Summer Secretsby Jennifer Levine
Released May 3rd 2016
Published by Mascot Books
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Jennifer has an unusual obsession with coffee, a natural prerequisite for becoming a writer.
Being the kind of person who jumps into the deep end without thinking, Jen began her fiction writing career by entering NaNoWriMo, a yearly writing marathon during which a few hundred thousand writers from around the world jack themselves up on caffeine and write 50,000 words in 30 days, Thanksgiving be damned. It seemed like a natural fit. Those pesky little details—like a husband and kids—would work themselves out somehow. (That first NaNoWriMo win became Summer Secrets.)
Throwing herself into things is what Jennifer is known for. When she was fired from her marketing job for being irreverent, she took a month off to do an offshore sailboat race down the California coast. Stepping back on land with nothing to lose, she started a marketing company. Her first client? The company that fired her. This led to a successful career with some really funny stories over the years.
But that was a lifetime ago, today you can find Jen, her laptop and ‘Writing Dog’ (a Portuguese Water Dog named Marco Polo who happens to hate water) at various coffee shops in South Orange County, CA.
Words per Gallon (of Coffee)
“You’re doing it again?”
I sighed wondering why my non-writing friends universally considered this declaration some form of support. Certain things are predictable. Like when Jersey gets near a deli she orders egg salad on pumpernickel. For me, when Halloween approaches, I try on plots as if they were costumes. Then I say good-bye to my street friends as I immerse myself into the world of NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month for those of you who are unfamiliar.
“You know I do this ever year.” I look pointedly at Jersey who doesn’t seem to pick up my non-verbal clues.
“Oh my gosh, that’s so awesome,” SoCal glowed. “Are you going to keep track of how much coffee you drink this year?”
“What?” The hardened reporter’s nose for news heard something she didn’t expect. Jersey pressed me for more information.
“Behavioral quirk from being raised by a statistics professor,” I shrugged. “Let’s just say I drink more coffee than is socially acceptable at the write-ins. Last year I kept a journal of how many lattes, and regular cups, I consumed during the month.”
“You’re kidding,” Jersey deadpanned. She was not seeing the fun in this.
“Tell her how much you drank!” SoCal practically bounced in her chair causing a few men to glance longingly in her direction. I wonder if she emits a high pitched sound frequency, something only men can hear. A mix of ocean waves and Beach Boys tunes perhaps.
“53 lattes, 82 cups of regular coffee. The drinks were, generally speaking, large. I did not keep track of ounces, that would be over the top.”
Jersey stared at me. “This thing you do, NaNoWriMo, is thirty days, right?”
“Yup.” I braced myself.
Nothing. Jersey said nothing. She didn’t have to. I was fully prepared to admit 370 words per cup was terrible mileage.
There are Pantsers and Plotters. There are people who write at enormous speed crossing the finish line mid-way through the month, they could probably do this exercise twice and still finish on time. There are people who allow their minds to gallop on such flights of fantasy that grammar and word usage are mere dalliances. And there are people who fight for every last word. Some “win” but the vast majority do not reach the 50,000 word goal by midnight on November 30th.
Ask any ‘pro’, the first draft of a novel is, first of all, “crap” and, second, about opening your arteries and bleeding on a page. With 1667 words hanging over your head every single day (including Thanksgiving) during this marathon/sprint you learn pacing very quickly or you find yourself 20,000 words behind in the last week and sweating bullets. (Been there, done that, actually managed to win that year.)
Me? I’m a Pantser. No matter how hard I try to plan out something, at the last minute I punt and I’m off on some creative journey delivered from left field. Nor am I a speed demon. I barely cross the finish line with more than a couple hours to spare. At this point, 7 years into this exercise, my ‘planning’ consists of muttering to Writing Dog about potential ideas. I don’t have writer’s block… I have writer’s guilt: ‘I should be working on this but I want to be working on that!’
Nevertheless, what I’ve learned from participating in NaNoWriMo is better than any writing class, symposium or workshop you can take. In my opinion, if you are serious about being a writer, write your first 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo, no cheating. In other words, don’t use the ‘Traveling Shovel of Death.’ (a much beloved 4-word tool to kill a character off when they are in the way and you are stuck.)
I’ve learned to let go, let my characters take over. I’ve written messy murders and steamy sex scenes. There are no boundaries. Not when there is a word count and your characters are driving the story. And isn’t that the real goal? My characters start living. I’m am but a voyeur on their lives.
“Your first book was a NaNoWriMo story, wasn’t it,” Jersey finished her sandwich and picked up her cup of coffee.
“Yes, it was, thanks for remembering.” I beam. Jersey said ‘first book’ which implies there will be a second book. Yes there will be.