NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 17… and my 100th post

Day 17

NaNoWriMo will soon be at an end. But before discussing the day’s writing, it’s worth mentioning that this is my 100th post!

I will admit that I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMo being over, but not because I have disliked the process. Posting here (even if to a largely theoretical audience!) has kept me going. I’m happy to have had a reason to keep writing. It’s also nice to look back at the stuff I’ve written so far and see some tangible ways it can be improved up.

I am currently at 28,550 words. Here’s an excerpt. It makes a bit more sense if you know that in a previous chapter, Ethan fired a flare gun into one of the pirates’ faces.

(Stephan Paquet,

Mr. Falco guided Calypso past the seawall with the Dagger in tow, easing her to a stop in the middle of the harbour. A small launch from the harbourmaster’s office, a dinghy with a tall triangular sail, had already set out to meet them. When it drew near, the boys recognized the harbourmaster with the long, droopy eyebrows. He called up to the Calypso.

“Who are you, and what is your business here?” he asked.

Jacques was on the lower deck with Mr. Falco. “I am Jacques Cousteau, explorer, oceanographer, and film maker. This is my captain, Mr. Albert Falco. We wish to deliver these boys safely to shore, along with their boat, which is in desperate need of repairs.”

The harbourmaster looked the boys up and down for a few seconds. He also cast a long glance back at the Dagger before speaking again.

“I remember you two,” he said. He frowned. “Looks like you banged up your boat pretty bad. What are you doing going out on the sea if you don’t know how to keep your boat from running afoul of the rocks?”

Ethan felt mad at the old man’s suggestion that it was their fault for crashing the boat. “Don’t blame us! We were being chased by men who wanted to steal our boat and sell us to the mines at Karnet’s Horn.”

The harbourmaster looked at Ethan with surprise. “Is that a fact? Can you identify the men, boy? We don’t abide pirates at Fikskoljan, and if you can remember the faces of the men what came after you, there’s a chance we can bring them to justice.”

Pete cleared his throat. “You might say that justice has already been served. The men who attacked us are all dead.”

“Surely you jest,” said the harbourmaster. “Why, you’re just boys.”

“Lucky boys,” said Pete.

“Yeah. Boys who know how to fire a flare gun,” said Ethan.

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 16

Day 16

The weather’s been changing here, and the air is becoming dryer and cooler. Unfortunately, I inherited from my mother a head like a barometer, and when the weather changes drastically, it often results in a unique type of pressure headache. Today, I’ve had a migraine whispering at the back of my skull since breakfast.  I’m afraid it took a toll on my writing.  I called it a day with just 200 words written.  However, I did manage to chart out the next portions of the story a bit more. Hopefully, with a day to rest and plan, I’ll get a lot done tomorrow.

My word count sits at 27,300, which is about 630 words ahead of “par” for Day 16. So far, I’ve been posting excerpts, but today’s can hardly be called an excerpt. It’s practically all I wrote!


For the second time that day, the Dagger was underwater. The boys looked down at the outline of the hull in the dark water. Pete let out a long sigh.

“Well, this sucks. What are we going to do now?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Ethan. “We go talk to the Governor.”

Pete smiled. “Nice to hear you be the one to suggest it for a change. So, do we just leave the boat here?”

“You have a better plan?”

“No. Alright, let’s go.”

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 15

Day 15

Saturdays are a mixed blessing. They provide way more opportunity to write than a weekday, but because everyone else is also free, there’s much more potential for being sidetracked. Some diversions are welcome, of course, like the opportunity to play Settlers of Catan (Cities and Knights expansion) with my wife and boys. (I won!)

I ended today at 27,100 words. Here’s an excerpt:

Calypso’s Denise (from

The young bearded man’s face appeared at the hatch above. “All set to go,” he said.

“Take her down,” said Jacques.

He closed the hatch and sealed it by twisting a wheel. The submersible lurched, and then it was lifted up off the deck by the crane. When it hit the water, the windows went dark, and Jacques switched on the headlights and took the controls. A greenish glow shone through the windows and they began moving through the water. The boys pressed their faces against the narrow circles of glass, but saw nothing but light.

Then, as the submersible slowed, a dull white shape could be seen in the gloomy water. They followed the curving outline of the hull until they reached the transom, with the word Dagger written on it. The boat was hung up on a shelf of rock that jutted out into the channel. Her sails fluttered lazily in the current like enormous pieces of kelp. Here and there, a silver fish darted to escape the unfamiliar glow of their headlights.

Jacques eased the craft towards the bow, where a large gash could be seen in hull. He whistled through his teeth.

“That’s a nasty hole,” he said.

“Can you fix it?”

“Perhaps. But it will take time. This current makes things tricky.” He moved the controls, and the submersible backed away from the hull, leaving it once more in darkness. “I’m afraid it will have to wait until tomorrow. There are only a few more hours of daylight, and we cannot risk working in the dark.”

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 14

Day 14

Today I blitzed the NaNo quarterback and flattened him to the turf, figuratively speaking. I got off 3200 words. Very satisfying.

Jacques Cousteau

Jacques-Yves Cousteau – Underwater Explorer, Pipe Smoker, and Temporary Guest in the Islands Beyond (

I wrote most of my stuff in a notebook before copying it into my computer document. It was an interesting exercise, and one that I ought to do more often, as I find that it gets me thinking in different directions than when I am working on the computer. I am much less inclined to micro-edit my writing when I can’t simply hammer on the backspace key. The annoying part is when it comes time to copy the text from the notebook into a computer document, mostly on account of the fact that I don’t have a convenient way to position the notebook. I am thinking of building a little stand that I can place between me and the laptop.  I’ll post a picture if I ever build it.

So, today the boys wrecked their sailboat, and it now lies flooded at the bottom of Bromyv Strait. Lucky for them, Jacques Cousteau steams into the channel with the RV Calypso a few minutes after the wreck. Although Monsieur Cousteau never went missing (that we know of), I have taken the liberty of snatching him from our world for a while. He’s just too useful (and too snazzy with that pipe and red toque) to stay put.

Today ended at 25,600 words. Here’s an excerpt:

“Ethan, we’re sinking!”

“I know! We need to get to shore.”

He tried to steer the Dagger towards the rocks once more, but with her hull filling with water, she was sluggish and unresponsive. Waves were washing over the deck, but the nearest rocks were still a few yards off.

“Get up to the prow,” said Ethan.

Pete ran, but Ethan lingered a few moments to undo the halyards that held up the mainsail and the other sails. The booms fell to the deck with a thump and were buried beneath a heap of sailcloth.

Water was soaking into Ethan’s shoes as he ran to join Pete at the bow. The stern was mostly underwater now, and the rest of the boat would follow quickly. They were coming up on a broad, flat rock. Everything beyond it was sharp and steep, and would be impossible to jump onto without breaking their bones.

“Pete, follow me. Aim for that rock!”

Ethan ran a few steps and jumped, knowing that his life depended on it. He landed squarely on the rock, falling hard onto his elbows and knees. He tried to ignore the pain, and rolled out of the way. A second later, his brother landed beside him, groaning with pain.

“Ugh. My elbows!”

“Never mind that,” said Ethan. He pointed at the water. “Look!”

Just the bowsprit and mast of the sailboat were out of the water now. The current appeared to be tipping it onto its side, until just the tip of the mast could be seen, poking up like the branch of a submerged tree.

The boys were silent for a long time before Pete finally spoke.

“What are we going to do now?”

Ethan didn’t answer. He gazed across the channel, first at the swiftly moving water and then at the cliffs beyond it. They were sitting in the shadow cast by rocks that loomed up high over their heads, impossible to climb. They were trapped on the flat stone, with no food or shelter from the wind, and no hope of getting their boat back.

They sat back to back, trying to trap a little warmth between them, but they were soon shivering anyway. When his butt had gone completely numb, Ethan stood and began stomping warm blood back into his toes. He scanned the dark rocks and the lip of the cliff high overhead.

“There’s no point sitting here on this rock until it gets dark,” he said finally. “I’m going to climb up there and see what’s up top.”

“But Ethan—”

“Don’t try to stop me.”

“But Ethan—”

Ethan spun on his brother, cold and angry. “You think I want to climb up there?”

“No! Look!”

Pete pointed down the channel in the direction they had been heading. A ship was approaching. It was long and white, with a black stripe just above the waterline. There was a small yellow helicopter parked at the front of the top deck, and the word Calypso was written on it. A blue, white and red flag fluttered above the deck that Ethan felt pretty sure was French.

The boys shouted and waved their arms, trying to get the ship’s attention. When the ship was nearly alongside them, it let out a long blast from its horn that echoed from the walls of the channel. They’d been seen.

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 13

Day 13

I did not post about NaNoWriMo yesterday because I went to bed early. Really early!  In total, I got 10.5 hours of much needed sleep. I suppose there had been one too many late nights of writing.

Thankfully, before Morpheus snatched me away, I got to 22,400 words. Here’s an excerpt:

“Excellent.” Tapper Tom clapped a hand on each of the boys’ shoulders and smiled. “Well, best of luck to you both. I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.”

He shot a glance at his companion, who, for the first time, smiled, revealing a row of yellowed teeth. The boys climbed aboard the sailboat, and the men untied the ropes from the dock. Ethan felt incredibly self-conscious as he and Pete fumbled with the mainsail cover. Thankfully, they managed to get it off without too much difficulty.

Ethan remembered how to hoist the sail, pulling on the two halyards and tying them to the cleat so that they wouldn’t slip, but he wasn’t sure about what do next. He tried to think back to what Henry had done. Not surprisingly, Pete seemed to know what to do, and he stepped in and took over the operation.

The wind was mild and blew gently from the direction of the inlet. They would need to sail into the wind, tacking in a zig-zag pattern to reach the open sea. Pete let the boom come across the deck until it caught the wind, and then tied off the mainsail sheet. The boat began moving away from the dock, leaving the men and the town behind.

After they had passed between the vessels anchored in the harbour and were safely past the seawall, they put up the staysail and the jib. Yesterday, with the wind coming across and from behind them, they had not needed to do any tacking. At first, the boys found it challenging to keep adjusting the sails every time they changed directions, but after a while they got the hang of it.

At the mouth of the inlet, the wind direction changed, blowing up from the southwest. The boys could now run at a broad reach, and only had to trim the sails every so often. They sat side by side in the cockpit in silence, staring at the rocky coastline and the waves that moved across the surface of the water. Pete was quiet for so long that Ethan began to wonder if he was refusing to speak to him.

Ethan finally asked, “You’re not still mad at me for telling you to shut up back at the tavern, are you?”

Pete looked a little surprised. “Oh. No, I was just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Well, I guess it’s kind of dumb, really.” Pete hesitated. “It’s just that guy who was with Tapper Tom. He really creeped me out.”

“Me too.”

“Actually, Tapper Tom creeps me out as well,” said Pete.

“Why? After all, he helped us by paying the slip fee.” In spite of this, Ethan couldn’t explain why it was that he agreed with his brother.

“Yeah, I know.” Pete shrugged. “It just seems like he has some reason for acting so friendly.”

That’s exactly what it seemed like, thought Ethan with a shiver. Tapper Tom seemed like the kind of guy who helped people because he expected to get something out of it in return.

“Well, it doesn’t matter now,” said Ethan. “We’re on our way to find Dad, and we’ll never see him again.”

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 12

Day 12

I’m happy to say that today was easier than yesterday. I succeeding in executing a major plot transition with an acceptable level of awkwardness. (The level of awkwardness that can be ironed out in later drafts.) The brothers are now off on a wild goose chase that will result in disappointing misadventures, only to find themselves right back where they started.

I also elaborated more on a fun aspect of the story. It’s taking place in a world that some people from our world end up in when they go missing (especially after ship or plane wrecks). I was able to work in a bunch of characters that are well-known examples of that from our world. Henry Hudson is an example, although I introduced him to the story several chapters ago.

I ended the day at 20,820 words. Here’s an excerpt:

Pete returned with a bowl of oatmeal, an egg, and a cup of milk. The oatmeal was beginning to cool, and so it was a little lumpy, but it was drizzled with honey, so it still tasted good. The egg Ethan hardly tasted at all, because he ate in just two bites. But the milk tasted strange, not like what he was used to back home.

“It’s sheep’s milk,” said Pete. “The cook told me there’s a pasture further up the valley, and they keep a flock of sheep on it. I’ve never had sheep’s milk before.”

“Me neither.” Ethan took another sip. “I don’t think I like it.”

“I didn’t like it at first either, but after the first few sips, it’s not so bad.”

Ethan shoveled the rest of the oatmeal into his mouth and slugged the milk so that he wouldn’t have to taste it. He slammed the empty mug onto the table and stood.

“Come on, let’s go out to the boat. We need to find Dad. Who knows how long it will take us to reach the mining town that Tapper guy was talking about?”

Pete looked at the floor a moment before speaking. “Yeah, about that. Ethan, I was thinking some more about what Enoch said—”

Ethan didn’t give him a chance to finish. “Oh, come on Pete. You were right beside me the whole time last night. Nobody we talked to had seen Dad, and there was nothing on the noticeboard.”

“But we only talked to two people.”

“Fine. Well, what about the noticeboard? How do you explain that?” He glared at Pete, as if daring him to answer.

“Maybe Dad never came inside the tavern,” said Pete. “Maybe he went up to the Governor’s house right away.”

Ethan didn’t try to hide the irritation he felt for his brother at that moment. Sometimes it seemed as if Pete went out of his way to disagree with him on everything, no matter how big or small. Maybe, thought Ethan, Pete was just jealous of him for being the older brother. Maybe Pete thought that if he made a fuss and put up a big enough stink, he could get his own way. Well, it wasn’t going to work.

“Oh shut up, Pete. Let’s just get back to the boat.” He thought of a line he’d heard in a movie they’d watched with Dad a few weeks earlier. “Come on, we’re burning daylight.”

A glance in Pete’s direction, and Ethan knew he’d hurt Pete’s feelings. His brother looked as if he might start to cry. For a moment, Ethan considered saying that he was sorry, but then he decided against it. Pete would just start yammering about going to see the Governor again, and they’d be right back where they started. He started for the door, and Pete followed.

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 11

Day 11

Today was tough. I was only 266 words behind from yesterday, but somehow it seemed as those extra words were like Sisyphus’ boulder, always before me, always needing to be pushed uphill.

But I kept writing, and got to 18350 words. Here’s an excerpt:

The woman only shrugged. “Sorry lad, I can’t help you there. But if you’re searching for someone, have you checked the noticeboard?”

She drew the boys close and pointed between the tables. Her blouse smelled strongly of sweat and garlic and smoke. She pointed at a wooden panel on the wall at the back of the tavern, just to the left of a dark hallway. A man was seated on a stool beside it, eating alone.

“You see those notes?” said the woman. “Those are left here by folks who come wandering to Fikskoljan. My guess is, if your father came here, he left a note on the noticeboard.”

“But what about the Governor?” asked Pete.

“He lives in a stone fortress up on the hillside,” said the woman. “Way up a long flight of stairs cut right into the stone. No need to go traipsing off in search of him at this hour. It’s too cold for that. Just go see the board. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, then you can always go see the Governor in the morning.”

Someone nearby shouted for the woman to bring more soup and bread. She gave the boys one last shove into the room before turning her back on the boys and disappearing into the rear of the tavern.

“Now what?” said Ethan. He looked at Pete, waiting for him to protest.

But Pete wasn’t sure what to think anymore. He was hungry and tired, and even though it still scared him a little to be inside the tavern with all these strange men, the thought of going back out into the cold wind, just to climb up some mountainside, was immensely unappealing. Enoch had told them to find the Governor, but what if the Governor wouldn’t meet them at this hour? What if he didn’t want to meet with them at all?

“Ok,” said Pete, “we can at least go check out the noticeboard.”

Now that they’d decided to stay, it was much easier to enjoy the smells and the music, and even the sight of the men around the tables was not so frightening. They were a rowdy bunch, with thick wool coats and sweaters, and faces that were leathery and hidden behind tangled facial hair. A few glanced up as Ethan and Pete passed, but they didn’t seem particularly interested by the sight of two boys.

Up close, the noticeboard was much larger than it had appeared from over by the door. It was made of four or five wide, wooden panels nailed to the wall. There had to be at least a hundred scraps of paper attached to it, held fast with nails or short brass tacks. Some of the scraps were new, and the paper was white. Others were old and yellowed, and the paper was brittle and curled, like onion skin.

Ethan and Pete leaned in for a closer look, examining the papers. They were notes, most of them short—just a name or two, and a brief message.

Pete read one aloud. “Look at this one. It says, ‘Fred, Hope you see this. I am waiting for you with the plane at North Brigantine Island. Amelia.’”

“I don’t care about some lady named Amelia,” said Ethan. “I want to find one from Dad.”

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 10

Day 10

November is now 1/3 over, and the pincers are beginning to close. NaNoWriMo stops for no man. It’s been good to challenge myself to keep writing. If I were writing this according to my normal rhythm, I probably would have convinced myself that I needed to give it a break, take few days off of writing. I’d have gone back and slowly written a bit more into my character’s personalities. I’d have supplied more genuine responses to the strange things that are going on. My wife’s feedback that the boys seemed a little too cool (yes, pun intended) with ending up stranded on an icy island, far from home, would have made me throw down my writer’s hammer and dig my editorial hacksaw out of the drawer.

But instead, I’ve just kept writing. The day was busier than most, and so I ended 266 words shy of “par”, at 16400 words. The nice thing is that I know what I want to write tomorrow. Here’s a brief excerpt from the day’s writing:

Beyond the seawall lay the harbour. A few tall ships with two and even three masts were anchored here, as well as some smaller boats. Lights flickered onboard one or two, but most seemed to be abandoned. The crews, it seemed, were all on shore, perhaps enjoying a hot meal in an inn. The boys’ stomachs growled loudly at the thought of food. They hadn’t eaten since lunch, and they were tired of dried fish. A bowl of stew sounded just about perfect.

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 9

Day 9


Today my wife returned after the better part of a week of travelling, and so I happily traded an afternoon of writing for an afternoon of spending time with her. A good trade any day, but all the better after many days apart.

I did wriggle off a few hundred words, however, and ended at precisely 15000 words. Here’s an excerpt:

Henry only shook his head. “This boat has a keel that is loaded with ballast, a heavy weight that will keep the boat from tipping, or ‘heeling’, too far over. Imagine yourself holding something heavy, such as—”

He searched for a comparison, casting his gaze about the deck.

“How about an anvil?” suggested Pete.

Henry smiled. “Very well, an anvil. Imagine yourself holding an anvil. At first, you are letting it hang straight down, like this.” He pantomimed clutching the heavy weight in his hands. “But slowly, you lift your arms until they are pointing straight out from your chest. Tell me, which is the easier way to hold the anvil? Straight down, or straight out?”

“Definitely down,” said Pete.

“Correct. It is the same for keeled sailboats.” A moment later, he added, “Also, as the boat tips, the sails lie closer to the water, and so the wind just spills over them. Trust me, it would be very hard to capsize this boat.”


NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 8

The Islands Beyond MapDay 8

Today I touched up the map I’d drawn for the story, colouring it and adding some place names.  I imagine that I’d probably hand colour a final version, but for now, this is something pretty to look at. I went with a purple-blue-aquamarine palette to suggest something cold and icy.

On the writing front, I ended at 14540 words (just 1290 words today, but still ahead of the overall Day 8 goal). Part of what slowed me down is that I worked through a difficult section that I knew was necessary, but that, at least initially, I wasn’t sure how to write.

My two heroes, Ethan and Pete, have learned that they need to travel from Enoch’s Island to Fikskoljan, where their father is waiting for them. The only way to get there is by sailboat, but they don’t know how to sail!

Happily, there are stuck on the island with Henry Hudson, the 17th c. explorer, who obviously knows how to sail.  Now, the hardcore historians among us (you know who you are) will say that Henry Hudson would have been at least momentarily turned around on my circa-1970s reconstruction of an 1890s gaff-rigged Friendship sloop. But if pressed on the issue, I would simply say that Henry Hudson is a consummate sailor, and would have been able to make heads and/or tails of the boat.

The tricky part of what I wrote today, however, didn’t have to do with the potential for leaving Henry Hudson marooned in an anachronism. Instead, it had to do with knowing just how technical I should get in my writing as he taught the boys to sail. After all, there may be no activity in the world more riddled with jargon than sailing. It is an activity that clearly evolved over centuries, with vocabulary incorporated from many seafaring nations.

Thankfully, I intend to complement the text with drawings and diagrams, and these, I hope, will make the narrative more clear.

Here’s an excerpt.  I’d be interested to know what you think, especially if you know nothing about sailing.

John and Pete lent a hand undoing all the cords and getting the sail loosened and ready to be hoisted. The Hudsons seemed to move around the boat with confidence, but the boys were unsure of themselves. The most confusing aspect of the rigging was all of the ropes and lines and wires involved. But Henry explained that there were two cords, or halyards, that did all the lifting of the mainsail.

“Just remember that halyards hoist,” he said.

The wind was coming from the direction of the sea, and Henry hoisted the mainsail with the halyards. The sail fluttered in the wind like a bed sheet on a wash line.

“Shouldn’t the sails be catching the wind?” said Ethan. “How do you make it stop fluttering?”

“The sail is luffing, or fluttering, because we have not trimmed it yet,” said Henry. “First we hoist the mainsail and let the boat point itself into the wind. We cleat the halyards, like this, so that the gaff pole and sail do not fall back down. Afterwards, we raise the staysails in front of the mast.”

“And then we trim the sails?” asked Pete.  “Does that involve cutting them?”

John and Henry laughed. “No,” said Henry, “we will not cut the sails. We trim them by tightening the sheets, here and here. Remember, sheets control the shape of the sails.”

“Isn’t the sheet just another name for the sail?” asked Ethan.

“No. Do not confuse the word with a sheet of cloth. On a boat, a sheet is a rope.”

“So why don’t they just call it a rope?”

Henry smiled. “I am afraid there are many such terms in the sailor’s vocabulary, young man, and each of them utterly confusing for the newcomer. Block and boom, luff and leech, sheet and shroud. But do not despair. It will all come, and until then, I will make it easy.”

“And fun,” said John.