The untitled work that I’ve been slogging through the last three years continues to morph as I try to figure out just what it is I’m trying to write. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done real research… I knew starting out I wanted the book to be set in Ohio, and I did a lot of research about Ripley as an Underground Railroad hotbed until I burned myself on all the sad stories of escaping slaves.
I didn’t want to write about Ripley, OH anymore, despite the rich history. I wanted to learn more about my city, Columbus.
So I switched my location from Ripley to Columbus in general… but back during the Civil War, Columbus was much more spread out and disconnected than it is today. Clintonville, Westerville, Grove City… they weren’t suburbs, though perhaps still part of Greater Columbus, they were areas in their own right.
I knew I wanted to write something referencing Camp Chase. What’s left of the Union barracks turned Confederate prison camp consists of the largest Confederate cemetery north of the Confederacy itself. Isn’t that fascinating by itself?
I didn’t want to write about the sad and scary conditions of the prison itself. I wanted to learn about what happened to those men after the war ended, after Lincoln was assassinated. And how did that effect people living in Columbus?
Bust mostly, it’s becoming clear to me I want to write something fun and escapist. This has been a challenge for me, because I’ve had some personal issues the last couple years which make it difficult for me to keep spirits high consistently. How would I write cheeky characters if I didn’t feel cheeky myself?
Is this what happens when a teenage writer grows up? She loses her “I don’t care, I do what I want and I’ll be funny while doing it” attitude?
I was trying to research Clintonville, OH because it’s near where I live and I figured, hey, it should be easy to find information online as a start, and then hit the libraries for in-depth research. No such luck! I couldn’t find anything very helpful about Clintonville.
On my birthday, however, The Boy took me to tour historic Grove City. This is an area south of Columbus, and has been teased over my years in Columbus as “Grove-tucky.” Ohioans have this thing for making fun of people from Kentucky; I don’t get it, I guess it’s because it’s south of us and oh, by the way, Kentucky didn’t ratify the 13th, 14th, or 15th Amendments until 1975? Your guess is as good as mine.
The fact is, Grove city has a lot of historical pride. An art gallery is housed in the first bank (1st floor) and telephone (2nd floor) building. A number of shops are in the old Gantz mill. History was within reach, and I was able to walk on floorboards and peek into old safes that might have been around during the time I’m trying to write about.
If I’m intending to write about a prisoner of Camp Chase who manages to escape before the prisoners were set free as a whole, then it would make more sense for him to escape south to Grove City, rather than north to Clintonville, wouldn’t it? Oh logic, how thee loves to play with mine heart. Anyway, Grove City has a pretty cool genealogical section in their library, which is how I took the photo of the image in this post. I haven’t had a chance to drive to Grove City in about two weeks, so I’m hoping to get there soon to continue research.
So yes. I’m writing a book that is set in Grove City, for now. I think this could work. I’ve already gotten some anectdotal stories about people’s reactions to Lincoln being re-elected, etc. Oh, the possibilities!
Last week I got a review at Dear Author, which was both awesome and a little “meh.” The “meh” came in because I got a C-, which I’ve been told is still a solid grade. To confirm this, I looked up some of my favorite romance authors to see how they fared: they all got Cs as well. Mary Jo Putney, Candace Camp, Lucinda Brant, and more.
Why I Love a C Review
The awesome came in because I got a five page critique from the reviewer. No, seriously. I copied the text into Microsoft Word and it was five single-spaced pages.
Let me repeat that. Five. Single-spaced. Pages.
She went into detail that I would expect from an editor getting paid for her judgment. I kowtow at her feet and offer as much tea as I can brew and she can drink with multiple bathroom breaks. Her critique was spot on, pointing out everything I’ve wondered about my writing. She essentially gave me a checklist of things I need to make sure NOT to do in The Rebel’s Hero.
Do you know how many authors would commit murder for this kind of free feedback?
This is important stuff, I feel, because so often we authors can be a bit sensitive about reviews. And sure, when the reviewer launches into an emotional reason about why they did or did not like the book, that is less than helpful. Still, each review provides a learning experience, positive or negative. It is feedback for the next time we put pen to paper, and we should value them all, garnished with a grain of salt.
Plus, a C-range grade from Dear Author isn’t nearly as bad as some authors feel. It translates to “this book is competent, but not for me.” It’s a “good but not great” book. It’s a book that was “fun, but not sure I’d read it again.”
That’s fair. I’ll take that. Some of my favorite authors have multiple books in that “not sure I’d read it again” category. Darling Reader, I invite you to read the review and leave your opinion in the comments. The review was more than fair, and the comments were very nice. I would be interested to see your responses, as I know some of you left reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.
Tumbling Around the Interwebs
Completely unrelated, I created a Tumblr for the videos, photos, and inspirational quotes I want to share that don’t warrant an entire blog post.
If you follow me on Twitter and Facebook, then you will see the content there. The fun part about Tumblr is that it’s an easy way to ask me questions, or to submit fun content for others to see. I’ll see you over there!
All right, I think that’s it for this week! Best,
I haven’t read some of these books in ten years, but for some reason they still haunt me. Here are my favorite fairy-tale inspired books (in no particular order)! I had to cap it at thirteen otherwise the list might never end. Though, there is a shortage of good fairy tale re-tellings, for some reason… I wonder why that is? Are there any really good ones I should know about that aren’t on this list?
- Spindle’s End – Robin McKinley
- Enchantment – Orson Scott Card
- Spellbound – Ru Emerson
- Golden – Cameron Dokey
- Seven Daughters and Seven Sons – Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy
- The Book of Atrix Wolfe – Patricia McKillip
- Deerskin – Robin McKinley
- Briar Rose – Jane Yolen
- The Door in the Hedge – Robin McKinley
- Phoenix and Ashes – Mercedes Lackey
- The Lark and the Wren – Mercedes Lackey
- The Pearl of the Soul of the World – Meredith Ann Pierce
- Sabriel – Garth Nix
Actually, there is this one retelling of the frog prince and I can’t remember the title of it.
I do know that the prince was turned into a frog as part of a magical conspiracy, and that the princess/girl fell in love with him when he was a frog, and that his own brother/uncle/relative throws him across the room so he hits the wall with a sickening crack. The girl, distraught, thinks the frog died, but he actually just broke the spell by angering his relative into chucking him across the room.
Anyone know the book I’m talking about? It was really good. Anyone have any books to add to the list?
“When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take–choose the bolder.”
- Ezra Pound
This month, you’re doing what many think is the impossible: you’re writing a novel-length book in thirty days.
Fifty-thousand words in thirty days.
Are you insane?
Yes, yes you are, and I love that about you.
I know many of you might be struggling at this point. This is the rough patch, really. You’re close to the end, but so far from it, you know?
So I’m sure you’re at a crossroads. You don’t know the next step your characters should take. You’re tempted to go back and edit what you have written. Whatever you do, don’t do that.
Here’s a suggestion: choose the bolder path. What would happen if, say, one of your characters died? Or did something almost as radical?
Maybe it makes sense, what you’re about to do. And then again, maybe it doesn’t. That’s not the point of NaNoWriMo. The point is to put pen to paper, and at the end of the month, have something to workshop. Get that? Have something to workshop by the end of the month.
Good luck. If you need a place to vent about your work, leave a comment and we’ll see what we can do about sparking your imagination.
“My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.”
- Anaïs Nin, French Writer
First, I need to say that last week the lovely Evangeline at Edwardian Promenade awarded the I Love This Blog to me, and I have to spread the love around. See the end of this post for the award, and my nominations. <3
This week’s exercise is to take a look around you. So often do we writers get lost in the act of writing, that we forget we are supposed to be writing about life. Who are these characters that we spend our every waking moments with? How can we possibly know who they are, and how to make them distinct, if all we do is sit around our houses dreaming about them?
NaNoWriMo is a difficult time for any writer, whether you have a plan/outline or not. I found that during the second week, I began to lag a little. Things weren’t coming as quickly, and I was losing some of my pep.
I knew I had to leave the computer. There was something about sitting in the same spot day in, day out, writing to fulfill the daily goal, that exhausted me. I took a digital camera and small writing journal, and went for a walk.
I took pictures of whatever I saw that inspired me, with the plan to print them out and tape them to the walls around my desktop. I sat by the little lake at the center of my campus, and absorbed. I never wrote anything.
Three years later (i.e. a couple of weeks ago), that moment crystallized into the following:
At Ohio State, my favorite place on campus was Mirror Lake. There are beautiful flowering trees there in the spring, and ducklings that swim in time with The Truman Show soundtrack on my mp3 player. In the winter, the lake freezes over and everyone tests their courage by walking across it. In the fall, the most zealous Buckeyes jump into the lake to show their loyalty against M*ch*gan. There are benches, and sometimes people play their guitars. I would walk around the lake, usually listening to classical music, and breathe it in. I’d stare at the fountain in the center, and how it sometimes made a rainbow on very bright days.
Simple, reminiscent, evocative. Do you have such a moment, and can you use it for your writing?
Awards to Blogs I Love
“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.”
- Ivan Turgenev
When someone finds out I’m a writer, I inevitably hear about how they have a couple stories of their own lurking in their head, or three novels half-started, etc. Which I applaud, because I’m always happy to hear about fellow writers doing their best to write.
Rarely have I ever heard a story where they finished the work.
Sometimes this is because they’ve lost interest. Sometimes they cite the dreaded Writer’s Block. Sometimes they just don’t know how to begin.
J.A. Konrath declares that there’s no such thing as Writer’s Block. He also says you shouldn’t listen to people who say you must write every day to be a writer. Which I agree and disagree with.
Writer’s Block happens to me, but only because of the quote at the beginning of this post: I suffer from perfectionism, which means there are times when I want everything to be ready for me to write. I want to write, but some part of my brain tells me that the conditions aren’t right, aren’t “ready,” for writing. So I stew, fuss, and complain until my brain figures out that I don’t need perfect conditions to write, I only need to make time to write.
So I do agree with Konrath’s point that you don’t need to write every day. I’d like to alter his assertion, however, by claiming that even if you don’t physically write every day, you do at least think about writing. While you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, ask your characters questions to know them better. Study the people around you and note interesting personality ticks that could help flesh out your characters.
There’s no such thing as perfect writing, remember. There is always room to improve. So don’t let your need to get it right the first time stop you from writing. Let me tell you that you won’t get it right the first time you put it on paper.
Don’t let that blank sheet of paper intimidate you.
If you feel like writing, but don’t know how to begin, write about that! Write about how you’re feeling about your work, or lack thereof. Write about what you did today. The point is to get used to writing, in any form.
Like musicians, writers can only improve by practicing. This includes reading and writing a lot. When you feel the urge to write, just do it. Don’t let your fears crowd your ideas. The moment you put pen to paper, you are ready. There is no better moment to begin than now.
I run great risk of failing. It may be that I shall encounter ruin
where I look for reputation and a career of honor. The chances are
perhaps more in favour of ruin than of success. But, whatever may be
the chances, I shall go on as long as any means of carrying on the
fight are at my disposal.
- Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) English Novelist
I love this quote. As creative persons (a.k.a. writers), we continually run the risk of failing, and failing miserably.
There will be readers who e-mail us, not to praise us, but to complain that the ending was horrible, that no man would ever say those words, that no woman would ever react that way. They will tell you that your facts are wrong, that trains didn’t exist then…even if your pile of research books sitting beside you as you politely type a response say otherwise.
There will be agents who say your work simply isn’t publishable at this time. Not because it isn’t good writing, but because you missed the trend train, and your topic has “come and gone.” Still other agents will request a partial, or even a full, only to back out for some reason which cuts your heart in two.
Your publisher, should you find one, may put a Fabio-like beast of a man on your cover, despite your claims that you’re writing a sweet romance. Why do they do this to you? Because they know, really, they know, that sex sells. Even to people that don’t want to see sex on the cover. Even if the book doesn’t have an ounce of actual sex within it. Go figure.
So why do we keep writing? Why do we pursue a published career? Why do we do this to ourselves?
Because we must. It’s what we know, it’s what we breathe (sometimes), it’s what drives us through the Writer’s Block and Purple Prose and 2D characters. We have a story to tell, we writers, one that cannot be silenced by external distractions, or doubts.
Continue to write, despite your fears you’re not as good as you think you are. You’re only right if you stop writing, stop practicing, stop reading. Everything will fall into place, and you’ll find yourself with a work that shines. Always know that you have at least one person in your corner rooting for you, and her name is Worderella.
A guest post from a new writing accomplice, Zoe Winters. She writes to encourage you to find your dream and follow through, using the television show The Biggest Loser as a classic example. So read on, and tell us your dreams!
One of my heroes is Ali Vincent. If you don’t know who this is, she was the winner of the last season of “The Biggest Loser,” a weight loss reality show. Midway through the season she was eliminated, though the show planned to bring back a couple of contestants from home who earned it.
In the elimination room right after she was eliminated she said: “I am going to be the next biggest loser.” And she said it with such conviction, that though most of us thought she was loopy, we believed her a little bit. She became the underdog. When she was brought back on the show, she became a favorite for the win.
As it got down to the wire, both she and Kelly desperately wanted to be the first girl biggest loser. Kelly talked daily about how badly she wanted to be the first girl to win and how cool it would be. But she never said any more than that she wanted it. No one doubted that she wanted it. And she worked hard for it. But she didn’t get it. Ali did.
Between the two, I can only find one difference. Ali kept saying “I am going to be the next biggest loser.” Going to. Not Want to. It stopped being a dream and started being a goal. Of course saying you are going to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.
If Ali had failed she would have had “I’m going to be the next biggest loser,” hanging over her head forever, because she said it repeatedly on national television. Some people thought she was “too cocky,” but I don’t see it that way. She was single-minded. This was her goal and it was happening one way or another and if it didn’t happen she would go down fighting.
If she had failed she would have picked herself up off the ground and kept going. “The Biggest Loser” was a one time opportunity, but she would have found something else impossible to do and would have done it. Because that’s who she is. We need more Ali Vincents in the world.
When approaching your writing, what are your goals? Do you see them as just dreams? Things you “wish” would or could happen? Things that would be really cool if they happened?
Do yourself a favor, decide what you’re “going” to do. Take your dream and own it. There are no guarantees that this will get you where you want to go, but when you take control and subtly shift a dream to a goal, it shores up your belief in your ability to reach that goal. And with strong belief comes creative ways to start moving toward the prize.
Zoe Winters writes paranormal romance. She can be found at http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Her novella, Kept, will be released as a free e-book from her website in October. Her novel, Save My Soul, will be released serially as a free podcast, release date to be announced.
A guest post from my friend, Graham Carter, a reporter and editor from across the pond. He writes to answer the cries of us writers who have let our doubts get the better of us, and not a moment too soon. So read on, and feel inspired! Next week, a Worderella review of another Gaiman work.
Let’s talk drumming.
Yes, I know this is supposed to be all about writing, but there is an analogy here that I think all writers should be aware of, so stick with it (pun intended).
I am not a great drummer. I only took it up about six years ago, when I was 40, because I ran out of excuses for my lack of musical know-how. There I was, with my sticks in hand, eager to learn – and not a little excited. But the first thing that has to be said about drumming is it’s harder than it looks. Much harder. Much, much harder. Give it a try and you’ll find that trying to co-ordinate two arms, two feet and your brain, all in perfect harmony, often feels like some kind of witchcraft.
So I got myself a good teacher, watched recordings of Buddy Rich and other superhuman drummers in action, always kept my eyes fixed on the drummer whenever I went to a concert, and even went along to several drum ‘clinics’ where seriously good players would play, talk about drumming and show other
drummers some tricks of the trade. And I wasn’t afraid to work hard and practise.
Well, it didn’t work. Rather than be inspired to better things by all that excellence, I always ended up with the same thought at the back of my mind: “I’ll never be able to do that.” The better those other drummers got, the more I realised that – regardless of how keen I was and no matter how hard I tried – I simply did not have a talent for it in anything like the measure that those guys do. I was keen, but I was no natural.
So what has this to do with writing? Well, unlike drumming, writing does come easily to me. It comes so easily, in fact, that I hardly have to think about it to be able to produce something that has more cohesion, more fluency and more interest than the vast majority of the rest of the population of the planet will ever be capable of. It’s what I do, and as a professional journalist and editor of 20 years’ standing, I’ve also become
accustomed to working quickly and efficiently. Words are my friends, and I still love the fact that people will actually pay me to put them in the right order for them.
Fiction isn’t my thing, but I know how to string sentences together to get information across and make a point. And the point I need to make here is that most people – at least 99 per cent of the people you will ever meet, in fact – cannot write.
Never underestimate that fact.
Sure, they’re literate, but task them with writing anything remotely creative or vaguely complex, and they’ll flounder like a fish out of water. Words worry them. Sentences scare them. Paragraphs petrify them. Think about that for a moment while we go back to the drumming…
It was some time before I finally realised what I was doing wrong, and the solution was so simple that I am tempted to call it a revelation. It suddenly stuck me that my whole drumming education was built on how much better some drummers were than me, and it hadn’t really dawned on me that those staggeringly talented drummers I had been watching were only a tiny minority of all the drummers in the world. As far as my actual capabilities were concerned, I was reaching for pie in the sky, and I was so focused on how far there was to go, that I didn’t notice how far I’d come. It was time to switch to watching average drummers instead.
And it worked. Rather than telling myself: “I’ll never be able to do that,” now I come away from watching other, less esteemed, drummers with exactly the opposite viewpoint. “I can do that,” I tell myself – and I can. I will never be a great drummer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good one. I’ve found my level, and I found it by looking downwards. In hindsight, it was always a mistake to look upwards all the time, and it’s perfectly clear to me now that I was never going to emulate my betters when they had truckloads of talent and I was a mere mortal.
So, should you start comparing yourself with lesser writers instead of the literary giants you’re trying to emulate? Is it time for you to aim lower?
Don¹t you dare!
Why not? Because you’re not just an average writer, like I’m an average drummer. You’re a natural.
I am certain of this, dear reader, even though I’ve never met you and may not have read a single word you’ve ever written. I don’t need to. I know it simply because you¹re reading this. You’ve come to this website, looking to hone your craft through contact and interaction with other writers. Like I did with my drumming, you’re hanging out with, and seeking inspiration from, people who find this kind of thing easy. But with you there’s one important difference: you stayed.
If you’re comfortable around here, with all this talk of great writing and great writers, then that means you’re still looking upwards. And if you’re looking upwards, it follows that you must be a natural. Only when somebody is a natural do they continue looking upwards for inspiration, rather than downwards, and only when they are a true natural are they able to do this without feeling intimidated.
What’s more, they do it involuntarily. Most of the time, you don’t even know you’re doing it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you weren’t one of those hordes of kids who loathed Shakespeare at school, were you? You sensed the greatness of it, didn’t you, long before you could understand what was great about it or even what greatness was? Somehow, you knew.
And now, when you read Shakespeare or Tolkien or Austen or whoever your hero is, you’re not thinking: “I’ll never be able to do that.” You¹re thinking: “I can do that.” And there will be times – there probably already have been – when you will.
So never doubt it. When you’re having a bad day, just remind yourself of the fact that when it comes to writing, you’re not like all the rest. You’re different because you are stretching for things that most people have given up trying to reach – and they may already be within your grasp.
Graham Carter is a freelance journalist and editor who lives in Swindon, England, with his wife, Julie, and their two teenage children. He currently writes a weekly column for the Swindon Advertiser about the trials and tribulations of being over 40, and his blog (www.grahamcarter.net) is a more random collection of thoughts arising from everyday life.
Title: Paperback Writer: A Novel
Author: Stephen Bly
Length: 342 pgs
Summary: Paul James Watson is your typical midlist paperback novelist. He lives a typical middle class life with a devoted wife, loving children, and a cabin in the woods of Montana. His life is a little too “perfect, flat, routine, unimpressive,” and his spiritual life is about the same. Thus, Watson turns to his writing to bring the spark back, by indulging in his character, Toby McKenna, a sort of James Bond/Indiana Jones persona. As Watson writes his next novel, McKenna begins to take over, and soon the lines of reality and fiction blur to the point that Watson “may well be lost.”
pg 16 – Everything waits. Like street gangs in a dark alley, real life waits in ambush. If I glance up more than two minutes from my writing, real life imprisons me.
pg 26 – There is something innocent and healthy about the way a woman never forgets how to giggle.
pg 29 – “Do you mean you actually have something published?”
“A number of books. But sometimes my imagination runs away with me, and I live a scene out before it happens. While I was standing here waiting, I sort of lived out this scene. That’s how I knew about the phone call.”
“That’s really weird. Does it always turn out the way you imagine it?”
He stared at the large lady and thought about a fictional lady named Carrie. “It seldom, if ever, turns out the way I imagine it,” he replied.
She tugged on the sagging lobe of her triple-pierced ear. “Are you sure you aren’t a drug dealer?”
pg 147 – “You mean a whole lot more than just a friend, Paul Watson. She leans on you, P.J., and sooner or later a lady who leans on you will want to hug you. And after she hugs on you awhile, she will want to kiss you. And after she kisses you, she will want you to kiss her back.” [said McKenna, the fictional character.]
“Where did you hear all that nonsense?” Watson challanged.
“The Lady’s Other Tiger, remember?”
“I made it up.”
“You mean, it’s not true?”
“I don’t know if it’s true. It just sounded good.”
pg 296 – “When you’re visiting with a lady, listen to more than her words. Seventy-five percent of what a woman wants to say is never put into words. Listen to her heart, her tone. Pay attention to her posture. Study her eyes. Don’t ever take her literal words as the whole story. It never is.”
Why should you read this book?
This was an interesting premise: we’re in the mind of a paperback writer. He talks to his semi-famous character, Toby McKenna, on the drive home from his motel stay. Half of the time he isn’t actually doing anything, he’s just “living out the scene before it happens.” Which makes for one confused reader. At first, I thought it was so clever, how the narrative seamlessly switched from “reality” to “fiction.” I could relate; after all, what writer doesn’t go back and mentally rewrite a conversation gone wrong, or imagine a future conversation so that you get the words just right?
But it got old pretty quick, especially when I lost track of what was actually happening, who was actually real, and what was the point of the narrative. Watson talks to Toby, and when Toby annoys him with his debauchery, he tells Toby to go away and starts a dialogue with God, though, God never replies. By the end of the book, we have some sort of closure, and we know who was real and who wasn’t, I think, but the “real” plot is so haphazard that my disbelief was not suspended, and I feel cheated. An interesting idea with a not-so-great implementation.