NaNo Journal Day 7

Not bad… seven days in and I haven’t collapsed in a heap yet, despite the time change.

Today I wrote one of the finale scenes. Yes, I’m taking that whole not writing sequentially thing seriously. But I’m actually following the advice of the Seven Point Story Structure, which says that we want to start at the end.

That may sound counterintuitive, but it makes sense for the same reason that we put the final destination into our GPS. The resolution of a story really defines what the story is about. It’s where the whole thing is going. In so doing, you can write the beginning with the end already worked out.

With that, and speaking of endings, today’s journal is brought to you by Blue October, who has provided a glimpse of what a happily ever after may look like… after.

And if anyone deserves so much happily, it’s Emilia and Niccolo. Well, and other characters, too…

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NaNo Journal, Day 6

Liberated from my constraints about writing in a pretty, linear order, today I wrote all kinds of stuff. I wrote my mood, and my mood was schmoopie.

Having a magnificent husband sometimes puts you in that mood.

Just saying.

So I’m all caught up now. Tomorrow I really have to throw myself into another project–editing my friend’s novella. I’m nearly done, but it may set me back a day or two with NaNo and La Dotta.

But that’s why God created weekends.

Today’s schmoopie writing was brought to you by k. d. lang, and one of my all-time favorite albums, Invincible Summer. We may feature more k. d. before I’m done, just because that voice.

We can say a lot about Sarah’s life in La Dotta… it’s frustrating, infuriating, disappointing, messy, wrong. But Giovanni will never, ever, allow it to stay ordinary, not since he came waltzing in.

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NaNo Journal, Day 5

Let’s start with Day 4. Zip, nada, no-thing.

Sometimes I need to be a teacher and grade papers. And sometimes I need to work football games at my high school. And sometimes I go home and collapse in a heap.

But that was yesterday. Today was better.

I struggled mightily with coming up with an opening scene. I wrote one that I didn’t much care for (I’m counting the words anyway). Eventually, my mentor best buddy told me that I don’t HAVE to write it sequentially.

Oh.

I didn’t write Shadow of the Portico sequentially, and it ended up being quite a job putting it together in some kind of order that made sense. So I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.

Except, maybe that wasn’t a mistake. Maybe the mistake was not having an outline, a road map that covered beginning, middle, and end. In fact, having an outline means I have the freedom to write as ideas they come to me, since putting them together will be much easier with a plan in place.

So okay, I won’t write in order. Here we go.

As if my insecurities were zapped by my newfound freedom, I came up with a better starting scene. I’m pretty sure this one will stick.

And while I’m still a few words behind (6509 / 8335), I’m still in the running.

So today’s song is brought to you by one night stands and Sam Smith.

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NaNo Journal, Day 3

There’s a trick to writing 50,000 words in a month that doesn’t even have the decency to provide 31 days. The trick is to plow through. Don’t stop. Keep spewing words, and don’t pause to edit or doubt yourself.

It’s called shutting down your internal editor. That small voice inside of you that is desperately trying to tell you that everything you write is complete and utter bilge.

It’s hard to quiet that voice, that self doubt, that better angel who is saying, you know, you’re using too many adverbs. But in my current writing adventure, I’ve discovered a force much more powerful and damning than my internal editor.

My external editor.

Let me be clear. My editor is also my dearest friend and writing buddy, and I adore her, admire her tremendously. So when I wrote a scene that was what I call a book-sequel scene, meaning a scene that explains something that happened in my previous book, I thought I’d run it by her. You know, just a quick look to see if I was on track.

She completely garroted it, sweetly, with generous words and copious blood.

Of course, I reacted like anyone would after a garroting–I couldn’t breathe. But then, she did something magnificent. She taught me some rather profound lessons about writing a sequel. Specifically, she told me where to start this bugger.

It’s what I needed to hear. I needed to not write a book-sequel scene. I needed to start my sequel in a place that made sense, so my readers could actually see what was going on, not guess it from my oblique references and Sarah’s emotional instability.

So my word count was low yesterday. (I’m still counting the scene I wrote, may it rest in peace.) I decided to stop and give some thought to this new beginning, and give it fresh start. Three days in. Bless my heart.

But seriously, thank you, Olivia, for not allowing me to write anything less than the best I can do. I’m blowing grateful, if exhausted, kisses your way.

Today’s writing is sponsored by Phil Collins, with a live version of Against All Odds, which is significantly more tolerable than the movie video. This song, because Giovanni was the only one who really knew Sarah at all.

 

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NaNo Journal, Day 2

I’m finding there’s a certain skill involved in writing a sequel. Early in the story, I have to inform, or at least remind, the reader of events that happened in the previous novel. This is not into a standalone novel–you really need to read Shadow of the Portico before you read La Dotta.

One of the early scenes in this novel, one I wrote today, describes an event at the close of Shadow from Sarah’s point of view. It’s tricky to find the balance between saying in a television announcer voice, “Previously, on The Journeymen…” and actually telling and continuing a story that readers may be familiar with.

It was hard to write. It made me sad, nearly brought me to tears. Maybe I’m a little too attached to the make-believe people in my head.

Anyway, today’s Journeyman Journal is brought to you buy Roxette and her uncertain feelings about what may or may not have been love… but whatever it was, it’s over now.

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NaNoWriMo Journal, Day 1

Yeah, I don’t know if I’m really going to do a daily journal for National Novel Writing Month. But I can try… right?

I’ll be writing book two in the series this month. It’s called La Dotta, and it focuses on Sarah from the first novel, and the aftermath of her failed romance with Giovanni.

Sarah has a fresh PhD and a brilliant mind… and a stutter. That makes it hard for her to become a professor, and she’s not sure what else to do with her life. So as she takes a job as a barista, and she’s feeling quite discouraged.

Since music often informs my writing, this is the song that I have in mind while writing about Sarah’s seemingly hopeless situation. I picture it coming from the point of view of Giovanni, even though he’s not with her anymore. Thank you, Gotye, for knowing Sarah so well you wrote a song about her. (By the way, Gotye reminds me a bit of Giovanni. He’s part of the amalgamation of men who inspired the picture I have in my mind as I write him.) Oh, and this video is just plain awesome.

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Updates!

It’s not that I’ve forgotten you, bloggy friends, I promise! This tends to be a busy time of year for me. Most of the abuse is self-inflicted, to be honest. So, here’s what’s going on.

In November, I have decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. A rather large chunk of Shadow of the Portico was written in last year’s successful participation of NaNoWriMo, so I thought I’d have another go.

Granted, I’m still cleaning that up (being a novice and all), and that made me think that perhaps such marathon writing of WORDS (more words, more words…) wasn’t the best use of my time if I ended up spending so much time mopping up the mess. But I changed my mind for two reasons.

First, having a good chunk of my second novel, La Dotta, in the can may be a good idea ahead of my research trip to Bologna. That way, I have two fleshed out stories written as I’m digging up information and sightseeing.

Second, NaNoWriMo is fun in a kind of manic way. In Austin, we have an active group of independent authors who get together a lot for write-ins and other encouragement. So, even if I don’t eek out 50,000 words of La Dotta (I think I will, actually… this story has been rolling around my head for a long time), it’ll be fun to try.

October has been spent cleaning up Shadow and outlining La Dotta. That makes a girl busy. I’m also a U.S. History teacher and many of my students are taking their STAAR state exams in early December. Busy. Trip to Italy December 17. BUSY.

I’ve also been cooking and thinking about posting a few recipes, just for fun. I’m writing that down so you guys hold me to it.

All that and sleep pretty much makes up my life these days. Hope you are having a beautiful autumn. I’m sure I will as soon as it’s not 90 degrees outside. Oh Austin, you weird city with your uniseason…

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Going to Italy!

It’s official. God willing, my two sons and I are going to Bologna over Christmas. Reservations made and paid. Ohmigosh.

I haven’t really wrapped my mind around it yet. Not only is this the city where my novels are set, it’s freaking Europe. I’ve been fascinated (obsessed may be more accurate) with Europe since the beginning. Now we’re going.

The only bummer is that my husband cannot get enough time off and will not be joining us. That means lots of videos, which I will likely share with you all, too. Prepare for a deluge.

We’ll be there two weeks, mostly in Bologna and making side trips to Venice, Florence, and Rome. We’ll also probably get over to Imola and maybe even Modena and Ferrara, which are all mentioned in the book.

I have to tell you about the hotel, though.

It’s next door to the Palazzo dei Notai, which is the Notary’s Guild where my character Niccolo Bruni worked. During the period my novels are set, notaries were the legal scribes of the community. Not quite lawyers, they did record legal documents, and they were in a position of community trust in that they attested to the veracity of those legal transactions. Their signature was all that was necessary to do this.

Having said all that, the Art Hotel Commercianti is just behind the Palazzo dei Notai, down a narrow street, almost an alley, adjacent to the massive Basilica di San Petronio. In the thirteenth century, the building housed the Brentitori guild, those who made wine carriers called brente. Wearing these brentes on their backs, these wine carriers were experts about the wines they traded. They also served as volunteer firefighters, since they were used to carrying around water anyway. 

I’ve written about San Petronio before on my blog. It is Bologna’s civic church that found itself in something of a competition with the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, the Catholic archbishop’s seat in the city. That bishop was none other than Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, who is a character in Shadow of the Portico based on the historical figure.

San Petronio, meanwhile, was supported by my fictional character, Lorenzo Croce. Oh, politics!

So yeah, we’re staying right there. Right flippy-dippy there.

Seriously… a room with a view! Art Hotel Commercianti. (Photo courtesy of ixigo.com)

I’m going to be totally honest, I feel sorry for my two teenage gamer boys. They are going to have to deal with more history geeking than anyone ever should.

As you can imagine, I’ll have a lot to say about this trip over the coming months, and I’ll be sharing it here. To say I’m excited doesn’t scratch the surface, and I hope you’ll enjoy and geek out with me!

 

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To Indie, or Not to Indie…

To indie or not to indie… that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind… no, wait, I’m not going to do a whole Hamlet metaphor, that would be tiresome.

But this question really is kind of tearing me up.

How do I want to sell my books? Do I want to self-publish using Amazon and be an independent author, or do I want to find an agent and/or a publisher and let them put out my books?

If you’re a writer, I’m willing to bet you have a very strong opinion on one side or the other. But I want to tell everyone my side of the story and let you see it from that angle.

I never believed I had the ability or attention span to write a novel. More to the point, I never believed that cultivating those things and having a go at a novel-length piece would ever pay off. Nobody would ever see it. I knew how hard it was to break into the industry, and while I’m confident that I’m a decent writer, I didn’t have a lot of faith in getting that lucky break.

So, I didn’t write a novel.

And then I discovered Wattpad.

Now this was a few years back. Wattpad was a pretty messy place when I stumbled upon it, but I appreciated the potential. I also appreciated the price. I was poor as dirt and desperate to read stuff on my phone.

So yeah, I waded through some sludge, but I did find some really good stories that were only shy a good editor.

And suddenly, I realized that the gatekeepers in the publishing industry, who made me believe that my contribution to the slush pile wasn’t really worth months or years of my life, didn’t have to keep me from writing. I could write ANYWAY. Despite them.

That’s why I even started Shadow of the Portico. Because I knew I’d have an audience one way or another.

Fast forward to now. I just attended Armadillo Con, a terrific Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention largely geared toward writers. It was GREAT! I learned a lot, confirmed a lot, put out my story ideas and received positive feedback, got a great vibe.

Until I said I was an independent author.

Oh no no no, those traditional publishers and editors said. I should most assuredly query agents and publishers and try to get my work traditionally published. Because once I self-publish, it’s kind of Game Over. And do I want people to actually BUY my work? Do I want to sell more than 100 units? How willing am I do to do all my own marketing work, everything, by myself?

Three years ago I would have shrugged and said I’m just doing this for fun.

But is that still true?

I do take this writing gig very seriously, and I think I have at least a slightly-better-than-lottery-winning chance that someone might notice my books and want to do something with them. I wouldn’t be at all ashamed to query the profession with my stories, and wouldn’t be shattered if they said no thank you.

In that regard, indie publishing is a great safety net.

But wait. Is that all they are? No way. Indie writers are my tribe. They have been the people who have built me up, helped me along, sometimes carried me through. I don’t believe I would have something to query about if it wasn’t for the indie authors who have had my back these last few years.

I honestly feel like I’ve stumbled upon the crucible of my writing career, even before my career is a career.

My brain tells me to query, of course, what do I have to lose. My heart tells me to stick with Plan A and publish on my own.

And I have one more consideration.

Traditional publishing takes a long time. It’s a big boat that doesn’t turn quickly. It takes years to get things going. Now, that’s not really a huge deal. I can write other things while I wait, even indie publish other works outside The Journeymen series.

Except I take four insulin shots a day and I have had eight heart surgeries.

Time may be the one thing I don’t have.

I’m sorry, I don’t want to end this piece on that maudlin note. While I’ve been open about my health issues, it’s not who I am. It’s just the rather colossal elephant in the rather cozy room of my life.

Okay, this isn’t Hamletesque life or death decision making here, I admit it. But it’s something that’s on my mind, and a decision all serious writers face. It’s one of the myriad things that have moved me after a weekend full of writing inspiration. There’s definitely more inspiredness to come, and I promise I’ll do more than exhume Yorick’s skull.

 

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Do More Than Just Write

AKA: Why I’m not done with my novel. Or, my acknowledgement that writing is hard and it’s okay to keep learning.

I started writing Shadow of the Portico during Thanksgiving 2014. I’m still writing that book, though I see light down there somewhere, if I squint…

People write novels in a month, they tell me. Great, I say, but I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted to take my time and learn as much as I could about the craft before I put something out there.

Once again proving that we should be careful what we wish for.

Some years ago, I used to write a lot of flash fiction–short stories of less than 1,000 words that were sort of like vignettes, glimpses, word pictures. I was good at it. I won stuff. It was fun. And in my wildest dreams, I never would have sat down and planned a flash fiction. It was a flash, there and gone, and you catch it or vaporizes into a little cloud and you’ve wasted a Pokeball.

Sorry. Yes. I’m one of those Go people.

Anyway, I wrote that way because I didn’t think I could sit and plan a story. I didn’t credit myself with the attention span.

When I decided to write a novel, I still wasn’t sure I had developed that attention span yet, but I had these two intriguing characters who fall in love. Surely I could do something with that.

And I did! I wrote about 90,000 words–a decent sized novel–about these two characters and about some other characters and some time travel and converging timelines and a murder mystery… and realized the plot was a hot freaking mess. And I still had 40,000 more words to go before I made it into something remotely readable. It was still problematic at best.

Ninety thousand words, pretty good words, but I had no idea where they were headed. Well, I did have an idea. They were headed into the trash heap along with the last of my confidence.

Then I started doing that “learning the craft” thing I talked about. I read KM Weiland, who wrote about the importance of story structure. Then I tried out Randy Ingermason’s Snowflake Method so I could sort out in my mind where my multiple storylines were going. My writing partner, Olivia Folmar Ard, shared her elegantly simple and lifesaving outlining spreadsheet. Then I watched Dan Wells’s Seven Part Story Structure to better understand why my story should progress the way it does. Now I’m learning Ring Composition from KB Hoyle, and I’m excited at the level of sophistication that is possible with my novel series.

Did all this writing advice confuse me? Lord, yes, and I have college degrees in this stuff. Did it slow me down? Glacially. Did I do everything they said? Not remotely. Did I learn anything?…

You guys… I learned everything I now know and the depth of what I could know. And the result: my novel is so much better for it. Or, more modestly, it’s a lot more fun to write with the lights on.

Today, a writing group I am in collectively decided that writers should just write, and not get hung up on structure, advice, writing books, or any of that. Not if it stifles their creativity. Just write.

I get that. Most of my book was written as unconnected scenes, like pearls. My friend Katharine Grubb once made that analogy, and I love it. I write in pearls. Lovely pearls, yes, but for so long they sat there without a string. Not a necklace. Not living up to their potential.

Listen. If you have a pearl in your head, write it. By all means. I still write pearls for my subsequent novels. When that magical scene plays out in my head, I don’t want to lose it. I write it! If it’s that good, we’ll make it fit.

But can I write a whole novel that way? People do, they tell me. But here’s what happened to me when I tried that. I found myself in a painfully long revising and editing process. Much painful. Bad weepy. Pearls cast away without even the benefit of swine enjoying them. A process in which months pass into years and I’m still working how to take my readers from Point A to Point Q without losing them. Or myself.

I’m still there, you guys. It’s hard. Even going back and fixing it, knowing all I know now. It’s very hard to rewrite a novel I thought was done.

I’m glad I didn’t just trust my initial storytelling instincts. They may be pretty good, or they may be awful. Honestly, if I don’t learn the craft, how would I know? Oh, the things I could have published.

I want to send a message to the people in my writing group who say Just Write. I love you guys, but if you had given me that advice a year and a half ago, I would have never been able to make my pearls into a book. My darlings would all be dead. All of them.

If you said Just Write and blow off structuring the plot, I would have trashed it and given up. Just have fun, you say? I was miserable, lost, and convinced that I was a terrible writer and a stupid human because I didn’t really know how to tell a story. I had no idea what I was doing wrong, but I knew something was wrong. It hurt. That was so not fun.

If your advice to Just Write was never followed up with But take the time to thoroughly understand structure and know how to tell your story beyond instinct, I’d be spending this summer binge-watching Friends.

Yeah, I know all the things they say about advice. Mine, like everyone else’s, is worth what you pay for it. But if you’re reading this, and you have that manuscript that you know can be better, but you have no idea what’s wrong and you hate it and yourself… maybe, just maybe, you’ve moved past the the Just write it and have fun advice. Click some of those links I put in this post. If they confuse you, find advice that you understand and that speaks to you.

Maybe you’re ready to get cozy with structure. No lie, it’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s worth it. And once you get it, it liberates your creativity, because maybe you won’t end up like me, sobbing over your manuscript, wondering what you’ve done wrong, or if you should bother going on at all.

There’s a million ways to write, and I don’t want to sound dogmatic. I can only tell you my experience. I hope you’re encouraged (or duly warned) by it. If not, keep seeking. Advice, like writing techniques, is part of a huge smorgasbord. Nobody is forcing you to eat the head cheese or the eel. Take what you like, leave the rest. Just don’t forget to eat, feed, grow. Learn. That’s the fun part.

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