Last Day of Camp

Potter Camping

Some camping trips are more fun than others.

This is the last day of April, and that means it’s the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, too.  Team Unicorn achieved yet another double victory.  I’ve got 136,064 words, far exceeding my goal of 50,000.  S’s goal was 40,000, and she passed that last night.

I finished my novel, too.  It’s called Black Eagle Rising, which sounds like one of those cheap WWII paperback thrillers that they sell in the airport, but it’s actually about how a civil war in the Myrciaverse gets started.  I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.  One of my goals was to make the average length of my chapters shorter this time around, and I achieved that.  In some of my recent novels, the average chapter was running over 3,000 words, so I was trying to keep it down around 2,000-2,500 or so.  My hope is that it’s going to make the book feel like it “reads quicker.”  We’ll see how it is when S and I read through it, which hopefully we’ll be doing soon.

We’re already looking forward to our next projects, though.  S is planning an epistolary novel set in the Myrciaverse, which is going to be very exciting.  Maybe at some point she’ll write about how that’s going.  I’m planning S’s birthday present, a shorter novel called Unspeakably Wooed, which will be a sequel to Black Eagle Rising.  I can’t say more than that, because it’s supposed to be a surprise.

In other news, I got to put a new keyboard into my main laptop, Ellard.  The space bar in the old one broke, so I’ve been using a portable Bluetooth keyboard.  That worked out fine, actually, but I’m glad to have everything working again and not have to carry around a separate keyboard anymore.

If you were doing Camp NaNo, I hope you met your goal.  And if you didn’t, just remember that there will be another Camp NaNo in July.  And it’s never too early to start planning what you’re going to do for it.

J

Advertisements

Who Knew?

confused rabbit

Confused Easter Rabbit from Drawception.com

(Howdy folks! We took Easter Sunday off. We didn’t think you’d miss us too much.)

I didn’t see this coming. I mean, I really did not see this coming, but I’m about to start planning, and then hopefully writing, my first epistolary novel. I finished drafting the fanfic I was working on, and while I’m eager to start revising it, and with J’s help it’s almost completely typed, I should probably take a short break from it. That means I have time to start planning my next project. Which is an epistolary novel. Who could have seen this coming?

Well, I didn’t at any rate. But since I know you are all curious how I came to this conclusion, I thought I’d take a few minutes to explain. I don’t know that the decision-making process is terribly fascinating, but I think it will be interesting for me as a writer that I’ve chosen to do this.

Two different ideas merged to give rise to the epistolary novel idea. The first came from a chat I was having with a delightful friend on Tumblr. As is typical for the two of us, we were chatting about the TV show Versailles. She made an observation about how the story could have been different if two characters who spend the first season at odds had instead decided to team up. Now, this sort of talk usually leads to me saying #iwouldreadthatfanfic or writing that fanfic myself. However, in this case, I didn’t know if I wanted to literally explore these two characters working together, but the idea was brilliant. I told my friend I might steal the concept for an original novel, and she said great. I told J about it later, and we both agreed it could even fit nicely into the Myrcia ‘verse. Then I didn’t think about it again, because I had a fanfic to finish.

And then I finished the fanfic. Worse still, I started typing it. Every word I typed felt clunky and forced and stale. I told myself I was just in one of my periodic bad moods, that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, but something wouldn’t let me rest. So I thought more about the problem until I came to the conclusion that I’m kind of sick of my own writing. If I were a reader, I’d take a break from me and go read someone else for a while. It’s not that anything I’ve been writing is bad, it’s just overly familiar. When I mentioned this suspicion to J, I also mentioned that the two parts of my current fic I like best are the short sections written in omniscient POV instead of limited third person.

J said, “You should write an epistolary novel. The new idea you just told me about would be perfect.”

My skin cleared, angels sang, and the weight of the world lifted from my back. Almost a full week later, and I still think this is a positively brilliant idea to get me out of my rut. If not tonight, then in the very near future, I’m going to start doing character profiles and outlining. We’ve come up with a general time and place in the world we’ve created to set the story, and then it will just be a matter of writing it. Neither of us has written an epistolary novel before, so this will be fun (and hopefully not horribly frustrating) new territory. I know who my two central characters will be, and I think one of them will be either the writer or recipient of every letter to keep the focus where I want it. In the meantime, I’m thumbing through my ancient copy of Dangerous Liaisons and listening to the audiobook of Lady Susan.

~S

Happy Unicorn Day!

The_Lion_and_the_Unicorn_2

Starting the traditional Unicorn Day conga line.

Apparently today is National Unicorn Day!  As we have mentioned before, one of our writer friends dubbed me and S “a unicorn” because we are married, and yet can still collaborate on our writing successfully.  (Apparently this is quite rare among married couples.)  In celebration of our own holiday, we will be celebrating by working on our projects for Camp NaNoWriMo, rather than, for example, writing lengthy blog posts.

Camp NaNo is going well.  I hit my goal of 50,000 words yesterday, and I’m past the midpoint in my outline.  S is working on a Versailles fanfic currently, though she’s been switching back and forth between various projects.  Between them all, she’s past 15,000 words.

So enjoy all the sparkly magic of Unicorn Day, and we’ll be back soon with more substantive updates on our writing.

J

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

Castles in the Air

Moving Castle

Like this, only not.

Spring is here at Chez Unicorn, which means the trees are budding and the lilies are sprouting.  This is probably the last weekend we’ll have without the threat of yardwork until July, when it’ll be hot enough to stunt everything.  We’re celebrating by having pork roast and sauerkraut.  And we’ll probably do some writing later.

Earlier, we were out hunting for new glassware.  We’ve been pretty hard on our glasses lately, and we need new ones.  The problem is that everything we found was too small, too ugly, or came in massively large quantities, like 8 or 16.  I mean, we break glasses pretty often, but not that often.  Seriously, Walmart, just let me buy these tall ones in a set of four, for crying out loud.

This is also the last weekend in March, and that means that next time you hear from us, Camp NaNoWriMo will have started.  I’ve got my outline ready, and I’ve done my character profiles and prompts.  For the past few days, I’ve been making a floor plan of the castle where the majority of the action takes place.

Old Wealdan Castle

Behold the fruits of far, far too many hours’ labor.

Some people (well, actually most people) would probably say that this level of preparation is unnecessary.  But personally I’ve found it really helpful.  It’s easy, particularly for fantasy authors, to have a pleasantly vague idea of your setting in your head.  But when you have to sit down and start drawing it, you’re suddenly forced to make decisions.  And you see where certain ideas you had are actually impossible.

Part of the plot of my story, for instance, requires that there be servants’ corridors and secret stairways in this castle.  The moment I started making these floorplans, though, I realized the vague picture I had in my mind of these passageways was completely impossible.  There simply was no room for them.  So I had to spend time thinking about the problem and come up with a practical solution: interstitial servants’ floors with hidden staircases that go up and give access into the public areas through hidden doors.  Now, instead of just secret passages, I’ve got whole secret floors of dark, creepy rooms to play with.  It’s very exciting, actually.

This is all in keeping with one of the longest-running themes of this blog: why planning is better than pantsing.  S and I have found that the more you plan, the easier the actual writing becomes, and the less you have to dread revisions.  Obviously, not every setting requires a detailed map or floorplan, in the same way that not every character requires a lengthy character profile.  But whether it’s setting or character or plot, it’s all too easy to fool yourself and say, “Oh, I know what I’m doing here,” only to discover later that you didn’t really know at all.

So if it’s important to your plot to know, for instance, that Susan’s bedroom is over the garage, with a view over the garden in the back, and the stairway is halfway down the hall and leads to the kitchen, which is next to the den, then it might be worth doing a quick little sketch, just to make sure that’s possible.  You don’t even have to be able to draw well to do a floorplan—just make lines on a page.  It helps ensure your castles are grounded in reality and not, you know, floating on air.

J

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

young frank.

S is turning into a mad scientist, ala Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein.

This post is going to be short by design. You see, I have this theory that I often get in my own way, writing-wise. In November I started writing like crazy when I switched to a project I longed to be writing, and I’ve been very productive since working on the stories I want to tell. In fact, I’m making a formal vow to myself that for the next month and a half (through the end of Camp NaNoWriMo), I’m going to only write what I want to write.

After all, if I’m doing this writing thing because it’s fun, I should make certain I’m having fun, right? Yes, I want to be a good blogger and post something here regularly, and I think I can put in at least a half hour every two weeks so that I’m still providing content. But I sometimes (cough today cough) waste the better part of a day psyching myself up to write this blog or some story I’m “supposed” to be working on, but not writing anything at all, even though there’s something I want to be writing.

So, I’m going to spend as much time as I can writing where my heart is. It’s what I’ve been mostly doing since late November, but I’m going to do it with purpose through April 30th and see what happens. See if I’m more productive and happy. Who knows, maybe I’ll find I need some have-to/ought-to projects to keep me going, but until I try this experiment, I’ll never know.

Will report back in May!

~S

The Unsinkable S.S. Klaroline

RMS ?Titanic?, 1911.

Pictured: not the S.S. Klaroline

As we’ve mentioned many times before, we enjoy a number of the cheesy fun shows on the CW.  Some of these we never really warmed to, some of them we stopped watching when they got tiresome (I’m looking at you, Flash and Arrow).  But we’ve kept up with Vampire Diaries and The Originals.  Many is the time we’ve been sitting around in the evening, bored and looking for something to do, when S will say to me, “Well, we’ve got vampire shows on the DVR.  Wanna watch them while I fold laundry?”

And I mean no offense when I say that’s pretty much the level of engagement we have had with those two shows recently, particularly Vampire Diaries.  They’re something mildly interesting to have on in the background.  They’re basically our equivalent of old-fashioned daytime soap operas, if you want to think of them that way—something to have on the TV while you dust the living room or peel potatoes for supper.

Even so, Vampire Diaries has been a part of our lives for years now, and we’re sorry to see it go.  I can’t say I thought the finale episode was earth-shatteringly awesome.  It certainly wasn’t like the finale of Justified (as S wrote, the ending of that show was absolutely perfect).  But it fulfilled the basic function of a series finale—wrap up all the storylines in a satisfying way so the viewers think they’ve gotten what they came for.  And don’t do anything to destroy the good will the show has built up, or pull some “clever” slight of hand that makes the viewers feel like they’ve wasted their time.  Some shows find that surprisingly hard to achieve actually.  Think of the last episodes of How I Met Your Mother or Roseanne, for instance.

Our favorite thing about the finale, of course, was that little nod to Klaroline shippers.  I won’t say that S responded to this by letting out an ultrasonic squee of delight and doing a little dance on the couch, but I won’t deny it, either.  We actually saw the episode up at my parents’ house, where we were visiting, and all the way home in the car, every twenty minutes or so, whatever we happened to be talking about, S would turn to me and say, “Oh, and by the way, J?  Klaroline is endgame!”  As S has mentioned before, Klaroline (Klaus Mikaelson and Caroline Forbes) is one of her favorite TV ships.  And as she noted yesterday, it’s the only one on this list she made more than a year and a half ago that has so far ended happily (or at least ended in such a way that we can imagine it ends happily).

So all in all, we’re pretty pleased with how Vampire Diaries turned out.  Now we just need another show to watch while S folds the clothes.

J

The Persuasion Project: Chapters 7 and 8

ce-brock-ch-7

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

Teasing the Inevitable

victoria-and-albert

Gosh, I hope it works out for these two crazy kids.

Tonight is the Oscars.  S and I are going to an Oscar party, though that’s mainly just for the fun of going to a party.  As far as the nominees are concerned, as my dad always likes to say, you can’t begin to plumb the depths of my indifference.  I was just looking at the official site, and in pretty much every category, it’s just movie after movie that I’ve never seen.  We got A Man Called Ove from the library.  And we watched about the first half-hour or so of Captain Fantastic.  And I saw Zootopia on Netflix.  But other than that, I’ve seen nothing.

The truth is that S and I spend a lot more time reading and watching TV anymore than we do watching movies.  Especially movies in the theater.  It’s been a very long time since we’ve gone out for a movie, in fact.  But that’s okay, because there’s so much good TV and so many good books.

Speaking of which, we just got the DVDs of Victoria with Jenna Coleman from the library, and we stayed up a bit later than we should have last night watching the first five episodes.  That took us from Victoria’s accession to her marriage to Albert.  It’s very good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we finish it today.

At the same time, we’re reading Ethan Frome for S’s classic lit book club.  I’ve read it before, years ago, but S hasn’t.  Thanks to a technical glitch in the Google Books version that she’s been reading, she ended up accidentally skipping the introduction.  (For those of you who have read the book, that’s the frame story, where the narrator meets Ethan Frome and ends up having to stay at his house in a snowstorm.)  So we dug out her tablet and I read it to her while she drove.  And of course it changes the story quite a bit when you start out knowing, even from Ethan’s first appearance in the book, that something awful is going to happen to him.  The question becomes, “How did this happen?”

That’s the same issue faced with historical fiction, like Victoria.  No one with even the slightest knowledge of history has any doubt how things are going to work out between Victoria and Albert.  The facts are well known, and there’s not really any way to create suspense there.

The trick, in both cases, seems to be a focus on the characters.  Both Edith Wharton and the writers of Victoria seem to be concentrating not on trying to create false suspense where suspense is impossible, but rather giving us marvelous and telling little bits of character development.  In other words, rather than focusing on the outcome (What will happen to Ethan Frome?  Who will Victoria marry?), we focus on the internal qualities of the characters—the flaws and strengths that will lead them to this outcome that we already know.

Here, for example, is the third paragraph of the main narrative of Ethan Frome:

The night was perfectly still, and the air so dry and pure that it gave little sensation of cold. The effect produced on Frome was rather of a complete absence of atmosphere, as though nothing less tenuous than ether intervened between the white earth under his feet and the metallic dome overhead. “It’s like being in an exhausted receiver,” he thought. Four or five years earlier he had taken a year’s course at a technological college at Worcester, and dabbled in the laboratory with a friendly professor of physics; and the images supplied by that experience still cropped up, at unexpected moments, through the totally different associations of thought in which he had since been living. His father’s death, and the misfortunes following it, had put a premature end to Ethan’s studies; but though they had not gone far enough to be of much practical use they had fed his fancy and made him aware of huge cloudy meanings behind the daily face of things.

Even before we know why this much younger, healthier Ethan has walked into Starkfield, we know something vitally important about him—he’s a frustrated scholar unhappy with his lot in life.  Similarly, there’s a fantastic scene in episode 5 of Victoria, where Albert’s libertine older brother, Ernest, takes him to a brothel to “educate” him before his marriage.  Albert goes off with one of the prostitutes, but rather than sleep with her, he just talks to her and takes notes on what he should do on his wedding night.  It really explains a lot about the character, and about the kind of relationship we (as viewers who know our history) know we’ll be seeing later on between the queen and her beloved prince consort.

As a writer, I suppose the lesson here is to remember that “how” and “why” are sometimes more important than “what” happened.  If you create interest in your characters, you can make the reader want to keep reading, even when there’s no suspense as to how things are going to end up.

J

The Long and the Short of It

sante

my silly edit from Versailles

Last weekend I finished the longest solo work of my writing life. (J and I discussed that I’ve easily written 200K+ words of the Quartet on my own, but that’s not really a solo project.) It’s a Musketeers fanfic of limited appeal I started it back in July. It will never be widely read, and it took a boatload of time and effort to write, but I’m really glad I did it. I think it’s quite good, which is something I almost never say about my own writing. I’m, frankly, crazy proud of it. I’m still in the process of posting it for the rest of the world to see, so it’s not out of my life yet, but the blood and tears have been shed, and it’s time to think about what’s next.

Returning to the pattern I had going about this time last year, I think I’m going to juggle multiple projects, at least until one insists upon itself and demands my full attention. Some of it’s going to be original fiction, some is going to be fanfic, and some of it will be Myrcia ‘verse. It’s going to be a mix of short and long pieces, with a healthy dose of outlining thrown in.

The Swift True Road/Mercenary stories

This is my Italian Renaissance mercenary novel I started back for NaNoWriMo.  I never felt truly comfortable with the setting, and my outline is a giant mess, and I was trying to squeeze way too much into one novel. Dropping it was one of the best choices I ever made. But I do want to get back to it, and this time I want to do it right. I asked J for advice, and he came up with something I wasn’t expecting.

Write short stories.

“Huh?” I thought as I tried to figure out how that was going to fix my novel, but then he explained. Since part of my problem was not feeling comfortable in the world, J suggested I write some short stories, almost like character prompts. I should focus on one character and a part of the setting I need to understand better, and just write that. Once I’ve written, for instance, Francesco’s first night in camp as a mercenary, I’ll know more about that character and how mercenary camps work. (It also helps focus my research, so I’m not “GAH! Must know entire Renaissance world!”) I want to write at least one story for each of my named characters, so I’m thinking that perhaps after a dozen or so of these, I’ll be ready to dive back into restructuring the novel. And I’ll have a nice little collection of short stories I might look into posting somewhere.

Two Shots of Bourbon/Versailles fanfic

I think I’m about to dive into a new fandom with my fanfic—Versailles. I mentioned the show briefly  after we finished watching Season 1 the first time, and since then my obsession with the show has just grown. I’m particularly interested in the brothers at the center of the show, Louis XIV and Philippe I, Duke of Orleans. But as I’ve started outlining my first fanfic and toying with ideas, I’m finding myself a little hesitant for a lot of reasons. My biggest concern is getting Louis’s voice right. Chatting with the lovely Storyskein this morning, I mentioned that maybe I should do a one-shot from Louis’s POV before diving into the longer fic I have planned. In other words…

Write short stories.

I already have a one-shot piece in mind to write from Louis’s POV, after which switching to Philippe’s POV for a story would probably not go amiss. (Just because I’m not as nervous about getting his voice correct right now doesn’t mean I won’t be later if I skip practicing it now.) Also, a couple of short pieces would be a nice way to introduce myself to a new fandom. Plus, having just finished my longest work, I could probably use the mental change of something shorter.

Oleg Omdahl 4

When I’ll get around to actually writing this, who knows. I certainly won’t be ready for April Camp NaNoWriMo, but perhaps July Camp or NaNo proper in November. In any case, it’s never too early to start extreme outlining. I actually outlined Oleg 3 (Fiat Justitia) a year and a half before I wrote it, so there’s no reason I can’t get to work on this at any time J might be up to diving into it with me. (I will admit I really adore outlining with J. It’s one of my great joys in life.) I already know a lot of what I want to do in this one, it will just be a matter of filling in blanks.

And that’s what’s on my plate. And it looks really quite tasty. I’ll be sure to report back on how the short story theory works out.

~S