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.

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.

Writing in a Vacuum

Writing is an isolated business, at least for the writer. Once a book is sold it becomes a team effort of agents, editors, designers, printers, bookstores, and marketing teams. But before a writer gets to that lovely prospect, there are countless days of agonizing over every word, plot point, and character. Usually all alone.

I am one such person as that. While it is true my husband (also a writer) is hands-down my best go-to person for reading pages, giving critiques, and editing with me, it still is a rather lonely place. I know my husband loves my writing, but he did marry me, right? I know he wouldn’t bullshit me, but he is just one opinion.

The Algonquin Round Table — the ultimate writer’s group.

That is why a writer’s group is so important. You can get feedback from more than one person, and if you have a good writer’s group, that feedback is helpful. Ah, but not all writer’s groups are equal, are they?

For example, last year I heard of a group that met at a church on Saturday mornings. It was a drive but Kosta and I arrived on time and took seats in the meeting room. It was a very large group–near to twenty folks crowded around the tables. But as the first few members began reading their work I realized I was in the wrong place.

How did I know? Because my husband and I were nearly the only two folks who were not octogenarians writing about their husband’s cancer/Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not entirely true, but it did feel more like a therapy group for widows. They enjoyed what I read (at least they said they did) but I didn’t get any helpful criticism. How could I when I was only aloud to read one page?

For a serious writer it can be hard to find a group of like-minded folks who are working on projects for publication. I still haven’t found one, but I am always on the lookout for potential partners. But it seems that for now I am on my own. And that’s okay. I’ll just keep working hard and doing what I love. That, in the end, is what it’s all about anyway.

 

The final lap…

“Been around that track a couple of times but now the dust is starting clear…” ~Dead Horse, Guns N’ Roses

Last week I officially finished draft three of my manuscript. My husband and I edited it together, and I have to say he is a wizard when it comes to pointing out flaws, or places where I can massage the story a little more. It’s a miracle that we can work together as well as we do, and that we’re still happily married.

So now all of the pieces are in place and have been filled out to their best potential. Tonight we start on the final polish. I will read it aloud to him and we will tweak the hell out of it, polishing until it shines like the top of the Chrysler building. (Shout out to little orphan Annie.)

As in my last post, I am so far down the well of editing that I have hardly had time for anything else in my life but the book, book, book! I am looking forward to having a little breather after I send it off to my agent. (Who am I kidding? I’m going to eat my nails off one-by-one until I hear back from him.)

That being said, I am really proud of this book. I am so pleased with the way it all came together in the last draft. I am excited to move forward and find this little book a home at a publishing house.

It’s time.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

Like Alice in Wonderland, I’ve been deep underground in a surreal bout of editing. I can’t tell you how many times I have rewritten the ending of my novel. I think this count is number five. But each time it gets better and I think I might be there soon.

Please let me be there soon.

This novel has taken all my time, sucked every last second of my day that isn’t spent doing other things (you know, like my 40 hour a week job.) I’m obsessed, I’m determined, and I am so ready for this draft to be over. But that said, it keeps getting better every time I make changes. It tightens, streamlines, and propels the plot forward like a comet.

What’s it about? The (working) title is The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt and I style it as a Pride and Prejudice meets X-Men. My heroine, Jane Bell, the youngest lady’s maid in London has a peculiar talent. She can pick up any inanimate object–a glove, a shoe, a handkerchief, and she can sense who touched it last and what they were feeling at the time. Her employer, Audrey Bettencourt is the most highly sought after debutante of her season. When she is kidnapped from her own coming out ball it is up to Jane to follow the clues to bring her home safely. But the reasons of her kidnapping are much more complex and far reaching than Jane realizes and she finds herself on a chase across the Continent to bring Audrey home.

I have fallen down the rabbit hole of editing. I might be able to climb my way back up soon. There are only 30 pages left in my manuscript, but it is the big finale and it must be as explosive, exciting and perfect as I can make it. The process of the second draft has been so protracted that I am losing patience with myself, although I am so close. Just a few more days work and I feel I will be there. If only I didn’t have this pesky day job taking up all my time and energy I would have been done weeks ago. But eating and having shelter are important too, I guess.

But soon I will put draft two to bed and then begin on the next step: draft three. *headdesk*

I will come out of this someday. And when I do I will have a polished novel with a kickass heroine and a twisty plot with a big bang ending. Stay tuned.

Elly Blake: Five Questions

frostblood

I am a sucker for a good fantasy. Magic, new worlds, adventure, and mystery are just the things that to me make a thrilling story.

Elly Blake’s Frostblood is a prime example of what I mean. Ruby is a Fireblood–she can control fire. But being a Fireblood is a big secret in her world. The Frostbloods, who can control ice, want to obliterate every last Fireblood and will stop at nothing to do so. When Ruby’s village is attacked she unwittingly reveals her true nature and is thrown in prison where she is tormented with buckets of ice water.

But then two Frostblood men arrive and tell her they will break her out of prison if she agrees to help them with a mission. She doesn’t trust them but is desperate to be free. She is taken to an abbey where she is healed and taught how to use her power properly, though most who know her true nature are frightened of her and the danger she represents as a fugitive.

And then there is Arcus. He is the Frostblood that freed her from prison. He hides behind a mask and is very reticent to share anything about himself other than what he expects of her. But a reluctant truce forms and they begin an unlikely friendship.

This book was so well done. The writing was outstanding and the story was well-plotted and satisfying. The sequel, Fireblood, comes out in September and I am ready for it NOW.

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

I started with a character — Ruby, a girl with power over fire. I actually dreamed about a girl with power over fire and a king with an icy heart. When I woke up, I knew right away that her name was Ruby. I decided to focus on frost and fire as opposing elements, and started spinning ideas from there.

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

I’m a pantser who wants to be a plotter. I try to plot, but I find it very hard to answer questions about character and plot before I start writing. I get to know the characters as I draft. So I know a few major points before I start, but the rest is a mystery until I have that messy draft. That’s when I focus on applying structure and plotting methods– during revisions.

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

There are many writers I love, and many writers whom I envy! I often wish I could write more like my favorite authors, but I’m not sure who actually influences my style most. I think when it comes to voice, most of our influences are unconscious. We pick things up from books we enjoy and it comes out when we write. A few of my favorite authors are: Marie Rutkoski, Megan Whelan Turner, Leigh Bardugo, Kristin Cashore, Morgan Rhodes, and so many more!

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I usually listen to soundtracks: Tron: Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s so good! I just finished Caraval by Stephanie Garber, which was a beautiful read. (I also met Stephanie recently at a signing and that was a total thrill!) Next, I plan to read The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles. I’m in a debut group so I’m reading a lot of 2017 debut books and loving them!

Elly Blake is the NYT bestselling author of Frostblood. After earning a BA in English literature, she held a series of seemingly random jobs, including project manager, customs clerk, graphic designer, reporter for a local business magazine, and (currently) library assistant. She lives in Southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and a Siberian Husky mix who definitely shows Frostblood tendencies.

Ready for a thrilling fantasy?  Get your copy here:

Barnes and Noble                    Amazon

 

What Is Your Word?

I had a text conversation with my friend Tammy last week. She asked me out of the blue the following question: If you could choose one word to set your intention for 2017 what would it be?

I had to think only a moment before I answered her: TENACITY. As in never, ever, ever give up. Never give up on what, you may ask? My writing most definitely, but it applies to all areas of my life – my career as a librarian, my marriage, my family, my friends, my spirituality, my creative endeavors in general. Writing a book and getting an agent has really taught me this lesson well and I can see it working in different ways that are surprising and wonderful to behold.

I thought it was a random thing to ask, but a very good question. Imagine my surprise when a week later I received a package in the mail containing this:

2017-02-05-09-03-50The bracelet comes from myintent.org. You can customize your bracelet to say any word that means something to you. It’s a really cool idea because every time I look at it I remember my determination to do the things I am passionate about. It also reminds me what an awesome person Tammy is.

Randomly, on a Saturday

The week flew by and that was not necessarily a good thing. Here are the reasons why I am startled to find myself at Saturday:

  1. Dad was in the hospital again. You might remember he had triple bypass surgery last summer. He landed there again this week because of a kidney infection that got into his bloodstream. He’s home now, after three days of IV antibiotics and doing better, though he’s kind of wrecked from the experience.
  2. Crazy week at work. We were short-staffed and it is high tourist season, which made for a creative scheduling for reference desk coverage. The highlight of the week at the library was someone came in asking for the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Instead, the patron asked for Hillbilly Allergy. It’s a wonder I can keep a straight face.
  3. Editing the novel. In all my spare time (my what?) I worked on rearranging events and consolidating chapters 4-8. Yesterday I was working at lunch and got a good hours’ work done. But then I got distracted with something and left my computer open. When I came back I shut down the file and it asked me if I wanted to save my changes. And, dear reader, I CLICKED NO. What the hell is wrong with me? Now I have to see if I can replicate the changes I made all over again.

That’s my week. I am super excited about my author interview on Tuesday. I won’t tell you ahead of time who it is, but he is kind of a big deal. Next Saturday I am going to take pictures at the Farmer’s Market and show you our delightful weekly ritual. I’d do it today but I am at work. And I’m barely awake so if any of my local friends want to bring me a double latte I’d be forever grateful.

My Kosta

Konstantine-George  Athanasios Karras

Konstantine-George Athanasios Karras

 

Twelve years ago this morning I met the guy above. It was my first day of work at the Naples Branch Library and my supervisor David introduced me to Kosta right by the CD racks. I still remember he wore a red-checked shirt and was very nice and funny.

Did I think immediately I was going to end up married to him? Good heavens, no.

But after about six months of working together we discovered we had things in common: we had both studied archaeology, we both loved to write, we both loved history and art and travel. When he suggested we go out for a beer to talk about writing some more I agreed. We went to McCabe’s and had a beer and talked and talked and talked. We were friends.

After that we went out once a week as friends. We laughed and drank beer and ate burgers and had a great time. We did this for about six months before I was brave enough to take things to the next level. So on January 6, 2006 I invited him over to my place for a home-cooked meal. I made spaghetti and garlic bread and he brought the wine. We watched The Thing from 1951 with James Arness as the monster. I don’t really remember anything about the movie at all because I was so nervous. When the credits rolled I leaned over and kissed him.

He didn’t run screaming, which I took as a good sign. It took him a while to figure out his mind though. At the time he was 49 years old and had pretty much decided he was going to be a permanent bachelor. He was concerned that there were eighteen years between us. But by President’s Day that year he had committed and we never looked back.

Now we write together. We talk about history and art. We travel as much as we can afford. We laugh every day. And yes, there are eighteen years between us but it doesn’t make one whit of difference. We are best friends and that is that.

The only thing I would change about my relationship with my husband would be that I had met him sooner.  I love you, honey. You’re the one for me.

Taking Stock

Checklist and a pencil

As 2016 draws to a close I think a lot of us take this time to reflect upon what we accomplished in the past year.  I know this was a tough year for a lot of folks, especially those of Generation X, who lost a lot of icons this year like David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher. We knew Bowie was battling cancer so it wasn’t a true shock when he passed, but the other three? Oy. Having grown up in the Minneapolis area, Prince was especially a knife to the heart. I think of all the amazing things he never got to accomplish because he died too soon.

And then of course was the election. I’m not one to talk about my political opinions in public, but I will say I have never seen such an ugly, divisive battle. It was truly heinous to watch. Although not having broadcast TV spared me from the political ads. I wish I could say I was hopeful but I have real concerns about the future of this country and the world.

However, I think it is wrong to say that 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year. On a personal level I had some really good things happen. I finished the first draft of my third novel. Now in 2017 I will begin the revision process and I hope to have something ready to go for my agent in the next few months.

I also had a revitalization at work. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a Reference Librarian for nearly fourteen years and working with the public has begun to wear me out. But I found a new project on which to work that has me extremely excited. I’m pitching the idea to my director a week from today. If I have her blessing I’ll share more about it then.

I took an amazing trip this summer with my husband. We saw Austria, Germany, and France, spent time with great friends, and drank lots of good beer. We nearly killed ourselves on the 700 steps inside an ice cave, visited the crypt at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, saw Mozart’s birthplace, took the Nightwatchman’s tour in Rothenberg, drank schnapps, saw the graves of Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine, toured Brittany, and climbed to the top of the world at Mont St. Michel.

Some not so great things happened as well. My Dad had triple bypass surgery while we were on vacation. Thankfully Pop has made a full recovery and is doing very well. Mom is still struggling with her health and there isn’t much hope for improvement. Adjustment has been hard for all of us but especially for her. She gets frustrated because she can’t do everything she used to. I can’t blame her, I would go mad.

And of course the biggest hurt this year was that my book didn’t sell. But I am hopeful and excited about my new novel. Think of it as a mashup between Pride and Prejudice and X Men. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it and I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and digging into revisions. I’m going to start tonight with reading the book through in its entirety and make notes as to what needs attention. Then my husband and I will go through, chapter by chapter and fix things. It’s going to be a long process, but ultimately so rewarding. I’m anxious to get back in the game.

I could never blame a year for being bad. The way I see it, I had another trip around the sun and got to do some amazing things. I look forward to the next year with optimism and hope you do too. No matter our opinion of the state of the world we all need to move forward and make the best of our situations however we can. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating 2017. It’s going to be a great year.