The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week 4 – The end is in sight - but really confusing, and may actually be the beginning.

This week I drew (don’t laugh) a blueprint of SuperMug – the big box store my novel mostly takes place in. I even showed it to my husband – the artist – who tried really hard not to laugh at my lame attempt at a straight line. But it helped – my writing, not my budding career as an architect. The visual picture of where and how each character interacts with others and their surroundings spurred me onto another 2000 words in no time flat. Of course I still have about 15,000 words to go in 6 days – but that’s actually really doable. Right? Yes, totally doable.

I noticed during week 3 and this part of week 4 (I’m including the last three days – or week 5 – into this final week stretch) how many ups and downs this action packed week has taken. The words between 25,000 and 40,000 are the most rewarding and hard-to-get words there are...EVER. I can’t wait to hit 40,000 when suddenly the last 10,000 words will slip out of my subconscious and find themselves on my computer screen without me actually doing anything. Fine, that’s never going to happen, but it has to be easier than 30,000 to 40,000 words – it just has to be.

I know it sounds like I’ve jumped off the deep end. I sure have spent a lot of time cyber-stalking high school classmates (see previous blog post for the non-crazy definition of that sentence). I’ve also spent the week reading and watching this season of HIMYM on-line; I washed 6 loads of clothes this week and spent about an hour going through recipes for the infamous Thanksgiving Day breakfast. You see, I’m married to an Englishman who is fairly lukewarm about this American holiday – he’s going to make a pizza with all of the ingredients you find in a traditional mid-western turkey day meal and we’ll choose some random movie marathon to watch (after the national dog show – Hell, you have to have at least one tradition and I choose you John O’Hurley, you and the Irish Wolfhound presenting tomorrow). Every year I get up and make a breakfast – something like scones or waffles or crumpets or french toast – something revolving around bread apparently, and we hide from the rest of the world. But really all I’m going to do all day is tuck away into the bedroom and write. I’m really good at cranking out like 5,000 words on T-day, ignoring all things food, football, balloon and thankful – all for my extremely unthankful novel.

Tomorrow it ends; all the procrastination of November boils down to MY day of writing with abandonment – and for that I AM thankful.

And it’s not too late for you either. I don’t care if you have 4, 083 or 16,000 or 42,000 there is still hope and a novel in each of you. Eat your turkey, visit with your family and then go type like you’ve never typed before…don’t even get me started on Black Friday – I forbid anyone who reads my blog to go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. Don’t fall for the marketing ploy – you can shop again. Promise.

If you aren’t reading this state side, and you think that my turkey rant was a little bit scary, then you are probably Jeff and somewhere in Australia reading this. On the other side of the world you have one less day to type, so keep writing already! Here’s hoping every NaNoer reading this has pure adrenaline; enough to make it to the writing finish line!

For the rest of you patiently waiting for HP Mondays to start up again, I will try to write something for this Monday. Monday is still November, so I might be desperately trying to get to 50, 000, watching my fingers bleed over my keyboard and screaming any lyrics of Bon Jovi I can think of; in that case you’ll get a Harry Potter blog post on Tuesday. That would be book 4 for those who’ve forgotten. Go, go Goblet of Fire!

Speaking of Harry Potter, one of the things I read this week was a short story/novella by Maureen Johnson called “The Jubilee Express” inside the collection Let It Snow. That little British wizard is just everywhere:

Debbie had to get up and slice me a thick piece of cake before she could answer. And I do mean thick. Harry Potter volume seven thick. I could have knocked out a burglar with this piece of cake. Once I tasted it, though, it seemed just the right size. Debbie didn’t fool around when it came to the butter and sugar.

Here’s hoping your slice of pumpkin pie tomorrow is Harry Potter volume five thick!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ramblings from a Sleep Deprived Writer

Or, how I’m really not writing my novel right now, but still pretending I am…

I’ve written myself into this very strange place. I’m not sure how I got here or how I’ll get out, but I’m here right now and I feel I must continue on. I think it would be easier if I’d written Tea – my protagonist – into the corner, but it turns out it’s actually me. No, I’m not my protagonist; but I am the writer and have borrowed from my past – and present – for this novel. It took me about 8,000 words before I had to borrow from my past (although in retrospect, I did it in the first 1,000 without realizing it).

Tea is 17 and the novel takes place the summer between her junior and senior year of high school. Alas, I don’t really remember high school that much. Not that anything bad happened to me there; in fact I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it, but apparently I’m older than the hills or something and high school memories are fading fast – almost as fast as that cliché.

This is what I do when I get stuck in my story and need some younger-than-my-current-age interaction and dialogue. I write down a memory from when I WAS that age and then go back and re-write it to show what’s happening – instead of just telling it. I add dialogue and descriptions and honestly make up a lot of the stuff that probably never really happened; because that’s what writers do after all. And then once it is all done I can usually pick right up in my story, maybe using a line, description or small idea from my recent, made up memory and plug it into the action. So far, this scenario has been working out well. It means I don’t stop writing when I’m stuck and I can use some of the overlooked memories for later characters and novels.

There is a side effect as well, the more I write about the experiences I had in high school, the more I remember them. Entire conversations come flooding back into almost perfect clarity – things I wore, things I thought, things I never told people. It’s honestly bizarre, especially reliving these escapades from my adult view point – which has changed quite a bit since high school. I’ve thought about people I haven’t thought about in…I’m counting on my fingers, hold on…15 years or so. When did I get so old?

The problem: Here I sit, writing away, on my own personal journey, forgetting all about Tea and her teammates trying to solve a murder in their grocery store, those poor people. They haven’t figured out who the real killer is which means John is rotting away in jail after confessing to a crime he didn’t commit…all while I’m worried about who I’ve forgotten from high school. I know I’m making this sound like high school doesn’t matter – which is silly because the large majority of my readers ARE high school students or teachers – but I have a point about high school, I promise.

About halfway through one such writing exercise I remembered someone I haven’t thought about in years. Someone who IS very similar to one of the characters in my story – apparently I’ve subconsciously written in a friend from high school. Then I realized I never thought of him as a friend when we were in high school, but I think of him that way now. Not because I talk to him now (as far as I know, we haven’t talked since the late ‘90s) and our relationship is that much stronger, but because we actually WERE friends in high school. Just by remembering all of the time we spent together, all of the things we shared, and some of the conversations we had, my adult self realizes we were fairly close for a time.

I don’t really keep in touch with many friends from high school – the ones I actually realized before today were friends I mean – oh, many of them are now facebook friends, but that doesn’t really count, does it? Anyway, most of these people friended me (and if any of you are reading this, I’m glad you did). If you know me at all you know my two closest friends have been my closest friends since the second grade, making today’s writing epiphany a little odd. Here is another paradox – I don’t necessarily consider those two friends high school friends – Amy, Stacy and I transcend all of that somehow. Sure we knew each other in high school but we each did our own thing – some of our friends overlapped and we spent a ton of time together outside of school – but that’s never been who we are.

I thought about this guy – who I now realize was a friend in high school – and I suddenly wanted to know what he was doing now, as an adult. I wanted to see what adulthood had changed or nurtured in him. If, like me, looking back on his high school experience illuminated some part of his adult character: Is high school a time to remember and learn from, or do we all just start to forget about it after our mid twenties? Of course it didn’t just stop with one person. I’d just finished writing out a memory involving four people by name, am I in contact with any of those people now? No, I’m not. So what are they all doing? I guess this is why exists – possibly even twitter – don’t hold your breath, I’m not joining either of those social networks anytime soon. Twitter is just a bad Doctor Who episode waiting to happen!

I did some digging on my preferred social networks and found out a lot of interesting stuff in under an hour. This is both cool and creepy (see previous Dr Who comment). I’m not sure I want someone sitting around wondering about me and then finding out everything they need to know just by clicking a button. Obviously I must be OK with it to a point or I wouldn’t have a blog, but still! See how I’ve not only written myself into a corner but I’ve completely stopped working on my novel today.

And what did I discover in the end? I told you I had a point, way to keep reading. I’m not really sure if this is a big reveal or not, but I discovered I like writing YA and mid-grade because I DO think it matters. I’m hoping kids and students will get something out of their current situations, maybe get a leg up on where I was at your age; and I’m hoping adults will remember something meaningful they’ve forgotten from their childhood or teen years. Maybe we all have a forgotten friend or teacher who helped shape our adult selves and reading one of my books will plant a seed in your subconscious; a seed I hope grows into a beautiful memory.

Or, if you aren’t as sappy as I am, then here’s some startling facts I learned in my hour of research on high school classmates – maybe this will inspire you.

Startling facts about people Mariah went to high school with:

  • At least 12 are now teachers – two in our old high school.

  • At least 8 were, or still are, professional athletes or college/pro coaches (this is utterly ridiculous, apparently I went to Jock High)

  • At least 10 are in bands – from garage bands to Harry Connick Jr.’s orchestra and everywhere in between (I was in the marching band, so this number is probably higher – but I stopped counting at 10. I can go see at least 5 of these people in upcoming concerts; I’m on the fence about this).

  • 8 are – or soon will be – medical doctors. With another 5 earning PhDs in some other field. (Some of these are married to each other – you are all making way too much money!)

  • 1 is a magician.

  • 1 is an actress in movies and television shows I’ve bet you’ve seen. She’s also a stage actress in NYC.

  • 1 had his house torn down and rebuilt by the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team – it was the season premiere house this season.

  • 1 ran for the Mayor of Bloomington in the last election. It’s not a small town – alas, he did not win.

  • 1 is working for some government agency or embassy (The fact that I found this out on-line means I hope she’s not a field agent and our national security is a little stronger that that).

  • 1 is an Army Ranger (on-line did not tell me where he is stationed so a little more at ease about this whole national security thing).

  • At least 2 others are published authors (one of those is published in Welsh, which is an entirely different language with lots of double letters, and therefore gets extra kudos from me. Way to go Chris!)

  • 4 are social workers.

  • 3 are pilots.

  • 3 are currently trying to adopt (my fingers are crossed for you Morgan!).

  • 5 are expats currently living abroad at least semi-permanently (Yes, this includes the guy published in Welsh. I think you have to live in Wales to understand the language, let alone write in it).

  • At least 4 others have blogs (You guessed it; one of those blogs is at least partly in Welsh).

  • 1 – ME – discovered if my husband and I do have any children they can be duo-citizens because he is a British expat living in the US (this makes me happy, but does not mean I will be having those babies any time soon – no breath holding again. And yes, I looked that up in the hour allotted as well!)

  • 10 people married their high school sweethearts (Scary. I don’t remember that many people from high school, I can’t imagine finding marriage love there).

  • 1 – ME again – just sheepishly realized that she a) really fell in love for the first time her senior year of high school and b) met her husband her senior year of high school and c) a & b are two different guys.

  • At least 6 people are no longer with us (I’m sure this number is higher – social networking is not really a good tool for things like death, cancer and other life taking illnesses. We really try to be happy and upbeat while we network on the internet).

  • I stopped counting marriages, divorces and babies – I’m guessing these match national statistics.

And that was just in an hour, imagine what three hours would produce! I’m done with my ramblings, I’m going back to write some more about Teagan and her SuperMug exploits. I’ll tell you what – her character arc just got a whole lot bigger!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Week Three – Hitting My Stride

You’ll be happy to know my characters have decided not to be so flat anymore. They had some very interesting dialogue today and I even wrote out the murderer discovered scene. As I hit the 28,000 word count mark I went to the math and realized I might actually be able to get to 50,000 words by Nov. 30! Woo hoo! I work better under pressure, so I’ve also developed a head cold just for the extra obstacle’s sake. But still, if I crank out 2,000 words each day from here on out, I’ll make it. Now, I will still try really hard to type out more than 2,000 words in case some other obstacle rears its ugly head, but 2,000 a day is totally do-able!

This past weekend I attended a mystery thriller conference/ writing festival with friend and fellow nanoer, Matt. You can just make up a whole ton of words with nano as the pre-fix, I’m not sure how much each word actually weighs, but I promise at the end there is a ton. It was nice having someone I knew there while I kept learning – or not learning –things. Talking through everything in between our break-out sessions was more helpful than I realized at the time. We had different breakout sessions, so that was like a two for one deal really; each sharing with the other what we learned in our separate sessions. And, even though I can’t believe I’m saying this, it was nice to take a whole day away from my novel writing – and such a pivotal day: The half way mark/end of week 2, beginning of week 3.

Since I had a current nanonovel (See!) in mind, I used it all weekend as we did little exercises to give our writing some momentum. In the end, I was just really excited to get back to writing it, I couldn’t wait to dive in and use some of the new techniques I’d just learned – some I already knew, but the refresher course was nice. Well, the words are just flying now and like I said – my characters are going places again. They are having complex thoughts even.

In one of my sessions this weekend we discussed knowing more about your characters than you can ever put down in your novel to make each of them multi-layered, and really just more interesting to both writer and reader. We took about five minutes to write out the items currently in our MCs garbage can, trying to involve a couple different senses in the list. I was surprised to discover that my character, Teagan “Tea” O’Meara had a bunch of junk mail envelopes in her trash. Just the envelopes and not the contents, because she collects the families junk mail (she is the youngest sibling, with three older brothers – all currently at home for one reason or another) and mails it all back in the return envelopes. Realizing the companies only pay the postage if the envelopes get mailed back, she’s trying to be as annoying as they are. Her trash even contained some spirals off a notebook, because she sometimes mails blank paper and cardboard back in the envelopes to make them weigh more. This is probably not something I will ever add to my book, put it is nice to know that Tea is resourceful, vindictive and a little bit of a mother hen even though she’s the youngest. It actually helped me understand why, at 17, she’s so willing to get involved in a murder investigation at her place of employment, and that I CAN use in my novel.

So what’s inside your characters trash can? Do they recycle, do they not but try to hide it. Is their trash can empty and spotless, has everything landed on the floor around the bin? Is it overflowing, full of torn up photos? Is it sticky, smelly, or infested? What is your character trying to tell you by letting you see their trash?

XI. Thou shalt not self-censor at all during the first draft.
This draft is yours for the adventure of finding out what you think. Future drafts will be for others. Hold off your critical self until those future drafts.
- Gillian Roberts’ You Can Write a Mystery

Week three: things are already brighter, but there is still so much to get done in the two weeks left. Happy nanoing all!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Week Two Blues

When you write 50,000 words in one month you really throw all caution to the wind. It’s like writing in concentrated form and like living in a concentrated form. Everything happens so fast, you don’t really have time to think about it – it’s writing for writings sake. I’m not explaining it right. I keep trying to, but I think you actually may need to go through such an extreme deadline yourself to get the idea.

Yes, I still love the experience, but week two really…well, sucks! I’m full of self doubt, my wonderful amazing characters appear to be flat and stunted in their growth. Their dialogue is wooden and forced, their conflict and situations are mundane – no one else (even me) cares what they are doing or what happens to them. It’s all quite tragic and I’m ready to throw my computer out the window – or beat it with a baseball bat. Dear Computer, I’m not serious. Please don’t blow up on me, delete all of my words without saving, or give me the blue screen of death. You are a wonderful machine and I will buy you a new jump drive when this month is over. Whew, crisis averted.

Like Anne Shirley I’m in the depths of despair. When I was in college I spent a semester in London studying literature and theatre. Before we left for Europe, I went to a meeting to meet my fellow study abroad students, learn tips about living in a different country, talk about what to pack and what not to pack – all that wonderful informational stuff. What I remember most about that meeting was a professor giving a lecture on culture shock – it came complete with a handout I’m sure I still have somewhere. She told us how we would all be excited, then sad, we’d go through a few weeks of hating the place and just wanting to be home, then we’d find our way, learn some stuff, have a blast and by the time we were ready to go home, we wouldn’t want to. Then remarkably, once we got home, we’d go through the whole thing again.

I remember thinking this is ridiculous – surely England isn’t that different from Minnesota – we speak the same language, celebrate most of the same holidays, and ironically are based on the same religions. London is bigger (a lot) than Minneapolis, but they are both large cities and thriving metropolises (I hope that’s a word) right? Also, who wants to group every single student into one statistic like that? Surely my experiences could be different than Jen or Andy on my same trip. And Ben and Theresa who went to Spain; their experiences had to be different still. So I went to London with this in mind, I was bound and determined to have nothing but a good time and see similarities between the two cities and the two countries. I still don’t know if this was the right or wrong attitude to go into living four months in another place with, but that was my goal.

Looking back on those four months and reading some of the things I wrote in my journal I think the truth was somewhere in between – and tween was definitely the theme of my life in London, but that’s another blog – and I can’t say I’d do it any differently if I could do it again. I had my own experiences and saw many similarities, some of which others never saw. I made sure to live in the moment, realizing while they were happening how lucky I was to experience them and mostly keeping up on my journaling so I would never forget. I also spent three entire days inside my flat watching American TV and crying because I wanted to be at home. And when I got home? Well, I spent three hours on the phone with a friend on the trip trying to figure out how we were going to live in Minnesota anymore, secretly planning our next trip to Europe.

I guess what I’m saying, If I lived in London four months of every year like I write a novel one month of every year, I’m not entirely sure I’d do it any differently. Not that I can’t learn from my mistakes; absolutely I can and do. I didn’t finish my novel the first year of Nano because I had no ending, I didn’t know where the story would get to. The next year I had an ending, in fact I wrote it out first, reaching my word count goal and winning.

But right now week two is kicking me hard. It is the point in my culture shock scenario where I sit in my flat for three days crying and wondering why I’m here in this stupid place at all. What’s keeping me sane is week three and four where I change completely and my novel becomes a masterpiece – it won’t stay that way on the re-read, but on November 30th when I reach my word count goal and submit the entire thing to the word-count gods, I will for that brief moment think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Then I’ll wake up on December first and wonder how I’m going to continue in the real world without writing at least 2,000 words a day and talking to my writing buddies about the slangs and arrows of writing a novel in one month.

Why do I do it? Well, like studying abroad, because it stretches who I am, remolds me into something else – something better. If you like this blog or these words than realize that a good part of who I am and how I write is because I once spent four months studying literature and theatre in London and also because every year I take on this ridiculous and rewarding task of writing for writings sake. You really do have to go through the journey to get to the end.

Here’s to week two, at the end of it will be week three and I really want to get to week three. Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Writing with a Ridiculous Goal

50,000 words in one month – that’s the goal and the anticipation of every November if you are one of the participants of NaNoWriMo each year. For me it’s a roller coaster ride of long nights, crappy food and song lyrics. And every year without fail when I sit down to type out those first words of a new novel on the first day of November…I cry. Literally cry. I mean I don’t think my writing is that good…or bad to deserve tears, but unlike the rest of the year when I’m writing, November isn’t about marketing me, selling my words or researching a darn thing. November is all about the art of writing words. And it is one of the many times I realize: Oh yeah, I really love doing this.

So for someone who has chosen writing as a fulltime profession, what is the difference in November? I mean why don’t I cry every time I sit down at my computer to type out words? I wish I had an answer for you, and maybe I will spend part of this month trying to figure that out. Can we just start with the fact that I have a word deadline, yet I still want to write more and blog about this experience! Seriously, I should be writing nano-words here, I’m behind. Well, I’m always behind until the end when I spend the last two days of November growling at loved ones and crying for entirely different, word count related reasons. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Huh, I guess I think the experience of NaNoWriMo has something to do with the collective masses around the world participating in this crazy – and yes, ridiculous – endeavor. I mean I have writing buddies from around the world (Hi writing buddies, each and every one of you is an inspiration!), plus you can just see the wheels turning as the communal daily word count goes up and up and up. So many people, so many novels, SO MANY WORDS…

It is really rather brilliant. Because even if half the words get deleted, thrown away or forgotten after November is over, you still have a lot words that survive. In the years to come those words grow and develop into teaching words, living and breathing words, words to live by and words to die by. The world can be changed by words; it can be manipulated and influenced by words. And for one month a year I get to see it all in action, be part of the shared word spewing, hoping that some of my words stick and become more.

Now that I’ve said too much and written too many non-nano-words, it is time to get back to work. Happy nanowing to all participants – I hope some of your words stick too!

Now stop reading this and get back to work already. If you aren’t participating in National Novel Writing Month, I hope you forgive this month of crazy blogs and enjoy my ramblings for their own merit. Who knows, you may even catch a glimpse inside a world you never knew existed before.

Oh yeah, before I go. Here is another Writing Commandment from that book I mentioned in my last blog:

II. Thou shalt begin and keep going till you’re through.
All beginnings are hard. The beginning of a novel is the hardest part to write. The beginning of each chapter is hard. The beginning of each day’s work is hard. Knowing that, grit your teeth and get past those beginnings. Then finish the book. Nothing’s more discouraging than an unfinished piece of work. Writing is rewriting. Let that give you confidence as you stumble along—you can and will make it better
after you finish a draft.
- Gillian Roberts’ You Can Write a Mystery