Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not a leper

This is a (relatively) brief post, just to let anyone know who might be looking for signs of life from me that I'm still working on my project. The GRE is taking up most of my time right now. Math is killing me. I'm too old (41) and it's been too long since I've done any of this! I have forgotten EVERYTHING, and the Princeton Review is explaining things by way of "new math". So I'm truly learning everything new. Eek!!

I've struggled with the identity of my main character for years. Ever since coming up with the idea that there is a disease, or what appears like a disease, infecting certain people in the "fantasy world", I've felt that the only real way to resolve that problem was to bring a sick person from our world into that world (for reasons that are too involved to be mentioned in a brief post).

Knowing what or who my main character had to be didn't make it any easier to establish his identity, because one of my favorite authors, someone I've followed for twenty-seven years, wrote a fantasy novel where he brought a leper from our world into a fantasy world. This author's world wasn't sick when he brought the leper over, but the idea of leprosy and health were initial starting points for this author's themes.

How could I possibly use a sick person from our world, when one of my favorite writers, in one of my favorite fantasy series, has already done so?

Well, because I have to. The story demands it. For years I've tried to come up with a different solution, but there isn't one.

So I posted my quandary to a discussion forum dedicated to this authors work, and asked a group of writers what they thought I should do.

Their answers were unanimous: if my story needs a sick person from our world, then that's what the story needs, and who cares if a few (or more than a few) readers think it's similar to this other work?

While posting, I realized that I don't need a sick man - I need a dying man. I'd always known this as well, but never made the distinction. And he HAS to have AIDS. Again, for reasons that are too lengthy to get into. I asked this same group of writers/fans what they thought of a gay main character in fantasy series who had AIDS, and was surprised when every single one of them, even one who said that homosexuality repulsed him, again voiced nothing but encouragement, essentially believing that attitudes toward homosexuality have changed enough where it's not as big of a deal now as it would have been twenty years ago.

Why does the character need to be gay? Well, he doesn't. The story only demands that he be from our world and that he have AIDS. Because of the population of AIDS patients, and my own sexuality (which I've never hidden, and if I were so insanely fortunate/lucky to publish, would likely be known), if I were to write a huge story like I'm planning to, and wrote the main character as being anything but gay, I would essentially saying that I was afraid of writing the character in the way that seemed best and most comfortable to me.

So the story demands that he have AIDS, and my own sexuality and what I perceive as my responsibility to the gay community and to myself as a gay man, demands that he be gay.

My main character is from our world, has AIDS, is dying, and finds himself transported to this "fantasy world" with only a month's worth of medication to take. Sticky.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


After giving it considerable thought, I've decided to work on writing the backstory of this whole mess as if I were writing a poor man's The Silmarillion. Nothing that I'll think about publishing, but something that sets the record straight, for me, on the hundreds of pages worth of notes that I have, and the thousands and thousands of hours I've put into creating them.

So that's my goal. And it's going to be in narrative form, not scene outtakes and other useless crap like that. As I said in the post below, either an entire narrative separated by chapters, or as short stories (or novellas - in terms of length).

I'd like to say that I wish I would have done this years ago - and I do! - but I don't think that I would have been ready to. And it's not better late than never - it's best to do it when you're most capable of doing it right. I think I'm closer to that point right now than I've ever been. And it's within reach.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

NaNoWriMo exhaustion and withdrawal

Well, the month is over, and it was an interesting month! I resurrected my "epic" and breathed some new life into it. Found a possible beginning, and solidified the backstory. The backstory is going to need more work, and I might focus on writing just that part of it until it's settled. It's rather complicated and involved, and I think knowing exactly how everything happens will only help me write the series better.

I was discussing various backstory concepts with Chris yesterday, and while I was trying to explain to him how everything works and fits together (though it doesn't all fit together yet), it struck me again that my starting point might not be the best starting point. I think the only way for me to know that is to write the backstory. Not as if I were writing a novel, but more long hand than short hand, or perhaps as a series of short stories.

Also, I realized that I need for the "hero" to come from the real world, although not the 'only one man can save the world' kind of hero; I think those heroes are crap - it always takes more than one person to do anything. There's something that he has in his own "blood", let's say, that is necessary for the development of the entire story, and is why I would start telling the story with him as opposed to some perfectly interesting ideas in the backstory that could just as easily be fleshed out and written by itself.

That frustrated me, because that's not what I wanted to happen.

But I've learned quite a bit this month: in order for me to fix the problems with my ideas, I can't just sit around and think about them. I need to put the seat of my pants in the seat of my chair and write about them. Eventually, everything will work out. That's what I learned from my work at The Story Studio, and what I learned this month.

So what's next? Having to write 50k words in one month was terrific. I needed the pressure of having "writing buddies" who could see my word count, and other people I could talk to that had been through this. And while some have said that they're so burnt out they don't even want to think about writing, I think that means this is exactly the time to think about writing. If we're serious about wanting to be authors, not just writers, this is about the pace we should expect to work at. 25k-50k words per month isn't outrageous, and it's probably what guys like Stephen King do when they're writing.

So I've thought about starting a website where I can post a daily word count, and keep the blog going to serve, at least, as a diary for my work. I'll probably set a goal for around 25k a month until school starts in next fall. Then - I'll be trapped by academia!

NaNoWriMo has posted only one official statistic about the month, and the rest should post soon. I'll post them here when they're available.

The official statistic posted was the total collective word count: 1,098,496,066. That's amazing!

Some other, unofficial statistics:

Top 15 word count by region

RankRegionTotal Wordssort iconAverage WordsDonations

1United States :: Washington :: Seattle15,542,59927,655$4,550.00

2United States :: Maryland15,128,56827,209$2,450.00

3Europe :: Germany & Austria12,221,24931,018$1,475.00

4United States :: Minnesota :: Twin Cities12,219,94926,739$1,940.00

5United States :: California :: Los Angeles11,640,56823,659$3,035.00

6United States :: Illinois :: Chicago11,228,04525,576$1,865.00

7Europe :: England :: London9,440,59724,713$1,280.00

8United States :: New York :: New York City9,422,50028,466$1,660.00

9United States :: Oregon :: Portland9,360,60924,763$1,155.00

10Europe :: England :: Elsewhere9,197,79827,212$890.00

11United States :: California :: East Bay9,041,27327,150$2,750.00

12United States :: Massachusetts :: Boston9,037,11525,673$1,755.00

13United States :: Virginia :: Northern8,528,41024,228$2,970.00

14Canada :: Ontario :: Toronto8,307,65026,542$830.00

15Europe :: Holland & Belgium8,277,22429,456$685.00

Total word count by genre
RankGenreTotal Wordssort iconAverage WordsDonations
1Fantasy 242,414,81224,685$23,625.00
2Other Genres104,288,52721,632$8,840.00
3Science Fiction 91,721,43723,829$13,955.00
4Literary Fiction 84,344,35823,415$14,140.00
5Mainstream Fiction 83,774,07324,617$12,970.00
6Young Adult & Youth 70,104,49421,360$6,960.00
7Mystery & Suspense 57,001,53525,266$9,005.00
8Romance 48,293,38624,243$5,400.00
9Horror & Thriller 40,437,41022,641$3,780.00
10Adventure 35,276,54721,897$4,193.50
11Satire, Humor & Parody 30,595,40120,396$5,345.00
12Historical Fiction 26,980,72025,192$4,030.00
13Chick Lit 25,713,20920,537$3,300.00
14Erotic Fiction 11,444,41623,355$1,135.00
15Religious, Spiritual & New Age 8,698,86621,747$730.00

Fantasy accounted for 24% of the total word count. If you include Sci-Fi in that, then that category, lumped together by booksellers, accounted for 33%.

That a LOT of competition. So I've decided that I want to be a writer, and to top it off I've chosen the genre that, apparently, is the most competitive. Yipee!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day 28

Yesterday evening I added an additional 2,123 words simply by going through the 2nd chapter and half of the 3rd chapter and adding more context. I knew that what I was writing was very rough, but I didn't realize it was quite that rough. I filled in a lot of blanks, but more importantly, fleshed out a key relationship between the main character and his brother, and introduced some new ideas about the main character's father.

You can see the new word count in the upper left hand corner of the blog. My goal is to try for 60k, but with only two days left, I'm not sure I could do 3,500 words today and tomorrow. I'll give it a shot, though.

Not sure if I've mentioned this: I am writing this entirely in first person, and I know that will have to change. There will be other viewpoints that I'll have to bring in for the full telling, so that alone necessitates at least a third person limited narrator.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day 28 - very early

Two quotes that I want to share. One I shared at the very beginning of the month, and I kept it in my mind the entire month.

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining--researching--talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.
(E L Doctorow)

The other quote has been behind my monitor for some time now.

Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book.

I knew that I hadn’t found the man yet – that’s why I kept that particular quote posted, to remind myself that I needed to keep looking.

This month, especially during the last three "working days", I found the “man behind the book”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Day 27 - Won, but not Done

I crossed the finish line tonight. Last Friday really energized me, and that sure showed the last two days.

Friday, 11/23: 7,345 words
Monday, 11/26: 3,827 words
Tuesday, 11/27: 6,556 words

Easily the most productive time period of the entire month, and the 23rd was my most productive day, followed closely by today, the 27th. The 26th was my fifth most productive day.

Today I sat down to add a bit of physics I had learned last night into the story (necessary for the power to control Inertia or Motion), and what started out as adding a few lines to a paragraph turned into twenty-pages, or 6,556 words. And it's still in backstory, but this part of what I'm writing could actually stand on its own as a short story, and I might try to work with that as a goal. When I start classes at The Story Studio in January, I'll be taking 2 classes, one of them a Fantasy/Sci-Fi class. I've always been nervous about testing my fantasy against other readers of fantasy, so this takes a bit of courage for me.

Thanks to everyone that has been so supportive with this. Your confidence in me definitely bolstered mine, and helped me cross the finish line.

But I'm not done. Not even for the month. I'm going to write every day until the end of the week, and see where I get. December is for messing around with possible short story ideas (not as a distraction, but as something to write and try to publish) and studying for the GRE. Ugh. Not looking forward to THAT.

Also, I realized that I really do need to learn a bit about physics if I'm going to make any of this work. Maybe I'll take a class somewhere in the summer. We'll see. I'd also like a nursing degree, to help with the Health and Illness themes, but, well, that's not going to happen. I'll have to do with this what I have.

Everything seems to be about opposites.


Some of those are physical aspects. Other(s) moral, ethical, or judgemental, depending on your view. But it's my view that matters, because I'm writing it. :-)

150 pages done, 850 or so to go.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day 26 - An Ending

I'm not done for the night, but wanted to post.

This whole business with letting oneself write poorly has completely sunk in, and I'm loving it. You can do all kinds of things, knowing that they're probably messed up, just to work out an idea.

Last Friday, and earlier this afternoon/evening I started out with scraps, and wrote my way into something that became interesting. Both needed to connect, somehow, and while writing today I thought to myself, I'll wait until I finish the whole thing, then come back to it when all is better. Then, while writing the second bit today--and it's important to remember that I'm writing only because I've allowed myself to write poorly--the two ideas came together on their own. There's all kinds of nonsense and gobbledy-gook getting there, but I got there.

Here's an example of allowing myself to write poorly. Make sure you're seated. This gets ugly.

Surely, though, there was something he could do. Although he had lost most of his power as an Arjane, he still had some residual strength. Nobody had come to relieve him of his duties; the other Warders hadn’t even come to the Pools. Was everyone dead? He needed his compeers, the strength that they had. If only one would have come, would come, he would be freed to seek help for his beloved. Or, together, with his attunement to the Pool of Stasis and their sheer strength, perhaps they could arrange a way for her to attune herself with her Pool. It was sheer hope that he had, that the powers inherent in that pool were similar to the ones in his—that they would have life-giving properties, as his involved (or) controlled stasis. But it had to be, it must be true.

There are four different ideas in that paragraph, all of which point in different directions. By continuing, after this paragraph, to allow myself to write poorly, I was able to bring the ideas together. Of course, I'm using footnotes heavily while I write, to make sure that when things do come together, I explain it to myself in such a way that I won't forget. There's so much that I have forgotten from world-building work I did in the past two decades...can't lose it again. Sometimes I've come upon a note that's interesting, but I can't figure out what it was supposed to go with. So it's lost on me.

When I started writing this afternoon, I quickly wanted to stop. I wasn't "feeling it", and nothing was coming naturally. The advice we've been getting from published authors rang loud in my head then: just write; don't worry; put words on the page; who cares if they stink; and, oh yeah, JUST WRITE.

Day 26 - The Final Push to 50,000 words

Over the weekend I read two chapters from The Fellowship of the Ring, searching for one specific line. It had nothing to do with what I was writing--just some geeky thing I was doing to post on Kevin's Watch. My "research" ended up being exactly what I needed to help me in what I'm currently writing. As I noted in the Day 24 post, I am mired in backstory, creating the what-has-gone-before, and establishing "mythologies".

Well, no one did backstory like Tolkien. If memory serves, he began constructing Middle-earth around 1919, and The Lord of the Ring wasn't published until the mid-50s. So, before he started thinking about writing LOTR, he already had several books worth of stories to populate the landscape, several languages, and much, much more. You could say that he had an unfair advantage, because all he was ever interested in from the beginning was backstory. When The Hobbit became a great success for him, he agreed to a sequel and decided to set it in Middle-earth, created LOTR, and we're all the better for it.

This was good reading for me to do because it is exactly what I'm doing right now, and what better reminder of how it should be done than to read the guy who did it best?

In The Council of Elrond--Chapter 2, Book 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring--humans, dwarves, elves, and Hobbits are sharing tales of their recent encounters with darkness (Sauron's ever-reaching hand), and that's all that happens. Nobody interacts with anyone else. Very little attention is paid to emotional reactions. It's essentially all dialogue. And yet I vividly remember when I first came across that chapter, that I was absolutely mesmerized. It's not easy to have nearly 30 pages in a novel be 100% dialogue/backstory and still engage the reader. Virtually nothing happens in this chapter to move the story forward; quite the opposite! The story has completely stopped. Yet I read as if spellbound.

So today when I get ready to continue with my backstory, I'll keep Tolkien in the back of my mind. The lesson to be learned is that backstory requires authenticity, and needs to be intoxicating. I'll never recreate what Tolkien has done, and won't even try. I'd sooner lose an arm than be accused of being a Tolkien imitator. But in a sense, it can't be helped. Tolkien created the template for this type of fiction, and while all good writers have later taken that template and shaped it to make it their own, more often than not the template is recognizable in their writings. (Imagine how noticeable it is in the bad writers...painful. Just painful.)

One more thing I'd like to share before I start writing.

Deanna Raybourn, author of Silent in the Grave, sent out this final week's "pep talk". She's a favorite of mine (well, I've only read one book, and am reading her second in the form of an ARC right now--which is ironic), and someone who I knew from reading her website had experienced many rejections. For those of you who enjoy late 19th century mystery novels, you'll do well to check her out. Silent in the Grave has the best opening salvo I've seen in a long time. Here's the opening line:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor.
Anyway, here's the first paragraph of her pep talk. It paints as accurate a picture of my own difficulties with writing as could be. Interesting to note that these difficulties are shared by virtually all writers. It's nice, encouraging, and inspirational to know that.

By now, NaNoWriMo has taught you that writing is not for the faint of heart. You must be stalwart and brave, like pioneers of old, unafraid of uncharted lands or crossing vast frontiers. It was exciting at first, wasn’t it? Preparing for the journey, stocking supplies, counting down the days until the start of the great undertaking. That enthusiasm would have carried you through the first weeks, and even the pitfalls along the way might have seemed like thrilling opportunities for adventure. But now you have come to the bleak no-man’s land just before the last great push to the end. It is barren and empty and it seems as if no one has ever passed this way. Except for every other writer who has come before you. This place lurks along the journey of each book for all of us. Here we hate our characters, our plot is mundane, and our prose is as flat and unlovely as the landscape. Be watchful; it’s dangerous, this place. I have heard of writers who lacked courage and who turned back to safety, never to return. They simply stopped being writers because they could not find their way across this nothingness. That is not an option for me, and I don’t believe it is an option for you. You have come too far, weary travelers! And there is a way across, I promise.
Now, I'm off to write. Thanks for following along, if you've made it this far!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Day 24

Very relaxing day today. Lots of thinking about where I want to go, but no actual writing. That's the plan, though, as I generally don't write on the weekends.

I left off yesterday (Friday) in a difficult place. There are so many directions to go, and I'm interested to see which will work. That will likely happen on Monday.

For word count, see above.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Day 23

I wrote nothing at all on Wednesday or Thursday (Thursday was Thanksgiving), but I caught up completely tonight, and am a tiny bit ahead.

What I'm writing now is of great interest to me. Around page 84, I had one character start to explain a teeny bit of the backstory to the Main Character. Well, I'm on page 121, and am still very much entrenched in the backstory. It's not written in the form of notes, or outlines -- it's mostly dialogue, so it's real writing, some of it interactive, and while I know that in its current form it simply could not appear in a book, it's helping me lay the groundwork for everything I'm going to need to do moving forward. I imagine that I still have a little bit more to do, and then as soon as I'm done, I should be ready to get this story moving forward.

When I first posted, I expressed concerns about some superficial similarities to Donaldson. I'm not concerned about that anymore, because as I've worked with my material, even the superficial similarities are disappearing.

When I read The Lord of the Rings in junior high, I, who had wanted to "be a writer" since 3rd grade, finally knew what it was that I wanted to write. I wanted to write high/heroic/epic fantasy. I was a widely read young man, and read everything from Mark Twain to The Bobsey Twins (complex to simple, and whatever was in between). But nothing had spoken to me. Tolkien did. Loudly.

It may be that Donaldson's work helped define how I wanted to write fantasy. Unquestionably, I could not write what Tolkien did. Nobody can. Nobody has. He was and is the best at what he does/did.

And I can't write what Donaldson did. We think of illness differently--or perhaps I should say that we approach illness differently simply by who we are and the affect it's had on our individual lives, and so how illness will be represented, thematically, in my work really shouldn't make anyone think, "Oh, dude, that's SO Donaldson." At least I hope not. (Of course, this assumes the book will be published...and that's a crap shoot.)

Quota: 38,641
Actual: 39,664

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Day 20

Another good day, with decent production. Again, the focus was entirely on getting the words down on paper, and completely ignoring whether they made sense.I'm constructing some of the backstory, and am telling it all at once (which, of course, won't happen in the book), so before continuing I went back and re-read everything I have written over the past two days, made some changes and edits, and then added new material, having my MC explain how the world is viewed differently where he is from.

Today I believe that I mined another jewel from junk, so it was well worth it.

Didn't want to write because I didn't sleep well last night (what else is new?), but called on my friendly neighborhood Starbucks to fix that for me.

I doubt that I'll be writing more today. Chris has been cooped up studying for a Physiology exam for the last three days, is taking it as I write, so when he's home at 3:45, he's free! I believe we'll celebrate by catching up on TV shows that we've missed due to his heavy coursework. So important to keep up with TV.

Speaking of which, we've killed a few things from our TiVo list. Gray's Anatomy was booted because we realized that with two exceptions, nobody on that show was redeemable, and we hated them all. Even GEORGE! That might have been the last straw. We're still watching Weeds, even though we've come to HATE Mary Louise Parker's character because she wins the award for Worst Mom of the Millenium hands down. Her son deals for her? Helps her grow weed? Gets beat on by bikers when she stops buying crappy weed from them? She should be shot. So we hate most of the characters on Weeds as well, but we're watching because we want to see horrible things happen to all of them.

Quota: 31,822
Actual: 32,319

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day 19

Good work so far today. I might not be finished...we'll see. I continued with the backstory presentation, and had to laugh at much of what I was writing because it's just so silly and some parts clumsily worded. But I've learned that it's OK to write nonsensical filler, as long as you're moving toward your goal, and the filler isn't completely off topic.

I would imagine that 100% of the backstory that I've written yesterday and today will be entirely rewritten. That's OK, because out of this junk I was writing came a jewel. (I'm borrowing that from Linda Collison, fellow NaNoWriMo buddy and author of Star-Crossed. I have long puzzled out certain relationships that, for lack of better words (or laziness), the good guys and bad guys have, in the past.

History is written by the victors, and it's often incorrectly recorded. Today I figured out how to incorrectly record history.

Quota: 29,549
Actual: 30,593

(If you're looking at my statistics on NaNoWriMo, the graph is incorrect. I don't know why. It has the right word count, but isn't populating word counts on the days I'm entering them. Perhaps I entered too late yesterday, so they counted toward today?)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Day 18 - Back on target

As so often happens, inspiration struck in the strangest of places: the bathroom. Whereas yesterday--and what seems like most of last week--had left me confused and feeling battered, it was suddenly OK for me to take this story down a path that I was initially uncomfortable with, only to find, as I wrote, that I was quite comfortable with it. (Does that make any sense? It does to me.)

I decided to keep the story in the "world" I had intended to, and allowed myself to write badly, and invent schemes that seemed bafflingly ridiculous, because I know that I can go back and fix it. I forgot that lesson about going back and fixing things that don't work (it's called editing--and all good writing happens during editing, not the rough draft) but remember it now.

What was interesting was that the inspiration I was struck with put me in the frame of mind to write. But when I sat down, and read over some of what I had written, including text I struck out, I had a different idea, went with it, and it worked out better.

Quota: 27,276
Actual: 27,878

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Day 17 - Note from Neil Gaiman

These are some of the most encouraging words I've heard about writing a novel. They're no great surprise in themselves; the surprise, rather, is that NEIL GAIMAN shares the same frustrations as a simpleton such as myself.

Here's part of the letter he sent out to all the NaNoWriMo folks.

By now you're probably ready to give up. You're past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You're not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper. You're in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more---and that even when they do you're preoccupied and no fun. You don't know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you're pretty sure that even if you finish it it won't have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began---a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read---it falls so painfully short that you're pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That's how novels get written.

You write. That's the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Tomorrow is a new day.

While doing further research this evening, I seriously considered taking what I've written so far and doing something else with it--continue the writing, of course, but instead of trying to make it be part of an epic I can barely conceive writing, have it be something unrelated. A *gasp* standalone book. Just one book. Not a trilogy. Not two trilogies. Not a twelve-book series. ONE BOOK.

THAT sounds like a plan.

Day 17

No writing immersion today. I elected to spend time going through old notes, hoping to put together an outline. What I discovered was troubling. The reason my "epic" has never worked out, is because these hundreds of pages of notes, scene outtakes, etc., that I've written about share very little in common. I have at least a dozen different ways to begin the book, all of which have strengths and weaknesses. Likewise for plot lines, although the plot lines are pretty weak. There is an overall understanding of what needs to happen, but complete disagreement and disorganization on how to make it happen.

I don't typically write on the weekends, so I may spend tomorrow doing similar work, but this time just putting together an outline that will get me to 50,000 words.

Below are some terrific research books on the Middle Ages that I stumbled on. They're geared toward young adults, but they do an excellent job in dealing with their topics.

Tina Morgan, editor of the Fiction Factor e-zine, has this to say about research in her "World Building" chapter (one of the better chapters in this excellent reference) in The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy:

Most writers have a limited amount of time to research all the facts they need to include in their stories, so how do you find what you need in a quick and easy manner? One solution is to read non-fiction books aimed at a mid-grade level audience. The facts are given in very simple easy to follow answers without a lot of extrapolation to slow your research.

I'm a visual person, and learn much better with diagrams, pictures, etc. I need to *see* what I'm reading about in my mind in order to fully grasp it. So much of what I've read regarding the Middle Ages hasn't quite sunk in. Now, after seeing a diagram of a medieval manor, I can go back to, say, Joseph and Frances Gies works and understand what I'm reading better.

Each book is exactly 32 pages long, and every page is colored to resemble parchment, and the drawings, all full-color, evoke the period beautifully. There are so few reviews for the books on Amazon in this series; I'm surprised that more haven't stumbled on them.

They are all part of a larger collection: "Books in The Medieval World Series" by Crabtree Publishing Company

Life in a Castle
Medieval Society
Medieval Towns, Trade, and Travel
Medieval Medicine and the Plague
Manners and Customs in the Middle Ages
Food and Feasts in the Middle Ages
Life on a Medieval Manor

The following book isn't in the same series, but I happened on it in a store one day and was surprised at the depth it went into. It, too, is geared toward young adults, but like the books above can be helpful for a writer looking for a clear, diagrammed view.

The Big Book of Knights and Castles

Friday, November 16, 2007

Day 16

I'm somewhat revitalized today, but even so, spent an hour and a half typing 550 words (not a lot, considering how fast I can type), and all words led squarely into three dead ends that involved deleting 3,000 words from the text because they just didn't make any sense whatsoever.

I'll be going to the writing session tomorrow at The Story Studio and expect that being surrounded by so many writers working furiously at their own NaNoWriMo manuscripts that inspiration can't help but strike. Unfortunately I'll be on my laptop, away from the comforts of my split ergonomic keyboard...but it could be worse. I could only have a stone tablet and a chisel to compose on. That would be unsightly, not at all conducive to productivity, and would certainly disturb the rest of the writers.

I do know what I need to do; what I'm not sure of is how to do it. I'll keep trying until I get it right.

Quota: 27,276
Actual: 23,887

BEHIND: 3,389

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 15

A few days ago I considered changing the title of this blog. When I first started it, the task seemed daunting, intense, and, yes, a bit insane. But as the project progressed, good things were happening, and I was feeling better than I had expected.

Now, however, I think that a stronger word than insane might be necessary.

I'm not that far behind in my word count—only 1,630 words. But I am way behind on knowing where I want to go.

It's occurred to me over the past two days that perhaps I should have spent the last twenty-seven years trying to write short stories as opposed to contemplating epic/high/heroic fantasies, and that reading The Lord of the Rings may actually have been the worst thing to happen to me as a young reader, as it was upon reading that book that I realized I wanted to write long "fantasy stories" too. Perhaps I could title this blog, "How a boon became a curse". That might be a bit melodramatic, but that's what it feels like right now.

I spent a large portion of today searching for inspiration, but I didn't find any. In the end, I finally found a place to start writing, and did, although a good portion of it is now struck out, as I started going off in directions that made no sense whatsoever.

I'm starting to think that I should have spent a day or two putting together an outline, and thinking about the plot, as opposed to just winging it. Over the weekend, I might do that, if I'm caught up on my word count. I have a lot to do tomorrow! Good things have happened before, and this blog (which I'm essentially using as a personal diary while writing this book) is here to remind me of that.

Quota: 25,003

Actual: 23,373

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day 13

Our internet has been more down than up since last Wednesday, hence no postings since last Friday.

Over the weekend, I decided to look at some of my old notes. After all, I have spent about twenty-seven years working on the idea I'm tackling with NaNoWriMo, with varying levels of activity and success, writing scene outtakes, discussing plot lines, writing out question/answer segments for myself to address some of the more critical problems arising from the work—all of which add up to hundreds of pages and thousands of hours of work.

What I've done over the past twenty-seven years is to get excited about an idea pertaining to the series, start working on it, write about scenes, possible outcomes of the use of magic, how the use of magic would be limited and controlled, and also how the majority of the themes that populate my work—life, living, death, dying, health, illness, truth, honesty, lying and deceit - fit in with the world. Now that I've picked it up again, I thought, no sense reinventing the wheel. It was a decision that has helped me have a clearer picture of where I'm headed (I can't believe how much I forgot), and so am happy I spent the time doing it, yet has also been a decision that I regret, in some part.

It reminded me of my struggle to write fantasy. I've never thought that I write fantasy particularly well, and my strongest works (though, in fairness, I should also say all of my finished works) are not fantasy—and wouldn't even fall under magical realism. They're decidedly real.

Writing fantasy involves making the ridiculous seem perfectly sensible. Think about some of the more beloved fantasy stories of our times: 4 children walk through a wardrobe and find themselves in Narnia, where a White Witch rules in constant winter, and a Christ-figure is in the form of a talking Lion; Dorothy is transported via cyclone to Oz, where she is able to return to Kansas by clicking her ruby slippers together, saying, "there's no place like home"; a Hobbit carries a simple gold ring into the heart of darkness in Middle-Earth, destroying the ring's master, and also his malice and palpable threat, by throwing it into a volcano.

It's not a simple task.

What I've discovered is that in order for me to write fantasy that I won't automatically dismiss as garbage, I need to keep it real. And what distinguishes good fantasy from bad fantasy (other than the writing, some of which in this genre is atrocious) is an author's ability to tap directly into their characters, to find contemporary analogues for these preposterous or ridiculous scenes that fantasy (even the best of it—see the above examples) gives us. A character discovers that he can use magic? Great—find a contemporary analogue (CA) that fits, tap into the feelings and emotions that the CA give, and relay that to the reader.

Easier said than done. If any writer were to write a story that had infidelity at its heart, tapping into the emotions that propel the characters—and thus the story—is relatively easy. It's a sad reality that by the time we've turned thirty, a good many of us have been cheated on, and if we're lucky enough to have dodged that bullet, then we probably have a close friend or two that we've counseled through their own struggles either as the "cheater" or the "cheatee". It's not difficult to wrap our minds around what a person is probably feeling, and we don't have to search for CAs.

In the past, if I were where I am now, shouldered and burdened with more insecurities about writing this than I can keep track of, I would have given up. Or, rather, where I did give up—many, many times. But that's exactly why I decided to work on this series during National Novel Writing Month, because I can't give up. It's not in the cards. I have a calendar with my expected daily word counts, and I have to meet them. Even if everything I write is horrid and unconvincing, and I can't find the necessary contemporary analogues to make my 'fantasy' work, I have to reach 50,000 words.

My hope, while I push forward, is that in the next 30,000 words I write, I get back to being "jazzed up" as I was in the beginning, as a friend of mine put it. If I do, if I'm able to find inspiration, then I will have learned the greatest lesson that the project of this month could teach me: never give up.

Quota: 20,457

Actual: 19,757

Friday, November 9, 2007

Day 9

Wasn't expecting to do any writing at all today, but I gave it a shot after the vet. "Real" writers write all the time, even if all they accomplish is a few hundred words. So.

Last night I had a great idea for a prologue while in bed, but today could only remember the opening scene when I sat down to write it. What's that? A writer who doesn't have a pad of paper and pen on his nightstand? Yep. Pathetic. I do now.

So I tried a different angle, didn't like what I wrote, tried a different angle, and this time fell into a pit of fantasy pathos that led me straight to cliches and miserable writing. But, that's fine. I'll puzzle it out later. An interesting idea came to me while making the second attempt at writing a prologue, and I'm anxious to see where it goes.

Quota: 15,911
Actual: 15,664

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Day 8

I made good progress today. Caught up from yesterday, and am ahead of my quota, and I'm not quite half done with what I want to do. But I don't think I have much more energy, so will have to call it a day.

Tomorrow I have a Dr. appointment in the a.m. and have to take Joon to the vet in the p.m.; it's a good thing that the "muse" spoke to me right now. While writing, the plot started to come together more completely, and a few questions that I've had for myself the last couple of days were answered. I find that I plot better when I write than I do if I sit down with a blank piece of paper and say, OK, now what? That is a very valuable lesson to have learned.

My Guided Fiction class ended last night on a high note. Very talented writer's in that group...I have gotten more from The Story Studio in three classes (two 8 wk. classes, and one 4 week class) than I ever did in the time I spent getting a Fiction Writing degree. Considering how much I spent on that degree, from a private college, and what I've spent on these three classes - wow. Almost makes me want to cry.

Quota: 13,638
Actual: 14,983 (4,887 words today)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Day 7 - Finished

Nothing happened today, so I'll be behind on my word count. Tomorrow's a new day, and I'll have plenty of time, I hope, to get caught up.

By tomorrow I'll need to have written 13,638, so my word count for tomorrow needs to be *at least* 3,542.

Quota: 11,365
Actual: 10,096

Day 7 - Morning

Not sure how much time I'm going to have for writing today. I have a few errands to run in the morning, two submissions from my classmates to read, and class from 6:30 to 9:00. Since it's our last class, we're going out to grab a bite to eat afterward.

My good friend Robin Reardon, author of A Secret Edge, reminded me that
You can fill in much of the details of the ancient times later; the story, the relationships -- that's what counts. But if you slow yourself down getting all of your historical ducks in a row, rather than just the critical ones, it's a kind of procrastination.

It's good advice, because yesterday, my frustration with my inability to place my characters in the right setting was so distracting that it affected not only my word count, but the quality of my writing.

I did find three CDs that helped put me in the mood, and hope to find more.

Elizabeth: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Codex Faenza: Instrumental Music of the Early 15th Century
Sinners & Saints: The Ultimate Medieval and Renaissance Music Collection

If anybody knows of other Medieval or Renaissance music, let me know by posting a comment to this post! Thanks.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Day 6

This wasn't a very productive day. The perils of writing at home were encountered, as there were a number of things that demanded attention. What's worse, however, is that I've gotten to the point that's always caused me to stop in the past when I'm writing fantasy - when I need to accurately describe my characters living in and responding to a society that's relatively medieval. Perhaps I *should* have been a SCA member (NO), or perhaps I *should* have attended at least one Renaissance Fair, instead of avoiding them like the plague for fear of guilt by association. Heck, when I was in high school I had too many reasons for people to laugh at me, and I certainly didn't need to give them more. After high school, well, by then I was finally "too cool". Right.

So tonight and tomorrow morning I'm going to need to give myself a refresher course. Thank goodness for Wikipedia. It should be able to (from the articles I've found today) supply me with some information and much needed inspiration. While I still believe that the way I chose to write this story was the right way, it's going to involve a lot more work than I anticipated. I refuse to just write senseless garbage for a month. I might reach my word count, but at what cost?

None of my character's were speaking today. They better get ready tomorrow, because I have work for them.

Quota: 9,092
Actual: 10,096

Monday, November 5, 2007

Day 5 - Finished

Today's writing went by quickly. I met my word count before I knew it, but kept pushing forward.

I'm not as ecstatic about my writing today, because I have the sense that most of it will end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, but still it's writing, I'm pushing ahead, and am having thoughts about how to rework some of what I've already written. Because it flew by rather quickly, it's probably pretty awful. I found that I didn't have the patience today to wordsmith as I went along, so was less conscious of trying to produce something that was good on some level, and more focused on getting ideas on the page.

A character that figured prominently in Chapter 1, and who was supposed to appear prominently in Chapter 2, was unceremoniously removed, leaving only my main character, his harsh older brother, and their dying father. It wasn't intentional, but I think that it may have been for the best. My main character has to *want* the "services" of this character who was removed, so having to actively seek him out is probably a good thing overall.

Quota: 6819 (based on 3 "working days"...Thursday, Friday, Monday)
Actual: 8596

Day 5 - Beginning

A few small annoyances in the morning - delivery, again, and animal mishaps that required immediate steam cleaning, and a tiny bout of procrastination - but the morning is over.

I sketched the first few paragraphs of Chapter 2 in my head while in the shower and am ready to go.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Day 4

Also not a working day. I've been reading some of my older notes, and putting together a reading list while writing. Chris and I together are reading Anna Karenina through via RSS Feed, and I'm finishing up re-reading Donaldson's Fatal Revenant.

Then I'll be looking at:
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Robert Jordan's Eye of the World
Alison Weir's The Wars of the Roses
George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords

I have a couple of ARCs that I need to read as well. Those will have to wait. I'm a firm believer in reading books that inspire you while you write. You are what you read - indeed. Both Jordan and Donaldson do things that I immensely admire - but they also do things that I would do well to avoid. Donaldson has a tendency to use $50 words when they're absolutely unnecessary, and Jordan, sadly, became far too expansive, and left what could have been the definitive American fantasy epic unfinished before he passed away (chillingly, one day after my birthday).

Quota: 4,546 words
Actual: 6,052

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Day 3

It's Saturday, and therefore not a working day. Time to rest up for the full week starting on Monday, and think of where I want to head with the second chapter.

Quota: 4,546 words
Actual: 6,052

Friday, November 2, 2007

Day 2

If the next 20 working days (my plan is to work Monday thru Friday, about 4 hours a day, and produce at least 2,273 words per day) are anywhere near as good as these first two I will be ecstatic.

Good things were happening when I started writing. I deleted about 50 words from the very end of yesterday’s writing to have it make a bit more sense (my Inner Editor has been alive and well since stopping yesterday and starting again today). I was happy, and then I got to what is the conclusion for the first chapter. Again, noting Hemingway’s disclaimer that all first drafts are crap, I’m sure that if I printed these pages out and read through them there would be more than a few groans, but the ending left me on a high rarely achieved by mortals with mere oxygen.

It’s hard to believe that all of this is falling into place, and it’s doing so very easily.

I attribute this entirely to the programs plan of locking up your Inner Editor for the month, and just writing. Things that would have worried me don’t worry me so much, because I know that I can/will go back and fix it all later. That said, I’m not doing ALL that great keeping my Inner Editor locked up. I’m still being ultra-picky about word choice, and am trying to put enough *good* writing on the page that I won’t hate it when I’ve finished.

Tremendously productive day.

Quota: 4,546 words
Actual: 6,052


Quote for the day:

"Planning to write is not writing. Outlining--researching--talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing." (E L Doctorow)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day 1 - Amazing things happened today

Earlier in the day, I was certain that I wasn't going to make my daily word count of 2272 words. Even after the "LifeBurp" was over, I found all sorts of things to distract me. Suddenly, my desk, which is cluttered far more often than not, was bugging the daylights out of me. I had to clean it. I organized, even dusted! Found a picture of my 8 yr old nephew, Mark, from when he was 18 mths old. The desk is three years old, so I know it hasn't been there for 6.5 years, but I had to ask myself - what are you thinking when you look at that desk? Is the clutter even registering?

I don't think that it is.

I sat looking at a blank Microsoft Word screen for a LONG time. I finally decided to go back and look at some old notes that I made for the series. The idea, of course, is to come into this with a blank slate, and all new writing, but there's no sense in reinventing the wheel if I've already pestered myself with most of the major "what if" questions in this "fantasy" world.

Surprisingly, the biggest "what if" question was answered today, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's answered FOR GOOD. My world needs to be seen by an outsider, for reasons that fall under RAFO (read and find out), but some of my themes (Health and Illness, specifically) are reminiscent of Stephen R. Donaldson's work with The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and while I will make my work my own, I didn't want to have a sick guy coming in from the "real" world, our Earth, because that's exactly what Donaldson did, as Thomas Covenant is a leper.

As hard as I tried to get around it, I kept coming back to the absolute necessity that the person be an outsider. I imagine it was like Donaldson (yeah, laugh - I'm really not comparing myself with a published author who has sold millions of copies of his books worldwide) when he had to decide on using a white gold ring, when Tolkien also used a ring. Donaldson decided, correctly, that he needed the ring more than Tolkien did, and went with it.

But I need a sick guy too!

My solution is disgustingly simple. The main character, who I've never had an absolute fix on until today, will come from a different continent in a society fashioned after late Medieval England. Like, uh, duh? It took me 27 years to figure that out, or get comfortable with that idea? Forced to come up with a solution, as I was today, I made it, wrote it, and while the draft is crap (all first drafts are, ask Hemingway), I was forced to make up my mind, and when I made it up, all kinds of things started falling into place. I even figured out how to write fantasy. Or, rather, how to approach the writing of a fantasy novel. Previous attempts have failed because they haven't been real. Today I found a way to bring the strengths I have writing "real" fiction to fantasy.

All this isn't to say that I'm going to be a published author one year from now...I certainly haven't achieved perfection. Rather, I've achieved satisfaction. I will yearn for perfection, and hope to improve as I go.

Word count: 2,669

Getting better

Blog: 765
Novel: 814 - yay!


Blog: 765 words
Novel: 0

Day 1, LifeBurp 1

A LifeBurp is defined as an essential event, one that if ignored, will spiral out of control into a calamity of misadventure, creating an infinite loop of LifeBurps.

Like in computer programming:

Echo This is an endless loop!

It's why working at home is far more perilous than working on, say, an ice pond. Distractions abound, often of the essential kind.

A mail-order pharmacy delivered a package this morning, and the package was a bit lighter than it should have been. When I called them, they said that the missing drug wasn't on their formulary. Another call to another agency confirmed that it was on their formulary. The task, then, became mine: bring Party A and Party B together, and figure everything out.

In the end, it cost me an hour, and $80.

Not terribly bad, as I still haven't written an official word.

This may lead me to write in coffee shops.

Day 1

I've already concluded that writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days is likely to cause severe mental illness. Not a good way to start the month.

Consider, though, that it took me 5 months to write a short story, 22 pages long with a total of 7,000 words. It took that long, in part, due to a crisis of competence. The first 2/3 of the short story was a "setup" to the conclusion, and there was a bit of a mystery (not Agatha Christie; rather, a sense that something wasn't right) to it. I didn't believe that I was clever enough to pull it off, and I allowed that fear to keep me from completing it. It started from a simple exercise in my first class with The Story Studio.

In my second class with The Story Studio, I chose to "workshop" that short story so as to force myself to finish it, and I told my classmates upfront about my crisis of confidence (CoC). I still had a crisis of competence, however, because I truly doubted my ability to do the story justice. (I've come to realize that this so-called crisis of competence [CoC] is what has kept me from completing anything I've tried to write.)

Well, I did finish the story, and we reviewed my final draft in class last night. Everyone was shocked - nobody picked up on where I was going, so the ending was a complete surprise to them. What made me feel good about that is that they've known from the beginning that there's an underlying "mystery" to the story, and even going in with that knowledge, they didn't figure it out until the very end. Several mentioned that I had a publishable story. The reaction from my classmates (I won't bother you with all of their comments) was incredibly uplifting, and, at least until 6am this morning, went a long way to knocking my CoC silly.

So it's 7:42 AM. I'll be making a decision on what I'm going to write. I have a few possibilities.

  1. The "adult" fantasy, The Blood of the Arjanes
  2. YA Fantasy, The Attic Hag
  3. YA Fantasy, A Parlous Deception
  4. Using the short story I finished for class and expanding on it
I've been up since 6am, far too early for me. But when my eyes opened, my mind started racing with the possibilities of the choice I have to make, and make soon, and any grogginess was swept away as if I'd had eight cups of coffee. My body is still tired, but try telling my mind that! It won't listen, and insists that it is stimulated.

My plan is to start writing the first book of The Blood of the Arjanes (no title yet) and see where that takes me. If it clicks with me, then I'll probably stay with that. If it doesn't, then I'll try The Attic Hag, and so on. One of the above four has to work. (It has to!) If nothing clicks, then I'll just do what other people taking part in this have done - wing it. Start with absolutely nothing, and just write.