The Muse Wields a Sledgehammer

NaNoWriMo

On November 1st I am going to embark on a writing frenzy. Every day for a month I am going to write an average 1,667 words until I have a grand total of 50,000 by November 30. This is National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated twice before, once in 2011 and once in 2013, each time I wrote over 50,000 words.

Yes, my book is still on submission, and while I am waiting I have been toying with a book idea. I’ve started writing the thing three times and each time I’ve been dissatisfied with the results. The plot, the characters, all feel derivative, like I’ve seen it before a million times. That is a disaster waiting to happen.

And in the past two days I’ve gotten three passes, which is hard to take. I know it isn’t personal, but each one is another little cut until I’m stinging and bleeding all over the place. Yeah, I suppose that’s dramatic, but I allow myself to wallow in misery for a night and then I suck it up and move on.

So last night after a visit to Royal Scoop ice cream to drown my sorrows, I went to bed. I was idly thinking about a tweet my agent had put out last week about how he would love to see a Western. So I started thinking about how I love Westerns myself, and what I would do if I ever wrote one.

That’s when the muse descended and whacked me in the back of the head with a sledgehammer. I had a hard time falling asleep because my brain was galloping away in a thousand directions, coming up with brilliant ideas and details. I kept having to get up and write them down.

This morning I have two protagonists, a setting, the rough outline of a plot, and even a title. I’m calling it West of Never and on November 1st I am going to start the first draft. The rest of October will be given over to drafting an outline, character sketches, and general noodling. I’m pitching it as True Grit meets Thelma and Louise.

This. This is going to be wicked fun.

And that’s what writing is all about, right? If it isn’t fun, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Five Questions: Katharine McGee

The Thousandth Floor

It’s one hundred years in the future, and New York is still the center of civilization, but with wicked cool new technology. Contact lenses can make calls and show your social media feed, cars are replaced by self-driving machines, and the tallest building in town is now 1000 stories tall: complete with schools, shops, parks, and houses–there is literally no need to go outside. Why would you want to?

Some things never change, however, and the wealthy still live extravagantly on the upper floors, teens still party and experiment with sex and drugs, and the course of true love still doesn’t run straight.

The Thousandth Floor and its sequel The Dazzling Heights follows a group of teens as they try to navigate their way to adulthood. Avery is the golden child, genetically modified to be gorgeous and smart. Her friends Eris, Leda and Cord all go to an exclusive school “Up Tower,” while Rylin and Watt, kids from the lower floors stumble into their orbit of parties, expensive clothes, and killer digs.

The Dazzling Heights

But things aren’t as perfect as they appear on the surface. Many secrets and troubles exist between the different players and someone ends up getting hurt. Will the others keep the secret, perhaps the deadliest secret of all?

Katharine McGee has put together a tale that is at once gleaming with polish and raw and authentic. I would pitch it as Gossip Girl of the 22nd century, and it really is a glossy read filled with lifestyles of the young and rich and the all-too-real troubles of a teen from any age: substance abuse, bullying, sex, and forbidden love. I really enjoyed these both and look forward to the next in the continuing series. Here are Katharine’s five questions:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I lived in Manhattan for five years after I graduated from college, working as an editor of young adult fiction. This was back when the dystopian craze was all the rage, series like The Hunger Games and Divergent. I couldn’t stop thinking about those books, wondering what it said about us as a society that we were obsessed with such bleak, dark visions of the future. What would the future look like if, instead of destroying the world, we actually got things right—if each generation left the world better than they found it? I wanted to write a non-dystopian young adult novel set in the future, but hadn’t quite figured out what would look like.

Then I read an article about a concept called “vertical urbanization”: the idea that cities in the future will grow increasingly tall until they become massive skyscrapers. The idea captured my imagination. I mentioned it to my boss at work, who said the phrase “the thousandth floor,” and I knew I had my title right there! 🙂

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m an outliner through and through! I couldn’t survive without an outline, especially since I’m dealing with five different narrators, whose stories all intersect in complicated ways. One of my old writing professors called this the domino effect: if you change one thing that happens to one character, it creates a ripple that extends through all the stories. So before I write I spend a lot of time on my chapter-by-chapter outline. It inevitably changes along the way, but that’s just part of the process.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite series of all time is still Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy—there’s really nothing else like it, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t yet read it. I’m also very into George R.R. Martin lately, in no small part because of the way he so deftly handles his various narrators, killing off characters and then cycling in new ones, all while still maintaining a heart-pounding sense of urgency. I’ve been trying to do something a bit like that with The Thousandth Floor!

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I’m one of those people who needs silence to write! Somehow my brain has trouble sorting through the prose, especially dialogue, when there’s music on. It’s like my brain can’t process the words of the music and then also come up with new words at the same time! So I’m not very good at getting work done in cafés: I mostly work in my home office, or occasionally in a library. But I do play music between scenes to take my mind off things!

5. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Kendare Blake’s One Dark Throne, which is the second in a fantastic fantasy series set in a world where three princess sisters have to kill each other, and the one who lives will become the queen! I’m also reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, an adult historical fiction/fantasy about the rise of early modern Europe. It’s one of those epic, sprawling stories that builds an incredible and intricate world, so I’ve been savoring it.

Katharine McGee

Katharine McGee is originally from Houston, Texas. She studied English and French literature at Princeton University and has an MBA from Stanford. It was during her years in New York, working as an editor by day and writing by night, that she began a manuscript about life in a futuristic skyscraper. The Thousandth Floor is her first novel. She currently lives in Houston with her husband. Check out her website at katharinemcgee.com.

Nerd is the New Black

I’ve never claimed to be cool. That is just not in my makeup. I’m not into parties or dressing edgy. I’d much rather have a beer with a few close friends or read, or sit with some needlework. I remember one time when I was in grad school a friend called to ask if I wanted to have lunch. She had asked me what I was doing, and I replied “Oh, just sitting on the couch, knitting and watching Unsolved Mysteries.” There was silence on the other end of the line, and then the question, “What, are you 82?”

Holly Hat Clown–Red Skelton

Yeah. I’m a nerd. Look at the needlepoint project I’ve been obsessively working on the past few weeks. It was a kit I discovered in my grandmother’s sewing basket after she died seven years ago. Mom told me she had bought needlepoint projects for all of her grandchildren at one point, but never finished them. This one had barely been started. I was also told that this particular project had been intended for my cousin Scott, who was just a little kid at the time. Hey Scott, you’re welcome.

I have hung onto this thing for years and never worked on it more than a few stitches here and there. But I dug it out right before the hurricane and started on it again, and somehow it clicked this time. I’ve been rabidly stitching ever since, and binge watching TV shows on Netflix. And just to prove what a total nerd I am, I watched the documentary series The Royal House of Windsor and and am now halfway through Secrets of Great British Castles. So, yeah.

I hope to finish this in time for Christmas. I plan on making it into a pillow to put in my office. It’s so awful that I absolutely adore it.

What’s my point? That I am proud of my nerd status. When I was in my teens and twenties it really bothered me that I wasn’t more outgoing, that I was awkward in large groups, that parties gave me wicked anxiety.  I did get better at it, I learned how to relax and be more outgoing, although it still takes its toll. But in my 40’s I have found that I really like me. I think I’m pretty cool just how I am.

I’m proud of my clown. I can’t wait to see how he looks in my office. I’ll post a picture when Old Red is complete.

Again, Scott, you’re welcome.

 

Five Questions: Jodi Kendall

I have this theory that baby anything is cute. Puppies, kittens, piggies, scorpions…

Okay, any baby mammal is cute.

Hamlet is no exception. She is the runt of a litter and eleven-year-old Josie Shilling’s big brother sneaks her home from college over Thanksgiving. From the first moment the wee piglet enters the already cramped Shilling household Josie’s life is transformed. She convinces her parents to let her keep the pig until she can find a proper home for Hammie, and they give her until New Year’s Day.

Josie already has a busy life with four siblings, school, and gymnastics. Add in the rapidly growing pig that needs feeding, bathing, and exercise and Josie’s already full plate is overflowing. Can she manage everything and still find a safe place for her darling pig to live a long, happy life?

I can’t tell you how much I loved this story. Josie is a great character–earnest, sweet and awkward. The descriptions of her relationship with Hamlet are adorable, and I could really hear the pigs little grunts of contentment when they curl up in front of the fireplace. Add that it’s set during the Christmas season and this book just about explodes with fuzzy good feelings. But nothing is contrived, or overly sentimental. I think this book has Newbury Award written all over it. Everyone needs to read it.

Jodi Kendall is an agent sibling. This means she is another client of my agent, Alexander Slater of Trident Media Group. I’ve been following her publication story for a while now and I am so pleased to tell you The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City was released this Tuesday to great reviews. Here are her five questions:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

It was actually my husband saying an off-hand comment like, “You know your childhood pig? You should write about that.” That seed started the wheels turning in my mind, and memories flooded back from when I was a kid and my brother rescued a runt piglet from certain death at a nearby farm. He brought it home on break during college, and it lived with us in our house for about six months.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m a pantser that’s a wannabe outliner. I usually only know a few things before I open up a blank document, and as I get further into the draft, I’ll have some notes with characters and opening problems and closing resolutions. Then I try to thread it all together. But so much of my process is an organic, surprising mystery to me.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

As someone passionate about nature and human-animal connections, I absolutely love the work of Katherine Applegate, Kate DiCamillo, Peter Brown, and Sara Pennypacker. I’m in awe of Leah Henderson’s beautiful debut ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL – Her writing has such a lush, lyrical quality to it, almost like music. Studying her prose has recently inspired me to develop the loveliness and cadence of each sentence when I’m writing and revising.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Most of the time, yes. While I was writing THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, I blasted holiday music. The story takes place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, so I listened to Pentatonix albums on repeat.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading ENGINERDS by Jarrett Lerner, which recently published. It’s hilarious, and fast-paced, with short chapters and great voice. I imagine it’ll be a new, funny favorite book for reluctant readers.

Please check out this book. Anyone who has ever loved an animal will get all the feels.

Jodi Kendall grew up in the Midwest with her family of seven and their household of countless pets, including hamsters, ducks, dogs, rabbits an iguana and yes…even a farm pig! As a freelance writer, Jodi once followed  a secret nighttime transport of a manta ray over state lines, swam with seven species of sharks, got up close and personal with venomous snakes, and motored through a saltwater crocodile breeding ground. These days, you can find Jodi typing away at home in New York City, where she’s still an animal lover at heart. Jodi holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and is an active member of SCBWI. This is her first novel. Visit Jodi online at www.jodikendall.com.

We’re Back in the Saddle Again

Good old Gene Autry. He wrote the song about being back out on the range, toting his old ’44 and feeling at home. When I set out to write this I just conjured the line of the chorus without really considering the rest of the lyrics, but I find that they mean something more than being back in one’s old routine.

I`m back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again
Ridin` the range once more
Totin` my old .44
Where you sleep out every night
And the only law is right
Back in the saddle again
Whoopi-ty-aye-oh
Rockin` to and fro
back in the saddle again
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay
I go my way
Back in the saddle again
It’s more than doing something familiar. It’s about being in a place that is comfortable, that suits a person right down to the blood marrow. Every person is different when it comes to their saddle. Some people never discover what theirs is, and for those I feel the most sorrow, for there is something so satisfying at being in a place that brings you quiet joy.
For me, it’s writing.
The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt is currently out on submission to editors in New York. It is a thrilling and terrifying prospect all at once that chips away at my concentration on everything. My brain is always half somewhere else, wondering, hoping, and wishing for the best news possible.
To distract myself I have started a new novel. I won’t tell you about it yet because the idea is still just a seed and I need to work things out before I start yammering about it to the world. But this is exactly what I need. Writing is being in the saddle for me. It is a place so familiar and sweet that it calms and energizes me at the same time. I can throw my entire brain at it and be absorbed completely, no fretting about what may or may not happen in other arenas of life.
So I am going to dive head first into a new project and give it all my attention. What may come with Audrey will happen in its own time. Don’t get me wrong, I will be out of my mind with happiness if it sells. But in the meantime I am going to do what I love most.
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay.