Monthly Archives: October 2016

Onward to NaNoWriMo

Tomorrow is the first day of November.

Which means it’s time to start a new writing project.

If I were a different person, I would just set myself to finishing the project I’ve got started. But, I’ll be honest, I don’t want to do that, so, I’m not going to. And, I haven’t even touched that project since last week, when I wrote a little so I could blog about it…

It just donned on me a few days ago that I should probably start some planning and prep for NaNo, like choose one of the ideas I’ve got scribbled down and at least flesh it out a little. So, I’ve begun. I’ve got the prologue planned, at least.

As much as I do frequently cherish the “fly by the seat of your pants” approach I’ve taken in years past, I also like the less stress the comes with planning and having general directions on where my story is going. Because the last thing I need in my life right now is more stress. So, I’ll be doing some more planning in these final hours. (I swear I intended to do it earlier.)

The working title for my NaNo project is “The Remnant Children,” and focuses on a young woman whose entire country is annihilated when she is 7 years old. The country was a tributary to a king, and when they tried to claim independence, he wiped them all out, allowing only children younger than 10 to live as slaves. She, conveniently, works for the king’s palace, and comes into contact, as an adult, with the prince, who was fed a very different version of events and is appalled when he learns the truth. He can see her desire for revenge, and even understand it. He has no undying love for his father, so now he much choose, does he help her get revenge, or advocate the path of forgiveness?

This isn’t nearly as detailed an outline as I’ve had before, and, as I said, as far as a chapter-by-chapter outline, I’ve got the prologue outlined. So, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Especially if I only have work breaks to work on it.

But! I’ve got the first two days of November off, which means I can give myself an excellent start to the month, and get myself ahead.

So, here’s to November, and all the hopes and  dreams it brings.

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Truevine

By the title alone, this book has a lot to live up to: “Truevine Two Brothers, a Kidnapping and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South.” If anyone could do it, it would be a journalist, which author Beth Macy is.

But as I made my way through, exploring the history of the circus–a topic I confess I knew hardly anything about before– I was disenchanted.

Truevine is the real story about George and Willie Muse, two albino African-Americans who, some way or another, ended up as part of a circus sideshow (read, freak show), performing for various circuses, including Ringling Brothers. It’s also the story of their mother, one Harriett Muse, who defied racial norms and held circus owners accountable to their responsibility toward her sons.

It’s not that the content was bad, Macy clearly outlines the research she did, and readers can tell it was thorough through the information presented. The issue, for me, was the presentation.

It started well enough, telling the story of the brothers’ kidnapping, as the family passed it down from generation to generation (though, by the end, Macy has found enough information to cast doubt on whether the boys were actually kidnapped, or if something else occurred). Then Macy tells of how she first met the family and how a newspaper series turned into a full-fledged book, working to uncover as much truth as could be found.

From there, nearly half the book is a history lesson on circuses, sideshows and the racial climate of the Jim Crow south. And while these things are important, and important to understand in regards to the story she is telling, for two hundred pages, or thereabouts, it’s not a story about the Muse brothers.

As I said, halfway into the book, it became the story of the Muse brothers, telling of their separation from their family (the details surrounding which are dubious, at best), and recounting, where possible, their travels and performances, ranging from ambassadors from Mars to cannibals from Ecuador.

Macy points out in her book that records pertaining specifically to the Muse brothers are difficult to find and paint an incomplete picture–which one can imagine being the case, regarding a traveling circus that hits the road every night. It isn’t until Harriett Muse gets a lawyer involved that records and documents become reliable, simply because legal records and enforcement of paychecks leave a paper trail.

Having read the book, I have no doubts Macy put it together as best she could, and it would indeed be challenging to write a book where years of the subjects’ lives are hazy, at best. And for this particular topic, it is important to understand the context. Many people would have viewed being part of a freakshow as a good thing. Some of the sideshow acts, such as individuals missing limbs, could hardly expect to earn a living any other way. And it’s important to understand the hustle involved in circus life.

But, perhaps the book could have been shorter, or in my opinion, it just needed some reorganization. The contextual information needed to be better woven into the narrative of the Muse brothers’ lives. I also would have liked to see a timeline, a quick snapshot to show, as best as can be reconstructed, where the brothers were and when events happened. I think that would have added a lot to the book. And finally, some pictures, either of the brothers, of primary documents, anything. Macy references so many people and places that some photos would have been an interesting visual addition that would help satisfy readers more fully. Macy herself had a hard time coming up with her documents, so perhaps they were not, for whatever reason, available as part of the book, in which case, I think she should have mentioned it in a little note. But, maybe that’s just me.

So my opinion overall? I’m not sure. I enjoyed the book, certainly. But, perhaps it’s just a little more history than biography. It wasn’t what I expected, but I wouldn’t necessarily discount it because of that. I guess I would just warn that it’s not as exciting and intense as the subtitle and the synopsis makes it out to be.

Why don’t I write?

When I find that weeks have passed by and I haven’t touched a writing project, I find that I have to ask myself, “why don’t I write?”

I confess, the only project I’ve ever finished outside of NaNoWriMo (or the Camp NaNo I did in April) is actually a NaNoWriMo project that needed maybe 5,o000 words to wrap up (I think I finished it, I guess I’d better go double check… yes, I did finish it.) All the others I start, then I just leave them hanging. So the question is, why?

Is it that I thrive off the challenge of completing it in a month? The timeline that gives me drive? Maybe, but, when I set myself a deadline (example, I intended to finish my current project by the end of October. But it’s October 24, and I’m nowhere near being done) I watch it come and go with no sense of that same drive. Though, I will admit, being one in a community of people, even if I’m not really active in said community, does lend a little more motivation. And being able to log in and see my word count climbing each day, getting closer to my goal certainly does help. But, I don’t think that’s all of it.

Is it that I’m not really passionate about my story? Perhaps. Which is sad to think about, particularly regarding this project. I spent some time outlining and detailing where the story was going to go, how things were going to play out. That process helped me knock out the children’s book I was working on earlier this year, so I expected it to help me now. And I found myself with a renewed interest and passion in this project. But, it fizzled out. Again. Is it a sign, then? That when I lose interest in a project I shouldn’t resurrect it? Not really, because the same loss of interest could be said about the NaNo project I finished a few months ago (granted, 5,000 words left until the end and 5,000 words in from the beginning is definitely a huge difference).

Is it that I’m just too busy? Well, I do work full-time, try to hit the gym five-ish times a week, do all the cooking and most of the cleaning around the house, and the grocery shopping… but I still have time to read at least one book a week and watch plenty of shows with my husband. Of all the excuses, this is the one I think I fall on most. It’s not that I don’t have time, I don’t make time. When I come home, I’m tired of working, and I’ve usually got at least and hour or an hour and a half of other work to do–dinner prep and cooking, dishes, preparing lunch for the next day, ect. When I get home, I don’t want to work more. And writing is work. Anyone who says otherwise is probably pretty new to it. Writing isn’t mindless, it’s not usually relaxing. And when there are other distractions, it’s hard to keep your mind to the task (and I’m the worst, I always go, “Oh, I’ll write and watch a movie” which means I’ll watch a movie and think of a sentence every ten minutes, maybe).

So why don’t I write? It’s a mixture of all these reasons, and probably others. But mostly, I don’t write because I make up excuses not to. Isn’t it funny how we do that? It’s something I truly want to do, but I give myself an excuse not to. It’s like going to the gym. It’s because it’s work, and when you’re already tired, already drained, it’s hard to make yourself keep giving. And yet, without giving, there will be no results.

So, I doubt this project will be finished in the next week. And then I’ll probably set it aside and do something completely new for NaNo in November (because I always have to try). But I’ll keep trying. Because as long as I try, even if it’s one sentence every ten minutes, there is hope that I’ll get caught up in the story and write my heart out.

(Maybe I just need a new story. It’s hard to vent anger in a love story, there’s no one convenient to kill.)

A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander book 6)

When I first read Outlander, I fell in love immediately. It was such a fast read, and I was both thrilled that it was a series, and nervous.

Nervous because everything was neatly wrapped up, and while it was open to continue, the question was, what would the next book be?

And I’ve had that question each time I’ve picked up the next installment, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes was no different. As, as with the others, I was not disappointed.

What I love about Diana Gabaldon’s writing is how she weaves real life into the twists and turns. And it never feels like slogging through excess content. Reading about the normalcy of her characters’ lives is enjoyable. Her writing style is what I strive to capture.

After Dragonfly in Amber, the second book, I expected the story to do what some do, and follow the lives of the children. But it has continued to follow Jamie and Claire, while weaving in other characters too.

I don’t want to say too much about the storyline, for fear of giving spoilers to the first five books, but suffice it to say Jamie and Claire find themselves once more walking a fine line, living in America on the eve of the Revolution. And while that is the overarching theme, there are plenty of subplots containing everything from kidnapping, murder, intrigue and treasure.

As always, it ends bittersweet, leaving the reader desperate for the next installment. I can’t quite decide if I want to rush through to the end, or prolong and savor the series. Either way, I’ve only got two more books to go (so far).

Making the story real

I don’t know about any of you writers, but my stories tend to jump from one event to another, quickly climbing the hill to to the ultimate climax and resolution.

And while any story needs to be consistently entertaining and engaging, some books you read are markedly different.

Part of what makes characters real is normalcy and relatability. This can be accomplished through showing real life. Some stories you read include peaceful or silly moments of real life that change the pace, and yet they don’t feel out of place in the least.

When I write, I frequently think in terms of word count, and sometimes these real life moments feel like word-padding, excess and unnecessary scenes to add length to the story. And yet, when I read, I know these moments can be some favorites, and, as I said before, feel perfectly at home in the story.

So as I continue my slow trek toward finishing my current writing project (how is October already nearly gone?!), I’m challenging myself to make my characters real. What scenes can I add to change the pace, to make my people real? I don’t have to keep every word I write, but it’s easier to cut out something you don’t need than add in something you don’t know you need.

Transforming Prayer

The reason I never read multiple books at a time is because it takes me so much longer to read any of them. This last week was no different. With three books going, I’ve only just now managed to finish one (granted, there are a few other factors at play).

Though I’ve read it once before, Transforming Prayer by Daniel Henderson was as good the second time.

Henderson discusses prayer, obviously, but focuses on an approach that, I think, most people don’t utilize–worship-based prayer. This type of prayer, as Henderson illustrates, is about focusing on who God is, and praying in response, instead of coming with a list of temporal concerns for ourselves and others. It’s not that these things aren’t important, or worth bringing to God, but that there is so much more to prayer.

I myself have struggled with this, particularly the idea of praying about things that our all-knowing God already knows the outcome of. And yet, as Henderson points out (and as I’ve also experienced) the way we pray about these things changes when we’re focused on the face of God and not simply the hand of God. Instead of a list of things we want, we are able to take comfort in knowing situations or relationships ect., are in the hands of one who is capable.

For example, instead of praying for healing for a friend, isn’t it much more comforting to rest in the peace knowing that God is the Great Physician?

Henderson suggests a cyclical style of prayer. Beginning with worship, exploring who God is, moving on to a response, requests, preparation or readiness for trails or challenges, and finally ending with more worship of who God is. As you explore and worship God for who He is, the Holy Spirit will lead in response and request.

As someone who prayed from a list for quite some time, I’ve experienced how, frankly, boring and fruitless it can seem. And yet, in just a few short experiences with a new perspective, I find that it’s much more refreshing to pray focused on God’s face, and not His hand. Though I don’t pretend to have arrived or any such thing, if nothing else, worship beats feeling as though you’re speaking to a brick wall.

To do or not to do

Do you ever want to do something, but also not really want to do it?

That’s where I’m at.

I want to write, I really do. I want to work on my project and have it finished by the end of the month (so I can start something new in November.)

But I’m busy, and when I come home from work, I find that I don’t quite want to work more. Because writing is work, and I think any writer would tell you that.

As much as we want to believe that a good story will come pouring out in one perfect draft, it doesn’t. And even with a detailed outline, a cheaper-by-chapter guide, you still have to tap into your creativity to flesh each chapter out.

But, now I’m going to put it in writing, for anyone looking at my blog to see. I have a goal, I intend to wrap up an initial draft of this story by the end of October. But I’m not going to worry about word count, or how long it it. I’m just going to write each chapter until I run out of thoughts. Then I’ll move on to the next.

But still, for tonight, I’ll take a page from Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara, and I’ll think about it tomorrow. 

(OK, maybe I’ll think a little about it tonight.)