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Once More Into the Breach

Or how to tell lies in public. It wasn’t meant to be a lie when I said I was done with NaNo for this year. I didn’t add to my word count for four days, even though I did do a little writing. I really felt that there were no more big chunks of text to be added, just little dribs and drabs that wouldn’t amount to much.

Maybe I just needed to chill for a while, because whatever was blocking my brain let go, and the ideas started flowing again. I really didn’t think it was possible, so today, at 41,600 words and the rest of the evening, plus seven more days ahead of me, it still seems pretty amazing. I think that’s why writers keep plodding along even when nothing seems to be happening. Because, eventually, something does happen, and it’s always an unexpected something. For me, that’s just as thrilling as winning the lottery would be for someone else.

Relevant to this is a question someone asked on the NaNo forum the other day. Whether it’s acceptable to write a story within a story. The simple answer is yes. When I began writing Gift of the Ancien (originally Gift of Blood) it was with the intention of including three or four “interludes,” which were essentially short stories about events that might have taken place before the events of the novel.

When I started planning for NaNo, I decided to place one of those at the end, as an epilogue, and integrate the rest in various ways. One was expanded and became the first chapter. Another became a short story written by one of the characters. The very last thing I would have expected was for another of those internal stories to show up, but that’s what happened.

They aren’t just random stories. They’re all fictional imaginings of what Ancien life might have been like at different times in history. The story that has become the epilogue is about the plague that started it all. Another is about an Ancien family’s tragedy in Renaissance Italy. The new one, which was inspired by a discussion between two of the novel’s characters, takes place in 19th century America, when a few Ancien families wanted to escape the wars of Europe. All these stories are a natural outcome of the novel and expand it in a way that info dumps or backstories could do, but only in a clumsy sort of way.

I still don’t know if there’s enough for me to reach 50,000 words, but what I got out of quitting for those four days makes that almost unimportant.

NaNo is Over – For Me

I finished up yesterday (the 17th), with 35,000 words. Now it’s on to the heavy lifting, the slicing and dicing that I hope will turn Gift of the Ancien into a successful novel. When I look over the chapters and snippets that I’ve written since November 1, I wonder why the novel I see now was invisible to me when I created it several years ago.

But having gone through the long process of thinking about it, reimagining it, and understanding my characters better, I realize that’s why good novels can take years to write. And that says a lot about the current generation of writers who are boasting about how many novels a year they are writing, and how many copies they’re selling.

It’s possible to write a decent novel in just a few weeks, one that keeps readers engaged, that doesn’t trip you up with poor grammar, and that might even have a style of its own. But I seriously question whether you can expect that novel to still be around in a couple of years. A visit to any well-stocked used-book store will impress you with the endless shelves of novels you’ve never heard of, by writers you’ve never heard of.

I know I’m a decent writer. I hope to become an excellent writer. I don’t expect to write anything that will become a classic, something that’s still being read generations from now. But it’s a worthy goal to strive for, so I don’t regret that it’s been five years since I wrote the first draft of Gift of the Ancien. It was a good idea then. It’s a better idea now.


NaNoWriMo – Week Two Begins

These reports are boring, so I’ll keep it short. The week went better than expected, even if it ended with my first day of goofing off and failing to meet my personal goal of 2,000 words. The total word count is just under 20,000 words, so that may actually be a first-week record for me.

The writing rackets back and forth between excitement and tedium. I’m not sure which one usually has the upper hand. I’d like to finish by the end of the third week, but I can never depend on sustaining the early energy. Part of the work involves rereading chapters of the original to see what needs to be expanded or filled in.

I’ve drastically toned down the “evil scientist” and made him more human, if not likeable. Added a chapter that takes the story a generation or so into the future. I think the only person who’s read the original will be astounded. Pleasantly, I hope.

Still behind every day’s work is the need to stop thinking about The New Serfdom and concentrate on the work at hand. The transformation of Gil Saltero from a helpless boy kidnapped and made a slave in a possible  future of feudalism, to a man who has seen the worst a collapsing nation has to offer is ongoing. I know the externals of his life, but a lot of his internal life is still a mystery.

And so it goes.


So here it is an hour before I can crash and pass the remaining hours until November 1 and the first day of NaNo, in blissful unconsciousness. I should be thinking only of the novel and what I’ll be writing to get the final phase of Gift of the Ancien underway. Instead, ideas for New Serfdom keep intruding. That novel is going to drive me crazy until I get back to it.

As if that’s not enough, the phrase ‘The water trap’ came to me yesterday and triggered some ideas for a short story collection. I don’t know if The Water Trap will actually work as a title, but all the stories would be about water. I haven’t thought of a single plot yet, but I sense something very different from anything I’ve done before, where I let my imagination run free. The stories will all center around climate change, the lack of water (western drought) and the excess of water (rising seas).

I have this completely unrealistic notion that I’m going to be very disciplined in 2015 and immerse myself deeply in writing and publishing and wind up with a record-setting year for completed work. And then I wake up.

When Revision Feeds on Itself

Preparing for this year’s NaNoWriMo has been an exciting experience, with some unexpected developments. Considering that I’ll be doing almost a total rewrite of a novel, I should have expected that. But hindsight is always clearer than foresight.

One of the major changes in the revamp of Gift of the Ancien is that I decided to end it by resuscitating a discarded novella that was originally meant to be a sequel. By “discarded” I mean trashed — no longer in existence. It might not have been terrible, but it went in a direction I was no longer interested in for my writing. But the idea persisted.

Gift of the Ancien, for those who haven’t read my older posts, is about a subspecies of humans that developed out of a mutating plague bacteria centuries ago. Every so often, a male child will turn out to be a throwback to the earlier form of the mutation, expressing itself in a three-times yearly need for blood. So the story touches on vampirism, but is very different.

What the novella did was take that story a few generations into the future. In getting ready to rewrite it, I realized I needed to ask a lot of questions that I hadn’t dealt with in Gift. You never know when inspiration is going to strike, and it struck late last night. The questions poured out, and the answers began to come. Questions about the throwbacks’ social structure, moral values, and relationship to both humans and the Ancien themselves.

I went to bed with all that spinning around in my head and woke up this morning with the realization that certain aspects of the novel would have to be changed and/or more fully developed in order to foreshadow what becomes, essentially, a new kind of American Ancien, very different from the one that originated in Europe, and that dominates Gift.

Only six days left to whip all the material into shape and bring it to fruition during November. Exciting, yes. And scary.

Watching the NaNoWriMo Forums

Continuing a trend that started after a few years of doing NaNo, I rarely contribute to the forums anymore. It’s sort of a case of “been there, done that.” There are, when it comes right down to it, a limited number of topics possible and they are repeated from year to year. Meaning that nothing much changes. What makes it mildly interesting is how the different threads shape up, starting in October and continuing through November.

First up are the newbies wondering how it all works, do they have what it takes to get through the month, how many chapters should their book contain, and should they go with this idea or that idea?

It’s the stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with writing, or is, at best, marginal that I find fascinating. What’s your favorite clothing to wear when you’re writing/doing NaNo? What’s your favorite drink/snack? What does your writing place look like?

There’s a tea swap, believe it or not, where people sign up to send each other their favorite teas (three varieties, with enough of each for five cups). There’s even a post card swap. New for this year, as far as I’m aware is a thread about Starbucks’ secret menu. According to one spoil sport who worked for the company, there’s no such thing, but there are recipes you can find online and give to the barista to make up for you.

This sort of thing takes up a fair amount of the forums and is, to my way of thinking, a clue to why only a few thousand writers complete the month out of the more than a half million people who sign up. NaNo is just as much a huge one-month social bash as it is a writing challenge. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s ever-growing popularity is due to the social aspect more than the challenge. The always-huge thread about how to up your word-count without actually doing much writing is further testimony.

It’s a great resource for sociologists, if nothing else.

Never Say Never – Bringing A Novel Back From the Dead

Is it worth trying to rescue a bad novel? The argument can go either way; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the novel itself, and on the writer’s insights and abilities. When a critique of Gift of the Ancien showed me just how bad it was, I had a choice: throw it away and pretend it never existed, or put it away and hope that I might someday find a way to rescue it. I put it away, for two reasons. It’s an original take on the vampire theme, which has been written nearly to death with thousands of variations on the same old details. It’s a study of a population that’s superior to humans, but not strong enough to replace them or even survive if their existence is discovered.

Ancien has been waiting for almost exactly two years now, and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve found a way to resurrect it. It means an almost total rewrite, with most of it being brand-new material. Right now, it looks as if very little of the original will survive, but the original idea still glows brightly in my mind.

In fact, it’s glowing so brightly that when October rolled around and talk about National Novel Writing Month popped up on several sites, I had to rethink my belief that I have no more use for the annual event. I pulled out very early last year, and an experiment with doing some writing during the July Camp Nano didn’t work out, so it was goodbye NaNoWriMo, it was great while it lasted, but now it was time to break up.

It just proves you should never say “never.” So it’s back to NaNo because I want to get this thing done while inspiration is red-hot, and NaNo is the container that keeps it from running away and getting lost, and also the breeze that keeps fanning the flames.

The new version isn’t going to look very much like the old one, but I think it might possibly do what I originally intended — knock readers’ socks off.



Sometimes a Great Rethink

Even though I’ve been concentrating on nonfiction lately, there’s lots of fiction action going on in the background. My 2012 NaNo novel is slowly evolving into something bigger and more interesting than the original idea. The notes, the bits of dialogue and sketches for new scenes are piling up nicely.

My semi-vampire novel, Gift of the Ancien, took a big hit when someone whose judgment I trust pointed out the flaws. And they are big flaws. Huge. So it’s been completely on hold, not even creating a ripple in the brain waves for some time now. That changed today with a major insight that will probably trash most of the novel, but use some of its material in a completely different way.

For some unknown reason, I’ve been writing a bit of dystopian flash fiction lately, in between articles for Bubblews. That really isn’t a great site for fiction, and there’s every chance that the stories will be stolen, but they’re very short and off the top of my head, so no loss. I could take any one of the three and turn it into something much bigger, but I probably won’t. In the meantime, they’ve earned me a bit of money. Considering that I don’t care for flash fiction and seldom read it, making any money at all from a few amateurish attempts isn’t a bad deal.


It’s Been a While

It’s been so long since I posted here that I’m surprised to find that no one has unsubscribed. And that the blog is still getting reads. I don’t know whether the changes I’ll be talking about will affect either of those facts, but life is what it is.

The direction of my writing has changed considerably and will continue to go in a new direction. First, I won’t be writing any more slave fic, even though there are more stories to be told about Carhagen and its inhabitants. Sales have been dropping steadily; I know there’s still an audience out there if I wanted to catch its attention. There have been no Amazon sales at all this month, and if that continues through October, I’ll be retiring Hidden Boundaries, Crossing Boundaries, and Within the Silence, probably permanently. They were a big part of my learning process, as a writer, and they proved that I’m capable of writing material that people will pay for.

When I can get back to fiction again, it will be mostly near-future dystopian SF. For now, all my energy is going into nonfiction. The major part of that is the book on the death penalty. If I accomplish nothing else in my life, that’s the single most important project I need to finish and see published. The secondary, but financially important project is turning out short articles for Bubblews.

For a content aggregation site, Bubblews pays unusually well. The money I’m earning there helps defray the cost of books for research, and allows me to be more active fighting against America’s death penalty than just writing about it. Some of what I publish there is even worth reading. I may use this blog to point to an article now and then, when it’s relevant, but not very often.

I also won’t be posting here too frequently, but hopefully, more often than every two months.  So, if I’m not currently writing fiction, what will I post? That’s still up in the air, but some of the articles I write for Bubblews could be expanded. Science fiction and writing, specifically. I keep them as short as possible there because the number of writers on the site mean that any article disappears quickly. Our archives only cover the last 100 articles, so anything older takes some persistent Googling to find, assuming anyone is that interested, which I doubt.

It’s safe to say that the subject matter will be more random than it has been in the past, and it might not always appeal to people who’ve been reading the blog for some time.

Camp NaNo — Not a Good Idea

Maybe it was worth trying — pushing the book forward on Camp NaNo. But given the rules, it just couldn’t work out. Trying to ignore everything I’d already written and proceeding as if I could just tuck those fragments in where they belonged once NaNo was over turned out to be impossible. All that it would have accomplished, even if I could have managed it, would be to leave me with gaping holes, and pieces that would have to be revised in order to fit together in a way that made any sense.

I already write in what I call a patchwork or jigsaw style, but at least I can usually maintain some sense of continuity. That wasn’t possible while doing NaNo. So I withdrew yesterday, having managed to write about 2,000 words over the eight days.

The only positive result of the attempt was that it did push me into weeding out a lot of extraneous material, and organizing the whole thing into sensible chapters. Other than that, I’d have to rate Camp NaNo as a catastrophe of epic proportions.

At least I did have a brainstorm about the title. Set Me Free will now be the title of one of the chapters, and the book’s title will be Damned and Forgotten.

An Unexpected Side Trip

It was unexpected when I wrote the last post, but I made the decision shortly after that — to enter the July session of Camp NaNoWriMo. I had deleted my Nano account after last year’s realization that I couldn’t devote an entire month any more to one massive writing effort. It had reached the point where I wasn’t learning any more from it, and it just put off other work that I needed to be doing.

But I really need a push with Set Me Free, and the summer camps aren’t as high pressure. Setting a word count goal of 20,000 words (you can set your own goals in the summer) would get me well into it without being too stressful or taking so much time that I couldn’t do much of anything else.

Tomorrow is the big day. I’m not nearly as ready as I would be if I were writing a novel, so what will come out of it is probably big chunks that will have to be expanded later, and then whipped together into a coherent form.

I still have a lot of reading to do, so that will continue during the month, and with any luck, I’ll find quotes that I can use, and little bits of inspiration. This is going to be a vastly different NaNo from any that I’ve ever done, but if it works, I might just sign up again, either in the Fall or next summer, to do another nonfiction book.



On the Cusp of … Something

A few people might have noticed that I haven’t been posting here very often. I’ve taken on a lot of projects that have cut into my blogging time, but more important, I’ve gone about as far as I can go with this blog, at least in its present form. I’d probably never run out of topics, but I’m completely burned out on discussing writing and self-publishing.

So what’s next? I’ve been seriously mulling the problem for the last few days without coming up with an answer. Try to post once a month? Shut the place down? Find a new subject?

This morning, I stumbled over one of those serendipitous moments that happen every once in a while. I read a “reblogged” comment about a post on another blog. From the original blog post: “I often advise my students to avoid sharing their work with a larger audience until they are able, and willing, to create art from life, a process that requires distance or a craftsman’s care or both.”  The comment that followed: “Jenny Spinner with a fascinating consideration of narrative blogging: ‘As with the essay about my father, part of the lure of the narrative blog is that it’s written in the raw. It won’t stand still. Neither the writer nor the reader knows what’s going to happen next.’ “

There are two things going on in my life that connected with this. First, I’m working on a book about the death penalty. Second, I’ve also been writing a little bit about a relationship I have with a man on death row. I don’t know whether I will continue to work on it or whether I would ever publish it. It’s more about my feelings and how this relationship has changed my life, and how I understand it, than what we talk (write) about. I call it Meetings Before the Dark, because both of us are close to death, he by execution and me by virtue of my age.

From a purely writerly point of view, there’s a lot of good material that could be of interest to other writers. From a personal point of view, I’ve often found myself wanting to talk about it, if only to release bottled-up feelings. Maybe I could do that here, not in a confessional mode, because I’m a private person, and this would be pushing the boundaries for me. I’m also quite analytical, as my regular readers know, so there would be a great deal of analysis and contextualizing.

The over-riding context would be the American criminal justice system and its flaws. Within that, my concern is the lives of the incarcerated, particularly those who are condemned to die at the hands of the state, and how the existence of the death penalty impinges on our lives. I wouldn’t propagandize, though I’m completely opposed to the death penalty. My focus would be more philosophical and ethical.

So this is what I’m thinking about as a possible new direction for the blog. I’m sure a lot of subscribers would drop out, but that isn’t a factor in my decision. I’d be interested in feedback, of course. Yes? No? Maybe? Suggestions?




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