LIBRARY!

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A pic of our home library. Before you ask, yes, it’s in Dewey order.

Life has been quite hectic this past week. I had some time off work, and J and I furiously attempted to get our new house in order as best we could with our bathroom and kitchen renovations still happening. Also, we read my birthday novel, which is AMAZING and made me cry, and I finished revising the Turn fanfic I wrote for April Camp NaNo. With all that going on, honestly, I’m mentally spent, with no idea what to write this week, so instead, please enjoy some pics of our home library, which was one of the big projects we finished this week.

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~S

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Leaving Camp

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Having finished Camp NaNo, George heads boldly into revision.

It’s May now, and that means April Camp NaNoWriMo is over. S and I celebrated our customary double win. I finished Old Habits Die Hard, and now we’re reading through it. S finished her new Turn fanfic, which we have been slowly typing up. I believe there are still three chapters that haven’t been typed yet.

May means revision, and it also means starting on a new story that might hypothetically be a present for someone whose birthday comes at the end of this month. I’m not naming any names, you understand. I’ve got an idea for a series of stories, each with different POV characters, that together make up sort-of a novel. I don’t normally write short stories, and these stories won’t really be all that short, but it’s interesting to think in terms of shorter, episodic story arcs, rather than a single longer one.

The stories are all going to take place during the same period of imaginary civil war in our Myrciaverse, covering the five years between the end of the novel I just wrote and the start of Called to Account, which I wrote as S’s Christmas present in 2015. I once made up a timeline of everything that happens during that century-long civil war, and about a week ago, as I was trying to come up with something to write next, I was looking at the events that happen in the five-year gap between books. A lot of it was interesting, but I couldn’t think of a single storyline that reasonably tied it all together. Hence, a series of shorter stories.

Also, as our friend who blogs over at Philosofishal pointed out to me, May is Short Story Month. So there’s that, too. Of course, the Short Story Month people seem to be envisioning much shorter stories than what I’m writing, but whatever.

In case anyone is curious about the progress of our recent move, we’re still settling into New Unicorn HQ. Today S continued organizing our awesome new library. Yesterday we planted a bunch of daylilies, so we’re both feeling as if we’ve accomplished a lot this weekend. Our hope is that over time, the lilies will spread out and take over a lot of the empty space in our garden. And then with any luck there will be less yard work.

And now we need to go start on supper. The party just never stops here.

J

Revision at Camp

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George suddenly realizes just how much revision his first draft is going to need.

S and I are still hard at work on our projects for Camp NaNoWriMo. In fact, if all goes well, we might both finish today. I’ve got one more chapter to write in my novel, Old Habits Die Hard, and S has one chapter left in the big fanfic project she’s working on. We’ve both already hit our goals for the month, which means yet another double win for Team Unicorn.

Once we finish writing, it’ll be time to start revising. I already started rereading my book from the beginning, even as I was finishing it up. I had time to do this because I’ve been trying to limit myself to only writing three chapters a day. Yes, I know that sounds like a humblebrag, but in the past (particularly during November) I have sometimes just kept writing and writing, even long after I had done a reasonable amount of work for the day. It’s exhausting. The difference between writing 5,000 words a day and writing 8,000 or 10,000 is whether I get to do anything else besides writing.

In other news, we’re still in the process of moving. With luck (fingers crossed) we may have a buyer for the original Unicorn HQ. Once that’s finished, I think we will have to go out for dinner or something to celebrate. Or maybe just take a nap. It’s been a very long moving adventure for us.

Anyway, that’s what’s up with us. Now back to writing!

J

Holy Bagpipes!

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As a Librarian, I can’t really condone this behavior. (pic from Columbia University.)

Here at Unicorn HQ, the unpacking is pretty much done except for the books. Of course, the books always made up the majority of our boxes, and since we have bookcases in multiple rooms on multiple floors instead of a single library here at the new house, it’s going to be quite the undertaking. But we’ve already started putting some books at least near the shelf they will eventually live on. This includes what we refer to as our “Ready Reference” (technical Librarian term there), and several of the Ready Reference books are our favorite writing books. Now, I know we’ve shared some of our favorite books on writing before, but I want to share some of them again because of a post I happened upon this morning on tumblr.

This tumblr post was complaining about the abundance of writing advice out there, some of it contradictory, much of it seemingly designed to discourage people from writing in the first place. The post ended in exasperation, the author forced to use the delightful phrase “holy bagpipe” in order to express her frustration with writing advice. Personally, I think it’s great to know rules, real hard and fast ones, as well as the mere suggestions, all of which the writer who has a handle on proper writing can feel free to throw out the window in exchange for stylistic choices that make the work better.

But how do you learn the rules, the real and the personal preferences? The right books, of course. So, here’s a few of our favorites focusing on the nuts and bolts of writing as opposed to specific how-to-write-fiction books. Enjoy them while we both get back to our Camp NaNo projects, which are coming apace. Oh, and unpacking our library.

  • Strunk and White (Classic.)
  • Woe Is I (Helpful and a ton of fun. A lot of people would recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves as the fun grammar book, but I have a place in my heart for this one.)
  • How Not to Write a Novel (It’s really not just for fiction writers and has a lot of great stuff.)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (It doesn’t matter which style manual you choose, but I recommend picking one and living by its decisions when in doubt.)
  • Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (If not this dictionary, then some dictionary, should be your go to for settling disputes. Actually, it should be this dictionary if you’re writing American English. I’ll give you style manuals beside Chicago, but I really believe in this dictionary.)

~S

Boxes…So Many Boxes

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Current interior view of our new house.

We’re still in the process of moving to the new Unicorn HQ, which is where I’m writing this evening. We’ve got pretty much all our stuff here already, but we still need to do some cleaning up at the old house, and we’re having it repainted, and there are things we need to get fixed, too. With any luck, though, we can start trying to sell it soon. And then all we’ll have to do is go through our dozens and dozens of boxes that are filling our garage and living room and get everything set up the way we want it.

We’re still planning on doing Camp NaNoWriMo. We’ve got a group of our local NaNo people in our cabin, along with some of S’s friends from online. It’ll be fun. And most importantly, it’ll be something that we can do that doesn’t involve going through boxes or hanging pictures or cleaning. I’ll be writing another Myrciaverse novel that’s part of my civil war timeline. S is going to be doing some fanfic. If we have some spare time, we might be able to post a little more about our projects, but for now, we’ve got boxes to move!

J

Movin’ Out

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It’s not quite like the song, but close enough.

At last, Unicorn HQ is off to its new location! J spent most of Thursday ferrying carloads of smaller stuff to the new house (which we have named Rosings, after Lady Catherine’s home in Pride and Prejudice—there are shelves in some of the closets that really ought not to be there). And I spent most of yesterday doing the same with added trips to our storage unit for variety. Today is dedicated to packing and getting ready for the professional movers tomorrow who are getting the big stuff. I’m quite excited about my dedicated writing area, and I will post pictures as soon as everything it set up.

~S

Still Unmoved

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Mr. Bennet is unimpressed.

We’re still working on finding a new Unicorn HQ. For a while it looked as if we might have found a house, but negotiations broke down over some problems that were found during inspection, so now we’re looking again. We’ve found another house that we like, but we’re not letting ourselves get too attached until the inspector has had time to look it over and see if there’s some ghastly problem that will cost thousands of dollars to repair. S and I will be talking about where we’re going to put the TV, or how we’re going to arrange the library, but then we will pause and say (often in unicornic unison), “pending inspection.” It’s sort of like knocking on wood.

“It’ll be so nice to have a flat driveway…pending inspection.”
“That shed out back is really cute…pending inspection.”
“I’ll finally have room for my own dedicated writing space…pending inspection.”

That last one—a writing space for S—has been one of her main requirements for our new house. I don’t know how she feels about £500 a year, but she definitely wants a room of her own. She promises to let me in, of course, so it’s not as if she’s just trying to avoid me. But she has found that she writes better and more consistently if she has a space set aside just for writing. It has to be a separate space, removed from the comfy chairs and TV where we spend most of our time. No doubt once we move (pending inspection) and get her new writing room set up, she will blog about it, possibly with pictures.

In the meantime, though, she’s starting a new writing project, and she actually wrote part of the first chapter yesterday while waiting for me to finish teaching classes. I’ll leave it to her to say more about that particular project, though, if she wants to.
As for me, I’m doing prep work for my April Camp NaNo novel. And I’ve been doing some reading, as well. I finished The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. You may recall that S and I have been group-watching the TV show with an online friend. The book was pretty good, though as our friend promised, Quentin is even worse in the book than on the show. He’s just so whiny and self-absorbed.

I’ve also been working my way through Call Me By Your Name. S and I saw the movie last weekend. S had already read the book, but I hadn’t. She and some of her online friends have all been squeeing over how awesome the book is—even more awesome than the movie, apparently. On her recommendation, I decided to give it a try. It’s very good, and the squee is justified. I haven’t quite finished it, because I have to do things like plan classes and grade papers. But hopefully this week I’ll get around to it. And then maybe I’ll start the second book in the Magicians trilogy, if I can just steel myself to endure more Quentin.

J

The Fanny Price of Fantasy

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Quentin, I’m sorry, but the tests have come back, and the doctors say…you’re a douche.

The weather has been absolutely dismal for the past few days here at Unicorn HQ. I ended up having to cancel some classes. Luckily, S and I made it home just before the ice storm started, and we’ve managed to stay warm while watching the weather. We didn’t have anywhere to go on Saturday, which was lucky, since our city plowed our street and left a pile of snow two feet thick in front of our driveway. Today, we needed to go grocery shopping, and we were just about to suck it up and go shovel our way to the street, when our neighbor came out with his snow blower and did it for us. As a “thank you,” we got him cookies and beer while we were at the store.

Last night, while we were doing our best to stay warm, we started watching The Magicians, the Syfy series based on the books by Lev Grossman. It was a sort-of live watch, along with one of our longtime online friends—the same friend we watched the Shannara Chronicles with, incidentally. It’s always fun to get together, even if just in a virtual sense, and critique a show as you watch it.

I’ve never read the books that the show is based on, and I’d never seen the show before, obviously. All I knew about the series (either the books or the TV show) was that our online friends had complaints about Quentin, the hero. This is a family blog, so I won’t repeat some of what was said about him, but suffice it to say that he was considered a jerk. And not a loveable, endearing jerk, either, like Barney Stinson—the kind who’s actually a decent guy under it all. A complete and genuine jerk who makes you want to throw things at him. Or, more to the point, makes you not want to be around him.

Which is a problem when he’s the center of the show.

Last night, as we were watching, S dubbed Quentin “Fanny Price,” after the heroine of Jane Austen’s worst novel, Mansfield Park. If you’ve never read that book (and if you haven’t, don’t bother), Fanny is a tremendous wet blanket—pretty much the opposite of someone like Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet. She’s the least interesting person in the novel, while somehow also being at the center of it. As S and I like to say, she’s a black hole where a heroine should be.

Now, Quentin isn’t quite the same as Fanny. I doubt he’s the sort who would object to amateur theatricals in the home. But he suffers from the very same problem as her, in that he’s surrounded by more interesting people. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in either case. It’s fine to have a story from the POV of someone who observes the actions of more interesting people around him—think of The Great Gatsby, for example. But Gatsby isn’t trying to be a novel about Nick Carraway, whereas Mansfield Park is trying to be a novel about Fanny Price, and The Magicians is trying to be a show about Quentin Coldwater.

According to our online friend, Quentin is actually worse in the books than on the TV show, so it’s clearly not the fault of the actor or the writers. It’s a fundamental problem of the character. That’s certainly a bold choice. But it’s not necessarily one I would have made.

And yet, we’re still loving the show, and we’re looking forward to watching more of it in the near future. As S said last night, if it weren’t for our complaints about Quentin, the show would actually be too good to live-watch with friends—we’d have nothing to make snarky comments about.

J

Huzzah for the New Year!

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Starting supper means it’s beer o’clock.

Farewell 2017, and hello to 2018!  S and I have just started our traditional New Year’s pork roast and sauerkraut.  It has to be in the oven for at least 4 or 5 hours, so it’s important to start in the early afternoon.  This is our big New Year’s excitement here at Unicorn HQ.  Well, that and the champagne that we open after supper while we watch a movie.  It’s quite the party.

Looking back, we’ve made some serious progress on Magnificent Kingdom.  Those of you who are keeping track at home will recall that Magnificent Kingdom is the story of the founding of the main country in our fantasy universe.  S has been wanting to write it for years now, and we finally got around to planning and starting it this year.  We’ve written through the end of Act I (the first quarter of the story), and a few chapters into Act II.  Sometime in the new year, we’ll regroup, look at the outline, and start tackling the second act.

S had a tough year, obviously, but she did manage to write half of Act I of Magnificent Kingdom, and she wrote fanfic in four different fandoms, which is pretty cool.

I also did some writing on the side.  In April I wrote Black Eagle Rising, which is the story of how a civil war gets started in our universe.  I’ve written a number of other stories set during that century-long war, so I thought it was important to set up how everything began.  Then I wrote Unspeakably Wooed and (in November) When You Are King, both sequels to Black Eagle Rising.  In the future, I think I’m going to stick to writing these civil war stories chronologically, since it helps keep the characters straight and saves a lot of rewriting and retconning later on.  Already, some of the first stories that I wrote in this time period, like Lady’s Knight, are going to need some revision to make them match up with everything else.  It’s best to avoid that whenever possible.

Oh, and for S’s Christmas present, I wrote Twilight at Noon, the story of an exiled secret agent.  It takes place hundreds of years after the civil war stories, closer to the “main” timeline of the Myrciaverse.  S and I had been talking earlier this year about Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient, and we noticed that, although we write fantasy novels, we’d never really done a proper Milieu Story.  So Twilight at Noon is my attempt at writing one.  I also did a bit of an experiment with the structure—rather than just doing the traditional three acts, I built the novel around my main character, Martina, experiencing the stages of Culture Shock.  So that was a lot of fun.

Anyway, for the new year I’m already planning the next novel in the Myrciaverse civil war timeline.  It will probably be my Camp NaNo project for April, I suppose.  But first, of course, I need to plan my classes and get ready for the start of Spring Semester.  I’m going to be teaching some new classes, and as I’ve mentioned before, preparing for a new class is a lot more work than teaching one you’ve taught a dozen times before.

J

A Moving Story

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So once again we’ve forgotten to blog for a few weeks. In the meantime, NaNoWriMo came to an end, and once again, Team Unicorn emerged triumphant. S in particular has reason to brag, having made a dramatic, come-from-behind finish. At one point she was more than 10,000 words down, but she rallied and actually got to 50,000 words several days ahead of time.

As for me, I wrote a number of chapters in the book S and I are currently writing together. And then, because I didn’t want to get way, way ahead of her, I wrote two novels on the side. One I had planned before November, and might hypothetically be S’s Christmas present. The other one I came up with and planned in the middle of the month. It’s a sequel to some stories I’ve already written, so I didn’t have nearly as much prep work. Because I already knew most of the characters and locations I was writing about, it only took me four or five days to get it outlined.

Our big news, however, is that we will probably be moving in the near future. We love our current house, but it is 25-30 minutes away from where we work. That’s bad enough in good weather, but when it starts snowing, you can’t help but start to dread that long drive through the countryside. So we’ve found a house that’s much closer to where we work. It’s got some nice places for writing, and ample room for our library. Really, that’s all you can ask for.

Of course, between the moving and the holidays and everything else we’ve got going on this next month, our updates might be a bit spotty over the next month or so. We’ll try to check in from time to time, though. At the very least, when and if we do manage to get moved into our new house, S will have to report on her new writing room. (It was one of her conditions for the new house that she have her own, dedicated space for writing. She says the £500 is optional, but a room of her own is a must.)

J