In Which I Run Into A Wall And Rethink Some Things

Since I started my experiment I’ve managed to get about 50 pages written (remember these are 50 hand-written pages), but I also ran into some trouble. One of my workshop leaders at Vermont College of Fine Arts, A. M. Jenkins, said that a novel is like a picture frame, but you as the author have to know everything that’s going on outside of the frame. Well, after 50 pages I discovered I have no idea what’s going on inside or outside of the frame.

One difficulty is that I have no idea what timeperiod I’m in. Parts of it seem to be in the 16th century, other parts are in the 18th century, and there may even be some earlier time periods stuck in there somewhere. I’m realizing I have a very tenuous grasp of history. I also decided to include some characters of various ethnicities around the Mediterranean, which just made me realize how little I know about the Mediterranean and its various cultures and history in general.

I’ve been reading an enormous tome of Mediterranean history, which is nothing if not daunting, and trying to decide how much research is necessary, whether I should start with research or start with writing and research later, etc. etc. Thankfully, I had a very helpful conversation with fellow Secret Gardener, L. Marie, in which she reminded me that I’m writing fantasy and can make things up.

So this brought about an interesting internal debate. Am I writing historical fantasy? Am I writing about an alternate universe Mediterranean? Or am I writing a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy? After some angsting, I’m leaning towards a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy. I think I will still have to read about the history and culture for inspiration, but I’m going to make things up because that’s what I’m best at.

I wonder if some of my fear and anxiety about this is an unconscious belief that making things up isn’t as legitimate. History seems so much more, well, serious and intellectual. Not like making things up for fun! Of course, I also don’t want to fall into the trap of perpetuating cultural stereotypes and hurting people. I still haven’t decided whether choosing the route of a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy isn’t at its heart an act of cowardice on my part. But it does feel safer.

What about you, readers? Do you write historical fantasy, alternate universes, or culturally-inspired fantasy? Do you do research and how much? And do you start with research or wait till after you’ve written the first draft or write and research in tandem?

Advertisements

In Which I Reveal My Plans For The Summer

I disappeared again! I apologize. I’ve been dealing with some ongoing health issues and I’m still getting used to the logistics of living in a new place. Anyway, I’ve decided to buckle down this summer and write through an entire draft of my new WIP, The Island of the Moon. BUT this is also going to be an experiment for me because I’m going to try to free write the entire draft by hand. I have a binder and a bunch of looseleaf papers so I can move things around. And I’m going to make a collage for the cover because that’s how writers procrastinate.

Why do I want to free write the draft by hand? Partly because typing hurts my hands and arms and partly because I want to stop myself from fussing with language, which usually happens when I type. I want to use the binder instead of a notebook because then I can move scenes around, draft out of order, throw things out if I want to, rewrite scenes. Basically I want to give myself as much flexibility and freedom as I can. Why free writing? Because drafts intimidate me. A draft is serious business. Free writing is exploration. Once I finish the draft I have some voice recognition software I can use to type it out without hurting my hands.

I’ve never tried this before so I have no idea if it will work, but I’m excited about it. I’m also going to focus on research as much as I can. So I’ll be reading books about Spain, the Mediterranean Sea and its history and culture, myths and legends of the ocean, and whatever else comes up. One resource I’m really excited about is the website rvte.es. It’s the website for radio and television in Spain and they have a lot of documentaries and shows you can watch for free. I’m definitely going to take advantage of that.

I’ll try to keep checking in to give you an update on my progress and I might also post any interesting historical or mythological tidbits I come across. My deadline is October 1 so I have about five months. Please feel free to nag me incessantly.

The Next Big Thing

First of all, a thank you to Lyn Miller-Lachmann for tagging me in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. You can read all about her awesome new book, Rogue, here.

I was originally going to write about my thesis, Triptych, but then this shiny new idea took over my brain so I’m going to write about that instead. You’ll just have to forgive me 🙂

What is the working title of your book?

La isla de la luna or The Island of the Moon.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This actually started as a story that the protagonist in Triptych was writing. So it was originally a story within a story. Then it kept getting longer and more complicated and eventually became more interesting than the original novel and seduced me away from it, lol.

What genre does your book fall under?

Spanish-flavored fantasy?

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have no idea how to answer this. Most of the Spanish actors I know are older than my protagonists. Clearly I need to watch more Spanish films.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young girl washes up on one of the last floating islands with the power to control the sea and meets the dangerous Crooked Man, a magician who makes her question everything she’s taken for granted: her courtiers and friends, her magic and her past.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Hopefully when I finish this it will be represented by an agent!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ve only written bits and pieces so far. I’m nowhere near done yet.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is another hard question. I haven’t seen a whole lot of Spanish-themed fantasy books. I’d say “Pan’s Labyrinth” (even though it’s obviously not a book), but the time period is all wrong.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been seriously needing to write some self-indulgent fantasy and this story has given me permission to do that. I’ve always been in love with the sea and dreamed of having my own island and being able to do magic. I’m also very fond of tricksy magicians. So this story rose up out of my desire to write about many of the things that excite me as a writer/reader. I actually sat down recently and brainstormed all the exciting things I could put in this book. It made me deliriously happy.

What else about your book might pique the readers interest?

I’m just going to write you a list of awesomeness to entice you. This story contains: the daughter of the sea, a shape shifting magician who collects hearts, a floating island, an Iberian lynx named Fuego, a red fox named Lucifer, a ship wreck, a curse, a troupe of traveling players, masquerade balls, and ships with black sails. Hey, there may even be pirates. We’ll see 😉

And now to tag other writers to share their Next Big Thing…

L. Marie

Sharon Van Zandt

Val Howlett

Writing Away And A Book Cover

This is just to say that I’ve been working away on my novel and my lecture and cooking a ton of food from scratch so I don’t have as much time right now to blog about anything particularly interesting. My advisor really loves the new third person I’m playing with, which I’m very pleased about, and she wants me to keep moving forward in the story for now, so that’s what I’m doing. We need to have 75 pages of our creative thesis to graduate and right now I have about 95 pages (I am trying to get through the whole draft for my own sinister purposes). My goal is to get to 30,000 words by the end of the third packet. We’ll see how that goes. It feels really good to move forward at this point because it gives me a glimpse of the bigger picture of the story, the structure, as it were, instead of only writing and revising in smaller chunks. I’m trying to just speed through right now to get the words down (because it is so tempting to stop and edit every single word) and then I’ll go back and to get those same words to suck less, lol.

I really need to spend some time on my lecture, too. I’m toying with the idea of using powerpoint and it’s been ages since I’ve even looked at powerpoint, so I think some brushing up is in order. I have a rough draft/outline of my lecture written out, but I’d really like to get a more final version done. I’m going to be using a lot of exercise examples, too, so I’ve got to write those out and then hope my lecture doesn’t end up being two hours long 😉

Anyway, that’s all for now. But before I go I just wanted to show you all the official cover for my dad’s new short story collection coming out through Tagus Press this fall. Doesn’t it look lovely?

Goodbye Semester 2!

Whew, so it’s been a crazy few months, but I turned in my last packet for the semester on Thursday and sent in my end of semester evaluations yesterday so I am all done at last! It’s kind of amazing to me that I survived this semester with all the ups and downs health-wise, but I seem to have managed okay. Now I get to catch up on the rest of my life, lol. Can I also say how terrifying it is to only have a year left? One year and then I’m out on my own again, trying to find employment! Eek!

Next semester is critical thesis time so I’m doing a lot of brainstorming about what I might want to do. I’d like to do something focused more on middle grade books since I’ve been reading so much YA recently. So I’m thinking of doing something on omniscient narrators in middle grade fiction. I love omniscient narrators. Let’s hope I love writing a thirty page essay about them.

I’m also trying to figure out what to do with the very messy twelve chapters I have of my new YA novel. Do I forge ahead with the draft? Do I revise to save the sanity of my next advisor? Do I take a break from writing for a month because, hey, how else am I ever going to get some time to relax? Do I work on something entirely different like the new short story idea tossing around in my head? Honestly, I do not know, and by the time I figure it out it will probably be time for the summer residency.

In completely unrelated news, I’m trying to figure out what do with this livejournal, what I want it to be, etc. I’m hoping that if I set goals like a post a week I’ll actually show up more often instead of letting things languish. But I’m also trying to figure out what I want to talk about. I’m thinking more writing related stuff and less private stuff? But I do want to keep talking about my health issues to some extent in the hope that it will help anyone who stumbles across this part of the interwebs who also happens to have a less than functional body. Such a difficult balance.

For now, I guess, I will focus on cleaning my moldering gingerbread house before it collapses around my ears in dismay. Or before it decides to move to somewhere warm without me.

Some Thoughts on the Slush Pile

I’ve been reading slush on and off for about a year now and, I have to say, it’s enlightening being on both sides of the divide, that is, being a writer and a reader of slush. When you’re sending out submissions it’s so easy to imagine slush readers and editors as soulless automatons bent on destroying the hopes and aspirations of writers everywhere, but now that I am a “slush reader” I can say with relative confidence that I am not a soulless automaton. At least not the last time I checked. Well, I don’t know. Maybe somewhere there is a soulless automaton bent on destroying the hopes and aspirations of writers everywhere, but if there is, well, I hope they get over themselves. As for me, I actually angst quite a bit about whether or not to reject something and then, once I’ve decided on rejection, which rejection letter to send. Sometimes I wonder if other people angst as much as I do, lol. I think what depresses me the most, though, is not being able to explain exactly why I’m rejecting each piece. It makes me sad to think writers will struggle on, not knowing what it was that didn’t work for me, making the same mistakes.

I’ve also noticed a bewildering pattern since reading these submissions. A story may be beautifully written say, or extremely funny, or have an interesting premise, but it just won’t be compelling. I’ll find myself reading it thinking so what? Why should I care about these characters and their situation? And, of course, if I don’t care, why should I pass said story on to my editors? I find myself asking that question a lot and it surprises me, but it also makes me wonder. After all, what do I mean by compelling? What the hell is compelling? I might be compelled by a story about a family of bunny rabbits trying to escape from three headed aliens while dancing the tango in a floating carrot. You, however, may have more sense than I do. But by compelling I don’t mean a story has to have explosions or special effects or even grand themes like life and death. I think it’s about trying to communicate something, an emotion, an idea, the emotion behind that idea (?), trying to move outside oneself as a storyteller. It’s really pushed me to think about my own novel and why it is that I’m writing it because it’s so easy, isolated in our writing caves as we are, to forget we’re writing for someone else. And by that I don’t mean “the market” or even an agent or editor really. I mean the ideal reader, the child or teenager we used to be, ourselves perhaps, or maybe even some random person out there who might really get the story we’re trying to tell. Writing isn’t just the nuts and bolts. It’s not just about craft and structure. It’s about substance. Or at least it should be. Otherwise why the hell read anything at all?

I survived the zombie apocalypse!

Dear world, I exist, really I do. But only on moonlit nights when my kitty trips the light fandango and I am not bogged down with work. Apparently.

I finished my first semester at VCFA! And this weekend I’m off to the next residency. M. T. Anderson will be there! And Grace Lin and Katherine Patterson! I’m in a smaller special workshop on Writing and Illustrating Picture Books, which is both exciting me and scaring me. I’m not really a visual artist. I just like to doodle, and since the picture book I submitted for workshop is set in another galaxy filled with aliens I’m going to have to figure out what my aliens look like. I think it will be really interesting to learn the whole process of storyboarding and picture book dummy making. It’s like a whole other world I know very little about.

I’ve also been playing around with a new WIP I want to work on next semester. I decided I need to take a break from the old novel. I don’t want to work on only one novel my entire two years and the whole two protagonist/two story lines thing was driving me crazy. you have no idea what a relief it is to write a novel with one protagonist! I’m hoping it’ll be a little easier to get through an entire first draft this way. I still want to write the other novel, but maybe I’m just not ready for that story yet. I’m still trying to figure out what a novel is and how to write one and worrying about how to bring two characters together and fit two stories into one is not a very effective way of learning, lol.

Also, good news about the Cd. We finally got everything together for the cover art and all the CD’s are produced now. They should be available from CD Baby soon and then eventually Amazon.com. I”ll post an official announcement once there is an actually link. In the meantime check out my myspace if you want to listen to some of the songs and let me know what you think 🙂 http://www.myspace.com/shawnalenore

In health news I’m seeing a new doctor, a surgeon who does endoscopies. My endoscopy shows I have gastritis and duodinitis which is basically inflammation in the stomach and small intestine (hah! I could have told them that). Now we’re trying to figure out what’s causing it. I was already on a pretty high dose of the medicine they treat gastritis with so the question is why wasn’t it working? No sign of any reflux in my throat so I still have no idea why my throat is sore and hoarse all the time. I really haven’t sung since the CD was recorded in May so it’s been about six months. The ENT I saw suggested I could get my tonsils removed to see if it helps since I do have a lot of crypts and pits where bacteria can get stuck, but it seems like an arbitrary decision. They don’t look infected so it may not help at all. Still, I don’t know what else to try. The surgeon thinks my stomach problems could be from my gallbladder which may mean I need to have it removed. Either way, surgery is looking pretty likely for 2011. I’m not happy about this, but I really want to be able to sing again and doing nothing certainly isn’t helping.

Anyway, here’s to better things in 2011!!!!