Category Archives: The Novel

Much December Goodness (ie, Updates, Character Development, and Publishing News)

Hi Folks!

‘Tis time for an update, so some say. šŸ™‚ As you might have guessed, the past few months have raced by, filled with writing afternoons, crazy teaching moments, and breathtaking travel. Instead of legitimately participating in November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the unindoctrinated), I decided to set a longer-term writing schedule to weave a new story onto the page. With any luck (and, err, gumption), in the next three months I will have a solid first draft ready for first readers and feedback.

These initial stages of writing are the most difficult for me. At the beginning of a story, I don’t have an immediate connection to my characters. I may know their names, have a general idea of their appearances, or understand one unquenchable fact about their pasts, but they aren’t yet people. I don’t enjoy or despise the protagonist. I’m not in love with the hero. IĀ  rarely, if ever, instantly care about their futures. My characters start as acquaintances; they have the potential to develop into full-blown help-you-bury-the-body friendships, but at the onset, we can only smile and reintroduce ourselves awkwardly at every engagement. I’ve tried character mapping and profiles, but they feel insincere and inorganic to my creative muse. Thus, I am left to struggle and force banter at the equivalent of a friend-of-a-friend’s fancy cocktail party, where the host is dating my ex and I’m wearing knee-torn, mud-splattered jeans.

It does get easier. After spending a lot of time with my characters, I start to hear their voices in my head (usually at inopportune moments– for example, at the doctor’s office). I begin to understand better their motivations and fears, as well as their intrinsic reactions to other characters. The story smooths out. Plot points are reached. Words fly on the screen, and whole scenes pop into existence in mere minutes.

Until then? My characters and I circle each other dubiously, and the story putters along.

With any luck, I’ll be partying with my characters soon. šŸ™‚

***

Now, in other news, I just learned that The Monongahela Review will be publishing a poem of mine in the upcoming issue! šŸ˜€Ā MR is an awesome online lit journal; you can download current and previous issues for free as PDFs or read online through Issuu.

As soon as this baby drops, I’ll post links and many, many exclamation points! šŸ˜›

***
AND… in some other news, one of my poems will be featured this week on Andy Knowlton‘s A Poem A Day blog!

The story of Andy’s and my acquaintance is rather charming, in a You’ve-Got-Mail-without-the-love-affair sorta way. Towards the beginning of my residence in Korea, I read an article online about international grassroots poetry movements, a segment of which was dedicated to his Drunken Poets project. Turns out, Andy is an American writer based in Seoul, South Korea, a mere 3.5 hours from my town of Yeosu. I shot him an email, admiring and cheering on his art/poem efforts… and he wrote back. Thus began an electronic friendship. šŸ˜›

Andy creates his own artwork –the epitome of cool– for his A Poem A Day blog. Check out the work he’s done to this point (Day 340)! It’s impressive. I’m very honored and excited to be included on the website!

As soon as the poem/artwork posts, I’ll share it with you here. I may also print out a million copies and mail them to friends and/or random strangers. There’s a 50/50 chance you’ll get one. šŸ˜‰

Check out Andy Knowlton's website for more info on his poetry, The Drunken Poets project, and his A Poem A Day blog! [andyknowlton.com]

Check out Andy Knowlton’s website for more info on his poetry, The Drunken Poets project, and his A Poem A Day blog!

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Filed under News, Poetry, Publication, The Novel, Woo Hoo!, Writing

What Happened With NaNoWriMo….

I blinked, and there went November.

I participated in NaNoWriMo (hence my lack of updates) …but did I reach my 50,000 word goal? Not so much. Apparently I feel the need to weigh every syllable before I type it, and then reweigh it as I finish each word and each sentence, and then judge that syllable for its accuracy and sound quality seven times before the end of the paragraph. Yes, I realize I was battling against NaNoWriMo’s entire premise. I truly tried to break a lifetime of OCD writing habits, but I was only so-so successful. Still,Ā SWĀ is coming together, and I have a large portion of the first draft sitting in a folder on my desktop. I’m sure I’ll return to it soon. And despite my overall NaNoWriMo failure, I did benefit from scheduling regular writing jams, a practice I plan to continue in 2013. By golly,Ā SW will be written!

(I may post a small excerpt fromĀ SW in the near future….)

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Filed under The Novel, Writing

Storms and Lists (but not lists about storms)

Hurricane Sandy is now bearing down on the east coast. The images are terrifying. And magestic. What awful, amazing creative inspiration.

My thoughts and prayers are with you all as you buckle down and survive the storm and its aftermath over the next few days. I know I’ll be contacting several close friends later tonight to see how they’re managing, where they’ve relocated to, and what I can do to help. I hope everyone is safe, dry, and warm this stormy day.

***

In writing news,Ā I’ve been frantically composing lists forĀ SW. Once upon a time, I was an obsessive lister: groceries; types of flowers I wanted in my (current and future) garden; Must-Read-Books releasing in the next month, two months, before Christmas. Since we are in the last week of October, the final week before NaNoWriMo begins, I’ve attempted to organize my thoughts in every spare moment by composing lists on my characters (their traits, locations they’ve lived, pets they’ve owned, family relationships), the setting (businesses downtown, road names, natural features), scenes I’ve written, scenes I need to write, names of secondary characters…. You name it, it’s probably jotted down somewhere.

I do believe I have a slightly better grasp onĀ SW‘sĀ world. Which is good.

… But.

In the midst of all my organizing, I’ve also noticed a severe decline in actualĀ writingĀ taking place. I’ve allowed my OCD listing to overpower the story itself.

Not good.

My epiphany today: It’s all fine and dandy to delve into prep work, but at some point, we just need to sit down and write, lists and research be damned.

Will all my compulsive listing help my writing process over the next month? I have no idea. But my goal this week is to strike a better balance between prep work and writing. I don’t want to know this much about my characters and fail to bring them to life.

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…Can music save your mortal soul, and can you teach me how to dance real slow…

No, I’m not throwing around song lyrics for the heck of it. (Really, though,Ā isĀ there ever a bad reason to quote “American Pie?”)

This is what has been on my writing-mind of late: SW‘s Playlist. No pressure.Ā Shouldn’t be too difficult. Just need to assemble a few tunes with the power to blank out the rest of the world.

Uh huh.

For those of us who prefer to write far from home and its plentiful temptations, chores, and distractions, a writing playlist (and an excellent set of earbuds) is key. (Nothing like coffee mugs clanging and neighbors conversing to put you off your grammar.) Beyond the immediate benefits,Ā I’ve also found that the songs I choose greatly influence the composition itself– molding scenes, intensifying the mood, giving my words an echo I might not have otherwise recognized — so I’ve become verrrrrry deliberate in what I select, and the order in which I select it.

A good friend of mine writes to a smorgasbord of international pop (read: American Top 40 circa 1993, but in foreign tongues). Another prefers hard core electric guitar riffs. Me? In the past, I’ve found it difficult to work with other people’s lyrics rolling in my head.

Here’s an example:

A few years back, I was rocking out, writing,Ā to aĀ certain power ballad. I was on a roll: The words just streamed from my fingertips, tempting meĀ to raise a Fist of Triumph for the success of the poem. I was so excited about it, in fact, I immediately emailed the draft to another poet.

…minutes later… <phone rings>

Poet Friend: “Umm, Jen?”
Me: “Hi! You already read it? What do you think?”
Poet Friend:Ā <pause> “Were you just listening to <name of a very well known band>?”
Me: “Wow! How did you know?”
Poet Friend: … “Yeah. Have you read your poem?”

Needless to say, I found it necessary to switch to instrumental music after that.

Now I’m working on the playlist for SW. I find myself once again drawn towards songs with lyrics. (Really loving Mumford and Sons at the moment.) MaybeĀ I should attempt a mix? Make a couple different playlists, in case the classical/instrumental soundtrack is needed? Perhaps I should form different song collections by intended mood/theme? Hmmm….

What specific songs or genres of music do you write to? Is there an artist that makes you want to pull out your pen and scribble away? Or are you one of those horrible, horrible souls who can sit and write anywhere, regardless of exterior noise? šŸ˜‰

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Battles …(plus reference to delicious baked goods)

It’s not often that I haveĀ an entire 24-hour periodĀ free of responsibility or strict plans. Holy mackerel, I’ve been looking forward to today for weeks: I envisioned sleeping in, delving deep into my story without needing to watch the clock, maybe baking some heal-the-sick-amazing double-chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmm. The day was going to be perfect.

Of course, though, reality is never so pretty.

1. My neighbors decidedĀ something desperately needed hammering at a very early hour. Very early. And it had to take place on our shared wall, which butts up to my bed. …Grrrrrr. (I don’t know what it is about my neighbors and pounding things.)

2. I’d been in denial about chores.Ā They’ve piled up for a few days, and the dutiful, practical me insists I complete them before any writing take place.

3. Just checked my cupboard. Completely out of sugar. Uh huh.

Now, none of these hurdles is insurmountable– Meijer’s is just down the street, after all, and there are plenty of hours remaining this afternoon for laundry AND writing. But the day has certainly not progressed flawlessly.

I learned the same lesson this week with my story. You may know what I’m talking about: The charactersĀ will not cooperate.Ā Originally, I had all these plot-points and plans for the long-term shape of the book, but noooooo, my characters had to go and grow personalities, and now a few of the scenes I’ve written no longer fit, and the protagonist insists on walking down a nasty, garbage-stricken alley when I know she should really be on the other side of town, and she stubbornly won’t say what I want her to say, and now she wants a tattoo, andĀ man, I have to re-sculpt my plan for the book. I’ve lost control over my story.

In the bigger picture, this isn’t a bad thing. The writing is growing organically, rather than sticking to a potentially-lifeless imposed script. I like that my characters are mouthing back.

But in this moment? Half of what I know about the plot and setting and characters will be chucked. It’s unsettling.

Who knows how this story will end up? Certainly not me.

Guess I’m in for a ride.

Yeah, I’m gonna need those cookies.

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Filed under Daily Grind, The Novel, Writing