Eight Tiny Reindeer

In-between compulsively checking my email, I’ve decided I want a break from revising and desperately need to write something NEW. A giant reworking of a previous novel just seems too daunting at the moment. Blech.

I’m brainstorming for a new story instead, initially sparked by a dream (don’t worry, no vampires). It’s really wanting to be a sort of fairy-tale retelling, so I might follow that thought and see where it leads. So far today I’ve been researching reindeer online and hitting up BehindTheName for name ideas, and I discovered that “Guadalupe” (the name of a street near me) means “river of the wolf,” which I thought was extremely interesting.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. I think I need to check my email.

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Update!

Thought I’d give you all a brief update on the status/progress of my latest Shiny New Idea:

I’ve been busily outlining via the Snowflake Method all week, and as of yesterday afternoon (exactly a week following the initial Niagara Falls gushing of inspiration, for those keeping track), I’m a couple of chapters into step eight, the invaluable List o’ Scenes. Still going well, still totally in love with the idea, and already have almost a whole page of notes regarding the SEQUEL. 0_o I think my brain has gone into overdrive or something. Not that I’m complaining!

Let’s see, stuff I can tell you…

  • One of my MCs is blind
  • The government is evil (though I guess that’s redundant, isn’t it. ;-))
  • It’s a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, a genre BFF and I have dubbed “sci-fantasy,” though in future query letters I suppose I’ll just have to label it sci-fi *grumble*
  • I am already thinking about writing query letters. But not to worry, I adhere to the don’t-even-think-about-querying-before-your-manuscript-is-completely-written-revised-and-polished rule.
  • There are air-ships (well, at least one), glass and metal lifts (yes, “lifts.” Sounds so much cooler than elevators, and hey, I’m an Anglophile from way back. BFF: Can everybody in this world be British? Me: I’ll think about it.), and electricity that’s not electricity but something rather more nefarious (duh duh DUHhhhhh).
  • I feel like this is a weirdly convoluted (but awesome) cross between Hunger Games  and The Bartimaeus Trilogy

And I’ll leave you with this brilliant little exchange from yesterday:

Me: So I guess what I want is six or so of these kids to one governess person who’s teaching them, you know, basic, rudimentary stuff. Like shapes and numbers and language building and so on.

BFF: You mean like a preschool?

Me: Yes. That.

Lightning Struck My Brain!

Several weeks ago (December 23rd, to be exact—I just looked up the date in my handy dandy Molskine idea notebook :-)), I had this random idea for a story concept I thought was pretty intriguing. I actually have no idea what triggered it. As you may have gathered from my previous post, I’ve been experiencing some pretty hefty creative BLOCK lately, and was beginning to despair of ever writing anything again. But this past week I was really wanting to WRITE something, and thought maybe I should dabble in some short stories.

So Thursday afternoon I took notebook and pen to White August Tea to brainstorm on three different ideas I’d had semi-recently, including the one from December 23rd. I jotted down the three ideas. I wrote a paragraph on one of them, turned the page, and proceeded to do the same with the December 23rd Idea. I wrote a paragraph, and then another paragraph, and pretty soon I’d written several pages and had three-quarters of a plot and the definite feeling that this was Absolutely Not a short story. It was a novel. I was hearing character voices in my head, seeing their surroundings, getting scene ideas, discovering back story, and so on and so on and so on. Basically ideas were gushing out of my brain, Niagara Falls-style. By Friday I’d pretty much figured out what happens in the end, and even decided that there might be sequels (which is a huge tip-off that I’m not planning on killing anyone important, haha).

Friday evening I started Snowflaking, after briefly considering plunging head-first into writing the novel sans outline. As of right now, late Sunday afternoon, I’m halfway through Step Five of the Snowflake, with only three and a half steps left to go. The story is still exciting me, and ideas are still pouring out of my brain, and I am totally going to plunge into writing the first draft as soon as I finish my outline. I am so, so, so, SO excited!

The novel has a title (which literally popped into my head thirty seconds after jotting down the original brainstorming paragraph) that I’m not going to share just yet, and I’m not telling you what the idea is, either (sorry; I will as I get further along in the writing process, promise :-)), so I’ll just leave it at: a sort-of sci-fi-fantasy-dystopian-possibly-steampunk-young-adult-romance novel. Don’t worry. I won’t put that in the query letter. 🙂 🙂

Excited to be excited again,

Joanna

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.

NaNoWriMo Day 5

Word Count: 35,132
Chapters Completed: 5.1/16
Worlds Visited: 2
Sanity Level: 65%
Mood: pensive

So it’s 10:48 on the morning of November 6th, and I’ve yet to write any words (well, besides these ones). I’m at the very beginning of Chapter 6, and although the story is rolling along nicely (more or less), I’m still struggling to find this novel’s voice. Voice is never something I struggle with (plot, yes. pacing, yes. voice? no), so it’s a little frustrating. I don’t know if it’s because my main character wasn’t fully formed in my mind when I started writing, or if the idea needed some more time to percolate or what.

And then yesterday, whilst driving to piano lessons, I had a completely crazy idea: what if I were to narrate the story from the point of view of my main character’s dead sister?

I thought about it, and thought about it (I’m still thinking about it), and I could be completely and totally wrong, but this shift in narration might be the spark I’ve been missing for the last 35,132 words. I can hear her voice in my head, and last night I scribbled out a possible new beginning that just felt incredibly right.

Not exactly sure where this leaves me. I’m definitely not, at this point, going back to rewrite everything, but I’m thinking about shifting the narrative style right where I’m at (smack dab in the middle of a scene at the beginning of Chapter Six), see what that does for me, and rewrite accordingly after NaNo is over.

And that is probably WAY more information than anybody needed about the strange inner workings of my brain during noveling.

Need to get dressed now,
Joanna
aka
Who-Wouldn’t-Want-a-Dead-Child-for-a-Narrator Smith

Where Do Ideas Come From, Anyway?

Since I only have today, tomorrow, and Thursday to outline for NaNo (heading to Texas for an epic kick-off on Friday, so can’t outline then!), I figured it was a perfect time to procrastinate and write a new post instead. 🙂

I’m sitting here with my window open, sipping black currant tea (which is hands down the greatest invention since sliced bread; I’m thinking it’s the nectar of the gods), and pondering the mysteries of the universe. Or something.

At any rate, I thought I’d take this moment to talk about inspiration.

Inspiration is weird. Ideas can come from absolutely anywhere, which is why having a notebook and pen glued to one’s self at all times is imperitave. I get inspired by all kinds of things, normal stuff like books and movies and music and paintings, and weird stuff like bathroom floors and the way the sky looks and patterns on plates.

The Whale and the Tree, for example, was inspired by a whole jumble of random things: a single frame from The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants movie that for some reason made me think of mermaids, the atmosphere and mood of Keane’s then-newly-released-album Under the Iron Sea, a serving plate emblazoned with an esoteric shape that looked (to me) like a yellow whale, the idea of using myths in the novel ala Megan Whalen Turner’s (completely fabulous) The Thief

The main idea for The Fire in the Glass was sparked, I must admit, by watching Star Wars episode three (the one where I-can’t-act teenage Darth Vader turns into I’m-just-a-torso-in-a-scary-suit actual Darth Vader). It was that fiery planet at the end that did it. I started wondering if people could actually live on a world seething with lava, and why they would be there in the first place, and how they would escape… Everything spun out of control from there.

Last year’s novel, The Silver Crane, was inspired by a random conversation about cupbearers. I started wondering about cupbearers, and what it would be like to be one, and if they chose their job or if it was chosen for them, and…

This year’s novel was born when a friend told me that one of my characters from Fire in the Glass ought to have her own adventures. As it turns out, she’s not the main character, but she’s gonna be in it a lot, and I decided to give her a Pegasus, because Pegasuses (Pegasi?) are undeniably cool.

So there you have it, a strange and perilous glimpse at the inner workings of my mind.

What inspires you?

Process

So if I’ve gone about it properly, this post will appear in the future. But I’m writing it from the past. Weird, huh. Wibbly woblly. Timey-wimey. You know.

Anyways, I thought I’d spew some randomness on the process of novel writing as seen by me. So here goes:

The Process of Novel Writing as Seen by Me
(a not-very-scholarly collection of thoughts)

Stage One: The Random Idea

I love random ideas. I have a Molskine notebook specifically meant for them, and I carry it around with me everywhere—one never knows when inspiration might strike. The weirdest things spark ideas: a mis-heard song lyric, a pattern on a plate that happens to look like a whale, a brief conversation with friends about the relative merits of cupbearers… Some ideas suck. And some turn into novels. That’s why they’re so much fun. I do think if a random stranger were to read through my Molskine they would definitely assume I was mentally unhinged. But you’ll have that.

(There’s sort of a half-stage that comes after Random Ideas and before Brainstorming, but I’m not sure the phenomena known as rattling-around-in-the-subconscious can be very clearly defined, so we’ll just move on.)

Stage Two: Brainstorming

I’m currently brainstorming for this year’s NaNoWriMo novel (I know I’m starting early. Shut up, you’re just jealous) and I love it. I start a notebook for every novel I write, which is great because it 1) Gives me an excuse to buy notebooks, and 2) Gives me a place to jot down ideas without cluttering up the aforementioned Moleskine.

This is where I figure out basic storyline, characters, and world-building, and usually get ideas for a few scenes as well. This stage is fun because of all the POSSIBILITIES!! They’re endless. The world is your oyster. And dang it if it isn’t going to be the most amazing novel ever written!! 🙂

Stage Three: Outlining

I never used to outline beyond your basic Beginning-Middle-Ending type of thing, which inevitably left me with a heck of a lot of head-scratching and getting into plot difficulties I didn’t know how to get out of.

Then I discovered the one, the only, the amazing SNOWFLAKE METHOD and was immediately converted. (I know I’ve mentioned it on here before, but it’s been a while and bears repeating). I really like this method of outlining, as it allows you to grow your story and your characters without it seeming forced or false. It’s also super fun, at least most of the time. Oh, and I never go past Step Eight.

Stage Four: First Draft

Way back in the summer of 2005, I discovered the awesome that is NaNoWriMo, and despairing of the fact that Novemeber was months away, I did my own finish-it-or-bust challenge with my current work in progress, a novel then titled Connor’s Journey. Apart from a book I’d completed pre-college that’s not quite long enough to technically be called a novel and is way too embarrassingly cliché to actually talk about in public anways, Connor’s Journey was my first novel. I’d been floundering in the first quarter of it for quite a long time, and decided I wanted to finish it. So I did. It felt amazing. And in the process I learned something: first drafts are fun, especially if written at high speed with a deadline hanging over your head.

It goes without saying that I adored NaNoWriMo. I’ve done it four times now, and am gearing up for a fifth. I love love love love love the amazing process of writing, especially on those days where you can’t seem to type fast enough to keep up with your brain. Yeah, you hit slow days, but it only makes the non-slow days that much more awesome. And I love the freedom of a first draft. Doesn’t have to be perfect. There just has to be words on the page.

Oh first drafts, how I love thee.

Stage Five: Revision

Oh revision, how I loathe thee.

Okay, maybe not loathe, but it’s certainly a love/hate kind of relationship. Revision is just so painful, and it takes such a looooong time. Nowhere near as much fun (or as quick!) as those glorious first drafts. It’s always rough when you’re forced to admit to yourself that the perfect novel you churned out in November ain’t so perfect. Blech.

At any rate, for me revision generally includes a heck of a lot of deletion/rearrangement/addition/restructuring/reworking of characters/list making. Figuring out what’s wrong with the novel and exactly how I want to fix it is sometimes half the battle. Once I figure it out, I start over from page one and re-key the whole thing. Cringe-worthy, I know, but it forces you to consider every single word in a way that you don’t really do if you’re just changing a sentence or two here and there. It also helps you to get back into the groove of the story and lets your new scenes match the style and feel of the old ones.

In the event that I ever make it to line-editing (debating for five minutes whether this word or that one would be better, and you know I think this sentence needs a semi-colon), I’m always deleriously happy!!

I’ve only thus far wrangled two of my novels through the horrible revision process, and am back revising one of them (the 2005 nano) again—though it won’t be near as extensive as the first time.

Stage Six: World-Wide Fame

Just kidding. 🙂

So that’s the noveling process as seen by me. If you actually read through all of that, you are amazing.

Cheers from the future (or is it the past? I don’t know. I’m confused).

See you on the other side of Kansas!