Show Me Your #WriMoFace!

Paul's WriMo Face

Paul’s WriMo Face

Day 3 and I’m behind. I had huge travel days recently. I went from Newark, Delaware to New York City, New York City to Pleasant Valley, New York. Pleasant Valley to New Paltz, NY. New Paltz back to New York City. New York City to Poughkeepsie and I head back to Newark, Delaware tomorrow. My head is spinning and I’ve had about five hours of sleep in the past two days.

I worked on my NaNoWriMo novel on my phone, my tablet, and my wife’s computer. I had dreams about it last night. I still haven’t entered an official word count on the WriMo site because I’m waiting to dump everything into Scrivener. As I was working on it today at Starbucks, I decided to take a break. I opened up Photo Booth on my wife’s Mac and snapped a photo of me working on my novel. Then I thought it might be fun to see what everyone looks like as they are working on their novels, so I wrote this quick post.

Here’s what I want you to do. Take a selfie of you working on your novel and share it on Twitter with the hashtag #wrimoface or just include a link in the comments and we’ll be able to check them out. (Extra points for creativity, mine was pretty boring.)

Have fun everyone! (I’ll be posting word counts later tonight and I hope to be caught up.) If you need support, don’t hesitate to reach out. Keep writing. Your stories are the wildest things!


(P.S. This is my 100th post on Stories are the Wildest Things. Thank you for your support!)

Steven Pressfield – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from photo

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from photo

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. Thousands of writers will be sweating out a first draft of 50K words between November 1-30, 2014. I took this week’s writing quote from Steven Pressfield’s inspirational manifesto – Do the Work! (I HIGHLY recommend you pick up this book if you don’t have it.) I think it embodies the spirit of NaNoWriMo – don’t try to control your idea, figure out what is is and wants to be and then bring it into being.

I’ll also be posting a more extensive post about Getting NaNoWriMo Done soon. Look for it over the next day or two.

Please leave a comment about your success or failure with NaNoWriMo in the past few years. I’m curious to hear how people have done in the past, whether you completed (and sent out) your novel after writing your first draft and what you hope to accomplish this year.

Thank you for commenting! I love hearing from everyone.

GLITCH! The Week of Breaking Down


Photo from

This has been a rough week.

There have been GLITCHES in life that have made it difficult to get anything done. We were planning on staying home to get things done around the house and get ready for me to travel for a play I’m working on. But then the phone rang.


“Mom has taken a turn for the worse.” It’s my wife’s brother, the same one who took me fishing a few weeks ago. He tells us that the small spot on Mom’s liver has now developed into a mass. She’s refusing treatment.

My mother-in-law’s health has been failing for about a year and she’s been in and out of a rehab nursing facility about four times in the last six months. She goes home, can’t take care of herself, falls or forgets to take her medication, and ends up back in rehab.

We pack quickly and drive to the Cape to see Mom. She sits in the corner of the darkened room, her hair sticking up in tufts around her head. She looks surprisingly like a baby bird: soft, wrinkled, eyes wet and wondering. She is glad to see us this time. There aren’t the usual complaints and demands to go home.

We get her up out of the chair to go outside. She walks twenty steps and has to sit down on her walker. “I need to rest. This walking is for the birds,” she says.

We walk twenty more steps and rest. Twenty-five. Rest.

I punch in the code on the door leading to the covered sun porch and it beeps and clicks. I push it open. It takes Mom so long to get through the door, the alarm goes off. I have to punch in the code again to get it to stop.

We play cards and the four-year-old squirms and runs around, catching imaginary bunnies and shooting imaginary monsters. “Do you have any Jacks?” I ask.

“Go Fish,” Mom says.

We never knew Go Fish could be so cutthroat and we play several rounds, laughing and teasing each other. We don’t talk about what will happen soon, we only focus on now.

“Go Fish.”

It gets dark. We walk Mom back to her room and settle her into her chair. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mom tells us she wants us to take her Buick. She realizes now that she can’t drive it anymore. We say thank you and tell her we’ll bring her the paperwork tomorrow. Kisses. Flutters of bird wings. We step out into the light.

We get the Buick and I drive it the 250 miles or so home. It smells like burning oil and when I hit a bump, the car sways and rocks on its shocks like the baby buggy going down the Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin. I listen to Mom’s CDs of Neil Diamond and Nat King Cole and bounce my way home.

As I go to take a sip of coffee, I feel something small and hard inside my mouth. I reach in and pull it out. The dental work a hack dentist did a few weeks ago has fallen out. Again. This is the third time it’s happened.


I put the piece of dental work into the cup holder. My tongue keeps finding its way to the broken spot. I try to distract myself by singing along to Neil’s rendition of Song Sung Blue. It works, for a little while.

We pull into the garage in New York where we trust the guys running the place and leave the car overnight. We’re hoping that we can get away with a couple hundred dollars in repairs and have another car. We also want to make Mom feel good that we are using her car and giving it some “exercise” as she says.

We make it home and after packing away the things we brought to the Cape and putting the little man in bed, I flop on the sofa and fire up my old Windows PC that I keep attached to the big screen TV as a way to watch Netflix and do some blogging. There is a bump and a whirr, but the computer doesn’t boot itself up.


I spend the next hour or so trying to get it to boot, but it’s gone. The hard drive has crashed while we were gone. I’m not too concerned because I recently did a back-up of most of that hard drive’s contents, but eventually I’ll try to find something and it will be gone forever. I fall asleep on the couch dreaming of shiny metallic hard drive platters flying through a dusky purple sky.

In the morning, I switch to the laptop. I’m ambi-computer-ous so I pull out the Mac laptop and fire it up. I’m looking forward to getting some writing done. I have beats to finish for a Steampunk YA novel I’m working on and chapters to write for the MG adventure in progress. When I put my finger on the trackpad, the cursor suddenly starts whipping from side to side on my screen. Apps start opening of their own accord and I can’t control the cursor.


I do some research and find out that I am experiencing something known as phantom cursor. I try many things to resolve the issue and it takes HOURS.


A text message pops up on my phone.

“The car will cost $2100 to pass inspection.”


I look up the Kelley Blue Book. It’s only worth $1500 in GOOD condition. This car is not in good condition. The garage tells us the axle is broken, the shocks are leaking, oil is burning.


I text back. “I give up.”

My wife calls. She’s crying. She’s overwhelmed. Her mom is dying. The car her mom gave us isn’t salvageable. The computers are breaking down. We have another broken down car we need to get rid of. I’m going away to work. She has projects she has to finish. A film we both worked on is premiering soon.


We dub this the week of breaking down. It’s something that is inevitable, breaking down, but it doesn’t have to break us.

We drive to the garage to get the car and bring it to the junkyard.

“Umm, it’s sitting in the garage all taken apart. We were waiting for you to let us know what to do.”


My wife cries again. I explain to the worried man behind the counter, “It’s her mom’s car. Her mom is dying.”

He nods and we leave.

It’s overcast and cold in New York. Rain hits my face like tiny needles. My wife goes to work. I go to find a dentist to fix my tooth. He’ll be in tomorrow at 2:30 but they don’t take my insurance.


I have to get the tooth fixed. I have to go say Shakespeare’s words and need my teeth unbroken to do that properly.

There is a Dunkin’ Donuts next to the dentist’s office. I go and sit with my Dunkin’ coffee and pumpkin doughnut and breathe. The news blares from a TV behind the counter.

Ebola is in the United States.


An armed ex-convict was on an elevator with the President.


The phone rings. It’s my wife.


“Where are you?”

“Dunkin’ Donuts. Trying to catch a moment to breathe.”

“I talked to the garage. They didn’t realize our situation. They’ll buy the other junk car from us for $350 and make enough small repairs to make Mom’s car safe enough to pass inspection. We can make the other repairs later. Total cost will be $300 or so.”


“Yes. What do you think?”

A break in the glitch-iness.

“Yes, let’s do it.”

In A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I guess I’m in no special hurry. I feel stronger in my broken places. One glitch has been resolved for now and I turned the rest into a story.

Julio Cortazár – Writing Quote Wednesday


Julio Cortazár Writing Quote by Paul Jenny using royalty free photo from

Julio Cortazár, professor, translator, boxing enthusiast, prolific novelist, playwright, poet, essayist and master of the short story (i.e. a WRITER) was born in Belgium in 1914 to Argentine parents but emigrated to France in 1951. He was granted French citizenship in 1981 and he died in Paris in 1984.

His father left the family when he was six. His mother, a prolific reader, introduced him to the works of Jules Verne and in Plural magazine (issue 44, Mexico City, May 1975) he was quoted as saying, “I spent my childhood in a haze full of goblins and elves, with a sense of space and time that was different from everybody else’s.”

What is your more intense and compelling reality?

Send me your short stories to and I’ll read them on the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. You can hear the first episode HERE.


 Watch more about Julio in this YouTube video.

Thank you! Stories are the Wildest Things Around the World

When I check my blog’s stats, these tiny icons of the flags of the nations who have visited pop up on my screen. I’m so grateful to have readers and supporters from around the world and I wanted to say thank you for being here. I’d love to hear more from you.

How did you find Stories are the Wildest Things?

What brought you to the blog?

How can I serve you better?

I’m dedicated to helping people tell their stories in the most powerful, creative, and wide-reaching way that they can.

If you don’t tell your story, who will?

Writing Prompt 09: 5 Most Mysterious Sounds Ever Recorded

The YouTube Channel Dark5 has some fascinating videos featuring “the greatest mysteries of this world and beyond…”

For this week’s writing prompt I chose the 5 Most Mysterious Sounds Ever Recorded for inspiration. Take one of the mysterious sounds from the video (I’m really fascinated by the very first one) and write a story that explains the sound’s origin or show us some people interacting with the sound in some way that still leaves the mystery intact. You could also explore the idea of another kind of mysterious sound unrelated to any of these.

Please submit the story you’ve written to the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. If your story is chosen you’ll get to hear your story read to our audience. Leave a link to your story in the comments, or send it directly to

Thank you to everyone who’s submitted a story so far. I’d like to get a few more submissions before I make my decision about the story to be read on the next episode. If you haven’t heard from me yet, you will soon.

Have a great writing week!

9/11 – Wildest Word(s) of 2001

"World Trade Center" Flickr photo by Ralph Hockens

“World Trade Center” Flickr photo by Ralph Hockens

As another anniversary of 9/11 comes and goes, and wars relating to those events rage on,  I thought it would be interesting to look back at how the events of 2001 changed the words we use.

Nine-eleven is the slang we use to put this tragedy in perspective. Geoffrey Nunberg, a Stanford University linguist, says, “There’s a need to package things, to label them, to get a handle on them.” The American Dialect Society made 9/11 its word of the year in 2001.

Some other words that were in the running that year were: cuddle puddle (a pile of ecstasy users on the floor), Ground Zero (where the attacks in New York City happened), Let’s Roll (the phrase allegedly used by Todd Beamer to rally against the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93), Evil Doers (former President George W. Bush’s phrase for those who perpetuated the attacks) and Post September 11 (to mean the way the world had changed after the attacks).

According to Arthur Spiegelman of the Los Angeles Newsdesk at Reuters, came up with a list of the top 10 words for 2001. They were:

  1. Ground Zero – the now sanctified ground at the epicenter of the World Trade Center disaster
  2. Former President George Bush’s middle initial “W” – pronounced Dubya and often used in a derogatory way
  3. Jihad – the Arabic word for “struggle” but which is used today as “Holy War”
  4. God, Allah or Yahweh – listed with the note that the name had been in more headlines and on the lips of more politicians than any time in recent memory
  5. Anthrax – the dangerous spores carrying infectious disease sent to politicians in an envelope and said to be “weaponized”
  6. Euro – Europe’s new currency at the time
  7. Wizard – this was added because of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter craze
  8. The suffix -stan – as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in a parody cover by the New Yorker of New Yorkistan showing areas labeled Irant and Irate, Taxistan and Fuhgeddabuditstan
  9. Oprahization – the tendency of public and private citizens to discuss their personal problems or feelings in public forums, especially talk shows like Oprah’s long-running television show
  10. Foot-and-mouth – referring to the disease (and not what Dubya often found himself doing)

It was a terrible day and I remember it well. I wanted to take a moment to think about the way it changed our lives and our language.


5 Things I Learned about Writing from Fishing with my Brother-in-law

Hemingway with trout. Flickr photo by Don the Upnorth Memories Guy

Hemingway with trout. Flickr photo by Don the Upnorth Memories Guy

Ernest Hemingway was known as an avid fisherman. There’s a fishing contest still running in Cuba that’s named after him. It’s been running since 1950 and he won the first three years it was held. He once caught seven marlins in one day. He’s the only person to ever pull a giant tuna into a boat in one piece. Apparently, the only way he could do that was by shooting at the sharks that tried to eat his catch with a sub-machine gun.

In 1935 he won every fishing contest in the Key West-Havana-Bimini triangle. After living on his boat, Pilar, for a while, he eventually moved into Room 1 at the Compleat Angler Hotel in Bimini in the Bahamas.

If you Google Hemingway and fishing, 2.57 million results show up.

I went fishing in Buzzard’s Bay recently with my brother-in-law. It wasn’t your typical “movie-version” fishing trip where we got up at the crack of dawn to hurry out on to the boat and be alone in the outdoors to learn more about ourselves. We left casually around 10:15-or-so a.m. when the tide was on its way out. We invited a neighbor to come with us by yelling through his window as we were passing by. He paused, thought about it for 2 seconds, then said, “Yeah, sure.” He threw on a shirt and sandals and came running out to join us.

We jumped in the whaler and headed out to the spot where they had caught several large striped bass over the past few days. Instead of being humid and overcast like the past few days had been, we had clear skies and a cool breeze. It felt good to be in a boat on calm water, to smell the salt air, to feel the wind in your face. My thoughts turned to Hemingway. While the guys scanned the radar looking for schools of stripers, my imagination took me to the Keys and the Bahamas with Papa Hemingway, rod in hand, reeling in the big ones.

We threw in our line, an eel rig with spongy white rubber eels on an umbrella set-up of massive hooks, and let it out to about 30 feet. We trolled back and forth to the number 26 channel marker, trying to avoid the lobster pots that were just below the surface. The first few passes we mostly caught seaweed and had to clear the lines before the next pass. Occasionally we’d notice that a hook had or one of the fake eels was twisted on the line, a sure sign that we’d had a hit but didn’t know it.

On the third or fourth pass there was a loud click and high-pitched whirr as the fish took the bait and started to run. My brother-in-law handed me the rod and I pulled, feeling the weight of the fish pulling against my arms. I could barely move the reel and I sat back, adjusting the rod for more leverage.

“Keep the rod tip up.”

“Don’t sway from side to side.”

“Keep reeling or he’ll get away.”

The guys coached me and I reeled with as much strength as I could. It was tiring and the fish felt like it was fighting hard to avoid being pulled in. My arms started to feel weak and numb, but I kept reeling, reeling, hoping to see the fish as it got closer to the boat. The way the rod was pulling down, we all thought we had a monster of a fish on our hands. As I got near the end of the line, the guys stood up to get a better look.

“There he is, bring him around to port.”

I moved the rod around to my right, since I was facing backward, and my brother-in-law gaffed the fish and dragged it into the boat. It was a good-sized fish, a keeper, but not the monster we all thought we had. The silver scales and white belly flashed in the sun and a small pool of blood drained onto the deck. I put a foot gently on the fish’s tail to keep it from flopping around on the boat.

“That’s why it was so hard to reel in.”

We all looked at our catch and saw that the fish had gotten hooked in the back, not the mouth. What made it so hard to reel in was that I was pulling the fish through the water sideways.

Our neighbor put the fish in the live well and we went back for about fifteen or sixteen more passes, but we had no more luck that morning. Time after time we trolled the passage from rocks to channel marker but the fish weren’t biting. It was time to go home.

We came in to shore and cleaned the gear and the boat. I posed for a photo with the fish on the dock and we cleaned it right there. I was grateful for the camaraderie, the challenge the fish brought and for the meal we had later that day. As I walked back to the cottage, freshly caught fish in hand, I thought about how what I had just experienced was a lot like writing.

What was the first thing we did when we saw someone who had not been fishing with us?

We told them the STORY of what happened.

Here are 5 Things I Learned about Writing from Fishing with my Brother-in-law:

  1. Thinking about and doing are NOT the same thing.
  2. Sometimes you have to make a lot of passes to get something worthwhile.
  3. Making a choice about where to start is important.
  4. You probably won’t be good at something the first time you do it.
  5. What you think you’re going to get is not always what you get.

Thinking about and doing are NOT the same thing.

I’ve often thought about fishing on Buzzard’s Bay. I imagined how I’d toss in a line and wait patiently for a fish to jump on the line. I thought we might have to go into deep water to get the big fish and I worried that I might get seasick on the open ocean. But when we actually went fishing we were in fairly shallow water, very close to shore. The fish were right there and we trolled, pulling a single line with a lot of hooks and it was slow, tedious work.

This is what I’ve found writing to be like, too. I have two different ways of thinking about writing. In one fantasy, everything is going smoothly and I write the next great novel in 30 days. It flows from my fingers fully formed with no rewriting or editing necessary. The other fantasy is that I sit down to write and NOTHING happens. No words come. I’m mute and have to give up writing forever. The reality is that like fishing, the thinking about and the doing are very different things. It is rare that the writing just flows, fully-formed, with no need for rewriting. It is unrealistic to think that is even possible.

On the other hand, I’ve never sat down to write and had nothing to say. I’ve resisted the sitting down many, many times. But when I do sit and write, something comes. The lesson learned, “Fishing and writing are achieved by DOING the fishing and writing, not by sitting around thinking about doing them.” If you’re stuck, get in the boat and throw in your line. You might be surprised what comes out of the water.

Sometimes you have to make a lot of passes to get something worthwhile.

As I said, we must’ve made twenty trips back and forth along that channel to catch one fish. That means there were 19 times when we failed at catching a fish. I think this is a good lesson for many things we do in life. For writing, it reminded me that a lot of writing is rewriting and that I might have to make a lot of attempts at telling a story powerfully before I find that way that works. Those twenty passes weren’t failures, they were the journey leading up to the one fish. That fish was delicious and the journey to land it made for a great story. When you’re working on your third or fourth or twentieth draft, you’re just fishing for the best story. Make sure it’s a doozy.

Making a choice about where to start is important.

Buzzard’s Bay opens out into the Atlantic Ocean. There were a LOT of places we could’ve started fishing. We could’ve spent all day searching for the best place or another place, but we started where we started because they had luck there before. They went to the same place and started there and then stopped there. We didn’t waste a lot of time trying lots of different places to see which place might work better. I think this is an important lesson for writers because too often, I decide that the way I’m doing things isn’t working. I think, “Maybe I need new software to write. What’s the latest? What if I went to a coffee shop instead of the library? I started this novel but now I’m going to switch to a short story. What if this short story idea is stupid and I never finish it?” 

If I don’t plan where I’m going to start my writing day, I find that it’s half over before I get going because I spend so much time getting ready to write instead of doing the actual writing. If you find yourself doing the same thing, pick a place to start and stick to it. You’ll get a lot more done and can always a make a change after you’ve gotten your words in for the day.

You probably won’t be good at something the first time you do it.

I’ve done a lot of river fishing, but never fished for big fish like stripers. I thought I knew what I was doing, but the guys coached me about how everything worked for fishing in the bay. I wasn’t very good at fishing for stripers. I held the rod wrong, stopped reeling when I shouldn’t have, moved the rod too much and I’m sure a lot of other things. The important thing was that I didn’t let that get in the way of catching a fish. If you’re a new writer, or coming back to it after a long time of not doing, you’re probably not going to be very good at it. (There are always exceptions to this, but for most of us mortals, that’s the way it is.) That’s okay. The first time you do something, you’re not expected to be good at it. You might not be good at it the 100th time you do it.

If you believe what Malcolm Gladwell has to say about getting good at something, you have to put in 10,000 hours to become proficient at anything. If I had thrown the rod and reel in the water after being terrible, my brother-in-law would’ve thrown me overboard to get it first of all, but I also never would’ve caught that fish. Every time I start a new project I try to remind myself that this is something new I’m doing. I’m racking up hours until I hit my 10,000. If I give up out of frustration of not being good at it right away, I’ll never accomplish what I set out to do.

What you think you’re going to get is not always what you get.

We thought we had a monster fish, but it was just average. In our minds, this was the big one. It was hard to reel in and the rod was bending and bowing as I brought the fish closer to the boat. It was still a keeper, but it wasn’t the monster we were hoping for. I’m an outliner. I like to work out beats before I start writing. I put together story boards for small videos I make with my kids on YouTube. A lot of the time I think the story is going to go one way and by the end of working on the story and re-writing draft after draft, the story has completely changed. When I resist this process, I’m get much more frustrated and find myself giving up on the writing I’m working on. When I realize that my writing is a journey, like our impromptu fishing trip, I’ve had much more success and enjoy the process so much more.


Paul and Striped Bass

Enjoy your writing journey by actually taking it. Decide where to start and stick to it. Take as many passes as you need to get the story you are looking for. Don’t worry if you’re not good at writing at first, we all take time to get warmed up and get better. Don’t be discouraged if the story has turned out a lot differently than you thought it would, you’ll surprise yourself and us.

Stories are the Wildest Things.

E.L. Doctorow – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing quote and photo by Paul Jenny

Writing quote and photo by Paul Jenny

For today’s writing quote I chose another actor/writer and fellow New Yorker, E.L. Doctorow. According to Wikipedia, Doctorow acted in college productions as an undergraduate at Kenyon College in Ohio. He did one year of graduate work at Columbia in English Drama before being drafted into the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army.

Doctorow married fellow Columbia drama school student Helen Esther Setzer while in Germany. He wrote his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, as a response to his job as a screenplay reader. He had read so many Westerns while working on that job that he decided to write a parody of them, but by the time he finished the novel it had become a serious contribution to the genre.

His most recent novel, Andrew’s Brain,published in 2014 is about a “freakishly depressive cognitive scientist klutz”. You can read a review of that work by Terrence Rafferty HERE. 

You can also buy the novel on

Watch Doctorow talk about Andrew’s Brain on YouTube.


According to Cory Doctorow, most recently the author of the YA novel Homeland, is often asked if he’s related to E.L. I found a quote on where he’s attributed as saying, “Writers always ask if I’m related to award-winning novelist E.L. Doctorow. The answer is ‘probably.’ Family legend has it that my paternal grandfather’s uncle is E.L.’s grandfather. My folks met E.L. in 1998 and tried this theory out on him, and he said that it sounded about right, but didn’t seem very excited by it. ”


DON’T FORGET, I’m still looking for short-stories and essays about writing to read on the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. Please send me your short-stories and essays to

Madeleine L’Engle – Writing Quote Wednesday


Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Flickr photo by Scott Cresswell

Madeleine L’Engle was one of those authors that made me want to be a writer as a kid. Reading A Wrinkle in TIme opened up a whole new world to me and I devoured it eagerly one summer when daily rain kept us from playing outside.

When I see a copy now in a bookstore I get the warm fuzzies recalling the rainy summer days I spent reading this book. She and her husband, Hugh Franklin, were actors like me and I’ve always aspired to live as rich and full a life in creative work as they did.

I chose this quote this week because it reminded me of what Samuel Butler talks about in his essay How to Make the Best of Life. In the first episode of the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast, you can hear this essay about how our lives as writers might be more engaging and “real” when we live on in our writing. It’s a fascinating read from the Victorian era by an iconoclastic satirist. I hope you’ll click through and take a listen.

I’m also seeking submissions of short stories in any genre and short essays about writing for the next episode. I talk about all the details on the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. Please submit your stories and essays by email to and put Podcast Story and your story’s title in the subject heading.

I’ve received some great stories already and I’m looking forward to reading all of them.

Have a great writing week!


Listen to Madeleine L’Engle talk about writing, A Wrinkle in Time and her process on

You can visit Scot Cresswell’s Flickr photo here. (CC license)