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.

Choosing settings

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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

Looking Forward to 2018

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Last year, I accomplished some big things. I published my first novel to Amazon, A Call of Moonhart, I finished one draft and one rewrite of a book I’m calling Harmony in Three Voices, and I began the research for my next novel series.

It’s possible that I’ll get Harmony published in 2018. It’s pretty rough and a lot will depend on what my writing group says about the story. It would be great to have another novel out there but publication will depend, in large part, on my ability to split focus between researching, rewriting, and editing.

I would also like to do more on this blog. I have a new camera and have been taking pictures. I’d like to get some of them up on the site. I’d also like to get a different WordPress templated going. Neither of those  things — going through photos or updating WordPress — are simple tasks. Wish me luck!

I’ve written about that new series before and about my trip to France. The trip is on. I’ve bought the tickets and I’ve arranged lodging. I’m landing in Bordeaux and will travel across the south of France, checking out castles, medieval cities, monasteries and convents, and just getting a sense of the place until I fly home from Nice.

I have a number of goals for the trip. Research for the novels is the biggest aspect, but I’m hoping that the trip itself will lend itself to other writing goals while I’m there. One of those goals for the trip is a travelogue. I’ll used WordPress to get words and some photos up on the blog while I’m traveling. It will be limited only by what I can do with the app as I’m not taking a computer with me. Look for that to begin in early summer. Another goal is material for other sorts of travel writing. The notes I have on the trip itself could lend itself to articles in various publications. What and when will be a function of the adventure itself!

This is a business trip and I hope to get a number of “products” out of it. But it is also an adventure! I’m anxious and excited for that adventure to begin. It starts in just a few months and there are MILES to go before takeoff, in terms of research and my own education. These next months will fly by.

Stay tuned.

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. 

A Failure of Google-Fu

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I’m running into an issue with my research for the medieval murder mystery. Not everything I want to know is online! Or, if it is, it isn’t in English! I know … shocking.

I’m working on the language aspect. My French reading skills are getting better so, if I can find documentation in French, I may even be able to read it. Someday. Soon. I hope.

More worrisome, my google-fu is failing me. I’m just not discovering important things, like where the heir to Burgundy was to be found in 1418 (he wasn’t lost. I just can’t find him). I have no idea of the name of the mistress of Chateau Montbrun in 1427, or the list of convents and/or monasteries to be found in Guyenne, Provence, or Burgundy in the fifteenth century. How hard should that be, really?

One of the benefits to writing historical fiction is that I can use my imagination to fill in the blanks. But when do I decide that the information is not out there and it isn’t just that I’ve failed to find it?