Here at Chez Art and Words apre le NaNoWriMo, I’m deep into design and holiday projects (see above). Like many in December, I’m on a push to finish everything up between now through the end of the year. Regardless, I can’t let the following friends’ and colleagues’ news go uncelebrated:
1. Congrats to my friend Heather Webb whose new novel RODIN’S LOVER was featured in January’s Cosmopolitan magazine (right). They wrote, “You’ll be drawn into this story of obsession and passion between the artist and his apprentice/muse.” High praise indeed!
2. Author Robert Goolick (A RELIABLE WIFE) has just published a Christmas story entitled THE FINAL BALL OF ORIANNE DE PREMONVILLE. It can be found on Amazon under the Kindle Singles section, and involves the most beautiful red dress in the world. (I workshopped my opening chapters of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS with Goolrick at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat.)
3. There’s a massive giveaway of 22 books going on at the Historical Fiction Co-op. To enter the giveaway, click here. I’m a member of this wonderful group, along with C.W. Gortner, Lynn Cullen, Michelle Moran, and other notable authors.
4. Finally, on my author friend Christy English’s blog, I loved her thoughtful, funny interview with indie author Ellen Seltz (MR. MOTTLEY GETS HIS MAN). When I contacted Ellen about featuring the interview, she wrote regarding her decision to self-publish: “I think publishing is going the way of music and film—content with a broad appeal is going to benefit from that large distribution network, and niche content is better off in a focused channel.”
Other sage advice from Ellen:
Being an unpublished novelist may or may not correlate with being an inexperienced writer, or creative professional. If you have already developed your artistic sense and professional distance, great – go on and start learning the specifics of the form and the business side. If you don’t yet have a reliable sense of what professionalism is, or more importantly, how to tell whether you have written crap or not, then put publishing on hold till you get your crapometer calibrated. Put your stuff in front of strangers (Strangers! Not your friends!) and see how they react. This is one of the benefits of the query/rejection/polish/resubmit process of legacy publishing, it forces you to see and relate to your work differently.
Read the rest of the interview here.
Yes, I did it. I climbed the 50,000 word mountain that is National Novel Writing Month. I reached the peak of it, finishing up within twelve hours of the November 30th midnight deadline.
*collapses in heap of adverbs and punctuation marks*
This was my second time doing NaNoWriMo, and it felt quite different from my first. Back in 2009, I’d never written anything so long in such a short amount of time as that alpha draft for A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. Nor had I written any fiction that didn’t include heavy duty illustration and design elements. (Well, unless you want to include juvenilia I’d written as a child and teen.)
Other differences between my 2009 and 2014 NaNoWriMos:
2009: I jumped into my 50k with only the first scene of my novel figured out. This scene was later moved into last third of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, and serves as a major plot reveal.
2014: I wrote my 50k with a detailed outline, after spending over a year writing character studies, a partial draft, and research and travel.
2009: I figured out my plot as I went along. Though I knew I wanted to use elements of the story of the Lady of Shalott in my NaNo manuscript, I initially had no idea if I was writing an epic fantasy, an Arthurian satire, a caper story, or something entirely different. After a long conversation with a friend about ten days into November, I realized I wanted to write a Victorian story of forbidden love, inspired by the tragedy of the Lady of Shalott. And that was only the beginning.
2014: Even though I knew my plot because I’d outlined and researched, there were still surprises along the way. One character proved to have a different history than I’d expected. (Who knew he painted botanical illustrations?) Another turned out to have hidden depths. An ending I planned on began to feel too contrived. This goes to prove that, when it comes to writing, you can outline all you want, but the real inspiration comes while writing. In other words, doing instead of thinking.
2009: I approached NaNoWriMo with an attitude of “Oh, this will be a good way to see if I like writing fiction.” I had doubts I’d even write anything publishable, or get to 50k words.
2014: I know I like writing fiction. I have a literary agent representing my first novel, which is well over 50k words. I’m well into my second novel.
2009: I went into NaNoWriMo knowing very little about the craft of writing long form fiction. I’d never taken a novel writing class or had a critique partner. I sort of groked the technical aspects as I went along—an exhilarating but frustrating experience in which much time was wasted. At the same time, there was the giddy excitement of discovery, of realizing I could do this.
2014: I went into NaNoWriMo with knowledge gleaned from five years of novel writing classes, workshops, and critique partners. I felt confidence in my craft.
2009: I had no idea NaNoWriMo would change my life as an author.
2014: I know NaNoWriMo changed my life as an author.
‘Nuff said. Now that it’s December first, back to real life.
Quick fly by this morning, since I’m eager to get down to increasing my NaNoWriMo word count*: In Art and Words publishing news, the iOS 8 update for the ever-popular Goddess Tarot app was just been approved by Apple. Huzzah!
More about the app: The Goddess Tarot app has been personally designed and adapted by me from the best-selling print edition of my deck. It is available in free Lite and paid Full versions, as well as for Android. The Full version (right) includes four inspiring readings, a journal to record your readings, and more.
If you already own the app on your iPhone, iPod or iPad, the iOS 8 update is a free download from your device. If you don’t, well, what are you waiting for? Learn more here.
Better yet, let’s do a giveaway: The first three people** to comment on this post will be given a code redeemable on the App Store for downloading the Full version of the app.
So, ready, set, comment. May the fastest fingers win!
ETA: The giveaway is now closed. That was fast! Congrats to those who won.
*Note NaNo word count widget in the sidebar. Accountability and all that.
**US residents only. Sorry!
“My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder. People called me Sue. I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date, and took my birthday at Christmas. I believe I am an orphan….”
—opening lines of FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters
The novels of Sarah Waters came to my attention soon after I finished writing my first draft of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS (aka The Novel Formerly Known as THE LILY MAID). My reading of Waters arrived in an inadvertent manner, as many momentous things do: my literary agent had given me a recommended reading list to aid my transition into writing historical fiction. Sarah Waters was not on her list. Even so, that first reading list spurred me into looking beyond for something I couldn’t quite name yet. And then I happened upon Sarah Waters’ FINGERSMITH—and knew I’d found what I was looking for. Here was a historical novel encompassing stunning language, richly realized characters, an immersive sense of time and place, narrative tension, intense sexuality, and deep sense of humanity. And I haven’t even touched on Waters’ masterful use of plot to propel her novels.
I read the rest of Waters’ five novels soon after in a grateful rush. They offered me a roadmap for what historical fiction could be as literature—for what I wanted to write one day if I worked very very hard at the craft. Since then, I’ve reread Waters’ novels whenever I’m in need of writerly inspiration. The ending of FINGERSMITH still makes me cry no matter how many times I’ve read it.
This is a roundabout way of saying that when I learned Sarah Waters was publishing THE PAYING GUESTS, her first novel in five years, I was beyond excited. I went out of my way to locate an advance copy in Europe, which I read in nearly one fell swoop on the plane back. Even better: Waters was giving a reading in New York City, my home town. Of course I had to be there!
To be honest, I was a bit nervous to meet Sarah Waters in person. I love her novels so much. Authors are only human (hello!), and it’s far too easy to project our own idealizations and insecurities onto them. It’s unfair —cruel even—to expect anyone to live up to this.
To my delight, Waters was even warmer and more charming and intelligent in person than I could have hoped. She was funny, generous, and shockingly modest about her work. She spoke at length about writing her novels, researching historical fiction, lesbians and sexual identity in fiction, and more.
A few highlights, paraphrased from memory and notes:
On whether she plans to write about characters from previous novels: Nope. Waters described herself as a “serial monogamist” when it comes to her characters. She really falls in love with them while she’s writing them. (She said this in particular regarding Frances and Lillian from THE PAYING GUESTS, whom she became very fond of over the five years she was immersed in the novel.) Waters always thinks she can never leave her characters behind, which makes it hard for her to finish a novel. However, once she’s done, she’s shocked how easily the characters leave her consciousness. She imagines them walking off and waving goodbye. So, no desire to revisit characters.
On deciding on point of view in a novel: Waters replied that her plot dictates her choice of point of view. For example, in THE PAYING GUESTS, she chose a third person point of view to increase narrative tension; in THE LITTLE STRANGER, first person. That said, she finds herself second guessing her point of view choice as she writes, hoping she made the right decision.
On the use of houses in her fiction: The “great houses” in Waters’ novels THE LITTLE STRANGER and THE PAYING GUEST pay dominant roles in shaping her plot. She explained that houses enact a moment in human history, and become stranded there as time moves on; what’s interesting to her is how humans adapt them as environments as their needs change.
Her favorite books: Waters loves literary novels that incorporate the tropes of genre fiction, such as cliffhangers. She’s a fan of Victorian sensation novels, including those by Wilkie Collins. Other favorite writers: Willa Cather, Hilary Mantel, and Patrick Hamilton. She mentioned Hamilton’s THE SLAVES OF SOLITUDE as a particular inspiration for THE PAYING GUESTS.
As for me, I asked Waters about a quote of hers that I use as a credo:
“Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.”
I said, “Bearing all this in mind, are you ever surprised by your plot taking an unexpected turn as you write?”
Waters answered that she really does know the plot from the beginning; what takes her the longest is figuring out how her characters feel and act in response to plot. She said that with THE PAYING GUESTS she must have written thirty times as many scenes to what went into the final novel. Another interesting fact about her process: She prints out all her scenes whether she uses them or not. She said that by the time she finished THE PAYING GUESTS, she had about thirty inches of draft in comparison to one inch of finished novel! In her writing log, she admonished herself in big red letters: DO NOT WRITE ANOTHER NOVEL WITHOUT KNOWING THE OUTCOME.
After the reading, Waters signed books for us, and even posed for photographs. I was so excited to meet her that I nearly tripped on the podium after getting my books signed. Not my smoothest moment, alas. But then again, how often does one get to meet a literary goddess like Sarah Waters? I am beyond grateful for my encounter with her.
Further reading about Sarah Waters and THE PAYING GUESTS:
Photographed recently in Brooklyn’s Chinatown. Kind of how I feel when I contemplate first lines.
I’ve been tagged in yet another writer’s meme* making its way about Facebook. This one is all about opening lines for chapters, which seems especially timely as I forge my way through the first draft of the Next Novel.
Here are the rules for the First Lines meme: Post the first sentence of the first three chapters in your WIP to your wall. Tag others to participate.
Here’s mine from the very rough first draft of the Next Novel, which takes place in 1851 London amid poets and photographers:
1. The young woman laid as if asleep, her hands cupped against her breast like she was cradling a dove.
2. It is not an average day when a gentleman is called to photograph his dying father.
3. “I must warn,” Bertram Fitzgordon began, his breath shallow and fetid, “that you may find this story disturbing considering your unfortunate circumstances.”
Related note: this meme reminded me of a post I wrote nearly four years ago about first lines when I was drafting THE LILY MAID. (Yikes, that’s a long time!) Back then, my first sentence for THE LILY MAID was:
“I was surprised when the invitation arrived that June morning from St. John Dulac.”
At that time, I predicted the sentence would probably change. And I was right. My first sentence of the novel is now:
“A painting undermined my father.”
Whether this first line will change again, only time will tell.
* Thanks to the lovely Teralyn Pilgrim for tagging me. Teralyn’s recently expanded and updated her long established blog to include more than only writing-related posts. Check it out here.