NaNoWriMo 2018


doengelsI first heard about “Book hunters” in Lisa Jardine’s book Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance. I’d been learning about Renaissance and medieval history for years and yet I can’t recall ever hearing about the Italian Humanists who would venture into the dark and hidden parts of monasteries to return great books to the light of day. Books that had been hidden away, slowly rotting, their words soon to be lost forever. These men often didn’t know that a particular book even existed any more! They had read references to authors or texts in books that had stayed in the light and they hoped. Of course, many of the retrievals were happenstance: they weren’t looking for that particular book. Their genius sprang from the fact they could recognize what they found when others, such as the monks themselves, had no idea what treasures had been overlooked.

Stephen Greenblatt wrote the story of how one particularly important book was rediscovered and the world of the book hunters more generally in The Swerve: How the World Became Mordern. By the time I discovered this book, I already knew that my medieval mystery was going to have a book hunter as the main character. Reading this book gave me fascinating details into the personalities of the Humanists who searched for lost or hidden books and the type of world into which these books returned.

I’ve spent the last two years choosing my setting and learning all I could about the area. Two years of reading about Medieval France, only to learn at one point that I’m not talking about “France” per se, or at least, not France alone. In the time in which the story is set, France, Provence, and the Papal States built their castles and defended their walls, glaring across the Rhône at one another. I traveled to the area in spring of 2018 to learn all I could about the landscape, both cities and countryside and took many many pictures. I brought back about 30 pounds of books, most in French. Two years of research and it comes down to this:

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There is too much.

An interesting sort of analysis paralysis has set in. I have so much information that my characters are drowning beneath the waves of facts. My plot is getting buried beneath the particulars of place and time. And yet? I recognize that there is still so much that I haven’t discovered, so many aspects of time and place that, like the book hunters before me, I can’t even be sure exist to be found but that hasn’t stopped me from looking.

I need to get writing! It’s time to choose what goes in now and what can wait. What will tell my story and what will distract from it. Whose voices need to be heard and who needs to shut the hell up. Time to write what I know and note what I don’t and plan to get the specifics later. Time to start making choices that will shape the novel, at least the first one (I’m hoping to get at least three out of all of this time spent researching).

I decided last spring that I would use NaNoWriMo as the deadline to start writing and NaNo begins November 1st. This will be my third NaNo and I’ve won (meaning, I completed writing over 50,000 words in the month) the previous two times. First in 2007 with the novel that became A Call of Moonhart which I published in 2017. I won again in 2014 with the novel I now call Harmony in Three Voices and that story is now complete and looking for beta readers.

NaNoWriMo has been a good way for me to bypass the internal editor and just write, damnit. Especially in this case, with so much material to choose from, I’m hopeful that a push, get the best thing down and move on approach will get me on track. As a mystery, this book should not be more than 90,000 words by the time I’m done, which means if I win NaNo, I’ll be halfway there (winning NaNo with Harmony meant I was only 1/5 done with the initial writing and wasn’t that a surprise!). I know I won’t be able to keep up November’s writing pace but with any luck, the momentum should see me finishing the first draft by spring.

I have a whole lot to do in the next two weeks to prepare for NaNo. This will be the first novel that I don’t think I can write as a “pantser” but will have to actually outline. Mysteries have a much tighter plot structure than I’m used to and I’ll need to give myself the best framework possible before I start writing. Two more weekends and I’m off.

Wish me luck. Check back in with this post for updates.

Top 100


I took over 1000 photos on my recent trip to France. Most aren’t what anyone else would find fun to see: closeups of blocks used in walls, cobblestone patterns, the vaults of way-too-many cloisters and churches. But there are a few that are just pretty or (I think) represent something cool. If you’re not sure what a particular picture is all about, ask me in the comments!


Choosing settings


I’m here for a purpose. I have a story in mind that takes place in the south of France. I’ve been researching the area and had made some decisions about how things were going to go. But the purpose for being here was to check things out, to learn what’s actually here. The difference between reading a map and walking the path.

There’s also knowing something and, well, KNOWING something. Avignon was not part of Provence during the 15th century. It was a Papal territory. I knew this. And yet, I’d been planning on setting my story in Provence because of the presence of King René and so I’d use Avignon. And then I toured Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. This is an interesting city to set my story in! Actually in Provence, unlike Avignon. But I knew that.

Entrance to the walled, fortified city of Villeneuve-lès-AvignonGardens in the former Abbey there.Looking across to Avignon and the Palace of the PopesA chapel for one of the saints that predated the abbeyRelaxing in the gardens after the tour

Not going to be a setting, at least, not a primary one. But so cool! Two thousand years of history and this hand built bridge that also worked as a life source providing water for cities for a thousand years. Man, just cool.

Pont du Gard. I’m sure I’ll have to use this bridge because, cool!

This is a tunnel cut — by hand, remember — through solid rock to help carry the water towards Nîmes

Reading a place


There are things that I needed to know before traveling that I didn’t realize I didn’t know. Language plays a huge part in this, I realize now. How often does one go into a restaurant, a shop, and listen to the other people around to learn how the place works. Do they want you to take a number? Will they call your name? Do you ask for a place, whether at the bar or at the table? Are there different rules for different types of places that might otherwise seem similar? And can you discover those rules if you don’t understand what people are saying?

I thought I knew enough French tho “get by.” I’m doing great with the reading of placards and historical notices. But I’m not picking up on the speech. There’s a French phrase that I’ve used for years: L’esprit d’escalier. It’s the act of coming up with just the right phrase, the bon mot when you’re already halfway up the staircase, when it’s far too late to use it. That’s where I’m at, but it is happening at every interaction. I realize the correct phrase I should have used, about 2 minutes after when I should have used it.

On another note, I’m going to have PTSD from driving over here. Some of the roads make sense but those are the big modern freeways. The rest? I drove on roads today that were no bigger than the bike paths in Madison but were expected to allow drivers on both sides of the road (hah! “Road”) doing 70 or even 90 kph (about 45-55 mph). No shoulders. In fact, on the sides of the road are ditches about two feet deep. Let’s just say it would be bad to fall into one of those. Most likely, more of those tomorrow.

But I’m here in Sarlat, alive and well, loving the flat I’m renting for the next bit. Now, have some pictures from the Limoges area. And a selfie. Next time I’ll even smile.

Not the start I had hoped for


Let’s just say I’m off to a slow start. Two days in France and I accomplished driving to Limoges. In a minivan. Diesel, manual transmission, but where I was hoping for a small car I got “upgraded” to the minivan. European-sized mini van, but still.

I stopped one place for pictures near St Emilion but by the time I got there it was closed for their lunch break. Given the time of day, I decided to drive straight to Limoges and not stop in St Emilion itself.

Seriously, I’ve spent most of yesterday getting to the hotel in Bordeaux and most of today looking for a SIM card. As it was, I ended up just adding International travel on to the plan I have and I just have to hope it doesn’t cost me that much more. 19,000 steps, much of it in the rain, looking for an Orange store in either of two cities. When I finally did find it, they told me the SIM I’d shopped for was at the “other” Orange. wha?

Too late now for anything but eating. I’ll find something and then tomorrow will be another day, one that, I hope, will be the actual start to the research part of the trip.

Fly, by night


Moon rise, thoughtful eyes

Staring back at me from the window beside

No fright, or hindsight

Leaving behind that empty feeling inside

Start a new chapter

I find what I’m after

Is changing every day

The change of a season

Is enough of a reason

To want to get away