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?

Editing: Round One Complete

I did it! I read through all 138 pages of my printed manuscript, 52,968 words, and absolutely destroyed them with a red pen. It looks a little like this:

Now, I can begin Round Two, where I’ll integrate all those comments into the computer file. In some places, I’ve actually written out all the changes needed in a scene, and it will be a simple matter of transcribing those notes onto the computer in their proper place. In other places, though, I’ve circled things and squiggled lines and written notes like, “Sloppy!” “Fix this!” and “Clarify!” In these places, Editing Round Two will be a much more involved process, where I’ll have to actually go in and fix all those things. I do plan to fix as much as I can this next time around, and I plan to keep a comprehensive list of anything I skip over. I anticipate that Round Three will entail forcing myself to tackle everything on that list, and then maybe—maybe—I’ll be ready to turn the manuscript over to some outside parties for further advice.

Wanna know what three things I found myself writing in the margins the most during Round One? Here you go:

More DRAMA! This is for moments where something goes down that is fairly important to the story, but, rather than showcasing the event or detail, my prose glosses over it too quickly. One doesn’t want one’s novel to be over-dramatic, of course, but you still want to draw attention to the right things, and use exciting prose to do so.

More Space! Leftenant Weatherby told me the story felt a bit rushed back in May, and I wasn’t certain I believed him; it’s a YA novel, after all. Fast-paced is good! Reading through this time, however, I think I knew what he meant. In my writing, I have a tendency to move on to the next thing without a proper lead-in or introduction, making the action feel stilted and too soon. “More space” means I need to take more physical space on the page to get there, and use description or character interaction to create a more believable illusion of the passage of time.

Tighten! This means the prose is sloppy. It’s mostly good, it mostly says the right things, it’s mostly doing what it needs to, but it needs to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb and tightened up until it sounds professional, and until it shines.

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Thank you, readers, for sticking with me this far. I’m really excited for the next part of the process, and I hope you’ll read along to see how it goes. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Wanderlust Facebook Page if you haven’t already. I’ve started to post a few extras over there that might not necessarily show up on the blog.

When you’re editing your work, what three things do you have to tell yourself the most?

-G

The Bro-Check

I’m not very good at hearing character’s voices in my head. They all sound a lot like my reading aloud voice. In Wanderlust, a lot of the dialogue is between my two main characters, Vanya and Taniel, who are both dudes. (Vanya is a legitimate diminutive form of the Russian name Ivan, if you were wondering. Taniel is a made-up nickname for Nathaniel.) I tend to enjoy movies and television shows about two dudes being best friends or brothers while solving crimes or ganking demons. Lately, I’ve been powering through Supernatural, a show whose main focus (besides ganking demons) is the relationship between the brothers Sam and Dean Winchester.

How does this relate to writing? Well, when I’m going through those scenes where it’s just Vanya and Taniel talking something out, I like to play a little game. I like to run a bro-check. I go through the scene, and imagine the television characters Sam and Dean reading the lines. (John and Sherlock work too, if Sherlock is my show of the week.) It’s a way to hear my writing in a different voice than the sounds-like-me voice that lives in my head. It helps me catch things, and figure out what sounds unnatural. Chances are if I can’t imagine a real human saying the line, then there’s something wrong with it. The bro-check also lets me test the dialogue against the built-in chemistry of the television characters, and gives me a sounding board for whether my dialogue is consistent with a brotherly relationship, or whether I’ve taken it too far. I have to keep it in perspective, of course. Sometimes I have to say, “Okay, Dean would never say that, but Taniel would.” Still, the bro-check is a useful trick in my toolbox. It helps keep the writing fun and interesting and allows me to catch things I might have otherwise missed, which is what editing is all about.

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In the red: Manuscript is now marked up to page 47 of 138.

New Look: Have you noticed things look a little different around here? I switched themes, made a new banner, and purchased the custom  upgrade so I can edit fonts and colors. I’m still tweaking things and learning CSS, so expect small changes over the next few weeks.

Hits: This blog is almost to 1,000 total hits. We should reach it within the next few days. Thank you, readers, so very much!

Old Fashioned Editing

Today, I printed out my manuscript and bought a red pen.

I posted recently that I was going back to the beginning to do an editing run, and I thought I would settle into the rhythm of pruning my manuscript piece by piece, and honing every sentence. Instead, I ended up staring at my computer making all sorts of disgruntled expressions, McKayla Maroney-esque, and wanting to circle words and make squiggly lines under the bad sentences and scrawl notes in all the margins. Someone needs to make a computer program (maybe someone already has?) where you can type things and then draw on and around the typing. Until then, there’s old-timey paper and pen. I can’t seem to find the mojo to work on the thing as a clean manuscript; I keep noticing things that I know need to be fixed, to be added, to be cleaned up, but the existing text feels sedentary and I can’t always make it right in one go. This way, I can at least make a note of things, and nothing is quite so satisfying as making a note of something in a red pen. It makes the thing thing feel accounted for. Also, in the margins, I can write questions and toss out multiple solutions without feeling like I’m dirtying up my manuscript or increasing my word count with drivel. Yes, there are computer programs that allow you to place notes in the side, but I’m not using any of them right now, and besides: it’s really nice to not be staring at a computer screen for once. Hopefully, getting away from the computer and confronting my work on the page will jog my creativity, and be one more important step on the way to a finished product. So far, the first eleven of one hundred and thirty-five pages (size 13, 1.3 spacing) are covered in red, and it feels good.

Big news! My best friend Lady Higg, who you’ve heard so much about, has started a beer blog called Ales to Lagers. Check it out! http://alestostouts.wordpress.com/

The Mumford Concert (and Where We Are Today)

I am tired! It all started this Saturday, when I went to see Mumford and Sons in concert at the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover in Portland, Maine. It was a one-day festival with eight musical acts playing on alternating stages through the course of the day, culminating with a Mumford and Sons performance just after dusk. Here’s a real nice article about the festival and the band’s experience in Portland (Rolling Stones Article). Portland is the closest city-shaped thing to where I’m living now, so I’m starting to really appreciate it myself. The Eastern Promenade was a beautiful place for a festival; the stages were framed by a backdrop of ocean, sailboats, and gulls.

I spent most of the day on my feet. I could have camped near the beer tent with some friends-of-a-friend, but after one beer I was already getting antsy. I don’t go to concerts very often, and this would be one to remember forever. I wanted to be near the bands. I think Dawes, Apache Relay, and The Maccabees were some of my favorites, aside from Mumford and Sons. When it was finally time for the leading act I managed to worm myself up to within 20 feet of the stage; close enough to see their facial expressions if I squinted my eyes.

There was one moment when I thought maybe it wasn’t worth it, when someone’s tall head blocked my view and my back and legs ached from standing for so long (I’d secured my spot during the previous act) and thoughts of my discomfort outweighed my enjoyment of the music—but then someone moved to the side and a window opened up clear to the stage, and the dusty blue sky deepened on towards night, and the stage lights shone white and indigo, and Marcus Mumford’s voice sang out over the crowd, and it was all a bit of concert magic. Suddenly I had the adrenaline I needed to jump and scream and truly experience the rest of the night.

Are you aware of Mumford and Sons? I suggest you give them a listen, if you haven’t heard of them and if folk-rock sounds like a thing you’d enjoy. There’s something about the vocals and melody that really resonates with me, and I went through a period of about a month last fall where I could only draw while listening to Mumford and Sons. Here’s a digital painting that came out of that time (yeah, I know the figures need some work):

Anyway, after the concert and subsequent night out on the town I went back to work on Monday and Tuesday, and the soreness of all that dancing combined with the rigors of painting and climbing ladders and biking three miles uphill to work left me physically exhausted—I’ve taken two long soaking baths in as many days. Last night I had planned to set aside time for writing, but then I got a call from a guitar-playing friend asking if I wanted to join him in singing for an ice-cream social, which sounded like too much fun to pass up. We would have sounded better if we’d practiced the songs beforehand, but we had a good time, and it was a family type event where a few wrong notes were easily forgiven. Even more fun, we are planning to actually practice a few songs for an open mic this friday!

So where, in all these fun music-times, is Wanderlust? Well—it’s burning at me. It’s sitting just behind my eyelids, begging for attention. I thought maybe I’d work backwards through the manuscript and add in some bits and pieces before going back to the beginning for a re-haul, but after the concert this weekend I’m anxious to spend some time on Chapter One, which contains a rock concert. Suddenly it seems like a good idea to start from the beginning and go all the way through, fix as much as I can, and see how the end sits, and whether it’s worthy. I have at least the morning off today, and after writing this blog post I think I’m warmed up. Time to get to it!

Finished First Draft, and 50,000 Words

That’s right, today is HUGE. I have finished the first draft of Wanderlust, all the way to end. I just wrote up the epilogue a little while ago. I’m exhausted, and I’ve been ignoring other work and responsibilities all week, but I have a first draft of my novel, and right now it clocks in at 53,000 words.[!!!!!!]

There’s still a long way to go. Parts of that draft (most of Chapter 11) are barely legible, the barest threads of putting what happens in the scene onto the page. There are things I’ve referenced in the late chapters that I haven’t actually written into the earlier chapters yet. There are a few places where I’ve begun adding a scene or a story and haven’t quite finished it up yet. In short, this draft is a mess. But hey, it has an ending. And hey, I know where it’s going. It’s time to tighten everything up now, and I’m so excited to start.

A few addendums: I know, according to NaNo or whatever, that 50,000 words is a minimum requirement for a novel (though it’s acceptable for YA books to be 40,000). I used to think I was writing a 30,000 word novella, though, so for me, and for Wanderlust, 50,000 words is huge

Also, Celeste DeWolfe mentioned me over at her blog today; go read the post and check out her blog!

And one more thing: I’ve picked up quite a few followers over the past few weeks, and I want to thank you for reading, and for supporting me and my work. I appreciate it so very much.

Cheers!

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

Hello from Massachusetts

So I’ve been having trouble getting my words together. I haven’t posted in over a week, going on two, and that’s exactly the precedent I don’t want to set for this blog. My only excuse is I was on vacation in Marquette, Michigan, (read about that here) and when I’m on vacation it’s so hard to work.

On Sunday, I actually wrote up a whole post. It sort of had a point, and sort of maybe came together by the end, but I never went through and edited it because there were trees to sit under (I have become a sitting-under-trees enthusiast) and beer to drink (Honey Lavender Wheat, mmmm) and friends to be with. That post never got finished, and a lot of it isn’t really topical anymore today. The lesson: always finish posts day-of.

Marquette was lovely, by the way. I swam in the lake and walked all around my town and went to my bar and spent time with my people. It was a really wonderful week, filled with about equal parts relaxing and shenanigans. I’m really glad I went back one last time, and I think maybe this time, I got it out of my system. I’m sure this wasn’t the last time I’ll see Marquette; I left my mug at Blackrocks, and it’s there for me, waiting. I’d like to think I’ll stop in every few years, grab my mug, and say, Hey, old town. I’m back. Let’s jive. But for now? I’m ready to start planning some bigger adventures, and traveling to some farther shores.

Right now I’m curled up in my brother’s apartment in Northampton, Massachusetts. I arrived here at 1 pm today (Thursday) after a Greyhound bus adventure that began at 2 am Wednesday morning. That’s about 36 hours on buses, people, with no layovers longer than 45 minutes. We’re driving up to Maine tomorrow, after Brother gets out of work. I’m glad to be done with the buses for today, but overall I will probably give you a more positive review of Greyhound travel than you’ll hear from most people. If you’ve got time, it’s not a bad way to get around. It certainly qualifies as an adventure (some other time, I will have to tell you about getting through customs at Saulte Ste Marie) and it means you really feel the distance rolling through the ground beneath you as you nod off to sleep and jerk awake when the lights come on at the next stop and slowly nod off again. It’s more intrepid than flying, a little grittier, and definitely more of an ordeal, but for me it was a positive experience overall. If the opportunity arises, I won’t shy away from taking another lengthy bus trip in the future.

One more thing: I have a confession to make. I am terrified to write the last two chapters of my book. I’m not calling it Writers’ Block because I don’t believe in Writers’ Block, per say. Writer’s Block is just another name for lazy. These last few chapters are gonna make or break the book, however, and I’m terrified that I won’t do them justice, that they won’t be good enough, that they’ll render all of my hard work up to this point irrelevant. This is a foolish fear, because the first draft is going to suck anyway. The first draft always sucks. What I need to do now is plow through the fear and get something, anything, written down, so that I’ll have something to work from when I figure out what I need to do to actually make it awesome. But I’ve been on vacation, and there have been so many excuses not to write. Now that I’m coming home, there won’t be any more excuses, and I will wrestle with this demon, and I will write those chapters. Next week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

-Grace out

Some Poetry

The other day I posted a piece of art (this wolf here) and I’d like to share more art soon. I also have a full review of Breadcrumbs in the works, and several other ideas for posts. For variety, though, I think it’s time to share some words. I took a poetry class two semesters ago which I enjoyed immensely, and that taught me to think of myself once again as someone who writes poems. A lot of things I wrote in that class are too personal to share (sometimes you just gotta write break-up poetry. Some of it was pretty good. Doesn’t mean I wanna post it) but this poem is solidly in the realm of fiction. It’s actually the very first poem I wrote for the class, to fulfill an exercise in iambic pentameter.

 

You never knew how far I went to find

your weary ass that night, when you were dead

upon the doorstep, dead, but not too dead

to speak. And never mind that I was crying,

fainting, rhyming, raging, lying, ‘cause

you rambled dark and dreary, like a mad

man, like a priest. And though your lips were shouting

“Memphis!” and your hands were holding diamonds

still I held your body listless through

the darkly dripping streets. And so we wandered

more like lovers, more like leavers, more

like brothers, till the dawn-glow left us breathless

reeling sightless towards the sea.

 

 

I still feel a little weird about poetry as something one shares, because it seems incredible to me that anyone else wants to experience the same poems that I do. I memorize a lot of verse, and I occasionally inflict it on people because it’s hard to stop once I get going, but if someone asks me to recite a poem, I say, incredulously, “Really?” Do you know what you’re getting into? Won’t you be bored? I’ve come to think of poetry as a mostly private experience. The poems I know are for saying aloud in the silence, walking by houses in a twilight neighborhood where all the doors are closed, or wading in Lake Superior when the sky is black and the stars are white and the seagulls are an eerie concert, just out of sight. This class I took was amazing because it introduced me to so many different kinds of poetry, to good poems being written today, and to people my age whom I respect  and whose company I adore and who get just as excited about poetry as I do. Our professor made us feel worthwhile for everything we produced, and then challenged us to do so much better, and so much more.

Oh, and Wanderlust? I am puttering through Chapter 10, which is now Chapter 11. This is disconcerting, because this chapter has been Chapter 10 for years. I’m sort of writing off the map now, because I’ve changed the ending. What I’m writing now I’ve never written before, so this is the part where I try to get something down there to replace the nothingness, knowing that I’m going to rewrite and rewrite before it’s ever good.

Sketch Day, Progress, and Breadcrumbs

Progress for the day: 1,200 words on chapter 11.

I’m reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. I’ve seen it around and was very drawn to it because of the cover (isn’t it fantastic? I mean, the composition, the colors, even the typeface!), and I finally picked it up from a local library last week. It’s a book for younger readers, and I’m only about a third of the way in, but so far the writing is incredible and the story is poignant and there are illustrations (not by the author, but illustrations nonetheless), and it’s basically everything I could want from a book. I’ll let you know what I think of it as a whole when I finish it in a few days!

Also, I have an Art Thing for you today!

Wolf

Still sort of in sketch mode, but it’s a wolf! I actually started something else last night that I planned to post here as a sketch, but then that something else got complicated and it was impossible to post it anywhere without putting a lot more work into it, so I started a simpler picture of a wolf this morning. Wolves are relevant to Wanderlust because (spoiler!) a few show up in chapter nine. I know I’ll want to include them in an actual Wanderlust illustration, so I thought I’d start practicing. I haven’t been drawing much all month, so this was good for me, and also fun. The wolf itself was referenced from an internet photo, and with the background (still pretty sketchy, I know) I tried to do the same thing with the trees that happens on the cover of Breadcrumbs.

Oh, and Happy Independence Day! Fireworks are newly legal in Maine, and there is a fireworks store (complete with giant inflatable gorillas standing in front of it) in my tiny, tiny town. My dad and I went and bought a pretty good stash and lit them off in our driveway. It was a good time!

Have a lovely evening.

-G

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham