O Frabjous Day!

Did you hear my massive sigh of relief from wherever you are on this terrestrial ball? This month has been a hard, hard slog. Why, oh why do they have NaNoWriMo in November?

BUT—I did it. Last night I passed the 50,000 word mark and today I finished the novel, which I’m tentatively calling Simon and the Sky Gypsies. So here are my statistics:

Total word count: 53,327

Average number of words written per day: 2,133.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Most of my novels land more in the 100,000 word range. How can I say I’m done after only 53,327 words?

Well, because this is my first middle grade novel, and this is a typical length for this genre. I wanted to end up between 50,000 and 60,000 words, and I nailed it. I assume it will be closer to 60,000 by the time I’ve done my revisions and added in some detail, but right now I’m very, very happy to have written “The End.”

Better yet, I love my characters and the story world and am looking forward to doing four more stories about Simon Somerset. Whew!

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NaNoWriMo 2017

I’ve been threatening for almost a year to start a new novel, but my revision focus of the last several months meant that I kept putting it off. Now that National Novel Writing Month is here again, I decided the time had come to finally start my Sky Gypsy story.

I did not sign up on the NaNo website, but I am faithfully following the rules and have been averaging just over 2000 words a day. I really need to have a few 3000 word days to “bank” for days when I don’t have time to write the normal amount. Like, Thanksgiving for instance.

This is my first foray into writing for middle grade readers. Because I am planning a five-year arc, my main character is starting off at fourteen years old. By the fifth book he’ll be eighteen.

The beginning of this book has been difficult, because I’m setting everything up and trying to keep it interesting. I’m just about to get to the fun part though. One thing I didn’t expect was for my main character to play my own instrument—the autoharp. It has ended up being essential for his character, because he starts off as a very “uncool” kid, and there are few things more “uncool” than playing what many think of as an “old folks” instrument.

This is the only story I’ve literally “dreamed up.” I had a very vivid dream, that was really just a few seconds of seeing the sky gypsies, but it was enough to spark a whole world and give me the genesis of a story. I am excited to see where it will take me.

Writers in the Field!

I think it was James Herriot who said that a true fanatic is irresistible. It made an impression on me because I have also found that to be true. A fanatical enthusiast can dupe you into being interested in something that never interested you before. Once upon a time, there was a man who actually interested me in trigonometry! (The effect wasn’t permanent, alas.)

I bring that up to give you a frame of reference for the weekend I just experienced. The folks at Writers in the Field managed to assemble a group of experts who also happened to be fanatics about their areas of expertise. So what we had was a group of passionate fanatics teaching classes to a bunch of nerdy, fanatical writers who were eager to learn. The result was (at least for me) an explosion of joy and enthusiasm.

Although there were some writing classes, the focus was on helping writers with research by letting them talk to real-life experts. There were so many options for each time period that I had to make some very hard choices. These are the classes I ended up taking:

Saturday

Introduction to Archery—John Stout

Historical Dances—Caryl Morris

Country Healing and Herbalism—Brittney Volker

History, Customs, and Manners of the Renaissance—William Teel

Archery—Practicing the Basics (observed)—John Stout

Ask Seth Skorkowsky: The Pitfalls of Writing a Series—Seth Skorkowsky

Lockpicking—Nathan Coffield

Historical Archery—John Stout

Japanese Archery Demonstration—John Stout

Concert—Plunk Murray, Irish Blind

 

Sunday

Exotic Bladed Weapons—Bill Riddle

Court Dancing—Caryl Morris & friends

Historical and Fantasy Armor—Bill Riddle, John Stout

Concert—The Returners

Rapier and Court Swords—Bill Riddle

Strange New Worlds—Keith Goodnight

Fight Dirty—Like a Girl (partial)—Jeremy Metcalf

I have included the presenters’ names because they were so outstanding and I want to acknowledge them. I watched quite a bit of archery—the only P.E. class I ever enjoyed when I was in college!

Both dance classes were so full of information and I took copious notes. The lecture on the Renaissance was so excellent I wanted there to be more of it.

The locksmith was amazing, and adapted quickly once he realized his class was going to be a lot more popular than he had expected! He explained the process so well that it took me less than five minutes to successfully pick my first lock. Not that I am planning a life of crime, you understand. But now if I want to write about someone picking a lock I have a clue how to do it.

The swords/weapons guys were so knowledgeable and entertaining I enjoyed every minute of their presentations. They confirmed several facts that I had already picked up elsewhere. So nice to know your information is accurate!

The herbal medicine presentation was also very interesting to me, especially since I’ve been attending that homeopathy class.

I almost didn’t go to the worldbuilding class, because I’ve taken several other classes on that topic and think I’m pretty good at it—but I’m glad I went. He had a different spin on a couple of aspects of worldbuilding and I can use those insights in my writing.

The live music was a huge bonus too. Saturday night we had wonderful Celtic music, and Sunday we had a “Video Game Cover Band,” a genre that I didn’t know existed. They were great! I love listening to live music, especially in an intimate venue where you can really see and hear everything.

There were also firearms and martial arts experts, historical re-enactors, horses and their handlers, and a wine expert!

Oh, and did I mention that all this took place on the grounds of a Steampunk Faire known as Steampunk November? Wall-to-wall chandeliers and other fancy accoutrements. That’s another reason I enjoyed myself so much—the faire environment is so familiar and comfortable for me. And look what else I found there:

20171015_130221

I tried a somewhat new strategy for note-taking “in the field” and am now sold on it. Normally, I take a clipboard filled with unlined computer paper so I can take my “tree and branch” notes. This time, though, knowing I’d be lugging my chair around for two days, plus a bag with a heavy water bottle in it, I decided to be more of a minimalist. I took a little square sketchbook I’d been saving for some mysterious future need.

Here is the notebook I took: Square Sketchbook

It was so much easier to handle since I had to write on my lap. The pages are thick and opaque, meaning nothing bled through to the other side. The square shape meant I could arrange information anyway I liked. Depending on the class, one or two square pages were sufficient to record the information I wanted to remember. And instead of loose pages, I have a nice bound book with everything together. I’ll use this one for writing-related stuff, but I’m already planning to order another one to use for other subjects!

Changing Rules

Over the last couple of years, I have occasionally been chided by critique partners for writing sentences that were too long. The limit, I’ve been told, is two lines. If I write a sentence that is over two lines long, I should split it into two. Sometimes I kind of balk at this, because there are occasions when a three-line sentence is really much more elegant than two or three shorter sentences.

So I had to laugh the other night when I read the following sentence. It was written by Captain Frederick Marryat in 1937 and quoted by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi:

“Pouring its impetuous waters through wild tracts covered with trees of little value except for firewood, it sweeps down whole forests in its course, which disappear in tumultuous confusion, whirled away by the stream now loaded with the masses of soil which nourished their roots, often blocking up and changing for a time the channel of the river, which, as if in anger at its being opposed, inundates and devastates the whole country round; and as soon as it forces its way through its former channel, plants in every direction the uprooted monarchs of the forest (upon whose branches the bird will never again perch, or the raccoon, the opossum, or the squirrel climb) as traps to the adventurous navigators of its waters by steam, who, borne down by these concealed dangers which pierce through the planks, very often have not time to steer for and gain the shore before they sink to the bottom.”

Eleven lines long! Those Victorians were so verbose. And let’s be real: Marryat was a rank amateur compared to Victor Hugo.

 

When Does the “Law of Diminishing Returns” Kick In?

A couple of days ago, I finished a project I had been working on all summer. I had taken it into my head to revise one of my earlier (unpublished) novels. It had finished going through the critique process but I hadn’t kept up with all the critique suggestions, so that was my first task.

Meanwhile, I believe I have actually increased my writing skills considerably this summer, thanks to a new critique partner who has pushed me hard. As a result, what I thought would be a two or three-week project ended up taking the entire summer. Hours upon hours of scrutinizing every line, every word.

I hardly believe this story is now “perfected,” but it is certainly better-written than it was, and I derive some satisfaction from knowing that, even if it never gets published.

But this experience brings up an interesting point. At the same time I was working on the revisions of my “old” novel, I was and am continuing revisions on my newest novel. This one started off in better shape and this first round of revisions is taking it to a higher level than any of my “old” work.

So, I have started revising another older story. This story has also been through the critique process, yet I am finding plenty of ways to improve the writing. But at what point do you say, “Well, I’m done with this and I’m going to send it out and stop revising it.”

I can easily see this turning into a never-ending process. As my skills increase (assuming they do increase) I just keep subjecting all my novels to another round of revisions and upgrades. Of course, unlike some writers, I do keep producing new material—which just means that each round of revisions would take longer than the one before it!

What I’m asking myself now is this: at what point do further revisions become a bad investment of my time? I’m not changing any of my stories in any substantial way. I believe the stories themselves are pretty good. But I’m going through and eliminating pointless words and passive constructions and “telling” and unnecessary dialog tags. None of these things would bother the average reader if they were interested in the story. However, all of these things are very important to the gatekeepers: agents and editors, and I am much better at finding and fixing them now.

So the conclusion I’ve reached at the moment is that my skills have probably increased enough to make another round of edits worth the time and effort before I start querying again. I still am very anxious to start two new stories, though, so I may have to play a game with myself, where I reward myself with “new” writing for various milestones in my revisions.

The Passive Aggressive Poem Post

When I was fourteen, I wrote a poem. It is not a particularly good poem, even for a fourteen-year-old. However, I have a relative who likes it and who thinks I should have included it in my memoir, because the poem deals primarily with my years at Sakeji School, as does the memoir.

Then last week when I posted on my personal blog about the fiftieth anniversary of my arrival at Sakeji, I got another reminder that this too would have been a good time to share my mediocre poem with the world. So I’m giving in. Since I wrote it (albeit as a very immature teenager) I am posting it here on my writing blog. I will try to remember to also add it to my website.

Memories of Childhood

by Linda Moran (aged 14)

I like to remember the feel

Of my bare feet in the mud:

Splashing in the oozy mud,

Nice and wet and deep and cool—

Lovely mud, brown mud

On the playground at school.

And I like to remember

The climbing of the trees,

And the swimming in the river,

And the skinning of my knees,

And the riding of my bike,

And the eating of candy,

And the playing of “Adventures—“

Oh, childhood was dandy!

Memories, too, I have

Of sitting in a classroom:

A big white classroom

With small brown desks.

That classroom was a happy place

That smelled of books and ink;

A whitewashed, happy, quiet place

Where one could sit and think.

I remember, childhood, childhood;

Crawling on my hands and knees;

Studying with great intentness

Frogs and snails and ants and bees;

Wading in the shallow river;

Catching tadpoles with my hands;

Picking flowers in the forest;

Reading tales of distant lands;

Sliding down the slimy clay bank;,

Rolling down the grassy hill;

Making mountainous sand-castles;

Throwing away my calcium pill.

I remember, I remember

Spinning roundandroundandround,

Spinning till I got so dizzy

I fell, exhausted, to the ground.

I remember telling stories

To the other girls at night;

I remember playing hopscotch;

Jumping rope with all my might;

Crying over a dead bird’s body;

Laughing at a monkey’s tricks;

Falling, clothed, into the river;

Climbing fences, just for kicks.

I remember lots more things,

Lots more things I’d like to tell;

But now I’m at the end of my paper

Which, I think, is just as well.

 

Note: I think it’s hilarious that at the age of fourteen, I thought I was old enough to “look back” on my childhood!

Revelation & Enlightenment

A few weeks ago, I attended the one-day conference of the East Texas Writers Guild, and after a day focused on writing, I still had writing on my mind during the 45 minute drive home. Driving along, I thought about all the stories I’ve written and about the new one I’m planning.

Then I had one of those light-bulb moments, an insight into my own writing that literally caused me to gasp. (I didn’t go so far as to yell “Eureka!”)

You know how they say all first novels are autobiographical? Well, I’m sure it’s true. I know my first two novels used a lot of details from my own life and background, even though they were very different stories. But as I thought about the other four novels I’ve written, I realized something rather startling: they all share a common theme.

Now please understand, they are all very different stories. Each story has many themes. But there is one  theme that runs through them all and I never recognized it before. All six of my novel-length stories feature a character who must at some point choose between two worlds. All of them.

Huh. How do you suppose that theme managed to sneak into all the stories written by a missionary kid who identified more strongly with her “new” world than she did with her “home” world? And yes, the new story I’m planning, which will have a five-book arc, will also end up with the main character having to make that same choice.

I’m not even sorry. Clearly, this is such an ingrained part of me as a person that I can’t write without referring to it. It’s kind of amusing I never noticed it before now.