NANOWRIMO, or National Novel Writing Month is a competition in which you are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel all in the month of November. It’s a great contest. You are on the honor system to record your daily word count, and at the end to upload your document for confirmation. Should you upload a 50,000 word document you WIN! Meaning you have the satisfaction of working your butt off for 30 straight days. It truly is on the honor system because you could type, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” repeatedly until you reach your goal, and no one would know, or care.

I’ve entered this competition four times. The first time was a bunch of years ago, before I wrote all that well, when I’d not yet published anything. Not surprisingly, the book was terrible, unpublishable. But I finished.

75X2Years later, I wrote Restitution. A year later I went back, edited it, and it was published by Shadowridge Press. It’s actually a great and tight little thriller. Sometimes, NANOWRIMO works really well.

The summary is: Destiny intervenes for Tucker Millis, a delusional writer who needs a purpose in life and a plot for his new novel. When he discovers his new phone number once belonged to a man on the verge of turning himself in for a twenty-five year old murder, it’s a dream come true. Tucker uses the messages and calls intended for the murderer to manipulate lives and to craft his story. But he’s propelled back to reality when he can no longer escape the full horror and dire consequences of the world he’s created.

All in all, I’m very proud of this book.

get-attachment.aspxThe next year, I started another novel called, My Name is Marnie. I didn’t know where to begin so I made the brainstorming sheet (picture). The problem with NANO is that there’s no time to outline or edit. You write in a fury and don’t worry about plot holes or inconsistencies. About 10,000 words into it, I met my boyfriend and abandoned the project because I spent all my free time chatting on the phone with him. So the next year, I picked it back up. Sure, I had the whole year to go back and work on it, to outline to plan. But I didn’t.

I jumped in and finished the book at about 45,000 words. I didn’t reach the 50,000 but the book was done so I stopped. Here’s the thing. Because I rushed and had no outline, and because this is a mystery, I’ve spent a year rewriting and changing, and fixing this book. And just when I think it’s okay, I see something I missed, or rather someone in my critique group does.

I am in the process of printing it out one last time to reread it start to finish. I’ve run it through Grammarly, my editing software. My group has red penned it ad nauseum. My beta readers are looking at it. My publisher has read half and will I’m sure finish once I really, really complete it.

I write all this because I’ve discovered outlines are really important, especially in mysteries or thrillers. Some people can write without them, but it’s become clear that I can’t.

proteus_cover_KINDLE_03-28-13When F. Paul Wilson and I wrote The Proteus Cure we did not try to rush to write it in a month, and we had an outline. Before the outline we had a timeline, then a spreadsheet/Word table sort of thing. Then an outline that we rehashed long before we got to the fun part of writing the actual book.

The fun part is writing. NANOWRIMO is a blast but I think going forward, I won’t jump to the fun part without first writing the outline. Maybe next year, I’ll have OCTOUTWRIMO-October Outline Writing Month.

Stop by HERE to check out all the books and stories I’ve got for sale.


Winner of the 7th Grade Writing Contest

Last month I visited a middle school in New Hampshire and taught five classes of seventh graders all about Brainstorming. As I posted about in an earlier blog, for each classroom I started with a central idea, then branched off to show characters  and their actions to create a story. Each group got a different story idea. Afterwards, their teacher photographed the brainstorming charts on the white board and each class was charged with writing a full story based on our extensive brainstorming and outlining.

The winning story from all those entries goes to Kaity Moore. For a seventh grader she’s a heck of a writer. I was pleasantly surprised when I read her story. Great job Kaity! I hope she pursues writing as she’ll be a great addition to the craft.

Dylan’s Dream

By Kaity Moore

Entry one: So I have a journal. I don’t care. My therapist advised me to use it.

Yeah, I’m Dylan and I have emotional probs. So, I’m really shy. I spit a lot and I have long black hair with razor sharp bangs that slide just over my left eye. I’m a pyromaniac, and now that we’re talking ‘bout fires, I’m burned on my face. Just, don’t ask. Okay, I’m done writing in this journal o’ mine. I wanna tell you the story of THE DAY I WON THE LOTTERY.

It was a sunny day, that April 27th and my dad and I were at the gas station. Standing outside the station was a man dressed well, in a charcoal gray suit, with a black tie and loafers. He was holding a huge cardboard sign with the words, “1, 5, and 10 bucks each! No better deal!” I asked him what his sign was about, and he asked if I wanted to buy a lottery ticket.

“Purchases over five dollars are going to go towards a foundation of your choice,” he said to us. I looked at my dad and he nodded to the man.

“We want the dollar one, sorry.” My dad pointed at the ticket with aliens on it. “Here’s a coin, Dylan. You can scratch the numbers off.”

The man gave me the ticket and smiled. I scratched off the numbers and handed it to my dad. “Dylan, you just scratched off the winning numbers!” My dad yelled happily.

“How much did we win?” I asked the man, as my dad gave him back the lottery ticket.

“How about, you just won the lottery!” The man smiled. “The winning prize is 89.2 billion. It’s been all over the news. Haven’t you watched it?”

“No, not lately but more importantly, we just won how much?” My dad asked gaily. The man handed over a white envelope, and my dad checked to make sure its contents were valid and then he shook the man’s hand. “89.2 billion dollars! Here’s your check.”

“Thank you.” My dad said. The businessman nodded and my dad and I walked back to our car.

When we pulled into the driveway, my mother ran out of the house, her ankle-length skirt flowing in the wind when she yelled to my dad, “Oh my gosh, Mark is it true? You won us the lottery?”

“Nope, I didn’t honey. Dylan did.”

My dad rustled my shiny black hair. “Now we can afford surgery to make your face smooth again.”

“Dylan, that’s so great of you! Now we can travel more.” My mom and dad winked at each other. “But Dylan, since you hate flying, I guess we’ll leave you at Cameron’s house.”

I squinted. Cameron was my best friend and all, but my parents were going to go away on a trip and just leave me here? That’s cool, not.

“I have a great way to celebrate, let’s go to the hospital right now and get your surgery done!” My mom smiled. “C’mon, hop in the car!”

While sitting in the back seat of the car, I think of all the cool things I’ll be able to do when my parents leave on their trip. I take out my journal and start writing.

Entry two: Skydiving, scuba diving, cliff diving, so much diving! I can do it all when they’re gone. Ha-ha, yes!

When we finally get to the hospital, I’m sent to the ER and the doctors start right away, demanding me to quickly drink the elixir, so I fall asleep faster.

Two hours later, I’m brought out to my parents who are waiting in the hallway. They guide me to a wall mirror, my dad blindfolding me with his hands. “1, 2, 3, open!” my dad says, as my eyes blur from being shut. Then, when they’re finally clear, I glance at the mirror and gawk in surprise, rubbing my hand down my now visible cheek bones, making sure what I see is the real thing. “Oh man dude, I’m so beautiful now. Like, whoa!” I laugh, still feeling around my face.

A couple days later, my mom and dad kiss me goodbye as they bring in my last of three bags I’ve brought to Cam’s house. “Bye sweetie, we’ll pick you up sometime next week. Call us every night.” My mom kissed my head and backed from the door.

“Mom, I’m thirteen, and you’re treating me like I’m five.” I say as Cam stands next to me, snickering.

“Just making sure you’re safe, we don’t want to leave you here, but-”

“Dad, I’m thiiirrrrr-teeeeeennn. I’m fine.”

“Do you have your pills?” He tilts his head, gaze fixed on mine.

“Yeah dad, now bye, love you too and all that mushy gushy lovey-dovey stuff that you old people want to hear now-a-days.” Cameron and I laughed.

A week after my parents have been gone, Cam and I call our best friend Ayla, sometimes called A, asking her to come over, that we had a surprise for her, not knowing that her surprise is my face. She knocks on the door and yells, “Hello, Cameron, do you have my present?”

“It’s not a present, Ayla, it’s a surprise.” I say back to her, unsure of why we’re talking behind doors.

“Whatever, open the door and hand it over.” She says as I open it slowly, then jumping out from the side and scaring her.

“Omigod.” She gasps bringing her hands to her mouth. “Your – your face, it’s,” she pauses. “Smooth!”

I laugh and gaze at her wonder-filled, envy green eyes. “Yeah,” I say with just a hint of sarcasm. “My parents won the lottery, they got me surgery as soon as possible and I’m staying here for a couple days ’cause they went on a trip. They’ll be back to get me tomorrow, all ready for school on Monday.”

Ayla looks at Cameron. “Dude, you seriously have got to get in the sun once in a while, you’re whiter than a ghost.” She laughs, making a joke at his Albinism. Cameron never really cared when people made jokes anymore; he’d gotten used to it. He laughed with her as they made more and more comments about the disease.

The next day, my parents brought me home, and the day after that, I got up, showered, smoothed my face, and headed off to school for the first time since surgery. I walked through the halls confident with Cam and Ayla by my side as everyone gaped and gossiped about the change in my looks. I overheard a lot of girls say I’m gorgeous and that they never could’ve expected a dork like me to be this hot.

Then I got tapped on the back. I turned around and a bunch of popular kids were standing behind me. “Dylan, right?” The girl said, pushing her curly blonde hair behind her shoulders.

“Uh, yeah?” I squinted at her and the group of boys surrounding her.

“Listen,” one of them said, “you’re like, totally cool now. Come with us.”

“But, I’m with my friends.” I looked around nervously, pointing backwards at Ayla and Cameron.

“No, uh, do what you want, Dylan. It’s fine, really.” Ayla stuttered, obviously intimidated by the popular crowd standing near her. I never really understood why she wasn’t one of them. She’s a total mean girl, she has the most luscious, wavy blonde hair I’ve ever seen, envy green eyes, and a perfect structure. Plus, her family was extremely rich, so she had all designer clothing and her own alpaca. Her alpaca had anger issues though, so that was always weird when I went over.

“Excuse me, Ayla? You don’t get to make the decisions anymore. You dropped out of the popular crowd years ago, remember?”

Ayla rolled her big green eyes. “Whatever.”

“Well, I’m going to …” I paused, letting Cam and A finish the sentence as I pointed backwards and walked away with the popular kids, Randy, Ray Ray, Kurt, and Stevie. They were all so gorgeous with their silky hair and designer uniforms worn in a public school. I never really ever thought about hanging out with Stevie, the prettiest girl in school, besides Ayla, but here I was, walking down the halls side by side, laughing at Randy’s jokes with her. She even asked me to hang out after school, but I said no, considering all the homework I had to get done. I could tell she was upset, but she just smiled and said, “Okay, maybe another time,” and walked off without me.

Soon after becoming a popular kid, I was insisted on wearing designer uniforms and getting my left ear pierced. I talked to my dad about it and he said he’d take me to get a couple uniforms next weekend. My cousin Ryan pierced my ear for me. He did it professionally, but it hurt more than I’d expected.

After about a month of being a preppy, stuck-up kid of the popular crowd, I started forgetting about Ayla and Cameron, my two best friends. Ray Ray and I always lit fires together after school, and I’d sit on the ground with Stevie roasting marshmallows and making S’Mores. Kurt, Randy, and I didn’t have much in common, but we had a couple sleepovers at my house, which was now a full mansion, with a swimming pool, jacuzzi, and my own man cave, thanks to my winning scratch ticket.

For five months, I was popular, until that day on September 4th when everything changed. The popular crowd had a campfire one night without me, while I was away in New Mexico for the weekend, and when I came back, the police and my school principal had asked me all kinds of questions about a small campfire which spread into a wildfire, killing three people and burning two kids’ faces.

Those two kids were Ayla and Cam. I was watching the news one night when Cam and A came on, interviewed.

“I jumped into the fire, thinking my pyromaniac “friend” was the one who started all this. I started to think about why I cared, ’cause he abandoned me and my friend Cam for the,” Ayla gulped, “popular crowd.”

Next, they zoomed in on Cameron, who spoke words I never thought I’d hear from his mouth.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the cause of this fire was Dylan Drescher. He’s a maniac. Pyromaniac, that is. We were friends, but he came to be a snob and joined some other kids, but he doesn’t care about me and A now. I really hope you’re watching this Dylan, even if you didn’t start the fire. What was once your face is now mine and Ayla’s because we’re good enough people to forgive your mistake and even jump into a fire, willing to save you, but I guess you just don’t care, dude.”

I yelled at the T.V. “I wasn’t even there! I was in New Mexico, not Pennsylvania!”

I called up Stevie and started totally going off on her, yelling, saying that she was the cause of all this, asking her why she framed me, why she did any of this, but she didn’t answer. “I’m done with you people.” I screamed into the phone.

I ran to Cameron’s house, knowing Ayla would be there right about now and apologizing for everything, explaining that I wasn’t even here in Pennsylvania, I was on vacation in New Mexico. Even promising I would pay for their facial reconstruction surgery, everything.

We became friends again, but I couldn’t live like this. I pulled a lighter out of my pocket, lit up the grass in Cameron’s back yard as Ayla and Cam screamed, “No! No, Dylan don’t do this!” but I couldn’t live like this, knowing I hurt my best friends. So I lied down in grass and burned. I was just about two feet away from walking into the light when I woke up in bed and gasped. “It was all a dream?”

-The End

Tracy L. Carbone’s novel The Soul Collector is available on Amazon. Please check her main Amazon page as well to view all her fiction work.

My First Teaching Experience

On Friday I visited a local middle school in New Hampshire, gearing up to teach Brainstorming to five 7th grade classes in five hours. Until a few days before I wasn’t sure what I’d cover, how I’d entertain the 12 and 13 year olds for that long.

Last summer I took my dog and puppy to a park to play, and ran into a woman who was there with her husband and new baby. We got to talking and she said “I teach 7th grade English.” I was all over that and told her I’d love to come talk to her students in the fall. It took us this long to coordinate the visit partially because my book wasn’t coming out until November and also because I was a little paralyzed by the idea of teaching anything to a whole bunch of kids.

I’m a mother, so I’ve done my share of one-on-one teaching. And I’ve spoken on several panels at writing conferences and at work events. I’m fine with public speaking. But knowing what to say in this situation? Highly intimidating.

A couple of days before, I had written up a Brainstorming handout, shown in the last blog, so I felt slightly more confident. But still…

I walked into the classroom a little past seven A.M. on Friday and instantly felt just fine. The kids were all excited to meet “the author.” They were all so polite and nice. We said the Pledge of Allegiance, which was a routine I’d forgotten was still practiced. It was kind of neat, saying it again with them.

The first class went off without a hitch, and even the students I expected to feign disinterest, had their hands up to volunteer ideas as we co-wrote the story up on the board on a brainstorming map. At the end of the class, the teacher took a photo of the white board. Next week, she’ll put the map up on an overhead and the students will each write their version of the story we started.

After each class was over the teacher photographed all of us together, which was SO FUN. I had no idea how enjoyable the day would be. In the midst of photographing the second class, there was a LOCKDOWN. I was confused at first, because we didn’t have that kind of drill when I was young. We all walked, in orderly fashion, back to the room. We sat on the floor in the corner, silently, for about fifteen minutes. It may have been longer or shorter, not sure. The shades were drawn and at one point someone in the hallway tried to turn the doorknob to confirm it was closed. The experience was a little unnerving but I was truly impressed by how quiet and well-behaved the students were. No one made a peep.

After that, we continued on with the next three classes. For each one, I chose a different main idea, supplied by the children. It was impressive seeing how quickly we could go from a blank white board to one housing a fully fleshed out story and characters. I was as thrilled as they were even if I acted all matter of fact about it. The pupils were amazingly creative. One of them said “This is really fun.” I said “Isn’t it? I do it all the time.”

I sold and signed some books, which was great, but honestly, the best part of the day was knowing I inspired these middle schoolers and showed them how much fun creativity can be.  I’m hoping in 5-6 years to see some of these young adults send in requests to join the New England Horror Writers.

After this experience, I am enthusiastic about visiting other schools in the area. If you are a teacher or parent in New England and would like me to come to your school, please contact me. I’m happy to come in to meet you and outline my lesson plan.

My middle grade mystery novel, The Soul Collector as well as several other short stories in print, and on Kindle, are available on Amazon.


Brainstorming and Creativity for Kids

By Tracy L. Carbone

Before you can sit down and write a story or essay, you need to have an idea in place. But what if you don’t?

What if your teacher tells you to write a story to pass in the next day and you don’t have a clue who the main character is, or what happens to him, or her?

That’s where BRAINSTORMING comes in. defines Brainstorming as:

a sudden impulse, idea, etc. or a fit of mental confusion or excitement.

That about sums it up. When I’m stuck for ideas, I have a few tricks I use to create a story.

The first one is MY CREATIVE NOTEBOOK I read a book called Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. In it he said to carry around a notebook and write down everything you see. That sounds silly I know, but at the end of each day, you should try to write down any images you saw that struck you. For example: old man in bright white sneakers, twin girls with red hair, dog with three legs, fat man in blue sweatshirt walking dog with blue sweater, Albino woman dragging crying toddler by his wrist.

Those aren’t real examples. I just made those up but those are the kinds of things I write in my notebook. When I’m stuck for story ideas, sometimes I open that notebook and within a few minutes, I’ve discovered some wonderful writing prompts.

THE WRITER’S TOOLBOX The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan is a kit filled with writing prompts. This box is filled with Popsicle sticks containing First Sentences, Non Sequiturs (transitions) and The Last Straw. The Last Straw sticks “create a dramatic arc.” They create conflict so your story doesn’t just drag on.

The kit also contains a huge stack of Sixth Sense Cards, which each contain images. Some examples are: someone’s red leather journal, a crooked umbrella, a child with wings, a chewed on pencil. Finally, there are four wheels in the box. One for Protagonist, Goals, Action, Obstacles.

CREATIVE BLOCK by Lou Harry. This is a small book, shaped like a block. It’s filled with pictures and phrases to spark your imagination. once you get a lot of great ideas floating around in your head, what’s next?

You know how sometimes you wake up from a dream and you don’t remember exactly what happened, only that there were lot of strange images? Often that’s how a story starts. You have a lot of ideas in your mind but no plan. You can’t be quite sure what’s going to happen but you know you’ve got plenty to work with. You need to organize all those thoughts to make a plan.

And this is when I make my BRAINSTORMING MAP. I have attached a copy here. Start with a central idea or question in the middle, in a box. For example, “Four teens find a suitcase filled with money.” From there put boxes  around it for all the characters. Branching off from each character, write ideas, traits, hopes, and connections to the other characters. Remember this is all stuff you’re making up so use your imagination. Once you start writing, you’ll be surprised how quickly the page fills with ideas.

Once you have a map of ideas in front of you, then it’s a lot easier to write a story. It will almost write itself.

I hope you have a great time writing, and that these brainstorming techniques will spark your creativity! You can find links to all the books I mentioned on my website at

My book, The Soul Collector as well as several other short stories in print, and on Kindle, are available on Amazon.