NaNoWriMo 2018

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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.

Update on the Historical Novel(s)

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This has not been an easy summer, in any number of ways. Obviously, blogging has been one of those elements that has suffered over the summer. But this is a good forum for me to discuss the current project and what my plans for it are. So, here goes:

I’ve previously mentioned that I’m researching what will be a series of historical novels, set in Provence in the 1440s. Probably mysteries, possibly thrillers, maybe “just” historical fiction. It depends on whether the puzzle takes my fancy, the chase, or the milieu itself. It has been pointed out to me that, of the elements that make up the MICE of fiction (Milieu, Idea, Character, Event) that for me, the milieu often battles it out for first place over the Idea.

I’m fascinated by the time period I’m working in. It is a time where the western world is recovering from the Plague that swept ravaged Europe not even a century earlier, during which more than half of the population perished.1 The disruption caused by that event may be what led to people looking to the past for answers, with the Humanists prising old books out of monasteries and convents in order to learn how the Ancients thought of the world, searching their past for answers to their present. In the same way, both the Renaissance Humanists and the fracture in social norms that came with the eradication of millions of people from the plague meant that this time in the West was the last century in which Europe would be united by religion instead of fractured by it.

My summer has been taken up by two major decisions. The one personal.2 The professional one is that I am going to travel to Provence next year to do research on-site. I’ve been looking over travel guides; thinking in terms of not one, not two, but three books in the series so as to maximize my time there; oh and considering the idea that I might want to spend a day or so doing something just for fun.

To make it most worthwhile, this summer has been spent improving my French reading skills. They have improved. But will it be enough to do the research I think I need?

Is any of this going to be enough? The amount of things I’m not finding is daunting. The amount of French I’ve learned has been gratifying, until I try to write in French or try to read something not aimed at new learners and I find myself stumped, or going to the translation dictionary time and time and time and time again.

But as it is good to have goals, this goal will spur me on to continuing to improve my language skills and my research skills. I may bring in help for all of it. And then next year, I’ll spend some part of the spring in Provence and even if I fail at learning anything new (er, old, but seriously, how could I not learn anything?) I will still spend the spring in Provence and that sounds pretty good.

My hope is to keep making blog posts as I prepare for the trip. Initial decisions will have to be made soon (like in the next month), so I have to start locking in dates and locations. Flights soon, hotels soon after that. I’m going to push ahead with research through October, lock in those locations to visit … and then set aside the Historical and go back to Harmony. I discovered that I can’t split my focus in such a way as to work on two, but by November I’ll need to take a break from the 15th century and get back into the 21st, at least for a bit. I figure two months for the re-write and then back to Provence in my mind come January and in the flesh come spring.

Allons-y !


  1. Can you imagine? Within the span of a summer, half the people you know are dead. Or maybe more than half if your area was hard hit (averages can be a bitch that way). Look around your home, your workplace, the highway as you commute and imagine taking away half and leaving piles of dead. 
  2. And by personal, I mean, not the subject of this blog or post. 

Update on my NaNoWriMo 2014 post

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More than two years ago, I wrote about the project that I was going to write for the 2014 NaNoWriMo. I sincerely stated that my goal with the project was to answer some questions I had for the characters but would not be more than 30,000 words.

Ha! It’s like I’ve never met me.

I completed the first draft of that project on 2 January 2017, more than two years after starting it. Now called Harmony in Three Voices this first complete draft clocks in at over 150,000 words.

It is the most complicated narrative I’ve ever attempted.

Taking three POV characters written in first person past and wrapping them in a second person present frame tale, I recount about 20 years of history of each of those three characters, tying those past events to their current conflicts. I wrote all three first person POV narratives completely, meaning some scenes were written down three different times, three different POVs, three different long chunks of text. Then came the frame tale, picking and choosing which parts of which narratives to keep, which ones to subsume into the frame tale, and which to discard outright as unnecessary. While I have over 150k in the parts I kept, I’ve discarded more than 100k.

Yep. I wrote two complete novels just to get one story.

I’m still not sure if it is “saleable” or of interest to anyone but myself. And yet? The “win” I mentioned in that old post certainly happened: I’m much more comfortable using Scrivener and discovered that I really could not have written the story I did with any other tool. But the bigger win was the risk I took in writing that story. I’ve never been as pressed, pushed as hard, as I was when I tried to figure out how to get it all to work. In truth, it might not work, but that’s almost less important than the attempt.

About the end of March I plan to begin editing that draft and I’ll know better then if it is something that I’ll try to sell, either self-pub or traditionally. By November of 2017 I hope to again do NaNoWriMo, getting a draft of a historical mystery down.

Making it up as we go along

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I caught an episode of “Bones” the other day, “The Daredevil in the Mold” from Season 6. One of the sub-plots is that Booth asks his girlfriend Hannah to marry him. That’s pretty much the only scene I saw that day, so there may be some issues surrounding the proposal I’ve forgotten. But by the end of that episode, I was shaking my head. This was bad drama and lazy writing. Even worse, it shows a limited grasp of relationship possibilities. First, the setup:
  • Booth unilaterally decides to ask Hannah to marry him
    • DESPITE the fact that Hannah had told him she wasn’t the marrying kind
    • DESPITE the fact she’d told him this repeatedly
    • DESPITE the fact that her job took her away often (iirc)
  • Hannah says no
  • Booth, shocked, shocked I tell you! that despite all of her earlier declarative statements regarding not wanting to get married that she does note want to get married. Being all butthurt, the mopey Booth ends the relationship and kicks her out of the apartment
Lazy writing. I’m guessing that, as fun as the Hannah character was, the writers needed to get rid of her in order to make room for Bones and Booth to get together in the next season to give an explanation to Emily Deschanel’s real-life pregnancy. I’ll give them this: they kept Booth’s actions consistent with his long-demonstrated reactionary approach to relationships as well as his less-than-stellar record of actually paying attention to the women in his life. Sure, it served the dramatic purpose of breaking them up, but BORING.
But what fascinated me most (having almost zero investment anymore in “Bones”) was how easy it was to use the “relationship escalator” as a convenient (and lazy, don’t forget lazy) shorthand to create a dramatic break between characters. The audience all knows the escalator and most even sympathize with Booth for attempting to “take it to the next level” and being shot down by the woman who just doesn’t understand how wonderful a life filled with Booth ignoring their explicit statements detailing their wishes would be.
Unfortunately, the writers reward Booth for his simplistic and immature behavior towards Hannah and “give” him Brennan to create the family he wants (regardless of the fact that it wasn’t anything that Brennan wanted. What women want isn’t held very highly by the writers/producers of “Bones.”) He fails “upward” in his attempts to stay on the relationship escalator. Boring. Lazy. Safe.
Especially galling is the fact that so very few relationships fall into the standard narrative anymore. And we all know this! Not everyone gets married. Hell, a bare majority of adults are married in the US. Not all families are made up of one each, male and female. There are unmarried people with families and remarried people with families, chock full of step- and half- siblings and parents and guardians. Most states still don’t allow gay people to get married and not all gay people would marry if they could. The escalator no longer describes most of us, and yet most of us seem happy to let that model be our definition, even if it means feeling like a failure for not being in a relationship that matches that model.
In my writing, I try to depict different relationship models and structures. It isn’t that I think no one should be a couple made up of male-bodied and female-bodied people. Far from it. What I want to show is that the effort people put in to deliberate relationships will make it more likely that everyone involved has a good shot at long term happiness. Why? Because the effort expended is most often about what will improve the odds at happiness. They don’t simply assume that riding the escalator all the way to the top will result in happiness. Instead, they question their own needs and desires, they interrogate the needs and desires of the people in the relationship with him, and together, everyone involved seek the path that will maximize the happiness of all those involved.
This is not to say that Booth would be good at any other relationship structure. For one thing, his identity is based on doing the “right” thing without ever actually questioning what that means. He constantly gets rewarded for being unimaginative, anti-intellectual, and unevolved.  I’m not saying all successful polyamorists are highly evolved individuals, but few successful polyamorists are as unevolved as Seeley Booth is. I’m sure the writers will make sure that Booth is happy with Brennan. But that’s only because the writers are fine with so completely rewriting Brennan’s character as to make her fit with Booth. It’s her show, but his narrative, and that’s not only boring. It’s annoying.