Stories Within Stories

This is my 40th post on this blog, and today is also the day we will reach 2,000 total hits. Thank you all for stopping by! With one more follower we will also reach the impressive number of 70 followers, if anyone wants to help out with that.

All these big numbers make today a good day for reflection. I originally hoped to finish Wanderlust by the end of the summer. Ha! Summer is definitely gone, and my book is not completed. I need to update both the “Grace” and the “Wanderlust” page with some more realistic goals. I would love to give you a solid status update on Wanderlust right now, but it’s just not that easy. I’m sort of on Chapter 7 of my 12 chapter book in the last round of editing—you know, except for all those things I skipped in chapters 4, 5, and 6, and all those pieces of information that need to be inserted back into chapter 1. It’s coming along, guys, and I’d  love to spend all day working on it, but I have to spend most of the day house-painting for money so I can afford tomorrow’s harp lesson (these are very reasonably-priced lessons but that’s just how broke I am) and pay some bills and start saving for christmas presents and, after that, for my very own harp. I do feel like I’m in some sort of final push on Wanderlust, though. I believe the last half of the book will fall into line more quickly that the first half because most of the last half is relatively new material, and therefore more malleable and not so set in its ways. Still, I can’t see clearly enough right now to give you a definitive when. I am, however, still gonna do this. I’m telling you because I must tell myself, each and every time I balk at how much work is still before me. I’m going to do this. I will.

One of the things that’s been getting me down lately is how to handle stories-within-stories. When I started this this thing I was all “Won’t it be cool if I base it on Irish Mythology?” That was me in high school. I then had to go find the Irish mythology, which I proceeded to skim over and take from what I needed. Five (or so) years later I’ve actually read all the source material, and I know too much! The issue now is paring down the full stories, and conveying them in such a way that they support and enhance my narrative. I’m very concerned that every time I switch over to Irish-story-time, my readers will get bored. It’s not that the stories themselves are boring, but when you’ve been doping along reading about Vanya and Taniel and suddenly they’re gone from center-stage and you have to concentrate on new characters from an Irish-myth story that you haven’t met in the novel yet, well, won’t you get frustrated? My impulse is to skim over the story and get back to Vanya and Taniel as soon as possible, but if I do that I think it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and the myth-stories really will be boring because I’ll expect them to be.

And sometimes I Illustrate the stories in the story!
Illustration © me

I probably need to give my readers more credit. Story breaks are fairly common in fantasy literature, after all. I didn’t stop reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree, for instance, when the narrative took a break to convey the tragic story of Lisen. The story itself was beautiful, and it explained the hostility of Pendaren Wood, which threatened characters in the novel’s present tense. Far from skipping over the poems about Tinuviel and Nimrodel and Gil-Galad and Earendil in The Lord of the Rings, I’ve spent countless hours committing them to memory. (“Gil-Galad was an elven king/Of him the harpers sadly sing/The last whose realm was fair and free/Between the mountains and the sea.” (Aaaand I just noticed that the first poem I ever memorized from LOTR mentions HARPERS. A sign?)) So the story thing can be done. I think part of the issue is that I’m too perilously close to the manuscript just now to know whether I’m doing it right—although I have some hope. I believe that, in this draft, I’ve made it more apparent to the reader through foreshadowing and other means that these myth-stories are important to the actual narrative of my book. I hope I am tying them in better, and I hope my readers will both be able to see how the stories connect to the current plot, and find them interesting enough in themselves to keep reading. That’s the goal, anyhow. I will continue to muddle through, and then, when I am finally comfortable enough with a draft to show it to other people, perhaps my first readers will let me know whether I am successful or not.

Have you read any books that feature a story within the story? Can you think of any authors that do it particularly well? Has a story within a novel ever made you so bored that you skipped past it, or put the book down?

Very Inspiring Blog

I have been nominated for an award! Many thanks to Ben over at Shudderingwords for the nomination. He is writer working hard on his book, and also blogging and doing the college thing at the same time. Pretty inspiring stuff!


Since it’s right after thanksgiving, I’m going to use this as an excuse to list fifteen blogs I’m thankful for. I recognize that this functions a little like a chain letter, and if anyone I’ve nominated would rather not take a whole blog post to continue the chain I won’t be in the least offended. Just know that I enjoy your blog and I hope you keep doing what you’re doing!

Below are the rules for the Very Inspiring Blog Award so please follow carefully:

1. Display the award logo on your blog.
2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
3. State 7 things about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.
5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

SEVEN THINGS ABOUT ME (as if this blog hasn’t been completely about me since day one…)

1. I’ve spent A LOT of time practicing my harp this week. This is still the new instrument honeymoon phase, but… I really love it. I feel like this is what all of my musical training has been leading up to. I’ve never felt this at home with a musical instrument before.

2. This was the first time I’ve been home for Thanksgiving in five years. I kept thinking it’s Christmas, since that’s usually the only holiday I’m around for.

3. I used to hate mushrooms. Then in my early teens I decided to like them, because I realized that hobbits like mushrooms. I now genuinely love the taste of mushrooms.

4. My bedroom at home (where I am currently staying) is painted a very dark, highly-saturated purple. The trim is dark grey. The paint job in general is very sloppy, which, now that I’m a sort-of professional painter, drives me crazy.

5. I collect various editions, translations, and retellings of the Beowulf epic.

6. I have a lot of verse memorized, including that three-page monstrosity from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

7. I almost adopted a dog this week. It was a near thing. Common sense prevailed in the end, though, and no dog for me.

FIFTEEN NOMINATIONS

Chalk the Sun

Love this blog. Julie writes wonderful book reviews, and also writes elegantly about writing and life.

100 Owls

These owls are cute and majestic. Really nice art.

Ayesha Schroeder

An aspiring writer with an intelligent voice. She also posts tweets from literary agents once a week, which is a really great resource.

The Wizard’s Tower

A writer figuring out how to do it, and being honest about his struggles and triumphs.

Any Singular Woman

Dark, sexy poetry where the rhythm is always spot on.

Black Tea & Birds

Lovely short poems that are pleasing, surprising, and satisfying.

Elizabeth Creith’s Scriptorium

Someone who already has a career in the writing an editing field. The blog is following her current work on a novel called The Swan Harp. I don’t know anything about it, but it has the word “harp” in the title and I can tell Ms. Creith is an excellent writer, so I’m sold!

Homeschool Hijinks

A blog about a girl named Grace who is a home-schooled writer. As a former home-schooling writer named Grace, I find this particularly cool.

A Serendipitous Happenstance

A writer with a work in progress who writes really well about writing and health and other things. Always a pleasure to read.

Possible Truths

This blog is a personal journey; a snapshot of an intelligent person engaging with the world and asking the hard questions with an honest and unapologetic voice.

Kilolightyear

She hasn’t updated in a while, but there’s something about this blogger’s art and sketches that I really love.

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

When I first discovered this blog, the current post was a photo of its author surrounded by goats. She is quirky and honest and the blog is fun to read. She’s also raising the money to visit her overseas lover, which is pretty romantic and cool.

Celeste DeWolfe

A real-life friend from school, and a fellow writer and blogger.

Ales to Stouts

You’ve all heard of the excellent Lady Higg? This is her blog, which granted hasn’t been updated in a while, but I find Lady Higg inspiring in general, and her blog will be awesome when she gets back to it.

Witnessing the Past: The Evolution of a Free Mind

Another friend from school, who is an excellent writer with a truly inspiring life story.

It Went Well

And this is what I’ve spent all my free time doing for the past few days. I can already play my first song! I play it very slowly, but still. That harp is a Harpsicle, a quality instrument designed to be lightweight and inexpensive. They also come in pretty colors! See their website for more details: http://harpsicleharps.com/. On Wednesday I paid to rent the harp for two months, and I have another lesson in two weeks. The Harp Lady gave me two songs to work on, in addition to working on form and hand placement and all that. It’s fun and challenging  and… it’s a harp. Even when I’m just playing chords, it sounds so nice. So far, I am loving every minute.

 

Harp Lessons (!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Big day tomorrow. A big, fat, exciting, living-the-dream sort of day. Tomorrow, I begin harp lessons.

I’ve been wanting to learn the harp for years, pretty much ever since Vanya happened. It’s been an off and on sort of thing—a dream that flares up with a roar, and then retreats, tail between its legs, because I do not have the time, money, or space to feed it. I also have a poor track record with learning instruments (viola, bagpipes, and piano are all on the list of instruments I’ve abandoned) and so I couldn’t justify purchasing a harp (they’re really expensive) until I have some idea of whether I’ll stick with it. The obvious answer is to rent a harp, but finding a place to rent a harp from is a whole different set of logistics, and for the past five years I’ve been moving back between Maine and Michigan anyway, and I just hadn’t been able to make it happen yet.

Friday. As I left the Town Office, a familiar shape caught my eye. I’ve developed a sort of ingrained reaction to harp-shaped things, thanks to the amount of time I’ve spent drawing/researching/writing about/thinking about harps. An automatic, head-turn, what’s-that-now? sort of thing. There was a cork board covered in business cards, and the one my eye flew to featured a photograph of a pedal harp, and the words, “The Harp Lady.” The card mentioned weddings, dinners, concerts, parties, events, aaaand…. LESSONS. Harp Lady, I said as I unpinned the card, you are JUST who I’ve been looking for.

When I got home I sent her an email right away, wondering about her lesson prices and if she was currently taking students and whether she was aware of any options for renting a harp in the area. Not having access to a harp is a pretty major stumbling block to learning to play one, and judging by some of the rental prices I found online it would take me a few weeks to raise the money. So I was really, really excited and hopeful, but I figured it would still be a little while before the whole thing came together.

The Harp Lady called me one hour after I emailed her(!). Not only was she willing to set up a lesson with me, she has a Harpsicle harp available to rent(!!!), and both of these for such reasonable prices that I could come up with the necessary cash in a few days. EEP! So we scheduled a lesson for Wednesday. Tomorrow. I am SO EXCITED.

I’m also a little scared, because I know I have romantic notions about harping but any instrument is hard work when you get down to it and what if it’s just the same as every other instrument I’ve tried to learn and I give up before I really get anywhere? At the same time, I really want this. The one time I sat with a harp last year (trembling, hardly daring to touch it) I loved the feel of it on my shoulder, and the way my hands shaped a chord (thumbs up, first and middle fingers down, one two three). I’m genuinely excited for the actual act of playing and learning, not just for the after part when I’ve already learned to play brilliantly.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about any of the instruments I’ve tried before, and I am so hoping that this time, I’ll get it right. At any rate, it’s too late to turn back. Tomorrow, the journey begins.

I will let you know how it goes.

This Sketch

© Grace Makley, 2012

This is very much a sketch, and still contains many inaccuracies. I’m posting it because I’m probably just going to start another sketch instead of polishing it up into anything. I had an “OMG I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE MUSCLES OF THE HUMAN BODY” freak-out this afternoon (do you get those, or is it just me?). So I got out my books (how many variations of the title “Anatomy for the Artist” do YOU own?) and read some things and panicked and drew some muscles and drew some REALLY BAD drawings and panicked some more and finally made the above image, which I created from scratch while referencing pertinent muscle groups. Like I said, it is not anatomically perfect AT ALL, but it has, at least, calmed the panic. I’m going to keep working from the books and maybe I’ll post some more anatomy study drawings here in the next few days.

Rewrites are Wrenching

Rewriting is funny. Kind of like time-travel is funny. Kind of like back when we all had  VCRs (I still have one) you could hit record, and tape a new thing over something you’ve already recorded. That’s the feeling I have right now: I hit record on a new scene and I’m watching it play out, and as it plays out, it’s erasing some things that already occupied that time slot in my narrative. I think the new scene is better, which is why I’m letting it run, but the old stuff wasn’t bad, you know? I’m sad to see it go. The nuts and bolts of the old scene still pretty much get sandwiched in with the new stuff around it, but now everything about the old scene means something else and must be handled differently in light of a whole thing that just upset the emotional equilibrium of the two main characters.

Just so you know, this new scene doesn’t change the direction of the whole plot or anything—it’s just the problem of the week, and I’m working through it. Also, I’m going to share this illustration with you. It’s one of the best ones I’ve done so far; a lot of people said so. Technically it still works and I’m really hoping I can still use it, but due to this re-recording of events its inclusion in the actual book is in jeopardy. This is why you should consider writing your book before you illustrate it.

© Grace Makley, 2012

On Not Participating in NaNoWriMo

If you’re here because you spend any time haunting the “Writing” tab on the wordpress.com reader you’ve seen the buzz. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming. In fact, it started today. You can almost hear the sounds of furious typing filling the air. The gun has already sounded, and writers the world over, holding their dreams in their hands, have embarked on the mad race to complete a novel in just one month.

In college, when people asked me if I was doing NaNo, I responded with agonizing regret. “Noooo,” I wailed, “November is the worst month. I have a million illustration projects due, and so many other homework assignments and club commitments and look at me, I’m barely holding it together as it is. There is NO WAY.” I thought I’d probably do it when I was out of school, though, because what’s not to like about a thing that provides you with vehicle and motivation to write your 50,000?

Well. The thing about NaNo is that I hear about people doing it, and it’s all very exciting, and I admire (and am perhaps a little jealous of) their drive and focus and commitment, but when the month is through, I rarely see or hear about those novels again. NaNo seems like a quick-fix gimmick. It’s a way for people to be a writer for a month, but it doesn’t provide a path for them to really make it. Anyone can write a novel in a headlong race to the finish, but how many of you can revise that novel, and keep with it through the long slog of editing when a sentence can take days and chapter three isn’t agreeing with chapter four and you accidentally removed some important information from chapter one that needs to go back in and that cool thing in chapter eight is only going to work if you start alluding to it much earlier and that’s going to mess up all those scenes in chapters four, five, and six that you’ve already perfected?

I wrote my 50,000 words. It took me from December to August, and (I suspect this is what’s actually bugging me) I won’t be made to feel inadequate by you superheroes who do it in a month. It’s not like I started from scratch in December, either. I’d already polished up chapters 1 and 2 for a portfolio project. As I wrote the rest, I had my draft from high school to guide me, and sometimes I kept whole paragraphs or even pages of that first draft. I also edited quite a bit as I went, and sometimes took days just polishing a single scene. I wasn’t as committed as I could have been, and yeah, I wish I’d done better and finished earlier, but overall I think it was a good way to work. I had my NaNo style write-ins where I just sat and did it, and the slosh of that text is sitting in my manuscript waiting for cleanup, but there are also the scenes that I polished when I wrote them, and it’s so encouraging to know they are sitting there like jewels, waiting for me to shine the rest of the piece up to their brilliant standard.

I got my 50,000 words down, any way I could, and it took nearly a year. That’s what worked for me.

Yet… isn’t NaNoWriMo all about getting your 50,000 words down, in any way you can? In this business, all that matters is making it happen, however you do it. If you can make NaNoWriMo work for you, there’s no way I can look down on you for that.

So I still love you, NaNoWriMoers. I think you’re beautiful and frightening and I applaud your tenacity and wish you the best of luck on your uphill journey. I also think you can edit and polish that novel, and I encourage you to keep climbing when November is over. I hope to see you someday at that next high, distant peak. We may follow different paths to get there, but both our paths have value, and we share the same challenge of putting one foot before the other, a single sentence at a time.

Photo ©me. Taken near Chiang Mai, Thailand