A Long and Dark December

Hey all, apologies for lack of blogness lately. Still reeling a bit from my nano disappointment, I think, which has been reflected in my writing progress (or lack thereof). Feeling slightly more encouraged today, though, and beginning to think that maybe I can get through this weird writer’s block or whatever it is.

I’m working on three different things: Seraphine, the not-really-all-that-short-story, the second draft of On Journeys Bound, and notes for an as-yet-untitled project.

Seraphine is at the beginning stages of editing, which, for me, means I’ve read through it all, made lots of notes in the margin, and am now trying to come up with a game plan of what exactly I want to do to it. Sometimes I know what needs to be done but don’t know quite how to do it, which means I get to do lots of brainstorming and ask myself rough questions (like: Why do they fall for each other? and: where exactly is this food coming from???) and scribble things down in my notebook and bang my head against the wall until I can come up with a viable solution. After I figure out what to do, I’ll probably re-type the whole story, which forces me to consider every sentence and every word and if I really want to keep it that way or not. My biggest challenges with this story are the middle (or lack thereof—I sorta skipped it), and consistency of details (a result of discovering things as I went along—I wound up contradicting myself a LOT). Overall, I really, really like this story and think it could be quite special if edited correctly.

I go back and forth with digging On Journeys Bound. It’s such an old story idea that dates back to when I was twelve and obsessed with horses and Lord of the Rings (okay, I’m still obsessed with LOTR; that was when I first discovered it. I belong to the elite community of fans who adored the books before the movies came out. :-)) and journeys and adventures and mysterious identities and so on, but something about the characters and their stories keeps me coming back to it. Originally a short story of 18,740 words (which was monstrous at the time) penned in ’97/’98 or thereabouts, I later expanded it into a novel, and finished the first draft the summer of 2005; it clocked in around 75k.

A couple of summers ago I started working on the second draft, fleshing out characters and inserting scenes and subplots and tightening up the writing and so on. One of my main characters was horrendously boring, and I had to figure out a way to make him un-boring. I think I’ve managed it. I dunno. There’s a lot more story in the beginning of the second draft, which is going to make the finished product at least 100k. I’m currently at 48,914 words, so there’s a waaayyyys to go yet. But after I get through the next 10-20k, the changes become a lot less major, so it ought to be fairly smooth sailing towards the end. It shouldn’t need much editing after that besides some prose tightening (is that a valid expression?), and then I’ll have another FINISHED BOOK. I don’t know of course if anyone but me would ever want to read it. I’ll have to figure out a way to send it back in time, ’cause it’s the kind of story my twelve-year-old self would have adored. 🙂

It’s basically about Bren, an apathetic prince, and Connor, the bitter slave forced to serve him. Both of them have shadows in their past they would rather leave untouched. Neither of them have that luxury. There are battles and journeys. Tragedy and loss. Regret and betrayal. Fire and death.

It’s certainly rather darker than its early incarnations.

At any rate. Currently, Connor has just rescued a little girl from a snowbank, and Bren has narrowly evaded another assassination attempt. Go him.

As for the third project, I’m still in the brainstorming phase, but the idea has me quite excited. It’s a love story (go figure), or possibly two, and is set in the same world as The Whale and the Tree and The Silver Crane. It might even have a happy ending. *grin*

And that, as they say, is that.

Book Review: The Bartimaues Trilogy

Just finished reading Ptolemy’s Gate, the third installment in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy. It was SO GOOD. Wow.

But I’m not being very coherent. Sorry about that.* I’ll try and do better. Let’s see.

The first book, The Amulet of Samarkand, introduces Bartimaeus, the fabulously snarky, famously famous, shape-shifting ancient dijinni of Incredible Power**, and Nathaniel, a twelve-year-old magician’s apprentice who’s out for a spot of revenge. Told in alternating chapters, the story traces their reluctant alliance*** against formidable foe Simon Lovelace, a powerful magician with some diabolical plans of his own.

The second book, The Golem’s Eye, finds Nathaniel grafted into the British government****, with the much abused Bartimaeus back to try and salvage the mess he’s making of his career.+ Enter a third viewpoint character, the fiercely idealistic Kitty Jones, who, along with a group of commoners called the Resistance, is fighting against the government.++ To make matters worse, a creature wreathed in shadow is wreaking havoc in central London, there’s an insane skeleton on the loose+++, and the magicians have a traitor in their midst…

The third book, the aforementioned Ptolemy’s Gate, finds Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty forced into a tremulous alliance tied together with the shadows of Bartimaeus’s past.++++

These books are fantastic. Lovely writing, compelling storyline, the characters evolve and grow… Just the right mixture of humor and pathos and history and detail. I’m excessively sad that they’re over now^ :-(, but awesomely enough there’s a fourth book coming next fall!^^

____________________

* It comes from being human, no doubt.

** And hilariously sarcastic footnotes. Like this one. Only funnier. And more sarcastic.

*** aka Forced servitude on the part of Bartimaeus. Darn magicians.

**** Which is made up entirely of conniving, power-hungry magicians.

+ The idiot couldn’t do it on his own, of course.

++ …by sneaking around in the dark and pilfering magical items. It was the best they could come up with, being human and all.

+++ Don’t ask.

++++ Hardly compelling, I know, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

^ Who wouldn’t be??

^^ Readers rejoice!

NaNoWriMo 2009: Thoughts

Well, it’s been a strange November.

I started two different novels, writing a combined 91k in the process, and didn’t come anywhere near to my original goal of completing an entire first draft. I sort of feel like, 91k aside, I failed rather miserably. Why? Well, I have no book. I have the beginnings of two different books (both of which, I fear, are quite badly written, though there’s perhaps more hope for the second one than for the first), but nothing, well, substantial. In the previous two years, even though I didn’t actually finish my novels during the month, I wrote hefty chunks of them and at least got halfway through.

I don’t know.

It’s like, it’s like…

I know what it’s like. It’s like my piano recital senior year of college. Specifically, Beethoven. More specifically, Beethoven’s sonata nicknamed The Tempest (for obvious reasons if one happens to play it/listen to it). Now I never had a very good relationship with Beethoven (I much prefer Chopin and Bach, though that’s beside the point), but I practiced that sonata until I was blue in the face, and was as prepared as was possible for my recital. The first six pages of the first movement went marvelously, so marvelously, in fact, that I psyched myself out and managed to totally blank on the last page and a half. Which, in a manner resembling a train wreck or a cascade of perfectly placed dominoes or a really bad horror movie, derailed me on the other two movements. I got through them, but I didn’t play them nearly as well as I was able to, because my mind was still chewing on what exactly had gone wrong with that first movement.

Rambling anecdotes aside, I think that’s partly what bothered me during this year’s NaNoWriMo. After penning an alarmingly awful 41,000 words of a novel I had been planning on writing for almost a whole year, starting completely over was more than a little disconcerting. I had never written such horrific prose before. It was shocking, I tell you! Shocking! Don’t get me wrong, previous NaNo’s have produced some wince-worthy passages, but they were always balanced out by some (in my mind) rather lovely writing.

This year? I found myself writing the same phrases over and over. I didn’t connect emotionally with the characters, the scenes, the settings, the situations. I began wondering if I had somehow cracked and was incapable of writing a nicely-crafted paragraph ever again. I began wondering, in fact, if I had ever written a nicely-crafted paragraph in my life, or if I was deluding myself.

I got depressed, of course. It wasn’t very pleasant, but you’ll have that.

So I started The Blind King, which went a lot better, and had its moments, and got me comfortably to 50k, but still left me feeling restless and lethargic about my writing (and life in general—you know how it is with creative types).  I’m pretty sure TBK could be a super awesome book, but a few of things need to happen before I revisit/restart the draft:

  1. It honestly needs outlining. The beginning is worked out pretty well in my head, and I vaguely know what happens at the end, but the middle is completely nebulous in terms of actual form.
  2. I need to finish the rewrite of On Journeys Bound, the book it’s a sequel to. It only makes sense. Plus then I can make sure I’m properly continuing threads instead of sort of remembering previous events and inadvertently creating loads of inconsistencies.
  3. I need to do some more world building, figure out things like the layout of buildings, roads, towns, and firmly decide what level of technology these people have.

 In other words?

I’m not going to have a shiny new first draft of anything any time soon. Rather disheartening. I feel like I ought to have gleaned some sort of a useful lesson from this. Maybe:

  • Some ideas can’t be forced.

Or:

  • Sometimes not even extensive outlining helps.

Or:

  • This just wasn’t my year.

 Hmmm. This all sounds rather depressing. I am, to ease your minds (is anyone still reading this? I feel like I’ve been rambling on for at least 50,000 words at this point), feeling much more optimistic about things. I’ve decided to dive back into the rewrite of On Journeys Bound while my mind is noodling on ways to rework The Last Garden (which, incidentally, I am still planning to write at some point). I’m also seeing revisions of Seraphine (which, incidentally, I’ve decided I like quite a lot) looming in the near future. **determined eyes**

All that to say, it’s been an odd month, and I’m kind of glad it’s over. But in a good way. Mostly.

Happy December,

Joanna