My NaNoWriMo Novel

So I’ve decided. I’m going to attempt NaNoWriMo this year. National Novel Writing Month. Writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. This is the first year I’ve been in a place where it sounded like a good idea (click for my thoughts on the subject a year ago). It’s a whole month where I won’t be working on Wanderlust, true, but I’ll be getting great writing practice, learning how to fit writing into my schedule, and maybe even making some writer friends in this area. I think it will be a lot of fun.

And you probably want to hear about the book.

It’s…

Well.

It’s something that I’m personally really excited about, and that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for the past year. Yet even as I’ve been world-building, collecting pieces of plot, and making exciting discoveries about how everything comes together, I didn’t think I’d actually be able to tackle the project for years and years. For a number of reasons. You see, it’s about these two guys. With Wanderlust my main focus right now, it doesn’t seem entirely wise for my secondary project to be ANOTHER story about a couple of guys—even though they (Cor and Tristan) are entirely different characters from Taniel and Vanya, and their story is a completely different sort of thing. The second thing is… it’s high fantasy. Swords and sorcery. Battles and blood. I have read a lot of high fantasy, and it’s one of my most favorite genres, but there’s a lot of it out there, and a lot of it is crap. I… this is probably my own issue, and I’m probably accidentally discounting some really good work, but I have trouble asking people to take me seriously as an aspiring author writing high fantasy when I know there are so many people out there writing books in LOTR inspired worlds with all their made up, fantasy-sounding names and it just isn’t any good. I wanted to establish myself with the urban fantasy, maybe that dystopian kinda book I’m working on, before I ask anyone to take my high fantasy seriously. And this project… It’s not just high fantasy. It’s high fantasy with history, with lore. The actual storyline I want to write deals with the aftermath of the big war ten years before. Beyond that, there’s some really long-ago history about why this [special] [magical] country functions the way it does. And farther back, the mythology. Looking forward, I even have an idea for the thousand years later story when all the magic has faded from the world (… or so everyone thinks!).

And those are the reasons I find my own story problematic for me, myself, right now. They’re also the reasons I think it will make a great project for NaNoWriMo. I need something that I’m not under too much pressure to take seriously, especially if I’m going to be banging out 50,000 words in a month. I also tend to have a really scattered writing style on a first draft anyway, and (not sure if this is entirely kosher with the nano rules, and I don’t really care) I’m giving myself permission to work on the lore, the backstory, all the connecty bits, whenever I want to, even if I’m not sure how they fit into the main narrative. It’s all part of the project, and I’m going to let all of that count towards the 50,000 words. And this really is a project I’ve been putting a lot of thought into, despite everything, and I’m excited to see where it goes if I let myself get to work.

The project. I haven’t even field-tested the title, you know? What if it just sounds dumb? I called it Tredaf back in high school (yes of course this is a resurrected project, but it’s really honestly changed A LOT since then and anyway I’m starting over from scratch) but that’s the name of the magical country and I think the country itself needs a name-change. The current working title is… badadadum… The Legend of the Blood Tog King. Or just The Blood Tog King. And here’s my question; a real, serious question. You can put your answer in the comments. Does it sound dumb?

It’s about this guy, Cor Daggerhand, who is blood brother to Tristan, the king. It’s a country where bonds between people have magical properties, and none more powerful, or more dangerous, than a blood bond. [These bindings are symbolized by tokens, worn around the neck or pinned to clothing. Over many years of use, the word “token” degenerates to “tog”, which now describes the whole concept.] Ten years ago Cor and Tristan won the great war, and Tristan reclaimed his rightful throne. Days after the victory, however, Cor skedaddled, and left his brother and the entire country behind him. Upon his grudging homecoming (the start of this book), he discovers that the past ten years have changed Tristan into someone almost unrecognizable—someone with terrible plans for the nation they both call home. Can Cor battle his own blood-brother to keep his beloved country free? And has the king truly turned evil/gone mad, or can Cor save Tristan from himself?

Someday I will finish this sketch.

Tristan and Cor (an unfinished sketch)

Finding a Rhythm

Happy Fourth!

As you’ve noticed, I’ve been pretty remiss in my blog duties lately. I think I’ve reached a turning point, though, and I’m working my way back to a place where I can fit all the old things I know I enjoy into my new routine.

Speaking of routine, and my new job, I was on the news! I don’t say anything in the video, but there’s a bunch of shots of me driving my bus. I happened to be pulling into the garage at just the moment Channel 8 was looking for a bus in which to ride around the block and shoot video.

http://www.wmtw.com/news/maine/shuttle-between-lakes-region-portland-coming-this-summer/-/8792012/20804372/-/p8i4pf/-/index.html

I drew this sketch of Vanya yesterday (featured at end of post). A few days ago, I began playing the harp again after a truly intolerable break (I think it was a whole month). Soon, I’ll start re-working Wanderlust again. Lady Higg gave me a lot of things to think about in her Wanderlust review, and right now I’m not quite sure in which direction to take things, and how far to go. These are problems I’m going to have to attack pretty soon. Maybe this weekend. I’ll tell you more when I can. I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves this independence day; I’m certainly looking forward to the fireworks tonight.

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Drawing Without Deadlines

At about 11 am this morning, I posted the following status on the Wanderlust Facebook page: I’m working on a new Wanderlust illustration! Okay, it’s not actually for the book, but it’s got the characters and it’s in the same style. What do you think: Can I finish it in time to post it up on the Wanderlust blog by the end of the day?

It’s 8 o’clock in the evening now and I haven’t finished the illustration, but I have been working on it almost literally all day. I made that facebook post to challenge myself, because as I embark on the “Finish ALL the Illustrations!” stage of Wanderlust, I’m terrified that I won’t be able to get anything done without the pressure of deadlines. I’m also terrified that I won’t be able to draw anything good. Today, even if I’m not quite ready to show you yet, I’ve proved to myself that I’ve still got what it takes to sit and draw all day. I really like how this illustration is turning out and I’m enjoying working on it—two self-esteem boosters that make me excited to begin the rest of the illustrations for my book.

Here’s an itty-bitty preview just to whet your appetite, although it doesn’t give you a sense of the whole piece at all.

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The next challenge is to see if I can actually finish the piece within the next few days. If I can’t, well, then we’re in trouble… or at least back to wondering whether I’ll survive as an artist without scholastic deadlines.

-G

That Face

My relationship with making art is a lot more complicated than my relationship with writing. I have a few theories about that, but if I start writing that blog post right now I’ll be working on it for days. Right now, I just want to share this unfinished sketch with you. It’s hardly the most exciting art-thing I’ve done this week, but I need a little more time to finish the other pieces before I share them with you. I’m not even working on Wanderlust illustrations yet;  I’m just trying to get used to working with visual media every day, and I’m challenging myself to try new things and to bring a few pieces all the way to completion. This, though, I probably won’t finish or work back into—unless you think I should?

Adobe Photoshop © Grace Makley 2013

Adobe Photoshop © Grace Makley 2013

 

I used the really quick sketch of Vanya from last week’s post as a starting point, and he picked up the smirk somewhere along the way. There are probably already enough sketches of him pouting.

Vanya’s pouting face is something of a touchstone for me, artistically. It’s an image I return to whenever I’m experiencing a block or looking for a way to move forward, and something I never quite get tired of drawing. Artists: do you have any images or characters you draw over and over, or return to every time you get stuck? Writers: Do you have any themes or images in your writing that you use the same way? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Sketches, and Writer with a Day Job by Áine Greaney

Quick and dirty sketches of my two principle characters.

Quick and dirty sketches of my two principle characters.

Hello! It’s been over a week since the Unicorn Writers’ Conference now. Life’s been pretty good. I’ve even been exercising. I’m trying to leave my book draft alone for a little while, even though Eileen Albrizio‘s workshop  at the Conference made me want to FIND and DESTROY all the adverbs. I have been getting positive feedback from the good folks reading the current draft, though, which is awesome to hear. To keep my oar in and try to cultivate the habit of writing every day, I’ve been futzing around with book two. It’s still in the very early stages of development, but I’m playing with some ideas and I like what’s shaping up so far. Mostly, I’ve been sketching and working on thumbnails for the rest of book one. I need to really tackle those illustrations soon. For now, I’ve been sketching with a cheap ballpoint pen and hoping that the permanence and nonchalance of the medium will take some of the pressure out of making pictures. It’s a ballpoint pen. I have to ACCEPT that the things I make with it will NOT be perfect—and this frees me up to just DRAW.

Some sketches for a secondary character in Wanderlust. If you can ignore the one on the bottom right with the panda eyes, I like how he's turning out

Some sketches for a secondary character in Wanderlust. If you can ignore the one on the bottom right with the panda eyes, I like how he’s turning out

 

urlOne of my favorite (ha ha. They were all my favorite) workshops at the Unicorn Writers’ Conference was Writer With a Day Job with Áine Greaney. Writer With a Day Job is also the name of one of her books, which I bought and she signed for me. If you ever get a chance to meet Ms. Greaney or attend one of her workshops, I highly recommend it. She is a delight to listen to, and not just because of the Irish accent. She is a very clear and demanding speaker who holds your attention, makes you laugh, and says a lot of very true things that make you think, and keep thinking. She has a soft a soft voice and wields this power gently; the overall impression is of kindness, hilarity, and respect.

You might wonder why I chose this workshop, since I have no day job to speak of. Well, not having a day job isn’t really a sustainable life choice. I’m even starting to suspect that having regularly scheduled, gainful employment, would help my writing—and this was one of the points of Greaney’s workshop. In fact, when I flipped through my Áine Greaney book looking for likely quotes, I came upon this: “Your day job can give you the structure you need to get things done” (19). I also found, in my notes from the conference, this bit of wisdom: “[Having a day job] takes [the] ego and financial burden away [from the writing].” That really resonates with me right now, because, as much as I’m living a cushy little existence as a writer/creative with parent-provided room and board, I am trying very hard to enter into the adult world and take responsibility for myself and for my obligations. In short, making those student loan payments at the end of every month stresses the crap out of me. If having a job meant I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills, it might actually free up more energy for my writing and creative pursuits. I attended this workshop in anticipation of getting a day job in the near future, and I attended the workshop to learn how to do it when I’m in the position of having a job and needing to write. It was the best choice I could have made; Greaney’s workshop gave me a lot of hope for my future and for the future of my writing and creative endeavors.

The most important thing, Greaney said, is to ask ourselves this: Why do I write? What is my deeply personal reason for writing? What do I want from my life as a writer?

When I asked myself these questions, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I remembered that it isn’t about getting published or making money and getting recognition for my work. I want all that, yes. I want it bad. But what it’s about is telling these stories. What it’s about is the love I have for my characters and the deep compulsion I feel to make something physical and tangible and shareable out of the stories and people I’ve created in my head. That, at the heart of it, is why I’m doing this—not for money or fame or a job. This realisation means—well, it means it’s okay if I have a day job for YEARS before the writer/illustrator lark can be my full-time occupation. It means that, as long as I’m creating and sharing these characters, I won’t have failed. The only way I will be a failure as a writer and an artist is if I stop working and creating every day.

I can’t share the whole workshop with you here, so I highly recommend you check out the book if you’re interested. You’ll find a lot of good strategies about how to fit writing time into your busy schedule. I especially liked how Greaney talked about transitions between your work (or your life) and your writing. Sometimes you can’t go straight from one to the other, and it helps to set up transition rituals (like finishing that cup of coffee, or spending twenty minutes journaling, or putting on a specific sweater) that you always perform to get from one place to the other.

I came away from the workshop with two overall messages. The first was: If being a writer is truly, deeply important to you (refer back to that deeply personal reason mentioned above), then do it, any way you can. Write every day. Make it happen. Use whatever available time you have, and make it work for you. And the second message? Be nice to yourself. Accept that you won’t be brilliant every day, and move forward on your writing anyway. At least visit it, even on the crap days when you have nothing left to give. It will all add up, and you will move closer to your writing goals.

Name Doodle Prizes (part 1)

I said by the end of February, right?

(For anyone just tuning in, I ran a contest during my Race to the 8th writing marathon at the beginning of the month. It’s all in the blog archives.)

I’ve been feeling pretty sluggish ever since finishing that draft of my book a few weeks ago. I also had a job for a few days last week and a few days this week; not a very taxing one, but getting up earlier than normal took its toll on my daily energy. I do have something big and exciting coming up related to writing, though, and Grandma Says nominated me for an award today, so expect some good posts in the near future.

For now, here are the first round of the prizes. I’ll post more tomorrow. Also, to the winners, I will email you a higher quality jpg copy within the next few days.

First, Elise soon-to-be Rich. She’s a rider, so I drew her a horse! For Elise’s Race to the 8th entry, I wrote a scene from the point of view of a streetlamp.

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Next, Grace of Homeschool Hijinks. It’s a drawing of a girl and, well, that’s supposed to be an owl. Can you tell? For Grace’s Race to the 8th entry, I discussed how Wanderlust got created and what my process is when starting (or re-starting) a story.

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And next, Laura. She gets a dragon. For Laura’s Race to the 8th entry, I discussed the hypothetical benefits of being a dude.

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Last for today is Celeste, of Celestedewolfe.com. I’m not sure why I thought she would like a sketch of a muscled merman, but that’s what she’s getting. For Celeste’s Race to the 8th entry, I discussed the role of genre in my writing.

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I hope everyone is having a good night!

-Grace out

Writing Marathon and… *Contest*

So you’ve all heard that I’m getting close to finishing my current manuscript revision. I’ve been saying it for weeks. Still, every time I think, “This is the week I finish!” it seems like I barely make any progress at all. I need a push; I need a deadline. And conveniently, it’s almost my birthday.

On February 8th, I turn 24. Beginning on February 1st and going until the 8th, I mean to put everything aside and write—because I want a completed draft of Wanderlust for my birthday this year. And I’m gonna need your help.

Race to the 8th Contest

I will blog about my daily progress, because reporting to you will help keep me motivated. Your support and encouragement will help too. I know my progress reports won’t be as meaningful to you as they are to me, however, and I want to make this worth your while. I won’t have a lot of time to blog around working on Wanderlust non-stop, so I am asking YOU to give me eight five-minute blog topics. These could be questions about me, questions about writing, questions about Wanderlust, or even silly things, like, “Please write a story about penguins.” If I choose to respond to your entry (entries will be chosen by whatever I most feel like writing about, or drawn from a hat if that fails) you get two prizes: 1.) I will link to your website on my blog, and 2.) I will create a personalized name-doodle for you. [Edit 31 January: Fine Print is here.]

There will be a delay of about a week for the doodles, because I won’t be able to do them during the writing marathon. I did this sample one with my name, which went in a sort of ocean-nymph direction. YOURS MIGHT BE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. These won’t be hugely detailed works of art; I plan to spend in the neighborhood of twenty minutes on each one. Still, I promise to make something aesthetically pleasing just for YOU.

Want one? Enter the Contest!

Want one? Enter the Contest!

Now, there are several things that will make this writing marathon hard. I have recently started a very restrictive diet as well as a new exercise routine. As hopeful as I am that these things will make me healthier and more energized, in the beginning stages they are just as likely to make me tired and cranky. What I’m saying is, this whole thing might go up in flames. I’m hoping we can have some fun before it does. I get a chance to make some real progress on my book, and you get to ask me questions and win prizes. Are you with me? Submissions are open.

Vanya Snapshot: High School Chorus

This is a behind-the-scenes post. It gives away more of Vanya’s past than I am usually comfortable sharing—but I really wanted to share it anyway. I will be especially grateful for your thoughts in the comments section today.

I attended a high school music concert a few nights ago that featured middle school and high school chorus and band. There was one very small, skinny kid in the High School Chorus with a mop of dark brown hair that completely obscured his eyes when he looked down, although when he looked up he smiled a bright smile. From far away, he didn’t look like a high school freshman; he could have been eight. And he reminded me of Vanya.

A sketchy-sketch of how Vanya may have looked at 15, all dressed up for his high school concert and staring down at his shoes.

A sketchy-sketch of how Vanya may have looked at 15, all dressed up for his high school concert and staring down at his shoes.

Vanya left home when he was fifteen, just a few months into his freshman year of high school. While listening to this concert, I wondered how Vanya’s experience with the high school music program might have gone during the short time he was there. I like to imagine the school was large enough to have a pedal harp sitting around somewhere that Vanya played in the orchestra, which went fairly well because he sat in the back, and hid behind the giant instrument. But how about that chorus concert?

He probably wouldn’t have auditioned for the big solo. He probably would have known that he couldn’t handle that kind of commitment and pressure. But what if the kid who did get the solo was sick on the day of the show? Or drunk? Maybe Vanya saved the day, and sang that solo so perfectly that the audience cried and cheered. Maybe afterwards, they tried to tell him how beautiful he was, all of them, parents and teachers and classmates, crowding around him and shouting congratulations at him in the hallway after the show, overwhelming him with so much praise and admiration that he couldn’t breathe. Maybe that’s when he ran. Or maybe… maybe he did audition for the big solo. Maybe he sang it so perfectly at the audition that the director awarded it to him with hardly any deliberation at all, and the choice was so obvious that even the slighted upperclassmen couldn’t be angry. And when the big night came, maybe he just couldn’t do it. Maybe Vanya showed up drunk, or ran away right before they drew the curtain, and instead of his angelic voice the audience heard only silence, and the whispered confusion of a high school choir that had depended on that beautiful, blonde-haired boy. Either way it happened, I like to think his mother found him hours later in a McDonald’s parking lot, sitting on the wood chips beneath a strangled-looking tree and kicking his heels against the curb. She convinced him to get in the car, and when she saw the wet tears on his cheek she prayed that the Blessed Virgin Mary would help her console her son, even though she’d never understood him. She’d known she would find him that night because his harp was still at the house. If she knew a single thing about her strange and alien child, it was this: on the day he left her forever, he would have that harp at his side.

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?

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.