Today I passed the 50,000 word mark on my manuscript. I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to be, but I’m nearing the end. 2360 words today alone! I am becoming possessed by what my mentor Mary Poole used to call “the lust to finish.”
After several anxious days of waiting on my part, I am thrilled to announce that my Story Quest creative writing curriculum (middle school level) is now available on Amazon. You can get the teachers’ edition here:
And there is also a Student Edition with all the student handouts and assignments in one convenient place.
If you know a homeschool mom who would be interested in working on creative writing with her 10-14 year old, please send her the link!
Yes, I finally finished the story I’ve been working on for weeks! Somehow I’ve got to get one more done before the end of this year. It’s a self-imposed deadline–my publisher hasn’t demanded that I finish all the stories by the end of this month. I am just ready to move on to less taxing projects, like full-length novels. So tomorrow I’ll be looking through my idea file and trying to pick one that will make a good short story. Meanwhile, I feel so relieved to have finally finished that story.
I’m still working on the same story as the last time I posted, but my road trip idea is working out and I’ve thought of a great new twist so I am enjoying this story very much. I wish short stories were not so hard to write. I love having written one that I like, but the actual writing is rather traumatic at times.
That’s what my husband always says when we have to come up with an alternate plan. I don’t even know what that means, since I don’t watch American football, but I imagine most of you do.
Turns out, it just wasn’t realistic for me to write 50,000 words in July when I was gone for a third of the month and also had a presentation to prepare. I got over 20,000 words written, and that’s not nothing—just not what I’d hoped for.
However, that particular novel is going to have to wait a little longer because my top priority now is getting short stories written and/or revised for my upcoming anthology. Last night I dived back into a story I started in March but have really struggled with. And you know what? It was almost finished. I finished it. Whew!
Today I went through a few of older stories and revised them, bringing them up to a higher standard (I hope). Having done that, my only option is to come up with some new ideas and write some new stories—at least three more, I estimate. Usually not a problem for me—but a road trip would help!
Just not enough progress! I now have to average over 3000 words a day if I am to reach my goal. It seemed like I wrote a lot today, but when I did my final count it was only 2,664. So close! Maybe tomorrow I will be more successful.
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:
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
Historical Archery—John Stout
Japanese Archery Demonstration—John Stout
Concert—Plunk Murray, Irish Blind
Exotic Bladed Weapons—Bill Riddle
Court Dancing—Caryl Morris & friends
Historical and Fantasy Armor—Bill Riddle, John Stout
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:
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!
When I look back on this summer in years to come, I believe I will think of it as the Summer of Hunger & Harry Potter. I have been fasting so much since the end of April that hunger has colored the whole summer for me, and will continue to do so. But, the benefits for my health have been considerable, so I don’t necessarily mean this as a complaint.
One way I have resisted the strong desire to eat is by reading through the entire Harry Potter book series. By random happenstance, I finished reading the last book on the 20th anniversary of the day the first book came out.
I know some of you are shocked. Some of you are shocked that I have only just now read these books for the first time. Some of you are shocked that I was willing to read them at all.
First of all, why did I wait so long? After all, these books are blockbuster bestsellers in the very genre that I hope to break into myself. Professionally, I need to be familiar with them, but there are two reasons I waited. First, I had zero interest in reading any of the books until I was sure the whole series was finished. I do not like waiting years for a new book to come out, because by the time it does, I feel obligated to reread all the preceding books so they will be fresh in my mind. I don’t have enough years left in me to keep doing this over and over. Now I won’t start a series unless I know for sure it is complete.
Secondly, when these books came out, I was immersed in a conservative homeschool culture that made it very difficult to admit that one might be interested in any fiction that was not overtly Christian. Even C.S. Lewis was questioned in some quarters. The general opinion seemed to be that letting your kids read Harry Potter was tantamount to buying them a one-way ticket to hell.
Cowardly as it might sound, I needed to have friends and belong to a support group, so I toed the line. I read enough about the books to know that I would probably not mind my kids reading them, but I was not willing to face the social ostracism that would certainly follow. I’m sure I damaged my reputation by allowing my kids to read both Tolkien and Lewis, but I was still accepted in the group.
The obvious follow-up question then is, why read them now? What has changed? Several things have changed. First of all, the book series has been finished, so I could read through all seven books one after the other. Secondly, as I already mentioned, this series is the most successful young adult fantasy series of all time, and since I also write young adult fantasy, it really is imperative for me to be familiar with them—and to know why they remain so popular.
Thirdly, I am no longer accepted in any homeschool group, so I don’t really care if they judge me for reading these books! I have reached the point where I figure that my remaining life is much too short to spend it trying to gain the approval of people whose opinions I don’t necessarily agree with in the first place. The homeschool scene is no longer a place where I feel I belong, despite the fact that I have three years left in my teaching career.
So, having done the deed, having read the books, what do I think? Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
*I love the world building, the scope and depth of it. It is very well thought out, very detailed, very imaginative, very beguiling.
*I love the seven-year story arc, one book for each year of Harry’s schooling, with each successive book getting darker and the stakes getting higher. J.K. Rowling clearly had all the major plot elements planned well in advance. (Unlike me, for instance.)
*I was surprised by the huge role that racism plays in the series. Not black/white, obviously, but wizard/muggle. None of my friends who are fans of the books had mentioned this to me, so it caught me off guard. The villains are all racists.
*I was likewise surprised by the author’s apparent antipathy toward government. The Ministry of Magic is portrayed as worse than incompetent and becomes a body of institutionalized evil and racism. It kind of makes me wonder what Rowling thinks about her own government!
*I was disappointed in her portrayal of teen romance. It is very G-rated, which I love, but it also seems almost devoid of emotion. To me, teen relationships are all about the intense emotions, and I don’t feel she did a good job of depicting that.
*I love her focus on loyalty in friendships. Since I myself value loyalty very highly, this is not surprising, but I love how the relationships continue and deepen from book to book, and how willing Harry’s friends are to come to his aid even at considerable risk to their own safety.
*I don’t think the “witchcraft” depicted in the book can be taken seriously by any educated person in a Westernized civilization. I certainly don’t think it would threaten anyone’s Christian beliefs. It’s a fantasy, and I think most people totally get that. However, I would not recommend this series to someone who grew up in a third-world society where real witchcraft is a pervasive and dangerous part of the culture.
*During the years I abstained from reading this series, I read plenty of articles about how horrifying and satanic it was. I also read several articles that basically said these books are the most Christian thing written since the Bible and therefore it is fine to be obsessed with them. While they certainly do have themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and redemption, I wouldn’t go so far as to claim they are in any way “Christian.” That also does not bother me.
*At first I was bothered by how the kids in the story use magic frivolously to “hex” and “jinx” each other, especially since sometimes the results caused distress or embarrassment. However, I had to admit that this is very normal teenage behavior. In real life, kids can’t jinx each other, but they sure do play practical jokes and say things that are just as damaging and humiliating as any jinx in Harry Potter.
*I love that even the good characters are not perfect. No one’s a saint. They all have their foibles and they all do things they probably regret later. That’s how it should be, especially if they learn from their misdeeds.
*Rowling commits many of the modern “sins” of writing. She uses an unnecessary number of adverbs, indulges in head-hopping, tells instead of shows, and lets the action lag at times. At writers’ conferences, they make it sound like all of these sins are unpardonable, and if you commit them, you will never get published and no one will ever read your books. However, the reality is that you can get away with the most egregious writing transgressions as long as you have an engaging story, and since Rowling delivers on the story, all is forgiven.
So, now I can finally “get” all the Harry Potter references I’ve been hearing for years. I know my Hogwarts “house”—Ravenclaw. I didn’t take any tests to determine my patronus, because I already know what mine would be: a cape buffalo.
Happy Birthday, Harry.
Thanks to Grace Bridges for this little exercise:
ALL ABOUT YOUR LITERARY CHILD!
1) What’s the first line? “On that life-changing day, Sitara and I combed each other’s hair, tried on dozens of outfits, and practiced walking with books on our heads.”
2) Is it your first finished book? No. 6th novel and 7th book.
3) When did you write it? Started November 2015, finished January 2017.
4) Did you plan it out or wing it? I always knew where things were going to end up, but I winged it most of the way.
5) How long did it take to write? About 7 weeks.
6)Binge-written or slow and steady? Written in 2 binges: November 2015, and January 2017.
7) Where did you write it? Sitting in my little alcove in my wingback chair with my laptop on my lap.
8) What program/device did you use? My HP laptop and Scrivener.
9) What was your worst distraction? Real life responsibilities.
10) What did you snack on? Mostly nuts. And many mugs of tea.
11) What did you do when it wanted to drive you crazy? Read back over the bits I liked.
12) How many edits did it go through. Currently going through the first edit.
13) Did you get it published? In my dreams. It’s not ready yet.
14) What’s on the cover/what would you like on the cover? Good question. I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve polar bears and a huge black hawk.
15) What is the genre? YA Fantasy
16) What did you name it? Sohalie’s Search
Protagonist Takeover Week: all answers must be in your protagonist’s words
What are you self-conscious about?
Sohalie: I used to be very self-conscious about my image. I wanted everyone to see me at my best. However, once you’ve messed up your life as royally as I have, that particular worry kind of goes away. Now I suppose the thing I’m most self-conscious about it whether or not I’m living up to my husband’s expectations, because I’m still learning about his culture.