The snow kept falling thicker and thicker. Whirling, blowing, biting, cutting. Clinging to his whiskers, to his eyelashes, to the hair on the side of his face. His nose and cheeks had grown numb, his fingers so cold he could no longer bend them. When he tried to raise them to his face to brush the snow out of his beard, they felt like hard claws on the end of big, clumsy, fur-covered paws; claws that had no feeling in them and could not move to his will.
He tried to climb up the side of the ravine, reached for a snow-covered branch. Could not close his hands on it—where were his thumbs? He staggered on his clumsy legs, then dropped down onto all fours.
Like an animal.
Keep reading this story on Enchanted Conversation Magazine
I wrote this last November during NaNoWriMo, when I was doing a retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red“. It was sort of a prologue to the story, the moment when the “prince” turns into a “bear” – except in my adaptation, he’s not a real bear, just a very hairy guy (and he’s not a prince either, being an ordinary 21st century Canadian). But then it occurred to me that this could work as a standalone Flash Fiction, a regular adaptation of the regular fairy tale, so I sent it to Amanda at Enchanted Conversation. And here it is.
You can decide for yourself if you want to take the transformation as an actual guy-turned-into-bear thing, or keep it metaphorical. I’m not entirely sure yet which one I prefer.
Mornin’, all. Steve’s been reminding me that it’s been a while since you all had an update on how he’s doing, so I figured I’d better humour him.
His big news is that he just had a labelectomy. What’s that, you ask? Oh, it’s this thing that happens in Stuffed-Animal-Land, when you have your manufacturer’s labels cut off your rear end. Steve didn’t mind them so much, but they did make him self-conscious about his back view:
So we finally took the plunge and gave him the snip. He’s hanging in there.
In other news, he’s pleased about this year’s choice of NaNoWriMo project: an adaptation of “Snow White and Rose Red”, a fairy tale that prominently features a bear. Originally I was going to work on Septimus Book 5, but then a friend suggested that we both do an adaptation of a fairy tale – the same fairy tale – so how could I resist? I think my friend is doing a SciFi; mine is going to be a contemporary mystery/romance (I hope). Needless to say, my Snow White and Rose Red are not going to be a set of fraternal twins, one blonde and one brunette, who are so sickeningly sweet and good and domestic they should have the Diabetes Association called on them.
Oh, if you want to join us in doing a “Snow White and Rose Red” for NaNoWriMo, please do! We could have a whole SWRR club.
Otherwise, in honour of #Socktober I finally got back to the socks I had on the knitting needles for the last year or so, and even finished the first one of the pair:
I was watching “Snow White and Rose Red” movies while I was knitting, so it counts as research. Youtube has quite a few Sonntagsmärchen – Sunday Fairy Tales – to watch. Did I mention the blonde-and-brunette convention? Urr, yeah – and in the 1955 version, the prince is called Prinz Goldhaar (Prince Golden Hair) to boot, and looks exactly how you’d expect him to with that name. Bring on the insulin. Good thing he spends most of the story in a bear suit! It’s still a fun movie, though. The 2012 version isn’t bad, either; in that one Rose Red swings a freshly-sharpened axe (which the actress apparently has never done in real life, judging by her completely inefficient grip on the thing), and doesn’t want to get married but travel the world and have adventures.
One of things that’s fun about fairy tale movies is that barring the changing definitions of “handsome” (coughPrinceGoldhairCough), they’re timeless. Which is exactly what a fairy tale ought to be – what a fairy tale is. “Once upon a time” is now, is never, is a long time ago or just last week, or maybe tomorrow. Somewhere in the woods, there is a cottage with a mother and two sisters, and during a winter’s storm there comes a knock on the door, and in stumbles a big black bear…
Steve says I better make the bear the hero of the piece, that’s what it’s all about. I’ll have to have a talk with him; he has a one-track mind on these matters. But that’s bears for you.
Life, the Universe, Bears and Socks and Labelectomies. And fairy tales, too.
I’ve got a bear.
Oh, and it’s winter and stuff.
Life, the Universe, and News From the Writing Trenches. See you on the other side!
“What’s the point?” someone asked the other day, when the conversation came around to NaNoWriMo. (NaNo-whatmo? you say. NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. You know, that Novemberly craziness where I, and several hundred thousand others across the globe, vanish into a deep rabbit hole of mad, bad and dangerous-to-know novelling, aiming to write a 50,000-word novel in the space of 30 days. I might have mentioned it a time or three [dozen] before.)
What’s the point, indeed. Why do this to yourself? Why engage in such a bout of insanity? And don’t get me wrong, it is insane. Every year, I get stressed to the hilt, moan and whine, say I’m not going to finish (my fellow local Wrimos can attest to that). And every year, I sign up again. This will be my seventh NaNo in a row. But why?
Grant Faulkner, the current executive director of NaNoWriMo, just wrote an excellent article about it: “How a Month of NaNoWriMo Can Lead to a Lifetime of Better Writing“. A lifetime of better writing. Or, in my case, writing at all.
If it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t be a writer. Because writing, dontcha know, is for special people. People who have talent. People who have passion, who must write or go insane. People who have grand ideas, big stories to tell – stories of adventures in far-off places, of lives lived in danger and darkness, of deep and harrowing emotions or high and lofty ideals. People who create unforgettable characters and bring them to life on the page. In other words, people not like me.
I’ve always loved stories, and as a kid in school, I was good at writing them. I even took creative writing courses in my undergrad studies, and a night class on how to write books for children. But what I learned from those classes, among other very useful things, was that I don’t have what it takes to be a novelist. I don’t have the stick-to-it-iveness to finish a whole novel, and even if I did, my ideas are kind of basic, trite. Light-weight, as it were. Not the stuff that real novels, and therefore real novelists, are made of.
And that was okay – it’s not like I was crushed or heartbroken about it; it was just a realistic estimation of my skills and abilities. I’m not one of those people who “always wanted to write a novel” – it never occurred to me that I could, because novel writing, dontcha know, is for… (see above, rinse and repeat).
Enter NaNoWriMo 2011.
I wasn’t going to “write a novel” – nah, I had no such lofty goal. All I wanted was to see if I could do this thing, could write 50,000 words in one month. I was going to have fun, and tell myself a story that I liked, and that’s all.
And you know what? I did. I wrote 50,000 words, told myself a story, and “won” my first NaNo. But that wasn’t all. When I was finished, I had a novel. A full, completed novel. And just like that, I was a writer.
Because a writer … is a person who writes.
And that’s what NaNoWriMo is about – writing.
The goal that all us crazies sign up for is to write 50,000 words. Not everyone makes that goal; in fact, not very many Wrimos do – a rough estimate is that maybe 1 in 4 reaches the full word count. But for the rest of them? They still write. Even if someone falls 40,000 words short of the goal, that means they’ve still written 10,000 words they hadn’t written before. Ten thousand words! That’s a lot of words, people. It’s about forty pages, printed out, and there’s novellas out on the market of that length.
And the reason these Wrimos wrote those words is because they signed up for it, and got caught up in the sheer enthusiasm and excitement that’s NaNoWriMo and swept along in the current of writerly excitement. Caught up just like I get caught up again, every year, for the seventh time in a row now. Surrounded by other crazies, talking titles and plots and word count tricks, sharing ideas and cheering each other on.
It doesn’t matter that those stories we write aren’t deep, or lofty, or weighty or important. They might be, but then again, they might not. They might be terrible, riddled with spelling mistakes, more full of plot holes than a broken sieve. But they are still stories, and they have been written. Written by writers.
And that is the point of NaNoWriMo: it makes me a writer. That’s why I do it, year after year.
Like I said, you don’t have to join in – by no means do you have to join in. But if, perhaps, this is something you think you might want to try – do it! Come on in, join the fun! It’s the best thing ever. And who knows, at the end you might have a novel in your hand – that’s what happened to me. And it was a game changer.
Life, the Universe, and Being a Writer. Thank you, NaNoWriMo!
Our local NaNoWriMo group is engaged on a new venture: we decided to take things a step further and form a Critique Group. A week ago we had our first meeting, and we decided that every month, everyone would submit few pages of their work, and we’d all read it and give each other feedback. Sounds great, right?
Now, in the week since, two of our group members have put up posts on their blogs, saying basically the same thing, namely how scary it is to stick out your neck and hand over your work to someone else to criticise. And the reaction I had to both their posts was nothing so much as, “You feel that way, too?”
See, in the group, we’re all very self-assured, poised, and articulate; we have things to say and opinions to state; we’re writers; we’re cool. But, as it turns out, when we go home and look over our material for something to send to everyone, we want to pull in our little snail antennae and cower in our shells, quietly whimpering. Because sending our stuff out there into the world is risky!
So as I was sitting here this morning thinking about this, beside me on the kitchen floor played out a little drama: Louis the Now-Very-Large Kitten was stalking a stinkbug. (Don’t ask me what the stinkbug was doing in my kitchen in January. Maybe it hitched a ride into the house on a piece of firewood on which it was trying to overwinter?)
Now Louis is the kind of cat who, whatever else you can say about him, is not a tim’rous wee beastie. He’s curious. And persistent. The bottle caps and walnuts in the shell that he has slain number in the dozens, and the corpses are accumulated in the corners of the living room and under the kitchen stove drawer. So when there was this new and very interesting black little thing moving about the kitchen floor all on its own, Louis was mesmerised. He stared at it. He put out a paw and batted it. He stared at it some more, and batted at it some more – and so on.
After quite a while of this, he decided on a different approach: he tried to take a bite. And the inevitable happened: the stinkbug sprayed.
Well! Louis jerked back. He made faces. Pt pt pt pt! he tried to spit the icky taste out of his mouth. He climbed on a cardboard box to get the high-ground advantage over this unexpectedly dangerous thing, squinting down at it with eyes that were obviously stinging with stinkbug juice. He blinked and blinked again, went pt pt! a few more times – and then he went right after the bug again. More cautiously this time – he stayed well back for a few minutes, stalking it from a distance – but he kept at it. He crawled between the potted plants, flipped over the patio door mat to find it – he wasn’t going let that funny black thing get away from him. Even though it squirted icky stuff in his face, Louis was determined to get that bug. He took a risk – he got burned – and he went right back to risk again.
How very metaphorical, isn’t it? Louis the Cat and the Stinkbug. Now, I’m not saying that us writers are stinkbugs – uh, no. But that large orange-and-white fuzzball was rather inspiring this morning. He exuberantly takes risks, gets results that sting, then goes right on risking.
So even if getting feedback on your stories can sometimes sting (and sometimes stink, as well), it’s worth going back to risk it again. And the good thing is that as writers we know we all feel the same – sharing our work is scary. But we do it anyway.
Life, the Universe, Stink Bugs and Writers. I think Louis would say that the exhilaration of the hunt is worth the sting.
I was going to write an erudite and contemplative post for you today. It was going to be all about why I do NaNoWriMo, even though every year I just about lose my marbles with the stress of trying to finish. Or maybe about some more editorial pontifications on Point of View and Tense (first or third? past or present?). Or about the wonders of community (which actually ties right in with point #1).
But I tried to write, and it just wasn’t coming out right – I was sounding way too preachy, or, conversely, too trite, even to my own ears. I think I might have used up most of my words on my story over the last 32 days.
So I thought, forget this nonsense; I’ll just show you a few pictures. You know, worth a thousand words, blah blah.
Life, the Universe, and Five Thousand Words Worth of Pictures. Happy December!
(Edited to include link to the graphic for email feed)
In addendum to yesterday’s post: I keep finding more crazy-amazing stuff on Google Maps. Just for instance, and for your delectation, here’s a Photo Sphere image of the Great Hall of Nymphenburg Palace (click your mouse inside the image and drag it around for a 360° view):
(If you can’t see the embedded graphic, click on the link here)
Isn’t that something?
And now I have to go fix a sentence in my NaNo manuscript – from my own photos, I thought that marble tile floor was black and white…
Life, the Universe, and Research. What did writers ever do before Google? (Write, probably. Hmph. Okay, okay, I’m getting back to it!)
In case I hadn’t mentioned, it’s NaNoWriMo, which means I’m in the throes of novelling – and novelling, for me, always involves copious researching.
The current story (not a Septimus series book, a standalone) is partially set in Munich, so I’ve got Google Maps permanently open to a map of the city. But not just a map – Google Street View is amazing. I’m constantly hopping back and forth between map view and panning around the streets of the city.
I’m also going back to my photos from last year’s trip, and among my pictures was one I took of a painting in the Neue Pinakothek: A view of the Residenzstrasse in Munich looking towards the Max-Joseph-Platz, painted in 1826 by Domenico Quaglio. Now check it out side by side with a screen shot of Google Street View of the same spot:
Is that cool, or what? I love how the basic line of the street really hasn’t changed much.
Anyway, just thought I’d share that with you. And if you spend the next three hours armchair sightseeing in Munich, don’t blame me. (Actually, yeah, I’ll gladly take the blame. Check out Nymphenburg Palace, for example, on Street View. It’s fabulous.)
Life, the Universe, and Google Street View. The more things change…