Aaaannnd I’m back from my writer’s residency fellowship at the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts. My goal at the VCCA: to finish up a draft of the Next Novel. The good news: I met my goal—I now have a completed draft of about 400 pages. Even better news: I returned to Brooklyn inspired and excited about my work. Nothing like two weeks at an artist colony to invigorate the creative process!
My little studio in the woods.
Though I’ve gone to plenty of writer’s retreats and conferences, the VCCA was my first experience at an artist colony. I truly loved it.
The view from my room in the residence hall.
Imagine a place where everything you need as an artist and writer is provided to you and then some: you’re given a private studio to work in, delicious meals to eat, beautiful private gardens and woods to explore. If that’s not wonderful enough, you’re surrounded by like-minded souls—writers, composers, and visual artists—all who respect your process and are creating fascinating work.
View of the studio complex.
This is the VCCA.
Private path amid the private gardens of the VCCA.
I hope to return one day.
The famed VCCA cows. Their grazing field was across from the studio complex.
Already 2015 is shaping up to be a better year than 2014 on the author travel front. Besides my upcoming residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be traveling to Denver for the Historical Novel Society Conference this June, where I’m on a panel entitled “The Art of Book Cover Design for Historical Fiction.”
My co-panelists are Sourcebooks editor Anna Michels, Emily Victorson of Allium Press, HNS’s own Sarah Johnson, and book cover designer Jenny Quinlan. I guess you could say I’m the author representative who just also happens to be a designer. I plan to expand upon my presentation on the semiotics of book cover design, which was a hit at 2013′s conference.
The Historical Novel Society Conference is one of my favorite author events of the year. I’ve attended every one since 2011 save for last year’s in London—alas, the timing didn’t work because of family obligations. So glad that 2015 will be different!
Photos from HNS 2013: Me with my critique partner Teralyn Pilgrim dressed for the costume dinner—Teralyn’s pregnant vestal virgin brought down the house. Below, author friends Stephanie Lehmann (ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE), Mary Sharratt (ILLUMINATIONS), and Margaret George (who needs no introduction). Happy times!
Now that we’re three-quarters of the way through November (aka National Novel Writing Month), I thought I’d give a quick update as to my progress. If you’re not in the know, National Novel Writing Month, known more colloquially as NaNoWriMo, sets writers the challenge of writing 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. These 50,000 words can be for a new novel, or added to a novel-in-progress. In 2009, I wrote the first 50,000 word draft of the novel that would become A GATHERING OF SHADOWS; this year, I chose to add 50,000 words to the first draft of my Next Novel to help bring it to completion in time for my January 2015 fellowship residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Here’s where I’m at right now:
1. As of this morning, I’ve written just under 36,000 words of the Next Novel this month.
2. This has brought me up to a total of 85,000 words for for my draft.
3. I’m intending to do all I can to hit my goal of 50,000 words this month, though I know it will be tricky with Thanksgiving close at hand.
4. The major difference between my 2009 NaNoWriMo experience and my 2014? I totally pantsed it in 2009, which made much of that draft exploratory in nature. I had no idea how my story would end; I only had a basic idea based on a fragment of a dream I’d had two nights before beginning. Even so, it astonishes me how many of the characters emerged fully formed from my imagination. They didn’t change very much from my first draft through my last, just became more rounded and realized.
5. This year, because I’ve already written and researched much of the Next Novel, I’m working from a detailed outline. In other words, I know how my story is going to end.
6. That written, despite having a detailed outline for this year, I still find the process of writing to be a process of discovery: my characters are surprising me with their histories and peccadillos and unexpected connections. That makes me very happy—I love that my subconscious is working in unexpected ways.
7. Even if I write 50,ooo words this month, will NaNoWriMo leave me with a completed first-chapter-to-last draft of the Next Novel? I’m uncertain. While I’m working my way through my outline, I’m finding places where I’m probably writing more than I need. I suspect I will be cutting or condensing in future drafts.
8. But that’s okay. I understand that this superfluous writing is part of the process of discovering the world of my new novel in all its rich and messy glory. It will also leave me 50,000 words closer to completion than I was on October 31st. For these reasons alone, I am so glad I participated in NaNoWriMo.
Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Photographed in Paris at the fantastical Galeries Lafayette food hall. Yum!
Photographed recently in Paris of the Musee d’Orsay. The clock reminds me quite happily of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, one of Thea’s favorite books.