Twilight Trump.

by Nicole Willson

So it’s become a Fourth of July tradition in our house to wander outside to watch the insane (and insanely illegal) fireworks display our neighbors put on every year, but to otherwise devote most of our attention to SyFy’s Twilight Zone marathon, which they run almost every Fourth of July and New Year’s. I say “almost” because one year someone got the bright idea to run a marathon of “The Greatest American Hero” instead of “The Twilight Zone” over the Fourth. I suspect that idea went over like a fart in church with the general SyFy viewership, because it has never happened again.

We turn on the marathon every Fourth but this time was different: My husband introduced me to the joys of live-Tweeting the various episodes as they aired. I knew he’d done this before, but after a couple of glasses of sangria with cherry vodka added, I was inspired to use my neglected Twitter account to join in. And it really was great fun (unless you don’t watch “The Twilight Zone” and had to scroll through all my Tweets about it), like a mass episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ in which everyone gets to be Joel/Mike, Crow, and Servo. Looking at all the reactions on the #TwilightZone tag, I was heartened to learn that most of the Tweeters despised the episode “The Bewitchin’ Pool” as much as I do. (Someday I will use that episode as a cautionary tale about writing something that’s clearly meant to be homespun and heartwarming but ends up going horribly, awesomely wrong.)

And it was a lot of fun to unload publicly about some of the aspects of the show that always bothered me a bit. Is it just me, or does this show feature one of the bleakest outlooks on married life ever? Wives are either nagging shrews or doormats. Husbands are either henpecked ninnies or abusive blowhards. (Or they’re just a little looney, like William Shatner in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”)

(And you know, William Shatner must really fucking hate when one of these marathons comes on, because plenty of live-Tweeters can’t resist Tweeting their insults directly to him. I can imagine him logging in and seeing his “Messages” counter blow up and thinking “Ah, Christ — this again? How many goddamn marathons does this channel run?”)

It was when “The Dummy” came on that I finally decided to show a bit of restraint. Something very funny (to me) popped into mind while I was watching it, and I even put together a quick graphic for it before deciding that I didn’t want to be That Person.

That Person, in this case, is the asshole who decides to drag politics into a previously enjoyable and politics-free conversation.

You know the kind. You’re with a group of friends and/or family and you’re all having a great time catching up and then That Person has to go drop a verbal stinkbomb related to some hot-button political issue of the day, and that’s it — before long everyone’s screaming at each other about Obamacare and gun control and abortion and Karl Rove and Dubya and Monica Lewinsky and everyone’s all mad and it’s just a huge mess.

So nobody had been even remotely political during all the live-Tweeting about the TZ marathon, and I didn’t want to be That Person and set off some incredibly annoying tit-for-tat war between right and left.

I’ll be That Person here instead:

One of these things is a really creepy being with bad hair and an empty wooden head. The other thing is a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Is it just me, or is the resemblance rather uncanny?


I decided at the last second to join Camp Nanowrimo for the July session. But a funny thing happened on the way to the campground. I fully intended to do one more edit of Book One with the intention of getting it into shape to actually start sending around to agents and editors. But I happened to peek in on the novel I wrote in November of 2014, the one I met the word count for but didn’t quite finish.

I consider that one a bit of a failure, as I never did come up with a climactic scene for it. But when I reread it, I realized that it didn’t suck nearly as badly as I thought it did. It’s a Draft Zero and so it does suck, but it has promise. The story idea isn’t bad. I just need to buckle down, finish the story, and then get to the work of pulling the narrative apart and putting it back together again in a more pleasing fashion.

And so that’s what I’m doing this month. Last year, my July session of camp was derailed by an exploding appendix. I’m hoping this month will be less eventful.


Saturday Morning Cartoons.

by Nicole Willson

So the other morning, Bill dug out our huge DVD boxset of old Warner Brothers cartoons. We grew up in the era when those played on TV every Saturday morning. I guess he was feeling nostalgic.

And as the familiar Merrie Melodies theme filled our living room, so was I. “Aw! These are so great! It’s so sad that they don’t really show these on TV that much anymore,” I said.

And then we got to “Rhapsody Rabbit.” Bugs Bunny is playing the piano. Someone in the audience won’t stop coughing, disturbing Bugs just as he’s about to play.

So Bugs whips out a gun and shoots the coughing guy. As one does.

“Yeah, stuff like that is probably why they don’t show these on TV that much anymore,” I said. Oh well.

Speaking Too Soon.

So they make plushies of various internal organs now. Why not? Here’s my collection of the organs that have been affected by all my medical misadventures of the past year. Organs may not be to exact scale. And I’m hoping this is the entire collection.

by Nicole Willson

Four months. I made it almost four months without a hospital visit.

So I really shouldn’t have posted that last entry. Really, really shouldn’t have. Just three days after I published it, I developed yet another problem that landed me back in the emergency room and then the hospital. I don’t want to go into TMI details this time, but suffice it to say that being on blood thinners and then developing a problem that causes excessive bleeding equals wacky fun for everyone. The first few rows may get wet! I ended up needing a blood transfusion and several iron infusions.

And just a couple of weeks later, I was back in the hospital for a total hysterectomy. They took everything save one ovary. After my surgery, I was discharged from the hospital on Mother’s Day. I chuckled to myself as I thought that this was my official “Now I Will Never Be A Mother Day.” I’m fine with that, by the way. And even if I wasn’t, that uterus has left the building.

So yet again, I’m hobbling around at home trying to recover physically and emotionally from another big medical issue. I’m pretty much over saying “I hope this one is the last one for a while.” That goes without saying, and yet it never seems to happen.


Once I can stop taking the kind of happy la-la pain meds that mess with my head and make me want to sleep and/or cry all the time, I want to sit down and start hammering out a synopsis and query for Book One. I read online that YA Horror is starting to become a popular subgenre. I’ve always thought of my trilogy as YA Horror, but didn’t know this was an actual genre that existed. No time like the present, or at least before the next health crisis presents itself.

The Comeback.

by Nicole Willson

So it’s been a while. Sorry about that. I really am going to try to get better about this.

2015 has been relatively quiet thus far, and after the sheer hell that was the second half of 2014, quiet is good. Awesome, even.

Just yesterday, I got the results of a CT scan and ultrasound that were done to check up on the blood clots that made my December so memorable. And I’m happy to report that those clots are gone, baby, gone. I’m still going to be on blood thinners for at least a year; we learned that I have a genetic mutation that makes me prone to clotting, so my doctor is not in any hurry to take me off the meds. And thanks to a yucky blood thinner side effect that I won’t get into here, I’m quite anemic and have had to up my iron intake significantly. But at least that’s an easily treatable problem. And for now, I don’t feel like I’m walking around with a ticking time bomb in my body anymore. The clots are gone. What’s left of my appendix is gone. I’ve only been to a hospital once this year and that was a scheduled visit for the tests. This is good.

How’s the writing going? I’m at a scary point with Book One because I really feel like it might be close to done. Maybe. At the very least, I’ve gone through the most recent draft and no longer feel that I need to make any more major structural changes. The book might still need fine-tuning (hell, I’m sure it does), but I really want to start sending out the first queries on this thing soon. I’m just not sure how I know when it’s really ready.

It’s April, but I didn’t sign up for this round of Camp NaNoWriMo. I have several different possible projects I could be working on, and the choices ended up overwhelming me. I could start querying Book One. I could work on editing the next two books in that trilogy. I could take a second stab at my most recent NaNoWriMo effort.

The one last choice that’s been making me crazy is the possibility of starting my fifth book. The idea came to me a couple of weeks ago after Bill and I saw “It Follows” at the Alamo Drafthouse. (I liked “It Follows”. I didn’t love it the way some others have. I thought “The Babadook” was far more original and engaging; I would have written about it back in December but we saw it on the same weekend that the DVT/PE combo happened and the Babadook almost got me.) “It Follows” reminded me of a nightmare I’d had way back in college, a nightmare that was so vivid that I jumped out of bed and wrote it all down the minute I woke up and can still vividly recall it nearly 25 years later. And as I was recounting the nightmare to Bill, it occurred to me that I could spin an entire novel out of this premise.

And I’ve already envisioned a good bit about the main character and the storyline and part of me really really wants to start writing this right now, but another part of me wants to just do the prep work and wait for November to begin. I really like the November NaNo ritual. There’s just something amazing and energizing about sitting down at my laptop on November 1st and allowing the first chapters of a story I’ve been kicking around for months to come forth and start taking shape at last. I’d hate to deprive myself of that.

But hooray — I have a fifth book idea, and possibly a sixth! For someone who used to shy away from the idea of writing novels because I didn’t believe I could ever come up with a story idea big enough to sustain one, I’ve had a surprising number of them.

Other stuff I’ve been up to:

I finally got to meet and have my picture taken with a skater I’ve been a fan of for a long time, Evan Lysacek:

Yes, he’s really that tall. And I’m really that dorky.

I’d followed Evan’s career from when he was a junior skater, so watching him rise all the way to Olympic Gold was extremely cool.

We saw cherry blossoms at the DC Tidal Basin last week.

I dyed my hair red. It used to be sort of red naturally, but as I’ve gotten older it’s just gone all mousy brown tinged with gray, and that’s no fun.

In general I’ve been trying to get my footing back after a very scary 2014. So far it’s been a pretty good year.

American Horror Story: Freak Show.

by Nicole Willson

I haven’t been doing weekly posts about “Freak Show” because I didn’t really feel like it (physically or otherwise), but now that the season has concluded, I’m ready to post about it.

Honestly, I think I’ve been watching a different season than almost everyone else has. “Freak Show” has been taking a critical and Internet beating nearly everywhere I look, and I really don’t understand the disdain.

Was it perfect? Oh, no. It won’t overtake “Asylum” as my favorite AHS season, but I’d definitely rank it on a level with “Murder House”, and in my mind it was miles ahead of “Coven.” There wasn’t a single episode of “Coven” that I had any desire to rewatch after it was all over. I can already think of several episodes of “Freak Show” I’d like to see again.

Random thoughts that will probably be spoilery for both “Freak Show” and previous seasons:

- Ryan Murphy will likely give Finn Wittrock whatever he asks for to come back next season, and deservedly so. But I hope he also brings back the delightful Mat Fraser. Next to Wittrock, Fraser was the standout AHS rookie for me.

- Maybe he’ll even bring back John Carroll Lynch in some capacity. I’ve always liked Lynch, but Twisty the Clown gave me a whole new appreciation for him. Even when half of Twisty’s face was obscured by that mask and he couldn’t talk, I could almost always tell what Twisty was thinking thanks to Lynch’s performance. He gave the character a real pathos even before we finally got Twisty’s origin story. One of Freak Show’s big mistakes was getting rid of Twisty way too early.

- The whole Edward Mordrake subplot made me wish that Murphy would produce an AHS season that’s pure Gothic horror, set in the 1800s. I know this scene is campy and silly and cheesy, but even if it’s not “The Name Game,” it made me very happy anyhow:

I keep trying to get into the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful.” It seems like it should be right in my Eldergoth wheelhouse and I like all the main stars, and yet I’ve never been able to get through a whole episode. I bet Ryan Murphy could make a premise like that really, really entertaining. I know he said he’d never do vampires or werewolves, but he’s done a lot of stuff he said he’d never do. C’mon, Murphy. Take vampires back from “Twilight.”

- A lot of people griped about the use of pop songs that hadn’t yet been written when “Freak Show” took place, but that didn’t bother me. Your ability to roll with this kind of thing will probably go a long way towards determining if you enjoyed “Freak Show” or not.

- Dandy’s final “IHATEYOU IHATEYOU IHATEYOU” was perfection.

- I’m guessing a lot of people aren’t going to be happy with the ending, believing that Elsa deserved something much harsher. I can’t argue with that, and yet it didn’t bother me. Maybe I was just happy with one last chance to see Ethel and Ma Petite again. Maybe it’s just that this is more than likely Jessica Lange’s final season of AHS, and she deserved a send-off like the one Elsa got. When I was first watching “Murder House” and not so sure I liked it, her performance was what compelled me to keep watching. If she really is done after this season, she will truly be missed.

So anyhow — even if it puts me in the minority, I liked “Freak Show.” I remember a lot of people hating “Asylum” while it was running, and yet it’s now widely viewed as the show’s best season. I wonder how hindsight will treat “Freak Show.”


by Nicole Willson

SkelePen, and a small glass of red wine shaped like a skull. I guess I’m having a very morbid Monday.

At times when I am feeling disgustingly sorry for myself, it’s very nice to have the world of one of my novels to retreat to. It’s a world where I control everything, where nobody gets sick unless I say so, where I can rearrange things until they’re completely to my liking. If only real life were half so easy to handle.

I got that skeleton pen at the Tower of London. It’s my favorite editing pen ever.

So How Was Your December?

by Nicole Willson

I survived my ruptured appendix, but 2014 took another shot at trying to kill me.

A friendly warning: If you develop an odd pain in your calf that doesn’t resolve after a couple of days, it’s worth going to the doctor to find out why, especially if you can’t think of anything you did to cause an injury.

If you’re having that odd leg pain and *then* develop sudden shortness of breath? Get your ass to the emergency room.

That was where I found myself just a few days after my birthday, thinking “Didn’t I just do this?” Indeed, the man who was checking people into the ER that night took one look at me and said “Weren’t you just here?” Turns out he’d checked me in for my appendectomy the previous month.

I had a bad feeling I knew what was going on, and I was right. An ultrasound on my leg and a CT scan of my chest revealed that the mysterious calf pain was caused by a blood clot. Part of the clot had broken off and traveled to my lungs, which was why I suddenly couldn’t walk half a block without stopping to gasp for air.

A doctor woke me up at 2:45 the next morning in the ICU to show me the CT scan of my lungs. My left lung didn’t even show up on the scan. “If that clot had landed in the center of your lungs instead of to the left, you’d be dead now,” he said. I don’t think I slept the rest of that night.

But I did not die, and indeed I did well enough that I would have been moved from the ICU if there had been any room in the cardiac ward. I was sent home just a couple of days later, armed with a prescription for blood thinners.

It’s fair to say that this cast something of a pall over the holiday season. I usually love December, but this one left a mark. I’m trying to stay positive, but trying is the operative word.

I am not going to be sorry to see the end of 2014.


by Nicole Willson

This morning, I finally crossed the NaNoWriMo 50K mark. When I validated my novel on the NaNoWriMo site, it kicked me straight to the Winner page, where I was rewarded with a video of staffers applauding me.

And I got a little choked up. This one was hard. 

As I said in the previous entry, this story was not coming to me as easily as my past ones have, and that was a crummy, daunting feeling. I really did have to keep telling myself, “Yes, this chapter is crappy and implausible, but for now it doesn’t matter. Get. It. Down. You can spiff it all up later.”

I had a really good backlog of words by November 19th, the day of my appendix surgery. That was a very good thing, because while I got lucky and the surgeon was able to perform the robotic laparoscopy without having to open me up, the anesthesia, pain meds, and general abdominal discomfort knocked me out of commission for almost five days.

I’d never been under full anesthesia before and it was an odd experience. When I started coming to after the surgery, I tried to yank my mask off and got pissed that the nurses wouldn’t let me do it. And then, when it dawned on me that I’d actually made it through the surgery, I burst into tears. A nurse looked down at me and said “Yeah, people do that.”

But the operation seems to have gone off without a hitch and I now have three robot holes in a diagonal tic-tac-toe pattern across my abdomen instead of an appendix.

What I did not have, when I was finally well enough to start typing again, was much motivation. I got myself to about 42K words, and then I got an overwhelming sense of meh. I wasn’t sure how to finish the story. I wasn’t even sure if I cared about winning. Maybe everything I’d already written would have to be enough for this month, I thought. Given all that I’d been through, it was nothing to be ashamed of. I could take December off and then pick up this story some time next year with a fresher mind.

And then the NaNoWriMo winner’s shirt that I had ordered before the month even began arrived in the mail this week, and that ended up giving me the jolt I needed to cross the finish line. I put the unopened package next to my laptop where I could see it while I wrote, telling myself that I wasn’t allowed to open it until I hit the 50K mark.

I also ended up doing something I don’t normally do during NaNoWriMo: I wrote slightly out of order. I usually try to write the story straight through so I don’t cop out of trying to work through difficult parts, but this time I realized that if I didn’t move on from a part that had me stymied, I was going to end up abandoning the novel altogether. Lesson learned: Don’t be inflexible. What worked one year (or even three years) might not work every year.

The draft is not quite complete, and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to finish it before November is over. But that’s OK. I’m now on a four-year NaNoWriMo winning streak. I’ll take it.





NaNoWriMo: Get. It. Down.

by Nicole Willson

NaNoWriMo status report: So here’s the thing. I’ve had this story idea in my head for more than a year. Before November began, I loosely sketched out an outline of the new novel. I have a good idea what’s going to happen in the middle and the end. I thought this was going to be relatively simple to knock out.

And yet I’m just not feeling this story yet. It’s weird. Something about how it played out in my head is not translating to a draft the way I thought it would. I don’t know if it’s because this is the first time in four years I’m working with a new story with new characters, or what my problem is. I don’t remember feeling this way about the first NaNo novel I wrote back in 2011. And last year, I was so anxious to write the ending of the trilogy I’d been working on for so long that I actually dreamed about those characters. I really miss them. I’m seriously looking forward to December so I can start re-editing my first book again, which is not something I ever thought I’d say.

This is, of course, not stopping me from writing the novel draft, and this is where my years of NaNoWriMo training are coming in handy. I just keep telling myself: Get. It. Down. If you read the draft later on and your ideas suck, that’s what revisions are for. At least you’ll have a draft to work with rather than a bunch of loose ideas in your head. If the characters seem weak and ill-formed, you’ll have the other eleven months between now and next November to fix that. In fact, you’ll have all the time in the world to revise. For now, just keep typing. Throw all kinds of shit at your story wall; figure out what should stick later on. 

And I’m trying to stay way ahead of the daily word goal just in case. Just in case my surgery is more problematic than it’s meant to be and I need a day off, or two, or three. Just in case.

But this one has been hard. I’d gotten pretty cocky about my ability to knock out 50,000+ word stories during NaNoWriMo, so I think I was due a karmic smackdown. I needed a reminder. Revising is hard, but getting that first draft down, especially when you’re working with a new and fresh story? That’s damn hard, too.



by Nicole Willson

So November is going to be even more challenging than usual.

As you can see if you look to the right, my NaNoWriMo word counter has updated itself to 2014 and reset itself to zero.

I’m definitely in for NaNoWriMo, but I may have to adjust my concept of actually winning the competition this year. In past years I’ve always nailed 50K words (the sole criteria for winning) rather easily, but didn’t consider myself an actual winner unless I had a complete novel draft by the end of the month. Even though I have this year’s novel loosely outlined and have a good idea of what the beginning, middle, and end will be, I’m not sure how much of it I’ll be able to finish.

Why? Because next month, I’m finally having the long-threatened surgery to remove whatever’s left of my exploded appendix. Gulp. Although my most recent CT scan revealed that the inflammation has resolved itself nicely and there are entire days when I don’t feel so much as a twinge of pain in my lower right abdomen, or even think about what happened in July, my doctor still wants the sucker out of there so it won’t cause any problems in the future.

She is planning to perform robotic surgery. I really wish that idea didn’t make me picture Bender from “Futurama”.

“Gimme that appendix, meatbag!”

This is supposed to be a less-invasive procedure similar to laparoscopic surgery, and if all goes well, I won’t have to spend even one night in the hospital. I also shouldn’t be incapacitated for too long and will probably have plenty of downtime to finish my NaNo novel. If all doesn’t go well and they have to go more invasive, I’m not sure what that’s going to mean for finishing up the draft.

It’s possible, though, that I’m going to have to accept crossing the 50K mark as a win, and anything else after that is gravy. (It’s also possible I won’t win at all, but I’m not really going to allow that as an option right now.) We’ll see.

As a motivation, we’re also going to go see Stephen King give a talk at GWU in mid-November. That should be a nice shot of inspiration — King is the one author I’ve been reading very consistently since I was a kid. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to see him in person, so I can’t wait.

Since I know he watches “American Horror Story,” I’ll try to resist the temptation to ask, “So, who’s scarier — Pennywise, or Twisty the Clown?”

I know who gets *my* vote …