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I did it I did it I did it! I made 50,000 words, and I still have five days to go!!!

The story isn’t over. I’m going to keep working at DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH until it’s done, although I expect progress to be much slower once November is over and the Christmas season kicks in. It’s almost time to start Christmas baking, then it’ll be time to start the Christmas eating, and that takes up a considerable amount of my time.

Speaking of eating, so far I’ve managed to come up with a recipe for each chapter of this book. On my #4 daughter’s advice, I don’t put the recipes in the text unless they’re abnormally short, but I’ll include them at the end of the book. For some reason, I’ve been ravenously hungry, the whole time I’ve been writing this….

I had all day to work, and I couldn’t get going. It was like pushing chain uphill, all day. I finally realized what I’d done wrong and went back and fixed it, and then the pace picked up. In a way, I wish I wouldn’t do that, because it does stop things, but I guess that’s better than writing full-tilt and then having to rip it all out. At least it didn’t happen until I was almost at the end of the challenge. Buck Leatherbury just came into the book. I don’t know yet how much he’ll have to do, but I’m thinking he’ll be in it quite a bit here at the end. Moms and J.D. from my unpublished short story, “No Quarter” are in it, too, which I didn’t really expect. BUT NOT BUD! I’m not even setting this in Bud’s town, although I think it’s on the same river. BUT BUD ISN’T IN IT!


writing prompt: Have your main character win something the reward for which is the striving.

I’m up to 46,000+ words, now, still ahead of schedule for the challenge but behind on my personal goal. I may very well catch up, though. I’m getting a good view of the last part of the book, with some scenes I need to put in that’ll go fairly quickly. I hope.

LeJune and Packy aren’t getting along any better. Every so often, I think things are going to get all warm and fuzzy and familial between them, but the family feeling seems to be staying pretty duty-versus-heartfelt. For instance:

Packy was in the kitchen, reading diaries, and Mama was winding up a conversation with one of her friends.

“I better let you go, then,” Mama said. Then she said, “Uh-huh. No, really?” and they were yakking again. It was worse than having a teenager.

Packy had a glass on the table in front of him, empty except for the leavings of one of those effervescent stomach powder drinks.

“After all the bean soup you ate for supper,” I said, “I’d think you were fizzy enough as it is.”

“Gave me indigestion,” he said.

“More likely, it was that hindquarter of beef you had for lunch. A man your age ought not to eat that much in one sitting, especially if you have a delicate stomach.”

I could see he wanted to contradict me, but either he had indigestion or he didn’t.

I’m having a blast with these characters. None of them is anybody I know, but they all have bits of different people I know included in them. You who write, you know how that is. Even if you start out intending to parody somebody or, worse yet, pay a grand tribute to somebody, unless the character becomes somebody else, that character is cardboard. Or, as I prefer to say, a sock puppet.

Haven’t you read books where at least one of the characters is obviously standing in for somebody real? Where a character is just so awful or so perfect the book ought to have a label on it that says Reality Not Included? Or where all the action stops so a character can flap his or her literary lips while the puppeteer makes a speech?

Anyway, I’m in the middle of a fight scene, in which each character participates in his or her own particular way, and it’s getting a little loopy. Gotta go!


writing prompt: Is there a relative you tolerate for the sake of kinship but don’t much like? Use him or her as the basis for a character, but make him/her sympathetic.

I wrote over 3,000 words yesterday! W00t!

DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH is past the 30,000-word mark, and it’s true what they say in the pep talks: By the time you have that much material, you have so much in your mind about plots and characters and motifs, you can’t type fast enough.

I’m very proud of myself, because this morning I wrote my first out-of-sequence bit. I tend to write a bit, then write a bit more and go back and stuck something in and write some more, then go back and insert something or change something else. This year, I’m making heavy use of the Comments feature of Word (and OpenOffice), opening the Comments window and making notes to myself about what to go back and put in later, not now. Now, I’m writing. Later, I’ll revise. And I always write in sequence. I have to write A and transition to B and transition to D through C. Today, I wrote a paragraph and realized it belonged later in the ms and just double-spaced and went on with the scene I was writing. It’ll still be there when I need it. Maybe someday, maybe this very year, I’ll get loose enough to have a file called Bits To Put In Later, where I can stash paragraphs and ideas and conversations that come to me out of sequence. This may not seem like a very big deal to some of you but, to a control freak like me, this is major progress.

Here is a snippet from the book. Mama and LeJune have uncovered a crime their cousin Packy is involved in. They’re investigating it themselves, hoping to keep the family from getting involved with the police. Packy is staying with them temporarily. Packy tends to comment negatively on anything he possibly can, including LeJune’s weight.


“I usually have a snack before bedtime,” he informed us. To me, he said, “I know you do.”

“Can I turn him in now, Mama?” I said, which was just mean.

“I’ll fix it,” Mama said.

Packy and I sat and watched part of some doctor show until Mama came back with toast and hot chocolate.

Packy made a face after his first sip. “What is this?”

“It’s Black Forest flavor,” Mama said. “Got cherry flavoring in it.”

“Well, it tastes like cold medicine.”

“We like it,” I said, dipping my buttered toast into the cocoa and slurping up the soggy bread.

“Ugh!” Packy said, but I notice he drank every drop.

While Mama and I washed up, I said, “I hid the car keys, but I’m afraid the sneaking skunk will call a cab and go back to Aunt Mimi’s house and raid those diaries.”

“That’s just the kind of thing he would do,” Mama agreed. “That’s why I put a shot of cold medicine in his cocoa. He’ll sleep like a baby until we wake him up in the morning.”


Back to work!


writing prompt: Print out five random paragraphs from some of your unfinished pieces (don’t try to kid me–I know you have them). Shuffle them. Put them together in the order they come out. Try to make a coherent storyline out of them.

Church first.

Then lunch at A.J.’s.

Then open house at the Lanesville library.

And I’ve already written over 1,000 words on my NaNoWriMo project this morning. 🙂

A.J.’s is having a “traditional English roast” with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roasted parsnips and I don’t know what all. Mushy peas, probably.

The characters in DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH just finished a dinner of chicken stewed in a slow-cooker. LeJune forgot to make dessert, so they had ice cream with their coffee. I’ve just introduced Mama’s Daddy, a vigorous man in his 90s. I know so many older people (meaning people older than I am–NOT ME) of such varying states of health, I like putting them into my writing. I know people in their 90s who seem younger than other people in their 60s. I remember my late Aunt Ruth telling us about how she took care of all these “old ladies” she knew, driving them to the beauty shop and the grocery and doctors’ appointments, and then told us their ages and they were all younger than she was.

See you tomorrow, I guess, and good luck with your writing!


writing prompt: Make notes about the health and activities of two people older than you are.


I’m deep into my National Novel Writing Month project. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That comes to between 1600 and 1700 words a day. I’ve set myself a personal goal ofnano_09 averaging 2000 words a day. So far, I’m behind….

This year, I started out with a piece I had already begun, so I’ve been reworking it instead of writing new material. I’m just about at the end of that–one more pre-written scene–so, paradoxically, things should go faster now. It’s sort of like climbing down a cliff is a much slower process than jumping off of one.

My book this year is called DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH, and features the mother/daughter team from my story “The Spirit of Spadena Street” which appeared in THE GIFT OF MURDER anthology. DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH: OR, HOW MAMA AND I INHERITED AUNT MIMI’S HOUSE AND FOUND SOMETHING WE WISHED WE HADN’T FOUND BURIED IN THE CELLAR tells how June Rose (Mama) and LeJune came to live on Spadena Street. LeJune, like me, favors quick and easy cooking, and every chapter has a dish in it with recipes in the text and/or at the end of the book. One of the other characters tells LeJune she ought to write a cook book, and another character snipes, “Yeah, but what would she put on the rest of the bumper sticker?”

Back to work for me now! And, if you are also doing NaNo, good luck to you and slap those words down fast!


writing prompt: Set a timer for 3 minutes. Start with the phrase, “What in the world are you doing?” and free-write until the timer goes off.

Beautiful day today. Clear blue sky, platinum sunshine, supposed to get up to the 70s. But, alas, the leaves are mostly gone. We were expecting a long, colorful autumn this year, but we had one brief glow of rather muted glory, then the leaves fell like big brown snowflakes.

I’ve been up working on my NaNoWriMo novel this morning. DOWN AND DIRTY DEATH is coming along exellently–by which I’m not vain enough to mean the book will be excellent, only that I’m pleased with the progress.

Went to Mom’s last night. We started watching Val Kilmer in THE SAINT. He was very good and Elisabeth Shue is one of our favorites, but about an hour into the movie, I said, “I don’t care if any of these people live or die,” and Mom said, “I don’t either,” so we turned it off and rewound it. Then I started reading her a Lord Peter Whimsey mystery story and it was just blah blah BLAH, old boy and blah BLAH blah, don’t y’know and I went Zzzzzzzzzzz…. So we gave it up for the night. We usually love Lord Peter, but that one was like, “Is this story written in code, and she had to put in this scene about the two old war buddies droning on about Henderson’s happy marriage (Henderson not being in the story and having absolutely no connection to it) in order to work in all the sekrit wurds?

Mom and I will probably go to New Albany today. Every so often, we hitch the mules to the buckboard and make our way through the pass to the Big City to fetch supplies they don’t carry at at the trading post here in the hinterlands. Meanwhile, I’m twittering with folks in the UK who go like, “I think I’ll go have a nice curry for lunch” and I’m like, WAAAAAAAHHHHHH!

The dog is sleeping in the sunshine, reminding me that curry isn’t everything.


writing prompt: Is your main character the sort who finishes a movie or a story or a book, even if he/she doesn’t like it? Why or why not?

I’m so sleepy today I can hardly keep my peepers open.

I’ve been slaving away over a hot laptop, working on my project for National Novel Writing Month, and maybe it’s this living two lives that’s wearing me out. I always have stronger dreams when I’m working hard on a project, too.

The other night, I dreamed my mustache was a sparse handlebar one, and I had to cut it with scissors before I shaved it. I’ll admit it: I do have dark hair on my upper lip–and on my chin, for that matter–thank you, Mother Nature–but it isn’t THAT bad. I was also wearing a khaki-colored trenchcoat, which I also do not have. Maybe I was a detective with a false mustache.

I hate it when my editor horns in on my dreams and starts trying to make sense of it before I can wake up. It spoils the dream, and I can never remember it after I’m awake. If I wake up with the dream still wrapped around me, I can catch hold of it and maybe write it down or remember it. Which is not always a good thing, depending on the dream.

The project is coming very well, I think. That’s one of the good things about NaNo: You might have your doubts, but you can’t let that stop you. Sometimes I just stall on a project because I don’t want to make a wrong move on it. NaNo makes you just go ahead and do it wrong, as long as you get the words out. Analyze later. Write now. It’s scary, but it’s fun. It’s liberating to just throw yourself into telling the story, and there’s no telling what your subconscious might slap into the plot or the characterization.

Since I’m working with about 30 pages I had already done, my word count is higher than it ought to be. On the other hand, you can’t go at breakneck speed when you’re trolling for pronouns, turning a third-person narrative into first person and feeling your way through shimming in bits to foreshadow stuff you’ve decided you want to happen later. Anyway, I’m having fun, which is one of the points. 🙂


writing prompt: Write down a dream you remember.

Not much time to post today, first day of NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month! Today is packed, too, so it’s lucky I got mixed up and thought NaNo was in October and got a head start. heh!

Nobody guessed my costume, so I’ll have to draw from the incorrect guesses for a winner. Okay, the title of a fiction-sounding non-fiction book published in the latter half of the 20th century–

  • black
  • sparkly
  • moon and stars
  • flowers
  • Jiminy Cricket, the symbol of Conscience for my generation

What else could it be, but MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL?


There was an almost-full moon last night for Halloween. This morning, Charlie said he would walk up to get the paper by its light. I said, “Watch out for the werewolves.” We’re both about halfway deaf in our old age, so he said, “Watch out for the gerbils?

I put on my best Maria Ouspenskaya voice and said, “Even de man whooss hearrt iss pure, and sayss hiss prayers at night, may turrn into a GERBIL ven de volfbane bloomss and de moon iss fool ant brright.”

Charlie said, “…Kind of anticlimactic, isn’t it?” and went and got the paper.

And now you must excuse me–I’m off to NaNo, before I turn into a gerbil.


writing prompt: What’s the worst animal a person could involuntarily morph into? What’s the best?

No, I’m not a vegetarian yet, but I must admit I just as happy with a meatless meal as with a meaty one. I still have to get shish kebab at Shiraz, although I would totally go for falafel with just a side of meat. But this is Vegetarian Month AND today is Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi’s birfday, so I’ll post a picsh of last night’s supper, as it just so happened:ravsandbeans

We had just about the last of the tomatoes. The green beans are still producing, after a shaky start in which they were nearly nibbled to death by rabbits. –Hey, if you are what you eat, and the rabbits eat my vegetables…. Anyway, at Charlie’s request, I culled the smallest of the latest picking and stir-fried them in butter. We got some very smooth, buttery cashews for our birfdays, so I crushed some and, when the beans were nearly done, I stirred those in and heated them until they smelled rich and toasty. I’ve been making pesto and freezing it, so I boiled some frozen cheese ravioli and stirred in some pesto. Made some bread.

In other news, I’ve gotten up at 6 the past two days to work on NaNoWriMo, then realized it starts in NOVEMBER. Duh, me! So I’m registering and using October as I should–getting my ducks in a row for the writing blitz NEXT month.


writing prompt: Have a character show up early for something. It can cause a problem, eliminate a problem, be good or bad.

I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge! I wrote more than 50,000 words in one month–a feat I never thought I could accomplish. It was a great experience: liberating, exhilarating, illuminating. I thought a goal of making around 2,000 words a day would be a chore, and it was a grind at first. Then, as the wells opened and the words started flowing, it became a real treat. Eventually, it was something I could do a few minutes at a time, instead of having to get up before all my friends and relations so I could work for a couple of quiet hours.

I would have been okay if I had NOT met the challenge, because my main purpose in signing up was to crack open that shell of “if it isn’t right the first time through, it’ll never be right” that I had constructed around myself. I wanted to be able to just haul off and slap something down that I could go back and clean up later, and that’s what the NaNo folks encourage you to do. I’m telling you, it was a blast.

Thanks to the folks at NaNoWriMo, and especially to my writing buddies who convinced me to try it. I’ll sign up again next year, for sure. I might not get through all the words in future years, I may get tied up or sidetracked or lose steam, but just signing up, just writing SOMETHING with buddies to slap my back and understand when the words or the time just won’t come will keep me feeling like a winner–because when you chase your dream, even if you don’t catch it, even when you get winded and have to stop for a while, you’re a winner!


writing prompt: How athletic is your main character? Your bad guy? Who would win in a fist fight?


Here is where I ramble on about whatever happens to fall through my mind. I also have a professional site, where I post about my books, stories, news and appearances. Every month, I post a “Hot Flash” there–a story or prose poem of about 50 words. I hope you enjoy your visit. –Marian Allen

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