Monthly Archives: November 2014

Famous Last Words

Winner-2014-Twitter-ProfileI just rolled across the NaNoWriMo finish line. That’s right, I did make it after all. And I must say, I was quite pleased with the words that kicked me across that line: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” (one of my characters is really happy with having won a draw). And there it is, 50,002 words. I just think they’re great words to have passed the NaNo goal posts with. So eloquent, so erudite, so evocative… The writer’s craft at its finest.

Oh, but to be clear, those words just brought me to the finish of NaNo – the story isn’t done yet. You see, the draw that the character in question won only means he gets a chance at entering another contest, so I still have to write that, and the outcome of it is what determines everything – well, maybe not everything, in a manner of speaking, but… Okay, I’ll shut up. The story isn’t even finished, and if I told you what it was all about, I’d be letting all sorts of cats out of the bag (small-c cats, not big-C as in Catriona – but yes, she is an important part of this story, too. I’m not giving anything away if I tell you that. And if you don’t know who Catriona is, read Seventh Son, you’ll find out).

Besides, this story is still quite a muddle, but that’s the nature of NaNo novels. When you’re pounding out 50k words in four weeks, and without the proper clear outlining a novelist ought to have engaged in beforehand (which I’ve never yet done, but have good intentions for), the story you end up can be a little, umm, bumpy. To the tune of “Why the heck is this person doing that? That makes no sense. Ah, whatever, gotta keep writing to make my word count…” And then you go in afterwards and smooth out all the bumps. Or sometimes take a pickaxe to them and dig them out of the pavement altogether (I’ve just been writing lots about streets with cobblestones. Pardon me if my road works imagery is a little skewed in the medieval-ish direction rather than the modern asphalt one).

I’m learning all sorts of things about how the novelling process works, and this bumps-smoothing-or-pickaxing is one of those things. But that actually comes later, quite a bit later. For now, I’m going to celebrate my NaNo win, first of all with a glass of wine, and then by going to the last write-in of our local NaNo bunch tomorrow to keep on writing until I actually finish the story.  Because the whole point of this exercise, for me, isn’t to just write 50,000 words – else I could have just repeated “Yes!” another 49,995 times – but to get a story. And one I like, at that. That’s what I’m doing when I’m writing tales of librarians and cats and magical blue-glazed pottery bowls – I’m telling myself a story, which is something I’ve done in my head for as long as I can think (I kid you not. I remember doing it when I was perhaps three or so, every night in bed in order to put myself to sleep. I believe back then the storylines involved chimpanzees who had lots of really cool toys to play with). And if out of that, the storytelling-for-myself, comes a book that others enjoy too, that’s a big bonus.

Life, the Universe, and Famous Last Words. I finished NaNoWriMo – yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!

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News From the Writing Trenches

Apologies for the infrequency of my postings lately. I’ve been hard at work on the third instalment of the Septimus Series. (Wait, you say – what about the second one? Fear not, stalwart reader, Cat and Mouse has been written quite some time ago, and is with my intrepid editor at this very moment. It should be available for your reading pleasure within a couple of months – I’ll let you know when!)

Steve beta-readingSo, meanwhile, here’s a picture for you of Steve beta-reading yet another one of my stories. He’s not the greatest beta reader, because his comments usually just go along the lines of “There’s not enough bears in here,” or “That bear is not believably written.” However, expert opinion on even just one specialty subject is not unwelcome, either. You can be sure that with his feedback, I’ll at least get the bears in my stories right.

However, speaking of beta readers, I could use a few more. So if you’re up for reading a novel or two and giving me honest feedback on it, give me a shout in the comments or send me a mail to amo@amovitam.ca. That’s especially if you’re an appreciator of fairy tales and/or gentle fantasy (by which I mean that it’s not the epic sword-and-sorcery kind – there’s no swords, and the sorcery is quite mild-mannered; as for eps, well, they generally don’t find enough scope for their epping in my worlds).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Catriona – they just hit a cliff hanger which must be resolved in the next chapter.

Life, the Universe, and the Writer’s Life. See you on the other side of the full stop.

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Fly Specks

crystals (2) We’ve been having interesting weather this past week. It’s been unseasonably cold – we’ve had highs of -1°C, which is not normal for this time of year – but to make up for it, it’s been brilliantly sunny. The winds have whipped most of the leaves off the trees now, so the light falls through the bare branches, and the brightness is dazzling.

My house faces east, across a small valley, and my spot at the kitchen table looks out through the windows. So this time of year, when the sun comes up over the hills – around 8:30 AM – it hits me full in the face where I sit reading my emails and flipping through my Facebook page. It’s glorious.

But the last few days, it has also illuminated, in full splendour, the specks of fly shit on my kitchen window. That’s right – fly specks, all over the glass. With the amount of canning and food processing we do in the summer and into the fall, the kitchen is usually swarming with fruit flies throughout late August and September. (Important fact I learned in the FoodSafe class I took recently: one of the signs of a fly infestation in the kitchen is that there are a lot of flies. Yup. Aren’t you glad I shared that with you? Now you don’t have to take the class.) And when there’s a lot of fruit flies, they crawl all over the windows. And while they do so, they do – their business. Defecate. Poop. Yes. Now, fortunately, fruit flies being of a rather miniscule persuasion, the little specks they leave behind are also really tiny. No worse than the tiny speckles you get on your bathroom mirror when you stand too close while rinsing your toothbrush. Really, they’re no big deal.

Now, this morning, my daughter decided to take action. She took arms against a sea of troubles (well, okay, she grabbed a bottle of window cleaner and a wad of paper towels), and by opposing, ended them (aka cleaned the fly specks off the windows). And while she was at it, I took down the crystals we have hanging on those windows, and took the glass bottles and ornaments off the window sill, and washed them too.

crystals (3)And here is the thing: as soon as we hung the sparkling-clean crystals back on the window, the kitchen was dancing with rainbows. The little sculpture I have sitting on the window sill over the sink, which is really just an assortment of prisms, a clear acrylic rod, and a cobalt blue marble, stacked for random reflections, suddenly once again threw razor-sharp patterns of light across the window sill.

I had not even noticed how the rainbows and the prism patterns had become dulled. It was only tiny fly specks, wasn’t it? Tiny little translucent-white spots, no big deal. But once they were washed off, the world took on a new sparkle.

crystals (1)I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the metaphor to you – you’re bright enough to catch it without needing the fly specks washed off your glasses first. Tiny spots of fly dirt – the flies that produced it long gone to fruit fly heaven – dulling the brilliant sun’s reflection. A wad of paper towel and a bottle of window cleaner, and the sparkle is back in the world.

Life, the Universe, and Fly Specks. A lesson on a sunny morning.

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Jane Austen Centre at Bath Unveils Wax Figure of Jane Austen

I just saw this when I found out about this new book, JANE AUSTEN COVER TO COVER (written by the owner of this blog). I like this wax figure, don’t you? Particularly put side-by-side with Anna Chancellor’s image.

AustenBlog

It’s probably safe to say that all Janeites have had at least one moment of curiosity about what Jane Austen looked like. We don’t have much to go on–a dashed-off, incomplete, badly faded watercolor by Cassandra Austen is the only authenticated image of Jane Austen’s face, which has both frustrated Austen fans as well as inspiring them to create something better.

Today, the Jane Austen Centre at Bath unveiled a wax figure of Jane Austen, created by sculptor Mark Richards (the BBC has a shorter piece with a video interview of the sculptor), inspired by Melissa Dring’s forensic painting of Austen, done several years ago also for the Jane Austen Centre. The painting has received a mixed reception from Janeites, and we are not terribly fond of it, but we like this wax figure rather better. In fact, we like it quite a bit.

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Playing With Matches

It’s Remembrance Day in just a couple of days, and I’ve written before about how the perspective from the other side of the trenches is, in many ways, not so different from that of “our” side. War kills. War sucks in innocent people and destroys them.

Lee Strauss has a great book on sale this week (links at the bottom of this post) that tells that very story, the tale of World War II from an angle that most English-speaking people rarely hear. Playing With Matches is the story of Emil Radle, a young German boy in the 1930s, and his experience of the war. The book is fiction as far as the actual characters and exact events go, but it could be absolutely true. The boy in the cover picture, on the far right edge, the one with his blond lock of hair falling over his forehead, could be my uncle, the one who was just the age Emil Radle is in the book. Or, for that matter, my favourite high school teacher, who spent hours regaling us with stories of how he was drafted in the last years of the war, at the age of sixteen, to become cannon fodder; and who said the best moment of the whole thing was when he could drop his gun and raise his hands in surrender to the British armed forces.

That’s Emil’s story in Playing With Matches. It’s well worth the read.

Lest We Forget.

PLAYING WITH MATCHES

 

 

Heinz Schultz’s word could send a man to prison. Though only a youth of fifteen, he was strong, tall, and blond. The boys in his Deutsches Jungvolk unit esteemed him and feared him.

And they wanted to be just like him.

Emil Radle wanted to be just like him.

A dedicated member of Hitler Youth, Emil was loyal to the Führer before family, a champion for the cause and a fan of the famous Luftwaffe Air force.

Emil’s friends Moritz and Johann discover a shortwave radio and everything changes. Now they listen to the forbidden BBC broadcast of news reports that tell both sides. Now they know the truth.The boys, along with Johann’s sister Katharina, band together to write out the reports and covertly distribute flyers through their city. It’s an act of high treason that could have them arrested–or worse.

As the war progresses, so does Emil’s affection for Katharina. He’d do anything to have a normal life and to stay in Passau by her side. But when Germany’s losses become immense, even their greatest resistance can’t prevent the boys from being sent to the Eastern Front.

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Post-Success Depression

You know the Euphoria of Completion? The incredible headrush you get from finishing a huge project, completing an exam you’ve studied for for so long, getting done the program you’ve been working so hard on for the last several years? I certainly do. However, there is also another side to that coin. Sometimes, when you’ve completed a REALLY major project, something that matters to you enormously – then sometimes, you fall off the cliff.

mural (2)It didn’t happen to me this time, thankfully – at least not yet. I finished my Master’s, and published my first book, and (thank God) my head’s still above water. But there’ve been times in the past when I went under just after I had a major triumph. One of them was ten years ago when I finished painting a big mural on my son’s bedroom wall. I’d been wanting to do that for a long time, paint a mural, I mean. I pushed myself to absolute exhaustion doing it, and I was extremely pleased with it when it was finished. And then the waters closed in over my head. I remember driving down the road one day a few weeks later, and thinking the whole world looked like it was behind smoked glass. It wasn’t – visually, it was perfectly clear – but it’s like all the colours were dimmed, sort of greyed out.

I don’t know what your opinion is on religious matters, but whether you do or don’t take them as literal truth, you can still get the benefit of the stories (says the embryonic folklorist). There is one story in the Bible which I really love in this context. It’s the tale of the Prophet Elijah, who spent most of his life fighting with the corrupt king and the worshippers of Baal.

One day, he had a massive victory over them; the biggest success of his career. You’d think he’d be out partying and slaying more monsters, wouldn’t you? But no. He goes into the desert, lies down under a bush, and says “God, I just want to die. Please take my soul.” And what does God do? Does He send an angel with a can of Red Bull and tell Elijah to buck up, pull up his boot straps and his jogging shorts, and quit being such a whiner? Does He dispatch a psychologist to give Elijah some cognitive-restructuring therapy so he can get out of his streak of negativity and start doing some positive thinking? Does He commission His heavenly nutrionists and personal trainers to tell Elijah to stop eating wheat and start a program of daily exercise to purge his body of all this toxicity and get the endorphins flowing? Nope. He does dispatch an angel, it’s true. And what does that angel do? He feeds Elijah. The poor prophet is so exhausted emotionally, his body has just knocked him over; he’s sleeping. The angel wakes him up with a gentle touch on his shoulder, and says, “Eat, man.” He’s got a fresh-baked cake, and a jug of water. Elijah, probably only half-awake (I made that up; it doesn’t say that in the text), eats, drinks, and keels over again. The angel lets him sleep, then he wakes him up again: “Eat, man.”

The story carries on from there with one of the most amazing revelations (it’s in 1 Kings 19, if you want to read it), but that’s not the point I’m after here. My point is that right after Elijah had the biggest victory of his life, he ended up suicidally depressed. And God just let him sleep, and gave him food. He let him sleep.

mural (3)I don’t think I need to spell it out for you. Somewhere I read that depression is our body’s way of saying “Enough already!”, of making us sit still so we stop doing these things that wear it down to a nub, just like fever is the body’s way of killing bacteria so it can heal. Post-success depression, in addition, is the rebound from all the adrenalin we’ve sent coursing through our body so it could keep doing what we wanted it to do to reach our great big goal. There is a point to all this. And we need to be as kind to ourselves as the angel was to Elijah. Sleep, a fresh cake baken over the coals, and a cruse of water.

Life, the Universe, and Post-Success Depression. Look after yourself, my dear.

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NaNoWriMo

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonOf course I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year – what did you think? It’s mandatory for me. This’ll be my fourth year; in fact, the NaNo 2011 is what became Seventh Son. So I have to keep doing it, right?

Oh, in case you’re wondering what on earth this NaNoWriMo thing is: it’s a form of insanity. A yearly reoccurrence of a particular fit of insanity, in fact. Thousands of people from all over the world sign up to write a novel in one month. That’s right: a Novel. In One Month. To be precise, in the thirty days of November. And it’s got to be 50,000 words long.

Now why, do you ask, would anybody do this? Well, there are a number of reasons. And right off the bat, no, you don’t win anything; it’s not a contest with anyone but yourself. Well, okay, you can get “prizes” – such as a 50% discount coupon for world’s greatest writing software, Scrivener. Or a couple of free print copies of your book from CreateSpace (for a given value of “free” – you’re still paying for shipping & handling, which is considerably more expensive than the printing itself). But really, the only thing you “win” when you “win Nano” (yes, us Wrimos do talk in those terms) is that you’ve mastered a challenge. And you have a book, a whole novel, that you wrote all by yourself. That’s the biggest, most overwhelming reason to participate in this novemberly fit of mass insanity.

There are others: it’s FUN. Honestly, it is. No, I’m not one of those people who think fun consists of poking myself in the eye with a pointed stick; my idea of entertainment isn’t that warped. It really is fun to go on this website, and talk to all those other crazy Wrimos out there who think it’s a good idea to try to hammer out a full-length novel in just thirty days. Also, the NaNoWriMo people, or The Office of Letters and Light, are funny. The Nano Logo is a viking helmet – from all I can gather, just because. I mean, what’s not to like? (No, I don’t have a viking helmet for writing my books. Although I was kind of tempted to get one when we saw an exhibit on Vikings at the Royal BC Museum in the summer. They had real steel ones, only around $300… but they didn’t have the horns, which are apparently not authentic. For those, you’d have to get one of those kiddie plastic ones. Anyway – sorry, where were we?) So, yes, if you’re one of those people who’s “always wanted to write a book” (I wasn’t. But that’s another story for another day), this is the perfect time for it.

So, all that to say: of course I signed up for NaNoWriMo again! I can’t not. But – here’s the snag. It’s the third of November already, and I’ve written, uh, about 600 words. In case you’re wondering, writing 50,000 words in 30 days means you have to get down an average of 1667 words per day (every third day you can slack off, and only do 1666). So, as of right now, I’m about 4400 words behind on my word count. I’ve done other stuff – really, I did! I plotted. And I built characters – I trawled Google Images, and found the perfect pictures of red-headed children and gave them names, so now they look at me from the right side of the split window in Scrivener and inspire me to write about them. And then I looked at the news about the latest Canadian public scandal, and last week’s local violent crime, which probably wasn’t such a good idea as those things really depress me. I went on Facebook (yeah, well…). And I found a hack online to solve the extremely irritating issue of the keyboard layout on my new computer – the tiny left shift key was driving me crazy. It’s fixed now.

You see? I’ve done lots of stuff. Just not cranked out proper NaNoWriMo word count. And I was starting to feel stressed about it, because, well, it’s NaNo! Must Have Word Count! But then, actually – no, I don’t have to have word count. What I must have is fun. And I must do writing. But even choosing names for fictional red-headed toddlers is part of writing. I’m not going to rush through this in the name of NaNo badges, lovely though those are. I think this year, I’ll have “won” NaNo if I’ve written something I like. If I made progress on the latest story about Catriona (yes, there’s sequels). And above all, if I’ve enjoyed myself doing so. Because that’s really what NaNoWriMo is all about – the joy of writing. And if I make my 50k, so much the better; but if not, whatever.

Life, the Universe, and NaNoWriMo. If you sign up, do find me on the site and be my buddy – I’m amo1967.

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