Archives for the month of: November, 2011
Finish Line by andrew_mo
Finish Line, a photo by andrew_mo on Flickr.

I did it! I won NaNoWriMo.

But, just like any good race or contest, my victory is riddled with scandal. The numbers don’t quite add up and when it comes down to technicalities, I cheated a little bit.

You see one of the requirements for being a NaNoWriMo participant is that you have to start your novel from scratch on November 1st. According to the NaNoWriMo website, this is why:

This sounds like a dumb, arbitrary rule, we know. But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.

Outlines and plot notes are very much encouraged, and can be started months ahead of the actual novel-writing adventure. Previously written prose, though, is punishable by death.

I broke this rule with reckless abandon. I had already written 89,722 words over the course of 4 years. But, (I will continue with my cavalier attitude, it is all I have left.) I may not have started my novel on November 1st but I did write 50,000 additional words and finish said novel in 30 days.

My goal was to reach 139,722 words and I surpassed that by reaching 146,068 words. The numbers did get a bit muddled. The daily tally I kept only had me reaching 51,548 words while the document word count claimed I reached 56,346. It’s safe to assume that the actual number is somewhere in the middle. Either way, I did it.

And here is what I won:

It’s impressive, I know. But wait, there’s more. I can also print a fantastic NaNoWriMo winners certificate to hang on the wall next to my College diploma.

Oh, and I can now say that I have written a book. That’s pretty fantastic.

A special thanks to: You, for reading my blog and cheering me on. The incredible virus that has been running rampant through our household causing me to be quarantined in my apartment for practically the entire month. Steven Burns and his puppy Blue, for entertaining my sick little boy. Michael, for never complaining when he had to make dinner again. The schnauzers, for attacking the dust bunnies before they grew large enough to eat us all. Dan, for telling me about NaNoWriMo. And finally, my Uncle Aaron, for being the first person to tell me that I could grow up to be a writer, if I wanted to.

Tall Ship "Zodiac" by EdBob
Tall Ship “Zodiac”, a photo by EdBob on Flickr.

Nothing compares to writing a good scene (except for maybe meeting a new character who seems to appear out of nowhere.) It feels like that moment when you pull your winter coat on knowing you can’t fight it any longer, you have to admit that the summer is over. You explore this old trusted friend. You stretch your arms, zip the zippers and place your hands in the pockets. And then . . . the magic happens. There’s something in that pocket. You don’t even dare to wonder or hope, you just pull it out. There it is, lying in your hand . . . a $20 bill. The memory of putting the money in that pocket stored so deeply in your brain it’s almost as if somebody else had put it there, just for you. A surprise for yourself. After I write a scene that I find particularly interesting or exciting I sit back and wonder where it came from. Did I really write that? It almost seems too good. A surprise for myself.

The moment is euphoric.

On a day like that nothing can go wrong, even when everything does.

But the majority of writing is slogging through days when writing is sometimes painful. You wonder if it’s worth it to continue. Your characters are annoying; your plot line flat and full of cliches. It’s something that most, if not all, novelists go through. It’s the Middle, that part, or what I call, the Doldrums.

The Doldrums, that part of the ocean near the equator where the winds are calm, trapping ships and their mariners, for days and weeks at a time. The writing Doldrums are much the same. The winds of creativity are calm, sometimes seemingly dead. I continue to press the computer keys or scribble on the paper, but the words don’t take me anywhere. I am trapped. Cabin fever sets in. The symptoms “include restlessness, irritability, paranoia, irrational frustration with everyday objects, forgetfulness, laughter, excessive sleeping, distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow or dark.” Admittedly not much different than my usual behavior, but that I blame on all of the extroverts who are constantly trying make small talk with me.

During the Doldrums writing a novel goes from the most divine experience imaginable to the worst form of torture. I’ve been stuck in the Doldrums for about a week but I keep going because I know, deep down inside, that there is more money hidden in those coat pockets and the winds of creativity will begin to blow again . . . right about the time I’m about to walk the plank into shark infested waters, by choice.

The winds are gently rustling my sails, not steadily, but it’s getting better. My protagonist forgot that her actions are driving the story. She was a spectator for a while, but she’s moving now.

The most important thing that I’ve learned in the past week is the etymology of Doldrum is derived from an archaic word, dol, which means, foolish or stupid. The Doldrums. Stupid indeed.

NaNoWriMo Total Word Count: 45,225

Only 3 days left!

NaNoWriMo 50,000 words in 30 days

Only 12 days left!

Here are my stats:

Total Words Written: 34,104

Words Remaining: 15,896

Now for a much needed day off.

Pencil Photography by d o l f i
Pencil Photography, a photo by d o l f i on Flickr.

My mother complimented one of my recent blog posts. She said I expressed myself well through my writing.

I believe it went something like, “You have a way with words when you’re writing that you don’t have when you speak. You should stick with writing.”

OK, she didn’t exactly say it like that, although I like to imagine that she did, because it’s funnier. However, we continued to have a conversation along those lines, where that sentiment was expressed and then agreed with.

I stumble when talking. I say the wrong things. I can be rude, abrasive and often, just odd. But the moment I begin writing, I am transformed. It is almost as if my brain was not wired for speaking. Perhaps I should sew my lips shut, to permanently remove the temptation to open my mouth.

Frequently, when trying to express my opinion or teach some idea, I find myself saying the dreaded, “Does that make sense?” The moment I say it, I want to run and hide and never open my mouth again. I know if I’m saying that, then what I actually wanted to say, the clear, concise statement of profound truth, is lost somewhere in my brain. Bouncing around like a pinball, trying to hit the sweet spot that will declare me a winner.

I wondered if this was a common affliction with writers. I did a quick internet search, hoping to find a support group or some scientific explanation (other than poor social skills) for my malady. Unfortunately nobody is concerned enough with this issue to actually support or study it. (Which is probably a good thing. I would much rather the scientists spent their time on important things like Cancer, Autism and identifying the cause of the hypnic jerk.) But, I did find this brilliant essay by Arthur Krystal in the New York Times on this very subject. I felt validated and understood.

If you’re too lazy to read that essay or even click on the link, here is my favorite gem:

“So the next time you hear a writer on the radio or catch him on the tube or watch him on the monitor or find yourself sitting next to him at dinner, remember he isn’t the author of the books you admire; he’s just someone visiting the world outside his study or office or wherever the hell he writes. Don’t expect him to know the customs of the country, and try to forgive his trespasses when they occur.”

If you want to know me, don’t talk to me, read what I write.

One of my biggest struggles as a writer is balancing my life between the two worlds I’m currently inhabiting; the world of my manuscript and world that I’m actually living in.

When I am in the real world, there are times when inspiration strikes and I am stuck standing in line at the store, walking the dogs, or reassembling a toy (for the 12th time). I began carrying a notebook around years ago so that I could simply write a note to remind myself of the dialogue, character, or plot device when I had time later to give it my full attention. That solves only one part of problem though. I am always slightly distracted and never fully present. No matter what I am doing, I’m gathering information and creating. Which means, if you know me, or simply pass me on the street, you’ve probably influenced me or inspired me in some way. But that seems to be small consolation when you realize that when I look at you I may just be seeing past you, to something else. I struggle with this aspect of myself because one of the qualities that I find to be most valuable (in myself and others) is sincerity. How can you be sincere when you aren’t completely present?

When I’m writing, I can tune out the world going on around me. Simply because when I am completely immersed in my story, the real world ceases to exist, at least for a little while. When I finally emerge from my work I am sometimes shivering from the low thermostat setting of the early morning or late evening, aching from sitting on a hard chair in an unhealthy slumped position, or disoriented from being gone, the way it sometimes feels when waking up from a vivid dream. But that intense immersion takes time and effort. Time that, as the mother of a toddler, is difficult to find. I’m guessing that’s true for most writers, just insert your life situation in place of “as the mother of a toddler.” I get up at 5am every morning hoping to have a couple of hours to write. It feels as if I am laying on my back, staring up at a guillotine, waiting for it to fall . . . “Mommy! I’m awake now!” It’s extremely distracting.

Most days it isn’t an issue because I’m completely invested in my actual life; but lately with NaNoWriMo and a deadline, of sorts, hanging over my head, I find it to be a daily struggle. The ultimate question is, if I am between two worlds and rarely ever entirely in one, does that mean I’m failing in both?  Do other writers struggle with this? If you do, tell me where the “off” button is.  Please!

I keep reminding myself, it’s only for 17 more days.

November 11 NaNoWriMo word count: 1,650

November 12 NaNoWriMo word count: 3,248 (it’s a record!)

November 13 NaNoWriMo word count: 0

Total NaNoWriMo Word Count: 21,925

Also, I need recommendations for books to read.  Got anything for me?

I really wanted to read this book, The History of American Graffiti.  Looks like a good book, right?  And for the first time in my 3 years living in this city, my online search of the 70+ Chicago Public Library branches came up empty.  It was a good streak, but why does it have to end now? That’s OK CPL, I love you all the same.

I don’t suppose any of you happen to have this book lying around?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

November 10 NaNoWriMo word count: 1,927

I am surrounded by writers who are publishing novels for the first time. OK, not surrounded, but there are two. My father, Michael Roueche, who published Beyond the Wood on Kindle earlier this year (it will be out in Hardback soon). I have read his book and highly recommend it (you can see my review on Amazon.) My brother-in-law, Dan Haring, who I’ve mentioned before. I haven’t read his book, Oldsoul, but I am looking forward to it. (Maybe he’ll let me read it early so I can give him a glowing review!  If it’s deserved, of course.) Not to mention my friend, Jason Hardy, who is a published author many times over and intimidates me because even his flyers announcing Turkey Bowl touch football games are incredibly clever.  Check out his Kindle short story about a Ghost Hunter here.  (To me it’s reminiscent of Mark Twain and it left me wondering over a few questions I’ve been meaning to ask him.)

Because of this publishing frenzy, I find myself drawn into discussions about the business side of writing more often than I would like. Suggestions to join Twitter (and rejoin Facebook), networking, agents, cover art, marketing campaigns . . . are regular conversation topics. And I don’t like it.

When I started writing “seriously” a few years ago, I did it because I’d just finished reading a book that I really loved and I just couldn’t find anything amazing to follow it up with. Then I had an idea, so I started writing. And I really liked it. No, I loved it. I wasn’t writing with an endgame in mind. I thought maybe someday I would publish. But that’s not why I started writing and that’s not why I continue.

After feeling unsettled by one of these business oriented conversations, I thought of a specific scene from the movie About a Boy. If you don’t already know, About a Boy was actually a book by Nick Hornby, first. I haven’t read the book in years and as the movie and the book diverge a bit (there is a remarkable lack of Kurt Cobain in the movie), I’m not sure if this particular conversation takes place in the book or not, so I’m quoting the movie. To set the scene, the adolescent, Marcus, is about to educate the immature man-child, Will, in the nature of what a meaningful relationship is.

Marcus: What’s the difference between a girl who’s your friend and a girlfriend?

Will: Well, I don’t know – do you want to touch her?

Marcus: Is that so important?

Will: Yeah, Marcus.  You’ve heard about sex, right?  It is kind of a big deal.

Marcus: I know, I’m not stupid.  I just can’t believe there’s nothing more to it.  I mean, like, I wanna be with her more.  I wanna be with her all the time.  And I want to tell her things I don’t even tell you or Mum.  And I don’t want her to have another boyfriend.  I suppose if I could have all those things, I wouldn’t really mind if I could touch her or not.

This scene is exactly how I feel about my manuscript and writing in general. Is the touching, or publishing in my case, so important? I write for myself. I write for the love of writing. I write because I have a story inside of me that wants to be told. I write to entertain anyone unfortunate enough to have me thrust my unpolished manuscript on them. I do it for the love of the art, even if I am not the greatest artist. Would I like to be published? Absolutely. But, if I can feel fulfilled, if I can write my story, if I could share it with many people who adore it, I wouldn’t mind if I was published for a meager sum of money or not.  (But, maybe, if I have to rely on writing as my livelihood one day I’ll feel differently.)

In case you’re wondering, NaNoWriMo is going well.

November 6 NaNoWriMo word count: 0

November 7 NaNoWriMo word count: 2, 046

November 8 NaNoWriMo word count: 2,009

November 9 NaNoWriMo word count: 2,733

TOTAL WORD COUNT: 15,100

About a year ago my Book Club read, The Book Thief.  It’s one of my favorite books.  (If you haven’t read it, you should, you might like it.) During our discussion of the book I mentioned that in Australia, where the author Marcus Zusak lives, the book was released as an Adult fiction novel, but in the US, it was released in the Young Adult genre.  My friend, Vanessa, who is from Vienna, turned to me and said, “What is Young Adult?  We don’t have that in Europe.”

I fumbled badly through my attempted explanation.  I was completely caught off guard.  No Young Adult genre?  Does such a world exist?

For Vanessa, here is better explanation.  Young Adult novels are generally identified by the protagonist being an adolescent and according to wikipedia, “The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character.”  YA books are written about teenagers (generally) navigating the world from a teenager’s perspective.  A Young Adult novel can also be classified by any other literary genre: science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc.

The Book Thief (and Vanessa’s comment) made me realize that if a book is written well and truly of value, then the age of the reader will not matter.  The Young Adult label is simply a marketing tool.  It allows publishers to reach the audience they believe a certain book will appeal to.  And, more importantly, it allows teenagers to walk into a library or a bookstore and go to a section filled with books about people like them, dealing with problems like their own.

When I have created stories, they have always been classifiable as Young Adult.  For a long time, it was because I was an adolescent and I was writing from the only perspective I was capable of.  But, I am no longer a young adult and this continues to be the perspective I write from.  And here are my reasons why:

Reason # 1:  I fell in love with reading when I was an adolescent. During middle school I remember reading an entire book every single day for several months on end (perhaps the entire school year).  Removing myself from reality was my way of coping with the black hole of social navigating during that awkward transition when I was “coming of age.” The writers and their characters were my best friends.  I want to be that writer for someone.

Reason #2:  Because teenagers haven’t decided who they’re going to be yet.  (Which is actually a theme I discuss a little bit in my manuscript.) A well written book can impact the rest of their life, for good or bad. They’re still willing to learn. They’re more willing and open than adults to try different things. I don’t have the lofty goal of changing anybody’s life. I just like a willing audience.  Teenagers like music that sounds good to them and books that speak to them, regardless of the genre classification.  Adults aren’t like that.  We are comfortable and complacent.  We are ready to tell anyone willing to listen what exactly we don’t like about something.  I don’t think I’m clever or brave enough to write for such a unforgiving audience.

Reason #3: Because my characters come into my mind fully formed, as if they are actual living people.  My protagonist climbed into the passenger seat of my car one day as I was driving down the road.  She is a teenager.  Nothing I can do about that.  She just is.

November 3 NaNoWriMo Word Count: 0 (Sometimes I need a break, OK?)

November 4 NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1930

November 5 NaNoWriMo Word Count:  2229

Total words so far: 8312

In March, a friend approached me and asked if I would like to participate in a Salon she was hosting.  I was horrified at the idea of reading my work in front of actual people.  Lost in the initial shock that this Salon host even knew I was a writer (another friend had “betrayed” me to her), I agreed to do it.  Over the next couple of weeks I lamented that decision and debated about backing out.  But, in the end, I went through with it.  The reaction to my writing was positive.  Here is the excerpt from my novel that I read at that Salon.  (Before you begin, you should know my manuscript is Young Adult, I’ll write more about why another time.  And this excerpt is not about my Protagonist, it’s about her youngest sister.)

Trouble

Sasha could see her mother in the window and wondered what she could possibly be doing inside on such a beautiful day. Child sized gloves lay deflated and forgotten somewhere in the back garden.  Sasha’s fingers burned with the cold as she scratched at the earth, trying to reach the liquid hot center.  She reasoned that if went deep enough she might be able to create hot balls of clay which she then intended to use to build a steaming hut warm enough that her mother would allow her to camp out in the courtyard overnight.  She threw the discarded frozen balls far across the playground where Welly would chase after them pretending that his prey was something exciting, even though he knew it wasn’t.  Sasha knew that’s how you could tell if someone was really your friend.

As she sat back to examine her blackened throbbing fingers, Welly enthusiastically dove into the hole and scraped ferociously.  The deeper he dug, the wetter the soil, but it did not seem to Sasha that it was getting any warmer.  Soon the hole had filled with water and she strained against the sticky mud that was pulling Welly down into an unknown abyss.  They had not found the liquid hot center of the earth, but they had found the fountain of – Sasha wasn’t quite sure what – but she was certain it was magical.  So, she took a drink.  It tasted terrible.  She knew it!  It was magic.  If the water tasted good it couldn’t be magic because everyone would be trying it but if only the bravest people could stand to drink it, then of course it would be special.  Sasha crawled onto her stomach, leaned over the edge of the hole and began drinking from the puddle with great gulps.  She didn’t hear it at first until she noticed Welly looking toward their house, but there was a violent rapping coming from that direction.  Her mother loomed behind the window, scowling and shaking her head emphatically.  Sasha wiped the mud from her chin.  She didn’t understand how her brother and sisters could claim that their mother used to be fun because she definitely wasn’t anymore.  There would be no more drinking the potion.  She began to sail sticks and leaves in her magic pond, hoping they would sprout and grow into magnificent trees right before her eyes.  She thought about the magic that could be taking place in her and remembered learning about amoebas in Science class.  Sasha was positive that she had millions of tiny amoebas swimming about inside her body.  She didn’t entertain the idea that they would make her sick for a moment, even though that’s what her Science teacher had warned them about.  She decided that these were magical amoebas which would mutate her body and give her special powers.  Sasha lay back on the bristly grass and stretched her arms and legs wide, sinking into the sleeping blades.  She closed her eyes.  She wanted to make it as easy as possible for the amoebas to make the miraculous changes.

Her mother rapped on the window again and Sasha lifted her hand and waved to indicate she wasn’t dead.

“Has the transformation taken affect yet?”
That wasn’t her mother’s voice.  Sasha opened her eyes and lifted her head.  The man was across the playground on a swing.  He was very odd but she wasn’t sure why she thought so.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He smiled sheepishly, “Of course not.”
Sasha sat up and Welly positioned himself between them, shielding her.  She looked to her mother’s window but the sun was now high enough that the interior was dim.  Sasha always hated the rule that she wasn’t to talk to strangers because it seemed rude.  People liked to be talked to, she knew that much.  And she liked talking to people.
But, not this man.  She hoped for the heavy knocking on the window and the safety of her mother’s rules.
“Can I join in your game?”
“No, I’m sorry.  I’ve just finished playing.  There’s nothing left to do this morning but go have breakfast.”
“You would abandon me right after I’ve arrived?  When I’ve come all this way, just to see you.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“Oh Sasha, I know you very well.”
She stood up, pointing accusingly at the man.  “Stranger!  Stranger!”
“No one will hear you.  They’re all too busy to notice.”
The man rose from the swing and walked toward Sasha and she became very scared indeed.  She tried to dash away from the man, but he grabbed the hood of her coat and dragged her back.  He looked down into her face.  He was dressed the same way her father always dressed for work.  His face was not old and not young, he was simply an adult.  His short orange hair was combed neatly.
“You don’t look like a kidnapper.”
“That is one of my favorite things about this world little Sasha.  People choose to see what they want to and ignore what is real.”
She struggled and pummeled the man in futility.  He smiled and yanked her across the courtyard.  She began to scream desperately for help.
The man paused and knelt on the ground in front of her, muddying his suit.
“Stop.”
She did.
“You are coming with me and you are going to be a good girl about it.”
“I am not!” She began screaming again.
“You will or I will be forced to kill your Mommy and your Daddy and your big brother and sisters.”
Sasha rolled her eyes.  “I’d like to see you try.”
The man with the orange hair frowned.  “Keep this up and I’ll show you.”
“How?”
“There is a bomb in the basement of your house.”
“Is not.”
“Yes, there is.”
“Impossible.  I would have heard it.  I have very good hearing.”
“You are a difficult child.  Didn’t your Mommy and Daddy teach you to listen to adults?”
“They never teach me much of anything but I know that all adults lie, all of the time.  My teacher from last year at school said she would miss me when I went to the next grade.  But that was a lie, she was glad to be rid of me.  She didn’t even remember my name when I walked by her class this year.  Nanny Margaret said she would always think of me as her own baby but that’s not true because she never came back.  You – all – lie.”
“Perhaps you are getting to be a little too old.”
Sasha put both of her arms into the air and dropped heavily to the ground and out of the coat that the orange haired man held in his grasp.  She dashed toward her house but when he cut her off, she swerved toward the woods and her fort.  He was much faster than she was but Welly ran around his legs, biting and tripping him up, despite the heavy kicks the dog was receiving.
She remembered what Welly and Brumby had taught her all of those times they’d played together – Welly may be faster, but if Brumby was in the lead and turned sharply and swerved all over, Welly would have quite a time catching him.  She tried not to think about the fact that Welly always caught Brumby in the end.
Sasha dodged this way and that, running toward the muddy areas and jumping over them as the stranger slipped.  She told herself this man was the worst kidnapper she’d ever heard of but secretly, she was terrified.  She dove into the tunnel she’d dug last summer and wedged the piece of metal she used as a door into the opening.  He was breathing on the other side but she didn’t feel afraid anymore.  Her mother would notice she was missing and she would come out looking for her, then the man would be caught and sent to prison for a million years.
“You are much different than they told me you would be.  I won’t waste your time with children’s games anymore.  You are obviously too grown up for that.  Sasha . . . there is someone who wants to meet you.  That is why I have come.  This person is very important to us and you in turn will be very important to them.  Everybody where I come from will love you and you will never, ever be ignored.”
Sasha pressed her back harder against the door and dug her heels into the dirt.  Her mother would call out to her any minute.  They didn’t forget her anymore.  Not since they’d gotten back from the country.
“She isn’t going to come.  I sent her something much too interesting in the mail.  She’s too busy to think of you Sasha.”
The man touched the other side of the door and it turned cold.  Ice radiated through the metal, entering Sasha’s bones and shaking her with fear and doubt.  She began to cry.  She wanted to be at home in her room but she didn’t think she’d ever see it again.  She wanted Welly but he wasn’t here.  He was out there, on the other side.  There hadn’t been time to wait for him to come into the fort.  Welly would never forget her . . . but her family . . . this man had been chasing her for so long and nobody had come.
“Can Welly come too?”
“Of course.”
“But I don’t want to go.”
“You don’t have a choice.  I have taken that from you.”
Sasha opened the door and stepped out into the cold.

NaNoWriMo Word Count for November 2: 2,139

I received some helpful feedback on word count yesterday.  Apparently my goal of 139, 722 words (approximately  500+ published pages) is just too long and most publishers (if not all) just won’t want to touch it, for a variety of reasons, here is the link I was referred to.

The person who offered this helpful information was worried I would be discouraged.  I am not.

Here’s the thing, not everything I write is gold.  I know, I’m shocked and appalled too.  Quite a bit of it is rubbish, actually. The battle to be a writer begins with a blank page and some days it’s all I can do to fill that blank page.  But, once I do, creating something useable is easy.  Some of my original 89,722 word count is really terrible.  But, I don’t delete it because it has important details I need to work into another part of my story.  Details that I may just forget about if they aren’t taunting me from their less than comfortable home.

When I’m finished, I imagine my manuscript will be closer to 100,000 words long.

For my 50,000 words in 30 days challenge I have to average 1,667 words a day.

So far, so good.  I wrote 2,014 words yesterday.

So, now I have a question for you.  Should I post an excerpt of my writing?  My fear is that I am the novelist version of one of those hopefuls trying out on American Idol who truly believes that they are an amazing singer, when they obviously aren’t.  But, if that’s the case, I probably wouldn’t believe criticism anyway, so I have nothing to lose.