NNWM/1: And So It Begins

It’s the stroke of midnight on November 1, and I have officially kicked off NaNoWriMo. In style, I might add. I am holed up in a vintage trailer on the Washington coast, with my favorite music playing and a lineup of Day of the Dead candles burning festively, putting me in the Halloween spirit.

It’s definitely been a memorable holiday.

When I booked this little getaway a few months ago, I had grand visions of how fun and productive it would be. Reality hardly ever lives up to expectations, but in this case, I’d say it has exceeded them.

I began my follow-up novel to “No Time For Kings” a few years ago, shortly after Tara moved in. It’s very different from my last book; the protagonist is male, it’s told from a first-person POV, and it’s a combination thriller/sci-fi piece with shades of “Inception” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” but more highbrow. Hasta la vista, Freddy Krueger.  “Dream Sailors” involves a group of people who learn to harness the power of lucid dreaming and use if for their own personal gain. It’s a story of greed and how the 21st century both helps and hinders the pursuit of accumulated wealth and, by extension, happiness. It’s very high-concept and more of a challenge to write because there is a certain scientific basis to the whole concept that has required quite a bit of research, but if I can pull it off I think this will be a very special book.

Anyway. Three years after typing the opening sentence, I had only managed to complete 34 pages. For a while Tara and I set aside Sunday mornings for writing, but that didn’t last long. And then when I was writing all day at work, I didn’t want to go home and write, too. But this slow approach meant it would take me approximately 30 more years to finish the damn thing, which is why I hatched this desperate, crazy idea to book a trip where I could dwell in solitude and hopefully kickstart the novel. It felt like do or die time.

My goal for the weekend was modest: 10 pages. When I wrote NTFK, I averaged three pages a day. I figured that ten, spread out over two days, was a fair number to shoot for, given that I hadn’t invested a single moment in the book since December 28. As of midnight, I have completed 14 pages (there’s that number again). It’s been surprisingly easy to jump back in without hardly missing a beat. Now I’ve just got to ride the NaNoWriMo wave through to the 30th. I don’t expect to finish my entire novel by the end of the month, and won’t even force myself to write every single day, as long as I stay on target and write most days. I figure if I can finish the month at 100 pages, I’ll be well past the point of no return and will be that much more inspired to finish.

I am confident I can do this!

It hasn’t all been work (and it doesn’t feel like work at all since I’m enjoying it so much). I dropped Tara off at the airport Saturday morning, then spent the day hitting up some of my favorite Southeast Portland hangouts. Laurelhurst Park, the Hawthorne District, Lone Fir Cemetery, and an amazing bowl of miso ramen from Marukin Ramen that was the closest thing to a religious experience I’ve had all year.

It was that good.

I hit the road Sunday morning and reached Astoria about 11:15. My plan was to stop for lunch at the Bowpicker, a fish ‘n chips joint in (irony alert!) a converted fishing boat that wins rave reviews from the locals. I’d been wanting to try it for years, but the only time I’d ever attempted to eat there, I’d been stuck in a long line and eventually got tired of waiting. Yesterday I was the only one there, and found myself digging into a delicious hot meal three minutes after ordering. The Bowpicker totally lived up to the hype.

After lunch I crossed the Astoria-Megler Bridge to the Washington side of the Columbia River and embarked upon a 7.18-mile hike through the rain and mud. The conditions were not ideal, but this particular trail rewards you with up-close views of a lighthouse and a couple of old military batteries from WWII, so it was worth the dampness. I timed things perfectly, arriving at the Sou’wester Lodge at 3:50 p.m., within 10 minutes of my expected arrival. I checked into my baby trailer and immediately fell in love. I mean, really: how could you not?


It was super cozy inside – dimly lit, and the steady drumming of rain on the metal roof was music to my ears. I poured myself a gin and soda, made some guacamole, and fired up Spotify. Listened to great music and drank some more while cooking a pot of turkey/pumpkin chili. I jumped into my novel immediately after dinner and the first evening was devoted to stitching pieces into place and puzzling over plot points so I could pick up where I’d left off 10 months earlier. Mission accomplished, I crawled into the surprisingly comfortable bed and attempted to read, but could not keep my eyes open and eventually quit trying.

I slept pretty well; the rain tapered off around bedtime but was back with a vengeance sometime in the middle of the night. And then the wind started howling and a few small branches came crashing onto the roof of my trailer, which made me a little nervous. The resort is surrounded by tall fir trees and I figured it would be a real bummer if a tree squashed me to death before NaNoWriMo even started. So I got out of bed at 6 a.m., which is annoyingly early but I never sleep in any more; why should a vacation be any different? I took advantage by finishing the Kindle book I’d had on loan from the library (“The Fireman” by Joe Hill) and then getting some writing done long before the sun even rose.

I took a break mid-morning, taking advantage of a lull in the weather with a walk down to the beach and along the Discovery Trail for a few miles before returning to the lodge. When I came back I helped myself to coffee in the lodge (I had forgotten to bring a coffeemaker and was forced to wait until the lodge put out a pot at 9:00, which feels like an eternity when you are used to pouring yourself a cup shortly after getting up). I’d bought the ingredients for a nice breakfast but decided to save them for Tuesday morning, opting instead to hit up Castaways in Long Beach for lunch. I ordered a Bloody Mary (of course) and a lunch of oyster shooters, salad, and a bowl of clam chowder. Everything was delicious, and my server won me over by asking if I wanted Absolut Pepar vodka in my bloody.

The answer to that question is always yes.

After lunch I came back to the lodge and, since it was still fairly early, decided to take advantage of the sauna. It’s been a long time since I’ve used one, and it felt so good my toes were tingling when I was in there. I’m half tempted to go back tomorrow before I leave.

Afterwards I holed up in my trailer and focused on writing. The hours flew by most productively. I polished off an entire bottle of wine but this was spread out over many hours, and I’ve been enjoying a steady stream of good music. I finished the leftover turkey/pumpkin chili and wrote by candlelight, the flickering flames from a bunch of Day of the Dead candles I picked up from Fred Meyer setting the perfect festive tone.


It’s been one of the most unique Halloweens I have ever experienced, and I don’t want it to end. Because tomorrow all that’s left is breakfast, maybe a couple of hours to relax, and then the long drive home. I’m having too much fun here, so when my eyes started to grow heavy an hour ago, I willed myself to stay awake. I wanted very much to have that official NaNoWriMo midnight kickoff, and I have succeeded. I’ll write for a little bit longer before going to bed.

17 thoughts on “NNWM/1: And So It Begins

    1. When I realized I’d be away from home for one of my favorite holidays, I decided to bring it along with me. Mission accomplished! I was definitely in the “spirit” of things last night.


  1. Good luck. You can do it.

    My son did NaNoWriMo last year and we wanted to do it together this year but I still haven’t done anything with the last two novels I wrote. We need a National Get Your Book Published month.


    1. Thanks! I like the idea of a tag-team effort – I imagine that would make both of you more accountable.

      Even more, I like your idea of National Get Your Book Published month. If there’s a petition to sign, send it my way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I for one am rooting for you. That’s a rather interesting concept. I would love to go on a writer’s retreat. Hopefully next year when both kids are in school I might actually figure out a way to make that happen.


    1. It has been everything I hoped for and more. I’m sure there will be other solo trips in Tara’s future. I might just have to make this an annual event.

      Of course, the tricky part now is carrying this momentum forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m always kind of amazed at folks who can write fiction and crank out the pages. I struggle with non-fiction and it’s a plodding process – I don’t know if I could slog through it every day. Good luck with NaNoWriMo.


  4. Mark, I can’t tell you how excited and happy I’ve been for you about this creative get-a-way! And can I just say, I freaking LOVE the whole atmosphere (the baby trailer, the light from within the window, the candles). That is SO cool! What a great setup. I would love it too. Perfect atmosphere for Halloween!

    “It’s been one of the most unique Halloweens I have ever experienced, and I don’t want it to end. ”

    Enjoy the rest of your time there, buddy! Safe journey home!


  5. Oh, how I envy an escape like that! I wish I had a little cabin or a camper like that to retreat to for a weekend or a week, or two. I’ve often thought of looking into visiting the local Franciscan Hermitage and renting out of of their cabins. Yes, it’s a real thing you can do! Good luck with your NaNoWriMo. I joined Nano 3 years ago but never input anything until this year. I hope you’re word count is going better than mine!


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