for the ‘Sausage King of Chicago,’ then sneak out without his father seeing him. His rendition of ‘Twist and Shout’ on the parade float was well appreciated by all (although, the kids probably liked it just because I was making a fool of myself singing along!). They loved watching the beat-down Ed Rooney chase after his car as the tow-truck pulled it away! I wonder if they wished the same fate upon their own principal?

We laughed the whole movie through. It was a great time. And for that, I’m gonna go ahead and count it a parenting win. Not because it was a good choice (because who are we kidding?), but because we spent time together, laughed together, and hopefully, they’ll remember that more than any of the specifics of the movie. (I know, I know…not likely. But it could happen!)

Thank you for reading my post. Please give it a like. If you’d like to read some of my fiction, simply click here to read the character interviews for the women of my latest novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write and I think you’ll enjoy them. Again, thank you so much for your support. 

Rays of Love

 

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I pray the hate never finds you,

I pray you live protected from its jagged blade.

I pray it does not tear at your heart,

That it does not shred you

From the inside out.

 

I pray the hate never finds you,

I pray you live protected from its jagged blade,

I pray it does not puncture your flesh,

That it does not shred you

From the outside in.

 

Come,

Hide ourselves and our children in the bosom of compassion,

And when hate comes,

Hold up our shields of brotherhood,

Warn it off with our saber of love.

Stand our ground, lock arms,

And let it not penetrate the circle.

 

Multiple rays of love can melt the hate.

 

I pray the hate

never finds you.

©Hend Hegazi

 

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. You may enjoy reading the four interviews I wrote for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they are characters from a book or real people. Click here for the interviews.)

Writing Backwards

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo) is already more than a quarter finished. Writers from all over the world are scribbling, typing and running word sprints as you read this, trying to complete the goal of writing 50,000 words in just one month.

This is only my third year NaNo-ing, and I have no real intention of ‘winning.’ I haven’t visited the official NaNo site once, nor have I even been tallying my word count. But I do lurk around the NaNo Facebook group that I’m on, giving words of encouragement and sometimes finding inspiration in their posts. One of the best parts about NaNo is that it turns writing from a solitary act to a team sport; that connection with other writers who are also creating characters and living in fictional worlds unites us in normalizing these seemingly escapist techniques.

My personal goal with NaNo is just to keep disciplined—to write for two hours daily. And of course, just days ago, I failed that goal. Partly, it was the weekend and writing while the kids are home is like trying to roast a leg of lamb in a toaster oven: yes, the heat is on, but the door will never close and the task is simply too grand for that tiny toaster.

The other reason is I just don’t know how the rest of my scene is supposed to play out. I sat there for a while, staring at the pen in my hand, unsure of what to do next. Then, I remembered something…

When I began writing my debut novel, Normal Calm, I had a revelation that afterwards made me feel so silly for not realizing earlier: When we read books we must read them chronologically for them to make sense. You must read page one, followed by page two, and so on. But one of the beauties of writing a novel, is that one is not governed by that same law. I can very well write the final scene of the novel first, if I so choose, and no reader will ever be the wiser. Writing backwards, I call it (even though it would be more appropriately called ‘writing out of order,’ but what fun is that?).

Writing backwards is what will save me with this novel. I have a few scenes ready in mind, and so the time has come for me to abandon the scene which is giving me trouble and work on another. The added bonus of that, is that usually my subconscious will continue to figure out that troubled scene, and by leaving it alone for a while, the solution will probably make itself know to me very naturally.

If you haven’t already, try writing backwards, and see how it works for you.

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. You may enjoy reading the four interviews I wrote for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they are characters from a book or real people. Click here for the interviews.)

Homesick in Autumn

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Today it looks like it’s going to rain. I miss the rain.

But I miss the rain that falls on grass and makes puddles. I miss walking with its pitter-patter bouncing off my head and shoulders and its calm wetness melting on my tongue. I miss the rain in a place I still call home, which will soon no longer belong to the family who has owned it for nearly forty years. I miss watching the rain through the bay window. I miss that bay window. I miss my room, next to the bay window. And sitting in the yard, enjoying the soft shade and fresh breeze. I miss the oranges and reds of autumn, and that serene, smoky smell is holds. Oh, I can almost smell it! I don’t go there enough in my mind. And soon, I won’t even be able to go there in body.

After all these years, why do I still call it home? I live ages away from that place now. Here, the rain is not the same. Here, the rain forms rivers on the paved streets and spits grime on my clothes. But this is my true home now. This is the home that shelters me, and in which I live and love. And I am happy here, despite missing the rain. So why do I still call the blue house with the rock in the yard my home?

I spent my childhood there, all my youth. It was the only home I knew for twenty-three years. It will always be home, even once it isn’t. It is not a building, it is an entire system; it is the people, the experiences and the settings that nurtured me. It will remain where I grew up, where I played. It will remain the place that held me so that I could become me.

Today, it looks like it’s going to rain.

I miss the rain.

 

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. You may enjoy reading the four interviews I wrote for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they are characters from a book or real people. Click here for the interviews.)

For the Love of Books

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I have loved to read ever since I was a child. My parents were not in the habit of reading to us, and I don’t think they ever really encouraged us to read either. My dad has always been a math and science guy, so he stressed those subjects. Literature? Not so much. Growing up, neither of my brothers liked to read. And if he didn’t have a degree saying he’s an actual, real life dentist, I may even argue that my older brother doesn’t even KNOW how to read! Just kidding. He totally knows how to read…I saw a Dr. Seuss book on desk when I was there over the summer.

Anyway, in my case, I think it was the influence of my teachers that taught me the love of reading. I don’t remember vividly, because it was so long ago (and I have four kids, which means my brain cells are probably more fried than if I had been a druggie), but I do vaguely remember story time. I remember sitting in a circle with the rest of my classmates and listening to teachers read. My guess is, that’s how I learned to love reading.

But now, my kids don’t get story time at school. And only one of them is showing any interest in reading. I really want to nourish this love, but unfortunately, we don’t have public libraries here. And although I may be able to download books onto his tablet, I feel that digital books are just substandard, especially for kids. I don’t want him on a device, sucking up whatever kinds of waves they have and have not yet discovered being emitted from those things. I don’t want his reading time to be screen time. But the bigger problem is that I simply can’t afford to buy him a paperback book every few weeks. But I can’t afford to have him lose this interest either. I am torn.

So I’m trying to find free e-books, and I can read (at least partly) to them. My kids enjoy that; even my teenager enjoys it when I read to them. I do voice acting, which really keeps them engaged. The problem is it’s very easy to get out of the habit when our routine gets thrown off due to traveling or whatever, and it is very difficult to get back in the habit, mostly because it takes my kids FOREVER to get ready for bed.

But tonight, they did it. They got ready (relatively) early, and we had time to read together. We started The Wind in the Willows (because it was free!), and even though the language is a bit beyond them, and the digital version has no illustrations, they enjoyed it. And so did I.

Now we have a different problem altogether. I mean, do YOU know the difference between a mole, a badger and an otter? Google has already caught me looking up rifles and Dallas and trolls and recipes for cinnamon rolls (which turned out pretty good, actually) and folding furniture and all sorts of madness this week…guess we have to add furry creatures to the list now, too!

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. For a peek at some of my fiction writing, please click here and I’ll send you the four interviews I wrote for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they truly are characters from a book. Check it out.)