Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
This year, I've come back to many old childhood reading favorites and found much of the magic I remember has sadly gone. Approaching Christmas, I wondered if that would be the case with “A Christmas Carol”. Silly me – a story that's been so beloved for so long will never lose a single spark of its magic!
I was fortunate enough to catch an old radio broadcast of the story as well, from 1939 with Orson Welles narrating; I listened to it while working, and started wondering just what makes this story so special. Why does it survive? What about it touches people's hearts, generation after generation?
I'm not quite sure. ;) For me, though, I think I love the story for its quirkiness, its oddball comedy, and most of all for the theme of redemption. The more I write and read, the more I realize I'm drawn to that theme. Redemption in a Christian sense, of course, but also just plain redemption – the opportunity to redeem yourself, to change your life for the better. And Dickens' story is all about redemption. The message of the story is that it's never too late. No matter how bad your life has been, there's always a chance for a better future.
Which, of course, is the promise of Christmas.
And now...unwrapped gifts are looking accusingly from me to the wrapping paper and ribbons so I will close. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Monday, December 14, 2009
Their favorite tool is a large pen, their favorite color red, their favorite word REJECTED. Preferably all together. They have mastered the art of speech, and spend their free time memorizing the Dictionary of Insulting Long Words.
They have made extensive studies of smiling... the more teeth, the better. Their most common heard phrase is “I'm sorry, BUT....” in slow tones, laced with the occasional mention of “agents” or “a little editing”. They keep printers going at all times, and computer files open at Reject Letter.
Science fears for the extinction of this species – not from natural disaster, but from their most common predator, an ancient and savage breed called Writers or Authors. But most of this new life-form has already taken protective measures and hired Large, Well-Muscled Humans with Guns. This is called Protection.
We are seeing a long happy future for this new species, for every year there are more Writers and more Books and Envelopes.... just waiting for the Mark of the Red Pen.
Oh, did I forget to mention? Scientists are calling them Publishers.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Hello peoples! Last year I started the tradition of filling out this quiz, filing it away, and taking it out to look at next year just before doing NaNo! It's a wonderful way to preserve the memories of each year's sprint for 50k.
This year, I'm sharing my impressions of NaNo with you all! If you like the quiz, feel free to copy it and take it yourself! File it away, or put it on your own blog – and if you blog about it, let me know! I'd love to read what you thought of NaNo this year!
1. Was 2009 your first NaNo? No, I did NaNo 2008 as well!
2. How did you find out about NaNo? Last year, my co-author told me about this mad scheme to write 50,000 words during a month. Sounded insane, but I decided to give it a try!
3. What made you decide to do NaNo this year? Last year was such an incredible learning and growing experience as a writer; I'd planned to do NaNo 2009 since December 1 '08. :D
4. Did you come into NaNo very prepared (outline, synopsis) or did you choose to wing it? My first novel, SS-5 was very structured. I had a detailed outline, character sketches, etc. My second novel, A Forbidden Homeland, I winged. I had no outline, no character sketches, and not much idea where I was going!
5. What was your original goal for the month? Somewhere around 85,000 words. Midway that changed to hitting the big 100!
6. Did you make your goal? Yes! Final word count was 102,095
7. Did you learn anything through doing NaNo? This year reinforced my belief in outlines and synopses. They are so important, and if you take the time to sketch your story out, a very readable first draft is completely possibly, even at NaNo-speed. This year, I also learned an incredible amount about character development.
8. Give your novel/s title and a one-line synopsis. SS-5: Jolted out of a self-centered, drifting childhood by the Nazi invasion, fourteen-year old Jan forms and leads a group of young people called the SS-5 to defend Holland against the Gestapo. Homeland: A Resistance leader and a woman of the enemy Protectors make a last desperate stand to regain their forbidden homeland.
9. What will you do with your novel now? Well, I'm already editing SS-5; I'd like to start sending it out to agents by 2010. Homeland isn't finished. I'll probably take a break from it for a while, do some outlining, and take up writing it again later.
10. What was your daily word goal? In the neighborhood of 2,500 – 3,000 words.
11. What was your highest day's word count? 7,494, which was 2,000 more than I'd ever written in one day! That was the night I finished my SS-5 novel...
12. Did you write any time you could, or did you have a more structured, set time for writing? In the beginning I wrote constantly; while doing dishes and scrubbing floors, in the middle of work...during cooking. About halfway through the second week, that tapered off to writing pretty much at night. I'd try to think the story through all day, and then start writing about 8 PM and just keep writing until I'd made my word goal.
13. Will you apply NaNo techniques to writing in general? Oh yes. I learned about outlining from last year's NaNo, and this year has reminded me of how important daily writing is. It doesn't really matter how much you write every day – it's just important that you do write.
14. What was the best thing about doing NaNo 2009? Finishing SS-5, being happy with it. Learning to write two extremely difficult characters. Also, doing it with my friends, and watching my sister do it for the first time!
15. What was the worst thing about doing NaNo 2009? Probably writing Homeland without an outline. It was extremely frustrating. Also, the first week of NaNo was extremely difficult, because I totally didn't understand my MC in SS-5. I felt I was ruining a story, and it wasn't even mine to ruin. Thankfully, God and my co-author stepped in and saved the day by helping me to see Jan the way he really is!
16. Best advice to someone planning NaNo for the first time? Having an outline is an awfully good way to start. But most of all, be sure you want to do it, and then just have the most fun you can. NaNo is all about adrenaline and challenges, crazy hope and following your dreams. Run with it!
17. Will you do NaNo next year? You bet your life. ;)
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Please feel free to save and use any of these as avatars, web badges, blog decoration, etc! If you decide to use one, please let me know - a comment here is fine. Credit is nice if that's possible, but not required.
So here they are. Some are traditional....
And I even did some Western and horse-theme ones!
Monday, November 30, 2009
So let's see, the rules! Here they are:
2. Copy the award.
3. Post it on your blog.
4. Tell your readers 7 things they didn't know about you.
5. Link 7 bloggers as recipients.
6. Notify winners of award with a comment on their blog.
7. Keep being awesome.
1. For the first twelve years of my life I hated writing with a passion, and had to be forced with blood sweat and tears to write a 300 word report. Now I write 100,000 words in 30 days. (The moral of this story is: never think yourself safe from the writer's infection.)
2. I have read Lord Of The Rings and Douglass' The Robe over fifteen times.
3. One of my biggest dreams is to visit Normandy in June, walk along the beaches and remember my uncle and all the people who fought and died for freedom at D-Day.
4. I have nightmares about my teeth falling out. Don't laugh. It's gruesome.
5. If I weren't a writer I'd be a paramedic or a trauma surgeon.
6. I used to be absolutely terrified of the basement, to the point where I'd get sick if I had to go down alone at night.
7. I'm a CIA agent.
(Okay, well, the last one isn't true, but no one said I had to think up true things!)
I’m sending it to six (sorry, couldn't manage seven!) people:
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
A few months ago I picked up Laura Hillenbrand's New York Times bestseller, Seabiscuit. Instantly I was captivated: not only by the incredible story, but by the wry wit and sheer beauty of Hillenbrand's writing. Delighted at finding a new author, I researched her to see if she'd written anything else.
That's when I discovered Hillenbrand suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The disease attacked her when she was a student in college, and rapidly got out of control. On good days, she could live a fairly normal life: on bad days, she couldn't get out of bed as violent nausea and vertigo ripped at her body. She wrote Seabiscuit in between the attacks, but immediately after the book went to press, the disease worsened. Her life crystallized into surviving each day, she lost the ability to do things most of us take for granted. Most of all, she lost the ability to write, as the disease made it impossible for her to formulate her thoughts.
As far as I know, she's still unable to write. There's no cure for CFS.
Hillenbrand's story sobered me and has been uppermost in my mind for the last few months. I realized how often I complain about my writing. Nothing is ever good enough. Why did I ever become a writer in the first place? I'm terrible at action, my characters stink, the dialogue is horrible... etc.
But if I lost the ability to write, I'd give anything in the world to get it back. Forget the luxury of whining about details. Because, truth be told, the gift of writing is the most precious thing in my life besides my belief in God.
This realization convicted me. Now, I'm going to try to be more thankful. Don't get me wrong - I'm not going to stop working to improve! If anything, I'll try harder! But in the meantime I'm going to be grateful for what I've got. After all, God gave me this gift of writing. He must have known what He was doing. :)
And right now I'm going to rejoice in words, in this incredible gift He's given me, because I can write. Not always well, not always with merit. But I can do it.
Thanks be to God!
Have a blessed Thanksgiving, everyone!
Friday, November 20, 2009
(Yeah, right, I know, compound the problem. Write a new genre and do it during NaNo. Nothing like taking on a challenge!)
The seed for this novel was a dream. Shaky ground at best, but it stuck with me for five years, racketing around and collecting bits of plot, characters, dialogue. Eventually I gave up, took the idea out, and gave it some serious attention, which led to an outline, which led...ahem...to where I am, on the brink of writing speculative!
The plot is based on the British subjugation of Ireland, and originally was going to be historical fiction. But gradually I realized the characters had a different story to tell. I'm not fully diving into the wilder aspects of speculative - there's no magic, no swords, no elves or dwarfs or unicorns. No laser guns, light sabers, or sonic screwdrivers. The characters drive the plot, in a world which is much like ours...but not quite. Ironically, since the roots are based in history, the story has taken on chilling aspects of our modern world; it's become, to me, a possible look at the future. Primitive evil hidden under the fine surface of advanced civilization.
Excited, am I? You bet! But also apprehensive. Worldbuilding is crazy hard! I don't see how speculative writers do this all the time!
On the brink of walking through the wardrobe, I'm nervous. Scared. Absolutely terrified! I must be INSANE to do this!
And I’m lovin’ it!!
Friday, November 13, 2009
Well, I'm three-fourths of the way through my SS-5 novel! (If you're new and don't know what that is, check out this post: http://frontnotes.blogspot.com/2009/10/historical-note-teenage-spies.html) Today I'm going to post some of the original diary, and then an excerpt of the novel, showing how I'm turning the fact into fiction.
Here is the diary entry:
MAY 10, 1940
Mother awoke me this morning. One look at her serious face, and I knew that something was wrong. She kissed me and said, “Happy Birthday," but it was so unlike my mother, who is a very jolly person. This morning it was all very sad.
I could now hear distant thuds. "What is it?" I asked.
“The Germans have invaded Holland. I pray for Father, and for our poor country."
I washed and dressed very quickly, and went down into the street. Everybody had a different story to tell. Schiphol airport was on fire, but some soldiers--they were fifth columnists in Dutch uniforms, I learned later--said that we were doing well and beating back the Germans.
And here is the same scene as I've novelized it.
Jan woke again to the dim blue light before dawn. He lay, gazing at the just-visible ceiling, wondering where and why he was. Till he remembered, and lay for a minute longer, thinking of the day before.
It was when he turned over and pulled the covers tight that he sensed it; the sense of something wrong. He could almost smell it, feel it; heavy and prickling like a rough wool blanket.
But not warm.
Fumbling back the covers, he scrambled out of bed, grabbed for his slippers, scared without knowing why.
Soft footsteps tapped outside the door. The knob turned, and his mother entered. He couldn't see her face in the shadows, but he smelled the faint scent of coffee as she came toward him, put her arms around him, kissed his cheek. “Happy birthday, Jan.”
She hadn't held him like that since he was eight years old. Then her touch had been all he needed to drive away the nightmare.
Now it only made him more afraid.
He pushed her gently away, noticing with a shock that he was taller than she. “Mum. What's wrong?”
“I'm sorry.” He heard the wobbly smile in her voice. “I don't think we can have your party.”
“Mum. What is it?”
Her whisper shivered through the air. “The Germans have invaded. Crossed the border and are coming into the country. Our army is fighting them...” He heard her swallow. “Come on, sweetheart. I—I made pancakes for your birthday...”
Only half-hearing her words, he yanked open his wardrobe, wriggled into trousers, pulled a shirt over his head. Shirttails untucked, he leaped barefoot down the stairs, shoved his feet into damp boots, and grabbed for a coat.
Outside, red fingers of dawn reached up over the city to the east, lighting the streets with an odd pink glow. Standing on the doorstep, Jan saw his neighbors coming out of their houses, clustering together, or just staring toward the east, as if the red dawn was the fires of invasion.
Slowly, dreamlike, Jan stepped into the street, letting himself get caught up in the surge of people. Snippets of conversation ebbed and flowed around him like paper shreds in a breeze.
“It can't be an invasion, there must be some mistake...”
“...we're neutral, Hitler knew that!”
“I said it all along, I did, never trust a Hun...”
Sharp voices cut through the clamor, and the thud of nail-shod boots on cobblestones echoed as a group of soldiers in uniform turned the corner.
“Attention! Please give us your attention!” The leader, tall and blond, lifted his arm. “There is no need to panic! Do not believe any rumors. Holland will never surrender! Hitler will soon see this and leave. You can help best by remaining in your homes and not panicking. Do not panic.”
“My dad,” Jan thought, then realized he'd said it aloud. “My dad's fighting, he's fighting at the front, can you tell me, is he all right?”
His words were swept away in the clamor as fifty people jabbered their own questions at the soldiers. Jan elbowed his way through the crowd, trying to get closer...Dad's got to be all right. Of course he is. He's Dad. It can't be so bad, anyway, not if there's soldiers still here...but the crush of people pressed him out, and after a moment he gave up, as the soldiers' grey and blue uniforms started to disappear around the corner of the street.
Everything seemed to become quiet, to fade into the distance, as Jan turned a slow circle in the middle of the street. Was everyone here, standing in the streets, waiting for news? The Verdeers, wealthy and superior, had the biggest house on the block—but no stork on the roof—and didn't mingle much, but they were out too, Mr. Verdeer in the middle of the street, wearing evening jacket with pajama bottoms. Mrs. Verdeer was coming back from following the soldiers, a silk shawl clutched around her shoulders, apprehension lining her face.
On the stoop opposite Jan's house friendly, witty Hans Lambert crouched with his camera, photographing the scene. For one moment he lifted his eye from the camera's shutter, and Jan saw fear on his face too.
“John!” From next door their newlywed neighbor stumbled out, her hair straggled out of curlers. “My John's in the army! Has anyone heard anything?”
Kindly Mrs. Smit pushed out of the crowd, putting an arm around the trembling young woman. “Hush now, it's all right. You heard the soldiers. John will be all right, dear. He'll be all right.”
All right...all right...all right...
Dizzily, Jan kept turning, his eyes searching automatically for the flag above the government buildings. He saw it every day on his way to school. How many times had he taken it for granted?
Then he saw it, flapping slowly in the early morning breeze.
“Well, of course it would be.” In the sudden relief he became disgusted with himself for panicking. “It isn't like they've exactly reached the palace yet!”
That couldn't happen, obviously.
Of course not!
In that scene I was able to follow very closely what the diary said. The scene is expanded, but most of the details (information about the neighbors, the government building, some of the dialogue) I gleaned from other entries.
But not all the scenes are that simple. This project is proving to be an incredible challenge! There are so many places where Jan hints or mentions something in passing, and when I research it I realize it's a major event in the war. Filling in the gaps is one of the biggest problems, since sometimes the diary isn't clear as to what happened.
Creating a good piece of fiction, while remaining true to the events and characters, is like nothing I've ever done before. It's difficult and extremely scary. But I'm hanging on because this story needs to be told and it won't let me go!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Thanks for coming! Could you tell a little about yourself?
Well, to paraphrase Anne Shirley, it would probably be a lot more interesting if I made it up! I live in western Nebraska, just shy of the Wyoming border, on an acreage with probably the densest tree population in the state—which really isn’t saying all that much. I work for a local church ministry and spend the rest of my day obsessing over imaginary worlds and characters and the finer points of plot and grammar. I have a black Lab named Crazy Bob and a fluctuating number of cats (three at the moment).
What is Behold The Dawn about?
Behold the Dawn is set in the Middle Ages, in the midst of the Third Crusade—probably the most well-known of all the Crusades (think Robin Hood and King Richard). It’s the story of Marcus Annan, a rogue knight who’s trying to escape his past in the gore and glory of the tourneys—the hugely popular and hugely lethal gladiatorial battles that preceded the more familiar jousting tournaments. On the field of a tourney in Italy, he’s accosted by a mysterious monk called the Baptist, who knows things of Annan’s past that only a few could possibly know. This meeting drives Annan to the war in the Holy Land, where he is captured by Saracens and promises an old friend to see his widow to safety in a French convent. But between the unexpected relationship that blossoms between Annan and the English countess and the enemies who dog them at every turn, he’s forced at last to stop running and turn to face his past—and the God he thought had abandoned him years ago.
Who's your favorite character? Why?
It should be hard to pick, since I really love all of these characters. But Annan definitely has a special place in my heart. He’s my favorite of all the characters I’ve ever written. I love his bluff, gruff, sometimes brutal exterior, juxtaposed against the depth of his compassion and his inherent integrity.
Do you have a favorite scene?
There’s hardly a scene I don’t like—which is unusual! But I do have two scenes in particular that still give me chills when I read them. But I can’t tell you what either of them are without giving away plot twists!
Did you put any real people in Behold The Dawn?
King Richard the Lion-Heart makes an appearance in one scene, as well as Blondin, his favorite minstrel, although Blondin remains unnamed. Annan himself was inspired by William Marshal, “the greatest knight who ever lived,” who was a famous tourneyer and, eventually, an English statesman.
What inspired you to write this story?
I happened to pick up a children’s storybook about William Marshall. The melees—the huge mock battles of the tourneys—and the Crusades immediately grabbed my attention. I’ve always loved the Middle Ages, so it was hardly a stretch for me to decide to write a story based in the period.
Have you always been interested in the Crusades?
Yes, although my association with them, up until I started researching Behold the Dawn, was almost entirely based upon the Robin Hood legends, which, of course, refer to the Crusades only in passing. But the Crusades’ presence as the most significant battles of the early Middle Ages have always held an interest for me. Once I started researching them, the Third Crusade in particular, I couldn’t get enough!
Both of your books are historical. Is that your favorite genre?
I’m really not a fan of the distinction “genre.” Necessary as it may be for commercial purposes, I dislike having to pigeonhole either my reading or writing choices. I read very eclectically, in all genres. But I do have a predisposition to books that fall into the historical, speculative, and literary genres. And almost all of my own stories are either historical, speculative, or a combination of the two. So, the short answer is, yes.
You must have researched extensively for Behold The Dawn. Did you complete research before you began writing, or did the research and writing processes merge?
I outline my stories first, so that I have a good idea of what questions I’ll need to be asking during research. Then I set aside several months specifically for pouring over the mountain of books I’ve gathered on the subject.
What was the best moment while writing this book? What was the worst?
There were a lot of good moments, but the one that definitely sticks in my mind is the huge energy high I got after acing a tough scene. I went around smiling and dancing for two days! As for the worst… the beginning of the book was difficult, both because beginnings are always difficult for me and because I was dealing with some things in my own life that had me questioning whether I was even supposed to be writing.
How long did it take to write the book, from conception to the final draft?
I don’t remember when I initially got the idea for the story, but from the time I began sketching my preliminary ideas in a notebook to the final proof was just over five years.
Did you use any new writing techniques?
Actually, I did. I solidified many of my writing methods during this story. I started outlining intensively before writing the actual story. I set up a filing system for my research, so that I could easily find pertinent facts. And I started what I call the “fifty-page edit,” which has me editing the entire manuscript every fifty pages—something which helps keep me grounded in the big picture of the story.
Was it difficult writing about settings and events that you couldn't experience first-hand?
Not really. Isn’t that more or less the whole point of fiction writing and reading? I have no interest in writing what I already know about. I want to experience new places and people through my writing—not just rehash my own life. However, I’m also a firm advocate of writing what you know. That’s why research is so important, particularly for historical novelists.
Do you think you'll ever return to the setting and characters for a sequel?
I doubt it. It breaks my heart not to be able to return to these wonderful characters. But their story is finished. I’ve never been fond of sequels or series. I like stories to be self-contained. The arc of a story is best delivered in one installment.
What new projects are you working on?
I have several projects in the works. I have a completed fantasy, Dreamers Come (about a man who discovers that his dreams are really memories of another world) waiting for another round of edits. I also just started outlining my next project, a historical novel called The Deepest Breath about the passion, betrayal, and vengeance that dog two men and the woman they both love through the trenches of World War I, corruption in colonial Kenya, and the criminal underbelly of London. And I’m also working on a fun co-writing project that asks, “What if Robin Hood met Sleeping Beauty?”
What's your best advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t worry too much about “the rules.” It’s easy to get caught up in the dos and do nots, but as helpful as many of these “rules” are, ultimately you have to remember that they’re only guidelines. They’re certainly very helpful guidelines—guidelines that will probably help you invaluably if you hope to be published. But they’re not hammered-in-solid-granite laws. Writing is an art. And art, by its very definition, is a form of expression that must ultimately be free of something as confining as rules.
Thanks so much for coming!
Behold The Dawn
The vengeance of a monk.
The secrets of a knight.