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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Writing Under a Deadline, Interview with Traci Bonney

If you've ever seen the words NaNoWriMo and wonder what they mean, let me explain it to you. It stands for the National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (or more) in a 30 day period with only an outline in hand and research notes done. It doesn't have to be polished, just completed and verified by a word count which needs to be done on the NaNo site. 

This concept started with just a few friends signing on, but it's grown tremendously over the years. The count for participants in 2010 was 200,530 who had written 2,872,682,109 words. There were 37,479 writers who achieved the 50,000-word goal. No details yet for this past year's numbers. If you ever needed a motivation to start that novel, begin putting your outline together. My chat today is with a writer who completed this task twice. 
What made you want to do NaNo the first time?
Years ago, I worked for newspapers. I knew I could write on deadline; in fact, I tend to do better with a definite time limit. Also, I had tried unsuccessfully to do a 30-day novel a couple of years earlier. I couldn’t leave the challenge unmet.

Why did you decide to try it for a second run?
After the first success (completing a novel in 18 days) I knew I could do it again, and I wanted to write a sequel to the first year’s novel. The second time, it took me most of the month and the words didn’t flow as easily, but I did finish the book.

This writing challenge is always in November. How do you find time to write in November?
I approach it the same way I approach reading a book; I let it take over my day for a few hours at a time. It helps to get ahead on the word count early in the month, too; that way you have a cushion built up if you have to skip a few days later because of holidays or other life events.

It's what around 1,800 words a day? How long does that take you to write?
Actually, it averages out to 1,667 words a day, although I try to write at least 2,000 a day during NaNo to get ahead. If the ideas are flowing, I can knock out the daily requirement in an hour or so.

How did you stay focused to write when the words wouldn't come?
I found that if the words didn’t come easily, it was usually time for a break. By that, I mean a stretch/bathroom break, a kitchen run for a cup of hot tea, a quick stroll around to work out the kinks in the legs and back, or a break in the writing.

I tend to write to the end of a scene or chapter before stopping, so if things weren’t flowing well, I’d push through to that ending point, then stop and do something else for a while. Brainstorming and research breaks also helped; sometimes thinking up a plot twist or introducing a new character was what I needed to get the words going again.

How do you not edit as you write or go back and re-edit what’s been done in that time?
It’s not easy. I’ve always corrected my mistakes as I went and I don’t even try to resist that habit. However, I don’t let myself read what I’m writing; otherwise I’d spend all my time trying to perfect it.

There is one exception: At the beginning of each new writing session, I’d re-read the last few paragraphs of my previous day’s work just to retrieve my train of thought. I occasionally changed a word or two, but I didn’t do any major editing. That’s one of the tenets of NaNoWriMo: silence your inner editor for 30 days and just write.

Each time you wrote a different book? What became of each of those?
I did. They are the first two novels of what will most likely become a trilogy or series. I enjoyed writing them so much I can’t imagine just letting them die in my hard drive.

Tell me about the book that is being published. Give me a short synopsis? What inspired you to write this book? Is this a genre that you read a lot or not?
The novel is Chantal’s Call, a contemporary story with a dash of mystery and romance and a strong theme of redemption. Chantal Atherton reluctantly returns to her Mississippi hometown when her father suffers a heart attack and asks her to come home and help at the bank he runs. Shortly after returning, she finds herself embroiled in a drama involving a corpse in the kudzu (an invasive vine that covers anything in its path), a cult that has ensnared her younger sister, and a handsome young deputy.

The story was born in my Sunday school class. I was teaching a series on Christianity, cults and other religions, and I found myself thinking, “We live in the ‘Bible Belt,’ yet there’s so much we don’t know about this stuff. “ The murder mystery angle came in one day not long after that when I started wondering what would happen if someone dumped a body in a kudzu patch. Kudzu (“the vine that ate the South”) grows up to 18 inches in a day during the summer, so it wouldn’t take it long to completely cover a corpse. That “what if?” gave rise to the book’s prologue.

For years, I thought I would be a science fiction or fantasy writer; those were my preferred reading genres so I was sure they would be my best writing genres. When I started writing longer fiction, though, every story I began hit a dead end at some point – until I wrote Chantal’s Call. It’s the first novel-length story I’ve been able to write to completion. Back in high school if anyone had told me I’d be writing contemporary fiction with a Christian world view, I’d have laughed at them. Now, I have plans for three more books in the Atherton Women series and ideas for two stand-alone novels (Jersey Girls and The Story Keeper).

Ironically, once I started writing contemporary fiction, the fantasy stories came easier. Both of my NaNo novels are comic fantasy stories.

Where are you in the publishing process? What has surprised (good/bad) you about the publishing process?
I’m not as far along as I’d like to be. I need to finish editing and create a cover, pick a publisher, and format and upload the book. I’m planning to self publish it in both e-book and POD (print on demand) hard copy formats.

What is your weakest point in writing?
Editing isn’t easy for me. I can do the small edits – proofreading and adjusting words here and there – but making major changes is something I don’t like to do. It comes from my journalism training; we had to write our articles quickly, make them accurate and attention getting, and send them to the printer to be set on the page. We didn’t have time for prolonged editing. As a result, I tend to think what I’ve written is good as it is.

How do you plan to promote your book? What advice have you been given about marketing the book?
I’ve been promoting it on my writing blog Tracings and my Facebook page. I’m planning to eventually create a Twitter account and promote it that way as well. I’ll probably buy a domain name and build a website at some point in the near future too. Those methods seem to be the most recommended ones for online promotion.

Who is your publishing source? How did you come to work with them? What is some of the best editorial advice you've been given?
I don’t have a publishing source yet, but both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer free e-publishing options, so I’m considering uploading Chantal’s Call and my other books to both platforms.

As for editorial advice, the best I’ve been given is to read my work as though I didn’t write it. It’s never easy for writers to distance themselves emotionally from their stories, but to edit effectively, you have to be able to read objectively.

Tracings –

If you would like to take on the challenge to write a book in a month, here's the link to the NaNo web page.


  1. Hi Chris and Traci! I'm looking forward to your book Traci. I love NaNo myself - I've done it twice and I think I'll be doing it for years to come. I find it very energizing. Its a great way to just let the story flow without all the usual stalls

  2. Hi, Tracy. Thanks for the comment; I'm in final edits now and hope to have the book up (at least on Amazon) by the end of the week. Part of me wants to simply upload it now and be done, but my re-reading has shown me a lot of word-count padding that needs to be cut. Chantal's Call was my first attempt at a novel in 30 days, so I was trying to meet that magic 50,000. Now I'm paying for it. ;)

    Chris, thanks for publishing this interview. I enjoyed answering your questions, and your post gave me the nudge I needed to get back to prepping the novel for publication. Even though I didn't get it launched in time for today's post, I appreciate the push.

  3. Keep me updated on the launch and I'll help promote it.

    1. Will do, Chris. I have another 29 chapters to go through; at least I know the scenes are what I want. It's all about the line edits now. I can't believe that after four drafts I'm still tightening the prose, but when the word count takes over, you simply don't notice how verbose you get.

  4. Nice Interview, Chris. Gorgeous cover Traci. Thanks to you both!