Have your heard about National Novel Writing Month? Have you tried it?

NaNoWriMo challenges you to complete a 50,000-word novel during the month of November — pacing at around 1,666 words per day.

I’ve attempted two rounds:

Last November, I didn’t sign up on the http://nanowrimo.org website, but I kept track of my word count and tweeted out my progress. Why was I too chicken to sign up? I think I told myself that filling out even one form would take away from my writing time. And I just wanted to try finishing a story in a month — no commitment, no guilt.

I completed my story by the end of November (and edited it throughout December). I had a great time exploring this side episode in the epic fantasy universe my friend Carol and I have been working on for years (more on that later). At a little over 20,000 words, my little holiday themed tale wasn’t a word count winner, but I was very happy with the result. Still am.

In July, I tried using Camp NaNoWriMo to jump-start a YA science fiction novel I have been thinking about for a while. This time, I did sign up. The http://campnanowrimo.org site is user friendly, and I like the word count tracking. I liked the idea of “cabins,” but in reality couldn’t keep up with the chats. I stalled halfway through the month, and only completed 21,917 words of the novel — barely getting the characters out of Act I. Something wasn’t right in the story, and I couldn’t move forward until I figured out what. I’m still trying to figure it out.

There’s a big difference between the first and second experience. Last November, I didn’t meet the 50,000-word goal, but I finished something significant (for me). In July, I ended up abandoning my story. No word goal met (I had set 50,000 for myself) and nothing completed.

November felt good.

July felt pretty awful.

And to be perfectly honest, both times I was also writing other things. I have two different series that I am working on with two different writing partners. That work always comes first.

NaNoWriMo is just for me. A side job, maybe. But I’ve learned that I’m a better writing partner when I’m working on something else on my own — makes me less argumentative.

And here’s what I learned from my two NaNoWriMo experiences: I am an outliner. I am a very detailed outliner. The difference between the November story and the July story was how prepared I was going in. The July attempt stalled because I only had a detailed outline to the end of Act I, then I thought I could wing it . . . I couldn’t.

So here we are in October, and I’ve started peeking at the National Novel Writing Month website again. To my delight, I noticed a section on NaNoWriMo prep — http://nanowrimo.org/nano-prep and a free webinar run by Grant Faulkner, the executive director of NaNoWriMo, and featuring freelance editor Michael Rowley and author Darynda Jones.

Great stuff! Really worth watching. Check it out on youtube: http://bit.ly/2dUnp37

I really appreciated Grant and Michael sharing so much great information, but I found Darynda particularly inspiring. She’s described her very detailed outlining method and even offered to email a sample to any viewer who expressed interest. So generous! I contacted her right away, and she sent three outline samples back in a matter of minutes. Shout out to Darynda Jones, my NaNoWriMo prep hero! http://www.daryndajones.com

Needless to say, I’ve signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo again. But this time I am going to be as prepared as I can be. It’s only halfway through October, and I feel I have time to get my next NaNoWriMo project ready — as long as I pick my project and soon.

I am torn between returning to the science fiction story, working on a short novel in the epic fantasy world, or telling the background story of a pivotal character in The Werewolf Whisperer series. Maybe I should roll some dice.

The point is — I’m going all in. My mission: complete a 50,000 word novel by 11:59 on November 30. I appreciate the support NaNoWriMo is offering, and I will be tweeting out my word counts.

Wish me luck.

Werewolf Wednesday: The Beginning

The Vitruvian Wolf

Two years ago, my writing partner and good friend Bonita and I released our first book, The Werewolf Whisperer.

The story evolved from a web series idea, which we conceived of as a cross between Supernatural and Shaun of the Dead in goofy 5-7 minute episodes. Once we decided to write a series of novels instead, we unearthed many more layers to our story.

The Werewolf Whisperer still has a baseline of humor, gallows humor really. But now, two novels and two novellas deep into the Werewolf Whisperer world, everything has gotten far more serious for Lucy and Xochitl. Over the next few Wednesdays, I want to share a few excerpts from the books and maybe some thoughts about how it’s all coming together:


Without warning, the creature turned sharply away from Lucy and bore down on Hanna at a dead run.

“Do it!” Hanna’s voice had a hard edge.

Lucy’s finger squeezed the trigger. A single shot rang out. The creature dropped. It was over.

That’s it. That’s the prologue. Originally in the web series, this scene was quite a bit longer in the first, second, third, fourth and probably fifth draft of the novel. Still only about a page and a half, our set up scene smacked right into a reader preference trend: the loathing of  prologues.

A lot of our research seemed to confirm that readers either skip prologues or resent them.

The prologue had to go.

But it couldn’t go entirely, so we went straight to the heart of the scene. And in a bold move – it really seemed bold at the time – we cut everything else.

The prologue comes  back in the series, again and again – a nightmarish clip of memory set on repeat. Its brevity has made it more visceral for us, a tool to use to connect past sins with present dilemmas.



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Brown Dog Dreams


The little brown dog curls up tighter than a ball of yarn, her heavy lids attracted to each other with magnetic force.

She falls into a deep comatose sleep.

Groans rumble from her throat after a moment or two and echo through the den at intervals metered in puppy dreams.

Deep guttural groans rumble through her, speaking of hard labor in the gulags, distant perils on ancient whalers off the eastern coast, and hot sticky asphalt shimmering cruelly and burning soles.

Heartbreaking, incongruous sounds that cry for help.


“Are you all right, my puppy?”

Arms curl around the skinny body, kisses cover furry brow.

Her response: a long contented yawn, chewing of the air and a puzzled smile as if to say, “You woke me up and I was fast asleep.”


Never Forget

My husband wrote a memory, a moment we shared in New York on top of the World Trade Center before the world changed:

Even having grown up in NY, I have a handful of unusual personal connections to the World Trade Center. The very first time I stepped foot in the city (I grew up on Long Island), I toddled — as you do as a toddler — along with my family to the observation deck; I also spent an entire surreal day there in the smoke and mayhem of the 1993 bombing. But my fondest memory is my last, and what would be my unwitting farewell to the iconic landmark. In late summer 2000, at the dawn of the Twin Towers’ final year and during our first year together, I wanted Camilla to see the view from the top. After dinner in the Village, we made the trip up to The Greatest Bar on Earth for a nightcap. On the south side of the North Tower, the ironically named lounge — because you hardly felt like you were on Earth when there — offered a stunning view of the South Tower, the rest of Lower Manhattan, and New York Harbor with its teeny, tiny Statue of Liberty, somehow just as majestic in miniature. The real showstopper though was the north-facing view from the adjoining Windows on the World. The restaurant had a policy however that you couldn’t enjoy its visual splendors without dining there — and cocktails next door didn’t qualify. But one could hardly make the vertical pilgrimage with one’s future wife and not show her the goods. So I boldly snuck — as you do as a New Yorker — with said future wife in tow (“Act like you own the place and follow me…”) through a partition toward the banquet rooms. The restaurant had catering spaces on the north side with the same views. We strode down the hall past a kindly man who was buffing the floors and into a cavernous and thoroughly empty ballroom. While I’d technically seen this view before, emotionally I hadn’t. Through the floor to lofty ceiling windows was the most magical image of my city I’d ever beheld. After collecting our jaws from their recent trip to the carpet, we danced. Without the accompaniment of music, we danced. Without knowledge of the future but with love in the present, we danced. We danced.

-P.J. Ochlan, 2016



The Seething Brain



I’m Camilla, and I called my blog The Seething Brain because of this Shakespeare quote:

“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,

Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend

More than cool reason ever comprehends.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream V, 1

I don’t think Theseus meant that in a flattering way. But to me, it explains a lot:

I’ve always loved stories, whatever the delivery system: books, TV, movies, games, visual art, dance, food — yes, food. I see story in everything. But mostly, those stories stayed in my seething brain.

I’ve had a lot of different jobs, seen a lot of things, and spent a lot of time not writing. I’d write the occasional short story, often unfinished, rarely edited, and I’d tuck it away in a drawer or lose it on some floppy disc or CD.

It wasn’t until I made room in my life for writing — that meant dropping two of my three jobs, and saying goodbye, for good, to auditioning. Turns out that I can’t pursue both acting and writing full time — some people can; I can’t. And I don’t want to.

My seething brain went to work and spun story idea after story idea, which I inflicted on my poor husband and my poor friends on endless dog walks. I wrote down some of the ideas. I read every book on writing I could find.

Some shift, some combination of all the pushing and trying, led to a short film script: a story about life, death, moments of happiness and my dogs.

And a crazy thing happened, the short film shoot led to an idea. The idea led to a never-realized web series and a writing partnership. The partnership led to a book, and a then series. And another series. And another series.

I hope to add something useful to the discussion of the writing process in my blog, even if it’s just bits from my own experience. But one thing I know for sure, I went from someone who was too paralyzed by life to finish a short story to someone who writes a lot…and I mean a lot. Whatever comes of it now, I did that. And if I did it, so can you.

Seethe on brains. Seethe on.