The Siren Song of November

National Novel Writing MonthIt’s been a while since I’ve been so excited about November. Yes, I know it’s only the middle of October, but today is the day that National Novel Writing Month opened it’s site for this year’s novels.

I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2001, just  two months after 9/11. I’d heard about the challenge the previous year at a holiday party, just days into December. I knew I would be writing with them when November came around again.

That year–their third annual–there were only about 500 participants. In October I got onto the forums to connect with other writers in my area. A couple of us met once a week in a bookstore coffee shop to crank out words and commiserate. The experience was liberating and empowering. I finished my novel, Wake, on November 30th at 50,057 words.

In 2002, I became the local Municipal Liaison for the Silicon Valley chapter, organizing write-ins, throwing kick-off, half-way, and TGIO parties. I got to know the founder, Chris Baty. I finished my second novel, Anatomy.

In 2003, I took over the ML program, organizing more than 300 Municipal Liaisons across the globe, providing press release templates, wrangling giveaway mailings, and providing advice on how to handle difficult participants and inspire those who needed it. I also founded a sister program, National Novel Editing Month, to help writers take their novels from draft to done. And I still managed to finish my book, Glass Cases.

In 2004, I moved to San Francisco, leaving my Silicon Valley group in the hands of others, and though I was still involved, coordinating cross-region writing events and challenges, life got in the way. Between an expanded work schedule and buying a house, I didn’t finish my novel. I also handed off the Editor-in-Chief position for National Novel Editing Month to someone else.

I was away from NaNoWriMo for five years, returning in 2010 for another win with my novel, The Herbal Companion. I had planned to do the same in 2011, but a cross-country move from San Francisco to Santa Fe sapped my concentration, and another novel met the end of November incomplete. In 2013, I decided to change my approach, writing 350 words 3 times a week, but again fell short with just over 21,000 words and no end in sight.

It’s easy to say this year will be different, but what I’m really hoping for is for it to be the same. The same as those first three years when the writing came easy, words flowing from my pen like someone else was writing them. The same as when I had a community of writers, scratching or clicking away beside me as we sat on thick-cushioned couches at the back of our favorite coffee shop until closing, writing each other into our stories. Sharing giant oatmeal cookies, drinking warm coffees or vanilla steamers.

Moving to a new town can, at first, take the wind out of your sails. But it only takes a few people to get you sailing again. Now, armed with my small cadre of writers, I am aching for the first cold days of November after the last haunted night of October during which, at 12:00 midnight I will scratch out the first, well-rehearsed lines of my 2014 November novel, the one that has been, is, building pressure within me longing for its release.


Yesterday I returned from 12 days in California visiting family and friends. It was my first time back there since I moved to New Mexico in March. It’s amazing how just a few short months can completely change your view of the world.

First there was the water, flying into Oakland airport over the bay, lunching in Pacifica, spending an afternoon in Santa Cruz at a house that sat right on the beach… I had forgotten how the water just hangs in the air, suspended like mist even on the clearest day. I had forgotten the soft hands and the wild curls that I used to have before moving here. But mostly I had forgotten the riotousness of the gardens, the colors, the rich, wild scent of it, the abundance. I, who lived my whole life in that place, had begun to believe it was all a dream.

But there I was awake in my mother’s back yard, the one I learned to garden in, surrounded by an apple tree heavy with young fruit, rhubarb plants with leaves as broad as manhole covers, tomato plants peppered with yellow shooting-star flowers and the round, green beginnings of a rich bounty to come. It was glorious to bask in the colors, the textures of wide leaves, to stand barefoot in damp grass.

But the truth is, I missed these wide skies, the hummingbirds and rabbits outside my window, and the sheer force of will and determination that permeates desert gardens and the people who grow them.

Book Review: Golden Gate Gardening

Golden Gate Gardening: Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coastal California give an amazingly clear and comprehensive overview of the Bay Area’s many microclimates, including which types of fruits and vegetables thrive best in each one and what the best planting times are for each.

From there the author goes on to provide ample, accessible information on garden planning, seed/plant selection and acquisition, planting, watering, pest management and so much more. The real jewels in the crown of this book, however are the nearly 200 pages of detailed plant descriptions including recommendations about which grow best in which microclimate.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and want to grow fruits and vegetables, this book is a must-read. Especially if you, like me, have ever wanted to grow tomatoes in a garden 10 blocks from a foggy San Francisco beach. Try the variety Stupice. It grew and produced like a dream.

Hidden Villa (Los Altos, CA)

Hidden Villa is a nonprofit educational organization that uses its organic farm, wilderness, and community to teach and provide opportunities to learn about the environment and social justice. Hidden Villa stretches over 1600 acres of open space in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 40 miles south of San Francisco. Our mission is to inspire a just and sustainable future through our programs, land and legacy.”

Hidden Villa is also a working farm, complete with a Community Sponsored Agriculture program. A portion of all harvest go to shareholders, while another is donated to local low-income families.

As part of their educational programs, they offer a large assortment of family-oriented classes and events (including How Does Your Garden Grow?, Cheese Please! and my personal favorite, Manure to Meadow to MMMMmmm!) all at very reasonable prices.

Like most non-profits, Hidden Villa is run by a very limited full-time staff on an even more limited budget (especially now), so they rely very heavily on their hundreds of volunteers to keep things running.

I spent a day volunteering as a horticulture worker, starting shrub cuttings and labeling fruit tree scions while others in the group hacked back overgrown blackberries or mulched garden beds. After, we got a tour of the grounds. For me, at least, the rewards of helping to start new plants alone would have been enough, but knowing it was for a good cause made it even better.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, consider volunteering.