Photographed during a recent visit to Brooklyn’s Green-wood Cemetery using Hipstamatic’s new Tintype lens. A real treat!
Today may be Halloween. But tomorrow is November first, which marks the official start of National Novel Writing Month. For those of you not in the know, National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo for short—challenges writers to churn out a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. And in 2013, over 300,000 people did just this according to the official NaNoWriMo site:
310,095 participants started the month of November as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.
(For the record, 50,000 words would make for a rather short novel. Here’s more information on standard word lengths for various novel genres. Even so, 50,000 words in one month?! How amazing is that?!)
I have a heart-full of gratitude toward NaNoWriMo. After all, my debut novel A GATHERING OF SHADOWS first took form as a NaNo novel in November 2009. Five years and many revisions later, I’m launched into the next phase of my creative life, and am deep at work on the Next Novel. Before NaNo 2009, I thought of myself as an illustrator and nonfiction author. Today, I think of myself as a novelist. Would I have had the courage and craziness to write a novel without NaNoWriMo? Perhaps, but I hadn’t until that fateful November 2009. To state that NaNoWriMi changed my life would not be an understatement.
That said, from my experience you can’t write a finished novel in a month. This makes stating you can “write a novel in a month” seem a bit of a trick. Even if 50,000 words wasn’t too short for most novel genres, the main work of writing a novel comes in the revising and editing of it. This, as I’ve learned too well, can take years. (National Novel Editing Year/s, anyone?)
However, don’t let this harsh slap of reality discourage you from participating in the treat that is NaNoWriMo. Instead, think of these first 50,000 words you’ll write in November as the skeleton draft you’ll flesh out in December and beyond.
Big difference, eh?
So, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, go forth and write—but bear in mind NaNo is only the beginning of a long, wondrous journey. As for myself, I will be over on the NaNo website this month aiming to add 50,000 words to my Next Novel. Come by and say hello!
Want to know more? Here’s other posts on this blog about National Novel Writing Month:
Snippet Sunday is a monthly meme organized by Stephanie Dray in which historical authors post six sentence snippets of their novels. For the sake of organization, I’ve decided to post mine on the first Sunday of the month. You can read my previous snippets here.
I missed September’s snippet—I’d just returned from Europe and was totally distracted with Life and Stuff. To make up for it, October’s snippet is longer than the usual six sentences. This excerpt is from the newly retitled A Gathering of Shadows, which is set in the art world of late Victorian England. The scene is written from the point of view of my protagonist, Elizabeth, while she follows another artist’s model to spy on her:
Remaining several steps behind, I watched Eleanor’s red velvet skirt sway back and forth toward the Strand. Her bright hair gleamed through the fog like a slant of sun on a cold winter day. A thought appeared like an unexpected caller: Was this how others viewed me? Watching Eleanor walk, I had the sense of watching myself since I’d grown into a woman: the gentlemen nodding in approving appraisal; the woman staring with a hint of jealousy; the children craning their necks at her grace. Yes, there it all was, just as I’d experienced—and I’d disdained this with all my heart.
All the years I’d strived to ignore my physical appearance. All the years I’d judged my mother and my great-aunt for allowing their beauty to influence their fates—my mother with her troubled star-crossed union to my father, my aunt with her social climbing and vanity. I’d sworn my path would be different, that I’d lead a life of veracity. Alas, it had taken St. John Dulac and his painting to humble me.
Above photograph: Clerkenwell in the rain, a location I imagine my characters frequenting.
Photographed recently in Paris. What’s around the bend?
Ever since my return from Europe in early September, I feel like I’ve shifted into a new phase of my life. I suspect this is the aftermath of the main reason for my travels: to inter my mother’s ashes. Those of you who follow this blog and my social media feeds are probably aware my mother died early this year. However, it took my sister and I some months to organize the interment, which allowed us to defer the process of mourning in some ways.
And plan we did: my sister Jennifer and I chose to bring my mother’s ashes home to England, where she was born seventy years ago during the London Blitz. We also chose to inter her ashes in the same church where she had been baptized, and in the same rose garden where I brought my grandmother’s ashes in 2011. We decided to bring my daughter Thea with us, as a representative of the next generation of our family. We were very fortunate to be joined by members of our family who still reside in England, all of whom knew and loved my mother well. The service was as beautiful as can be.
While there were tears, Jennifer and I were also certain to make the trip a joyful experience. After all, it was Thea’s first trip to London, land of Harry Potter, Cadbury chocolate, and all things historic and literary. We followed our time in London with several days in Paris, where we ate pain au chocolate and walked along the Seine under perfect blue skies. I also spent many hours researching the Next Novel, which is set in both London and Paris during the mid-nineteenth century. The trip was exactly as we hoped.
Burying a parent is a definite reminder of the cycle of life: Those who grant life to us will die, just as we will die one day. The finiteness of physical life grants a preciousness to everything we experience. Even so, I’m sensing there’s more at play for me beyond this most primal of leavetakings.
For example, ever since I finished the art for DOOMED QUEENS and began writing THE LILY MAID (which now bears the new-and-improved title of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS on the advice of a renowned editor at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat), I’ve grappled with guilt over no longer yearning to illustrate books as I once did. The truth terrified me: these days, I’m far more creatively engaged as a novelist and writer. Another reason for my disinterest in illustration is that I’ve fulfilled the goals I’ve set*; I don’t possess the same urgent drive to spend countless hours curled over a drawing board painting the thousands of tiny details and decorative flourishes that go into one of my book. Yet it’s hard to leave the past behind, especially when you’ve spent years mastering a set of skills. Hence, the guilt.
And then I had a sudden insight that made it easier to let go: whether I’m writing, illustrating, or designing, my vocation is as a storyteller. It’s all interconnected.
And so this post is a post of goodbyes. Goodbye to my mother, Irene Patricia Prince Cowin, laid to rest in her native soil. May you be at peace. Goodbye to my years as a book illustrator**. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned, and the beauty I was able to create. Goodbye even to my studio betta, Clarimonde, who passed away this week after a happy, coddled life. Goodbye to remorse over my past, and trepidation over what my creative future may hold.
But this post is also a hello to the Next Phase of my artistic life as a storyteller: to finishing up and publishing A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. To immersing myself in the Next Novel. To moving onto new horizons and creative challenges.
I’m so ready for them.
*And how fortunate is that? I’m especially proud of THE BOOK OF GODDESSES and THE LOVER’S PATH.
**Not to say that I won’t illustrate books again one day. Just not right now.
“A painting undermined my father. And, as you will see by the end of my story, a painting nearly destroyed me. Art is dangerous like that, an unruly thing. I used to consider it as superfluous as those who dedicated their lives to creating it. I no longer do—I’ve learned this lesson, along with so many others, over the past months. During this period my life has become as foreign to me as another land….”
As I mentioned in Friday’s post, I’ll be reading tomorrow night at Litwrap’s Works-in-Progress summer reading. I’m planning to read from the first chapter of the Novel Formerly Known as THE LILY MAID (above) and a short excerpt from the Next Novel.
When: Tuesday, July 29th, 7 – 9PM
Where: Upstairs at 61 Local, 61 Bergen Street (corner of Smith Street), Brooklyn
The reading is supported in part by a grant from Poets & Writers. I’ll be joined by an awesome lineup of local writers: Brian Erickson, Ilana Kramer, Sarah Seltzer, Rachel Lyon, Max Bean, Mary Lannon, and Gerard Cabrera. If all this isn’t enough enticement, I’ll be spilling the new titles for THE LILY MAID and the Next Novel, which thus far only my literary agent and a few close friends know.
So, hope to see you there!
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.