I Can’t Get Away From The Wolves

That’s what it feels like, anyway. I’m slogging through Wanderlust Chapter Nine. My heroes are exhausted; tired and aching and scared, already nearing the limit of their endurance, and that’s when the wolves attack. My boys have to find a way to save themselves so they can travel on and complete their quest. My task is much easier. I just have to fix all the sentences, tune up the dramatic pacing, and use the perfect words to describe how it all goes down. I’ve been thinking about it all day, I’ve been working on it on and off, and somehow I’ve barely made any progress at all. My characters feel tired and stupid in this scene (I’m at the part right before the “oh-god-I’m-being-chased-by-WOLVES” adrenaline kicks in) and I feel tired and stupid as I’m writing it. The only good part about this scenario is that, at least, we’re in it together.

When I sat down to my manuscript after a week or so off and looked at my characters’ names, I got a momentary case of the giddies. Like when you’re walking down the street and you unexpectedly see that guy you have a crush on, or when you’re watching that television show and that one character you just can’t get enough of walks on the screen. Vanya and Taniel, I read. Ooh, squealed something inside of me. Really? I get to write about these guys?!

So the wolves are attacking. I’m tired and grumpy, and I want to know when we’re getting out of this stupid chapter. Are we there yet? But I’m on the journey. I’m in the book. I’m working on it—and that’s so much better than the alternative.

-Grace Out

P.S. I’d love to hear about your own projects in the comments section. How often do you remember your excitement for your characters? Would you rather be involved with a project, and frustrated, than not working on it at all? How did you get away from the wolves?

DarkWolfMakley

The Dark Wolf © Grace Makley. Watercolors, some editing in Photoshop.

Taniel

Sketch of TanielA stylized sketch.

Taniel is one of the main characters from my upcoming novel, Wanderlust. His face is a little too thin here, and he looks slightly elven—no doubt a result of my current Tolkien kick.

I believe I’ve posted the most drawings of Vanya, the blonde one, and spent more time talking about Vanya than Taniel in this space. I did create Vanya first, and he is exceptionally dear to me—but Vanya never worked as a character until he had Taniel. Vanya is a sort of mysterious man-child, a wandering waif with a harp. This works as an archetype, as an idea, but in terms of story he needs someone to engage with. Wanderlust is written in very limited third person, and we see the whole story through the eyes of Taniel. Taniel’s thoughts provide readers with an access point to Vanya, and to the story. He is Vanya’s sine qua none; without him, Vanya could not function as a character and, indeed, Vanya could never embark on the adventure of a lifetime that is chronicled in Wanderlust. They didn’t know it, but before they met each other both Vanya and Taniel were waiting for their lives to begin.

And there, I’ve talked about him all in terms of Vanya again. It’s a little inescapable, as they both exist for each other. Yet who is Taniel?

He is a band manager when the story begins, having turned to the business side of music when he decided early on that he didn’t have what it takes to become a professional musician. He has worked very hard for a very long time, and most of his life centers around work. He doesn’t have very many friends. He is health-conscience, rule-abiding, and something of a scholar. Though prone to panic and quick bursts of anger, he has always felt most comfortable with himself when he has someone else to take care of. He is an orator, a dreamer, and a teller of stories, but he was forced to be practical very early in life, and he needs the influence of Vanya to re-discover his creativity and appreciation for the beauty and magic of the world.

Does that whet your appetite? Knowing this much about Taniel, would you pick up my book and read more?

Updates and Oddments

I’m preparing an actual blog post about an actual topic, but it will have to wait a few more days. We’re in an uproar here, by which I mean we are all sitting around in our bathrobes with cups of coffee, but we do have to leave in a few hours. We’re going to Boston tonight, to see our excellent and admirable cousin play The Pirate King in an MIT production of Pirates of Penzance. Since it is (it is) a glorious thing to be a Pirate King, this is something we really could not miss.

I’ll give you some updates—it’s all I have time for.

Harp: Still GOING WELL, although since our car was in the shop I had to cancel Wednesday’s lesson. I have the two songs my teacher gave me memorized, and I can play them at a fair speed. I can also play nearly all the songs from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and I also know the chords to Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa and can even play them nearly up to tempo, and I almost have all the verses memorized. My harp teacher is sending me new music, and with any luck I shall see her next Friday so she can tell me all of the things I am Doing Wrong. I am hungry for that new music. I am still playing every day, but for the last week it hasn’t really felt like a challenge.

Wanderlust: I am cruising through chapter 8, and I really feel that the end (of this revision) is in sight. The writing may be questionable in the later chapters, but at least the plot was mostly hammered out by the time I wrote them. I have a theory this will make revision easier. Thanks to a comment by Lady Higg on my last post, I may have come up with an entirely different format for the stories-within-stories. This is both exciting and scary, because it will require working back into chapter one AGAIN.

Also, a big thank you to The Literary Man for being my 70th follower mere minutes after Tuesday’s post begging for one more follower to round out the number. As you will notice, the counter now reads 75, so thank you to ALL my new followers. Your presence here is very much appreciated.

And now, I will give you one more thing. A few weeks ago, when I was mired in chapter 4 of Wanderlust and didn’t think I would ever get out, I began a crusade of finishing things. Knocked out that cross stitch I abandoned four years ago in a single afternoon. Finally made some progress on that doll kit I got for christmas about ten years ago. It was very satisfying to work on these small projects because my big project was so overwhelming. I also finished an old drawing on the back of my bedroom door, the side that faces into the hallway. A long time ago, I began to draw a picture of Vanya on it in white chalk or oil pastel. When I tried to wash it off I discovered it was almost definitely oil pastel, which makes sense as the drawing dates from the era when I tried to use oil pastels for everything. Since the drawing wouldn’t wash off, I decided to finish it. It looks a little silly, because I was working from a very old drawing, but I’m attracted to the way the pastels (I used chalk pastels to finish it) fade into the wood. Since I didn’t feel like finishing up the lower anatomy, I hung the large version of the Wanderlust cover (printed out for my senior show) on top of the pastel image. I like the finished result; the pastel drawing functions like an echo of the actual book cover, and its close interaction with the wood grain of the door gives it a magical, dreamy feel.

Pastel Vanya on wood door

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?

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

Why I’m Choosing to Self-Publish

Today, in her blog that I recently started following, Ayesha Schroeder published a post entitled, Why I’m Pursuing Traditional Publishing. Check it out! She’s thought through her options, she knows what she’s talking about, and she’s making the best decision for her. As you may know, I’m planning to self-publish my novel Wanderlust: A Song For Ireland. This post is about why, right now, I think self-publishing is the best option for me.

I do, ultimately, dream of being a mainstream author, with an agent and an editor and a well-known publisher behind me. By choosing to self-publish, I don’t think I am eschewing the option of traditional publishing. There are many stories about books, from Eragon to Fifty Shades of Greythat began as self-published efforts, did well, and were later picked up by traditional publishers. With Wanderlust, there are a few particular considerations that make me think self-publishing is a good idea.

I want to write Young Adult fiction, and I have advertised Wanderlust as, “A good read for teens and adults.” I created the characters when I was a teenager, and I think a teen audience will find them appealing. I know I did. I found them so enchanting that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them, even years later. The problem is that the characters’ ages are 19 and 22. This makes them college age, not high school age, and I worry that, to a literary agent, this will make them out-of-bounds as protagonists in a teen novel. Even worse, the novel does not feature a strong female protagonist. It has a few female characters, and some pretty badass ones at that, but most of the book focuses on the adventures and friendship of two young men, and it’s not even a romance. (Not making it a romance is helpful in marketing to some demographics, while making it a romance would be helpful for others. It doesn’t matter either way—I made this choice based on the characters themselves, not any financial or other considerations.) In a YA literature climate where Twilight and Hunger Games are the best sellers, I worry that agents are looking for those female protagonists, especially from a female author, and won’t consider that the teen girls reading Twilight and Hunger Games will want to read a book about boys— even though boys are the reason they read some of the aforementioned bestsellers, especially Twilight. (Aside: If we want to get into some of my deeper insecurities about the book I am writing, I sometimes worry that it will be seen as pandering to a fangirl audience. Fans and the internet turn any male same-sex relationship into a romance, and the nature of the connection between Vanya and Taniel will give them so much fodder to do so. I can’t change who my characters are, and who they are to each other; while I will be flattered by any attention from fangirls they receive, I can only hope that the depth of their characters and the quality of my work will allow my writing to be seen for its literary merits as well.)

Schroeder says, “If you’re an incredibly talented writer, editor, artist, graphic designer and print layout specialist you are well equipped for the self-publishing process” (Why I’m Pursuing Traditional Publishing). I don’t know about incredibly talented, but I have a BFA in Illustration and in Wanderlust, the illustrations are almost as important to me as the text. I’ve also spent a LOT of time thinking about how Wanderlust should look, both inside and out. I want this book to be the best thing I can produce, and I want it to look how I want it. I couldn’t stand to see Wanderlust with one of those awful photograph covers that litter the shelves nowadays. This entire book, to me, is my work of art, and at the moment I’m not willing to relinquish any control. I’ll be getting some help with the editing, of course, and I’ll be getting second opinions like mad on every visual issue, but believe I do have the skills and training to produce a book that is, in both the visual and written aspects, a product of professional quality.

I do have some reservations about self-publishing. It’s going to take a lot of work, and I’m looking forward to it, but almost every link or ad I’ve clicked for a self-published project that looks similar to mine has turned out to be poorly designed, terribly written, or both. It’s always encouraging to know you’ve got a leg-up on the competition, but I’m scared that, because of these poor-quality projects, my book will be dismissed out-of-hand. I guess it will all depend on the ability of my book to distinguish itself for its own merits, and my skill in promoting it and making its caliber known. It’s terrifying (isn’t everything?), but I believe in my project. There’s a long way to go before I can release Wanderlust to the world, but when I do, I’m excited to see how far I can get on my own steam, as self-published author. There are many paths to the dream of becoming traditionally published, and I hope self-publishing will turn out to be an important and valuable stepping-stone on mine.

What do you think? Would you buy a self-published book? Have you chosen either self-publishing or traditional publishing over the other? Why is that the best decision for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

How I Started Writing Again

Some good and some bad today. I did start writing again, more on that below. The bad news is that I have lost most of a notes document containing upwards of twenty pages of Wanderlust material. I had been relying on Microsoft Word’s autosave function, which is not a smart thing to do, especially if you are using a trial version of Word that has run out and will refuse to start up again if you are accidentally forced to restart the computer you have avoided restarting for weeks because the trial can’t run out on you if you never close the program, right? This accidental restarting occurred on my voyage through Canada a few weeks ago, and I’ve only just realized the extent of the damage. I’m feeling a little wobbly about the whole thing. It was all just notes, you understand, and pep-talks, and scenes I pasted there because I was deleting them from the manuscript in order to replace them with something better, but felt insecure about deleting them outright. Most of it was things I was getting rid of anyway, so this is not a disaster… but at the same time I can’t remember everything from the document, so maybe it is a disaster and I just haven’t realized it yet! There is one scene from the very ending of Wanderlust, possibly from the epiloque, that I have quite clear in my head and I know I have typed before, and it must have been in this notes document. It was in looking for this scene that I discovered the extent of the damage, and I feel a sharp sense of loss, for I know I wrote this scene, and I think it was good. It… hurts, to not be able to find it, because what if I can’t write it as good the second time? At the same time, I have all the words for it in my head. I see them so clearly. I will just have to write it up again, is all, and generally scenes do write better the second time, despite our fears. So man up, Grace. This could have been a lot worse. Wipe your eyes, write it again, and keep working.

I did start writing again. Just yesterday I finished a draft of Chapter 11. The most unintelligible, cobbled-together, might-not-contain-actual-words kind of draft, but a draft nonetheless. That means I’m on Chapter 12, the last chapter, and it’s actually going well! I’m very close to breaking 50,000 words on the manuscript. I should have a full draft (the roughest draft) by the end of the week—maybe sooner! Maybe tonight! Here are the two major things that got me writing again after a several-week drought:

1.) Workspace. Did you read all that stuff above about my copy of Microsoft Word being a trial? Well, the free trial ran out, and I didn’t have the money to purchase the actual program. I knew this day was coming, and I had a free substitute called Libre Office installed on my computer, and when Word ran out I just thought, okay. Time to make do. Except I hated Libre Office. Working in it made me cringe. I couldn’t do it, and I was on vacation so I ignored the entire thing as long as possible. Yesterday, sitting on the couch and talking to my brother, I was almost in tears because I still couldn’t afford Word, but I couldn’t imagine being able to function in any other program. Brother came to the rescue, as he has in every tech problem I have had, ever. He purchased Apple Pages from the the App store; Apple’s $20 Word Processing alternative. He needed it to touch up his resumé, and downloaded it to my computer so I could use it too since I was too skeptical to purchase it without a trial. (Yes, I own a mac. I have always owned mac. It’s a family tradition, plus they’re shiny.) Turns out it’s perfect, and, besides not loading images properly or having drop-cap capabilities, exactly what I need. Here’s a screenshot:

Most of the images don’t load, this is an exception, but I can put them back in if I want to. Most importantly, it displays a word-count and page-count at the bottom, has full-screen capabilities that are so helpful with distractions, and has all the necessary editing tools available at the top when I run my mouse over. With this program, I feel like I can finally THINK again.

2.) Inspiration. Saturday night, the first night the four of us have been home as a family in a long time, we watched Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part II,  since my dad had it out on his netflix queue. I’d only seen it once in theaters, so I enjoyed seeing it again. Being the last of the Harry Potter movies, it was all about Ending. The ending of a book, the ending of an epic series, and, for many fans, the ending of an era. I’m not saying that I’m actively trying to emulate anything from this movie (I’m not even one of those rabid Harry Potter fans, really), but I am trying to craft an ending for Wanderlust; an ending that will stick and hold and be worthy of all that has come before. Maybe also one of the swooshy-spell things in the HP movie triggered a visual answer to the mechanics of a spell-thing I’ve been struggling with, but mostly, as I cried for Snape (always), felt awed by the epic moments of the battle, and wrecked by the sacrifices of Harry and all his protectors, what I internalized was how a proper ending should feel. How it should grab you, and where it should squeeze. Suddenly, instead of feeling terrified to write my ending, I felt excited again. Finally.

Lately this blog has been full of words! Stay tuned for my next post, a digital painting. Here’s a preview:

-Lady G

Profanity in Writing (among other things)

Yesterday, I said a lot of my poetry was too personal to share. I stand by that, as it involves other people, but here is a beautiful blog post by an author who shared the most personal thing, the scariest thing. She writes this thing incredibly well, and it is absolutely worth a read—and I suspect this blogger is someone worth following. The Scariest Thing on Chalk the Sun

Another interesting thing about yesterday’s post: it didn’t even occur to me until much, much later that I had posted a poem containing a swear word. The third word of the second line, if you didn’t notice. It is the only word that can go there, and I’m not apologizing. I just find it interesting that it didn’t even occur to me that the word might offend certain audiences. It’s not something I even considered, probably because I know the words to this poem so well that they are a part of myself, and how can a part of myself be offensive?

Profanity in writing, however, is something to consider, especially as an aspiring author of Young Adult Literature. At what age level in books is it appropriate to include characters who swear?

We are, as writers, going for realism. I believe Stephen King said something to the effect of, if your character wouldn’t say “Oh sugar,” then you should write them saying the other thing. Authors writing in a fantasy world have the luxury of making up a swear word or two for their characters to use vigorously. My book is not set solidly in the real world, but the characters come from the real world, so that’s not an option. I’m aiming at the 14 and up crowd, and here’s the solution I’ve reached:

I have one character who swears, and one character who doesn’t. This isn’t an arbitrary decision; it comes directly from the essence of the characters and helps define who they are. The swearing habit actually says a lot about the character. It shows that he is more attached to this world than his friend, and it shows his tendency to fling words at things when he’s angry. When he takes the Lord’s name in vain, it’s even a clue about religious upbringing, though possibly not in the way you’d expect. The swearing is actually a major way that the characters are differentiated from each other in dialogue, especially in those life-or-death type scenes, and I hope this will help the reader get a handle on the characters, and on who is speaking when. So, yes, I let my one character swear freely—but never excessively. He swears when that is what he would say, when that is the only thing he would say, and when the situation warrants it. I never put swears in for the intention of shock value, or to make it seem “edgy.” They are what they are. Would I edit them out if someone who wanted to publish my book asked me to? I honestly don’t know if I would; I think the dialogue would seem artificial without them.

I have completely refrained from using the F-word in my book. I feel the use of that word would cross a major line, one that my guy occasionally saying, “Oh shit,” in a really tricky situation or “dammit” in a moment of emotional duress doesn’t even approach. Would you agree?

I’d love to hear comments on this one, I think it could be a great discussion.

Oh, and I drew this last night (this morning? I couldn’t sleep). Maybe later I will finish it. Did you know Vanya could smile?

Smiling Vanya Sketch

-Grace out