Howdy!

john wayne

The ultimate cowboy says “How do you do.”

Greetings from Camp NaNoWriMo. This is day 2 of Camp, and the fanfic I’m working on is going okay so far. I was having some issues with POV and forgetting vital information that I even wrote down on a note card so I wouldn’t forget it, but with the help of some fellow Campers, I think I’m back on track. But as I promised in my last post, I’m only writing what I want to this month, so I’ve got to run now and see what kind of trouble (read: sexy good fun times) I can get my characters into. 😉

~S

The Persuasion Project: Chapters 7 and 8

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CE Brock illustration from mollands.net.

Welcome back to my live read of Persuasion. We’ve hit Chapter 7, and things are about to get kicked into high gear. How do we know? Look at this opening sentence!

A very few days more, and Captain Wentworth was known to be at Kellynch, and Mr Musgrove had called on him, and come back warm in his praise, and he was engaged with the Crofts to dine at Uppercross, by the end of another week.

Sigh!

Of course, their first meeting cannot smoothly come to pass, because what fun would that be? Anne is about to meet him at her sister’s in-laws’ until her oldest nephew is brought back to the house injured. Then the next night, everyone is going to dine at Uppercross with Captain Wentworth, Anne, naturally, being left behind to tend the recovering child. After all, why should Mary stay with her own child? As she says to Anne: “You, who have not a mother’s feelings, are a great deal the properest person.” Truly Mary is the worst, and cracks me up. But far more importantly—will Anne and Captain Wentworth ever meet?!

Well, yes, they will, the next morning when Captain Wentworth comes to shoot with Anne’s brother-in-law, Charles. What’s great about this is how brief and simple, and seemingly unexceptional the meeting is. It’s really only something Austen could pull off.

In two minutes after Charles’s preparation, the others appeared; they were in the drawing-room. Her eye half met Captain Wentworth’s, a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice; he talked to Mary, said all that was right, said something to the Miss Musgroves, enough to mark an easy footing; the room seemed full, full of persons and voices, but a few minutes ended it. Charles shewed himself at the window, all was ready, their visitor had bowed and was gone.

And that’s all. We’ve waited six and a half chapters, and that is their reunion. Anne, unsurprisingly, is a bit flustered the rest of the morning, but there were no grand exchanges, no one fainted, it was all simply done and described in a beautifully understated manner. Frankly, this is another of those moments I adore in Austen. She doesn’t focus on the drama of the meeting, but Anne’s reaction to it, because it’s her internal life we actually care about.

The chapter then comes to an end with the narrator switching to Captain Wentworth’s thoughts on marriage. He is ready to marry any nice lady he meets, with the exception of Anne Elliot. He, in fact, does have a few criteria, all of which he has designed in reaction against Anne. But this cannot be the end of their story, can it?

Of course not.

Chapter 8 begins with the information that Anne and Captain Wentworth were constantly in the same circle after this time. And that is followed by many charming anecdotes about how everyone would ask him questions about the navy, which I find lovely, but I’m a dork for all things British navy in this era. The chapter, which covers a typical evening of supper and conversation, ends with dancing, Anne stationed at the piano, Captain Wentworth clearly unimpressed when he is told she never dances anymore. When he is later cold to her, she deems it by far the hardest moment of their reacquaintance.

And that’s those two chapters. Next up is arguably one of my favorite moments in all of literature. I think that should get me back to this reread in short order.

~S

The Persuasion Project: Chapters 4 and 5

prsbrockwc5

CE Brock illustration from mollands.net.

The Persuasion Live Read finally continues! When last we saw Anne and her family in Chapter 3, the Elliots were retrenching, letting their home to people connected to the mysterious Captain Wentworth from Anne’s past. What could possibly happen next?! Well, let us read.

Chapter 4
He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling. Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly anybody to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail. They were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love. It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest: she, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted.

How lovely is that? Granted, the reader is immediately inclined to swoon over these two given how our sympathetic heroine feels about him, but Austen in just a few sentences wonderfully describes the blossoming of true love. Bless her. This, of course, makes it even more painful as the reader learns how Lady Russell, not entirely in the wrong, convinced Anne to break her engagement to the unpromising Captain Wentworth.

But we soon learn that Captain Wentworth was actually as promising as he claimed he would be—rising in rank in the navy and making his fortune. Anne, I think showing a wonderful maturity and realism, doesn’t blame Lady Russell or herself for acting as she did when she broke her engagement to him, and yet, she would not advise a young woman in the same position to act in the same manner. It’s a fantastic, Austen-y realization, followed by that equally lovely self-delusion Austen excels at, as Anne thinks she will be able to meet Captain Wentworth’s sister and brother-in-law when they take the house with no awkwardness. Poor girl.

Chapter 5
So, Admiral Cross (that is Captain Wentworth’s brother-in-law) comes to terms with Sir Walter to move into Kellynch Hall. Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Anne are all to move to Bath within the month, but Anne’s other sister, Mary, is ill and wants Anne to stay with her and her family just a few miles from Kellynch Hall. I think this exchange sums up how Anne is truly the only decent member of the family:

“I cannot possibly do without Anne,” was Mary’s reasoning; and Elizabeth’s reply was, “Then I am sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath.”

So, Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s companion, Mrs. Clay, depart. Anne stays with Lady Russell for a time before venturing to Uppercross Cottage to stay with Mary, one of Austen’s great “invalids.” In addition to Mary, the reader is introduced to her in-laws, the Musgroves, the table being set incrementally for the story about to unfold in earnest.

Hopefully I’ll be more regular in my live read, especially when I finish up The Count of Monte Cristo. In the meantime, think of Rupert Penry Jones.

persrupertpenryjones_pbs

Original from PBS.

~S

 

Packing for Camp

readyforcamp2

This is what happens when you’re not ready for camp.

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to the start of Daylight Savings Time and the loss of an hour’s sleep last night. Nor am I referring to the impending Vernal Equinox, which around here serves to divide the disgustingly wet and cold late Winter from the slightly less disgustingly wet and cold early Spring. Nor am I even referring to the most tragic consequence of Spring weather, namely yardwork.

No, I’m talking about Camp NaNoWriMo. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, NaNoWriMo is in November. But there are two sessions of “Camp NaNo,” which are in April and July. S and I usually do both. And so should you. If you haven’t gone over to the Camp NaNo website and signed up yet, you should do so right now. Seriously, go do it right now. I’ll wait. That’s what web browser tabs are for, after all.

My preparations have been going on for some time now. This is going to be a longer novel, probably between 100,000 and 130,000 words, and there are five POV characters, so it’s taking a while to get everything ready.

I started writing my outline in mid-February, and I started coming up with characters. Some of that was already done, though, because the novel I’ll be writing this April, Written in Sand, is a sequel to my novel from last April, The Last Bright Angel, and the story I wrote S for Christmas, Called to Account. It takes place about 50 years after The Last Bright Angel, but since our wizard characters live 2,000 years, it hasn’t been all that long for them.

Today I’m hoping to finish up my second pass through my outline, fleshing out the description of scenes, so that when I actually start writing, I’m never left staring at my outline, wondering, “How did I think that was going to work, exactly?” Then tomorrow or Tuesday I think I’ll start doing my character prompts. We’ve talked about these before, and one of the reasons I started preparing so early was that I wanted to leave enough time to do them. Only one of my five POV characters is someone I’ve written before, so I want a chance to get to know these people a little before I have to write from their perspective.

So if you haven’t started your Camp NaNo project yet, go do it, and then start planning!

J

Meltdown, or How I Spent My Weekend

Some folks may have noticed that we missed posting a blog last night, even though Sunday evening is the one time we always try to have something.  Well, I was having a writer meltdown, and blogging fell through the cracks.  J is more than brilliant writer, he is also a fantastic husband, so he helped me work my way through it and come up with a plan of action going forward.  Here in brief (with hopefully less angst) is what happened and what I’m planning to do about it.

“I’m just not a very good writer.”

This comment is what started the ball rolling.  I always feel this way to a certain degree, but beginning Saturday evening, I felt it a lot, until I finally blurted out these words Sunday evening.  J, naturally, said this was poppycock (or some such), but he is not exactly unbiased, so in spite of his best efforts, I remained unconvinced.  I finally challenged him to find a single paragraph I’ve written that belongs in a published novel.  He pulled up the first three paragraphs of a chapter I wrote years ago, and if I’m being honest, they’re pretty good.  They also go far beyond being simply “inspired by” but “completely ripped off from” Dostoevsky.  So, I felt less miserable, but still not confident.

I then popped open the novel I wrote this year for NaNoWriMo, randomly reading paragraphs aloud from the chapters I’ve done some basic revision on.  Shockingly, I didn’t hate every word.  I still saw huge problems, some of which I began conjuring fixes for, but others befuddled me.  J made some excellent suggestions for the latter, and I closed up the book not hating it as much as I thought I would.

However.

I asked myself, “Is any of it publishable, and if it’s not, will I ever become a good enough writer to make it so?”  Possibly.  With this specific question in mind, I started thinking of some of the traditionally published novels I’ve read, and there are some I might be able to equal in quality if I work hard enough.  The only problem is, these are novels I don’t particularly admire, written by authors who I’ve read precisely once.  So now the question becomes do I want to put in the effort to write novels that if written by someone else I would not admire?  But is it folly (and in my case from time-to-time, crippling folly) to say that if I can never write as well as Brandon Sanderson or Joe Abercrombie I don’t want to write at all?  (At one point J said, “If the end result of you reading Joe Abercrombie is that you don’t want to write anymore, stop reading Joe Abercrombie.  I’m serious.”)  Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this question, but for the time being, I’m going to keep writing, although I’m going to do so with a new strategy.

“I love NaNo, but it’s given me so many bad habits.”

Anyone who has spent any time on this blog or has met us knows we are big proponents of National Novel Writing Month.  The first year proved some important things to me, particularly that I can write more quickly than I realized, especially when I make myself write every day.  But it also taught me I can write a first draft fast.  The issue here is that I now don’t always take the time to write, well, right.  For instance, 8 days before November and the start of NaNo, I came up with an idea for a new novel I wanted to write.  I scrapped the novel I had prepared and dove in to the new project.  The lack of prep had its problems, but I ended up with something not entirely awful even if it does need more revision than usual.  But before I could finish even the first round of revisions, I came up with another idea for a novel I wanted to write, and I wanted to write it in time to give it to J for Christmas.

A novel in 25 days?  I could totally pull that off, because I’d done it before.

So I leaped into the new novel with brief character sheets and a complete, detailed outline.  The first two chapters went pretty well, but it was clear that there was no way I’d be done by Christmas.  Basically, I can write a 50K word novel in a month, but writing two in back-to-back months was a bit much.  I came to terms with this, and figured the opening of a novel would make a better present than nothing, so I continued writing.

Then came the meltdown.

I don’t know if my climb up onto the ledge was triggered by something specific in the novel I’m working on, the disappointment that I wasn’t going to get it done by Christmas, or just the exhaustion of doing so much writing in such a short timeframe while working 40 hours a week.  Not that it matters terribly.  The important thing is J talked me off the ledge and we came up with a plan, the nutshelled version of which is Slow Down.

Rather than rushing ahead with J’s Christmas present, I’m going to do serious prep work, including the character exercises J likes.  I’m going to get to really know my characters and their story before I continue, which will hopefully lead to an appreciable improvement in my writing.  The end result being not just a better novel, but if I’m truly lucky, no more meltdowns.

S

Collaboration and Resistance

If you haven’t done so already, check out our new section describing the Mercia ‘verse!

As we noted on our “About” page, a friend once told us that we were “unicorns,” since married couples who collaborate effectively as writers are supposedly so rare as to almost be mythical creatures. Not to toot our own (single, magical) horn, but I do think we work particularly well together.

My students just finished up their group essays (a required assignment for entry-level composition classes), and as always, some of the groups worked together better than others. Some of the students seem to have become fast friends. Some of them aren’t even talking to each other anymore. So this got me thinking about why some collaborations work and some don’t.

Why do some people so fiercely resist collaborative writing? I rarely see such visceral negative reactions in my students—such grimacing and groaning, such eye-rolling and head-smacking—as when I announce the group essay. I suppose the reason is that, by the time students get to college, they have all worked together in groups dozens of times in school, and they have all gotten burned at least once.

There are two basic problems that most students complain about: the slackers who contribute very little to the group, and the dictators who take over and push everyone around. Both of these problems arise from a lack of preparation and a lack of clearly defined boundaries.

One: Preparation

We outline obsessively, so this makes it easy for us to divide up the work. Since we started our latest revision of the Quartet, we’ve actually been making detailed outlines together. This means that S knows exactly what I’m supposed to be writing in my scene.

If I’m writing a chapter where Susan meets John at the market and jokes with him about George, S can write a scene that takes place later in time and know for certain that 1) Susan and John have met, 2) they like each other, and 3) they have a shared inside joke about their mutual friend, George. I, in turn, know that S is depending on me to convey that information so she can build on it in her scene. If I wrote a scene instead where Susan met John, argued with him, and ran off in a huff, S would be annoyed with me, and justifiably so.

This leads us to the issue of….

Two: Boundaries

We don’t just co-write novels. We also write solo works set in a shared world. This means we absolutely have to make sure we discuss what we can and can’t do with that world and the characters in it.

For example, I once wrote a story about a rather lonely middle-aged woman who eventually finds love and starts a family. Sometime after that, S started writing a series of crime novels set in the Myrcia ‘verse. She asked if she could include the heroine from my previous novel. I agreed immediately, of course. But she also made sure to ask what she was allowed to do with the character.

Frankly, it would have annoyed me to have the happy ending of my story undone simply in order to “raise the stakes” for S’s detective character. So I asked S to please not kill the character or her family. And S, being the excellent collaborator that she is, readily agreed to respect my wishes.

So how do collaborators achieve unicorn status? Work out ahead of time what you’re going to do. And perhaps more importantly, discuss what you’re not allowed to do.

J

Mightier Than the Sword

S and I are a mixed marriage; I compose everything at the computer, while she likes to write everything by hand and then type it up. Likewise, when I revise, I always do it on my computer, while S sometimes likes to print out a copy of the story or chapter she’s working on and mark it up with pen or pencil.

Right now, her favorite pen for writing is the Bic Velocity.

Whether it begins on paper or on a keyboard, all of our stories eventually end up as Word docs, which we access on any one of our growing collection of laptops. All of the computers are named after characters in our stories.

We’re both very particular about keyboards. S particularly likes Lenovo keyboards. Right now, her main laptop is a Lenovo Z510 named Konrad.

Konrad is less than a year old, and is the newest laptop in the house. S wanted a laptop that had 1) a 1080p screen, 2) the best processor in the house (finally), 3) at least 8 GB of ram, 4) a CD/DVD drive, and 5) a good backlit keyboard, while still being 6) no more than about $800. It’s amazing how few laptops actually met all those requirements.

For greater mobility, S also has Leofe, a Lenovo Yoga 11 (the original one, with Windows RT).

Leofe is pretty slow, but it gets absolutely amazing battery life. And being able to flip the screen back and use it as a tablet is kind-of cool, too. Not that we do that very often, but it’s cool in theory, at least.

My main laptop is an HP 8560p, which is named Esmond.

It’s more than three years old now, but the i7 2720QM in it is still very fast, so I’m not in a great deal of hurry to find a replacement. Esmond weighs 6.4 pounds, though, so usually when I’m leaving the house, I take one of my two smaller and lighter laptops.

The first is my little old netbook, a Toshiba NB305 named Rhys.

It’s not very powerful at all (opening several large documents or spreadsheets at once is an exercise in frustration), but it’s more than 5 years old now, and the battery life is still pretty good.

The second is Erlene, an 11″ MacBook Air.

Erlene isn’t actually mine–it belongs to my mom, who wants me to learn how to use OS X so I can teach her. Sooner or later, therefore, I’m going to have to give Erlene back (and presumably provide tech support afterward).

There are more, which I might introduce sometime, but these are the ones we do most of our story work on.

It would be unkind of me to say which of our stable of laptops I like the best; I refuse to play favorites. Generally, I like whichever one happens to be on hand at any given moment.

J

So it begins

Between the two of us, we’ve written 17  3/4 novels.

(Holy crap! I honestly hadn’t realized it was that many.)

Most of those are still lingering as first drafts, although our original 4 book series we wrote together (The Myrcia Quartet) has been through drafts uncountable.  We rewrote from the ground up the first book of that series (This Present Life) earlier this year.  After a few more touches, we think it might finally be time to do something crazy–try and sell it.  Of course, before that, we need to get it copy edited and do some homework on agents and publishers so we have some clue what to do with it.

We’re guessing this process might be an adventure.  And if not, writing itself it an adventure, especially with NaNoWriMo coming up.  (My next book in my fantasy/crime series in the Myrcia ‘verse is already outlined.  And when I say “outlined,” the outline is 11K words.)  We’ll probably end up talking all about our created universe, writing tips we’ve run across, and the kind of extreme outlining we do that leads to novel scheduled to run around 70K words having a 11K word outline.  And when we need a break from that, there’s always joy in ripping apart books and movies and trying to figure out why they work or don’t work. Continue reading