The novel formerly known as Traegar’s Lunatics and now as The Pen has been marked final. Beloved Agent Janna (as she will forthwith be known) not only guided me to the perfect ending for the story within the story, but for the actual story itself. What I had was fine. Her “what if you did this…” made it amazing. I’m so in love with this book.
We’ve also decided that Helen Mirren will play Olivia in the movie.
The synopsis is written, the query is all ready. After the holiday weekend, it will go off to the list of publishers she and the powers that be at the Knight Agency have generated. And now, the wait.
In the meantime, I’ll work on Undeclared. It’s up around 25K words. This story is once again different than anything I’ve ever written. There is no romance. Not even the scent of it. I’ve never written anything without it. This one, though? Nope. Ledanora, Nell, Beverly–maiden, mother, crone. I hadn’t planned that when I started this book, but it’s just so right. My subconscious knew, and acted accordingly. I’m in love all over again.
You might have noticed a change here on Modesty is for Suckers…the banner, above. A ridiculously talented and generous friend sketched this of me from a photo on Facebook. I’ve never had anything capture me, who I am, my spirit, as perfectly. It embodies my motto–Modesty is for Suckers. Does that imp look modest about ANYTHING? Nope.
Happy Independence Day! Eat well, stay safe, and have fun!
Last week I blogged about the Medicine card readings we did, and that I got Raven. It pertained a lot to Chris, and the fact that I explain away all things that might bring me comfort, but there was more I wasn’t at liberty to discuss at that time.
“…something special is about to happen…Can you accept it as a gift? Or will you limit the power of the Great Mystery by explaining it away?”
A few weeks before VAB, I came to the decision that I would attempt getting a literary agent. Traegar’s Lunatics was nearly finished, and it’s good. Really good. Way different from anything I’ve ever written. I wanted to query presses that don’t accept unagented work. I mentioned it to someone, who mentioned it to someone. This led to that and I was put in touch with an fabulous woman from The Knight Agency, a literary agency that happened to be on my “first ten queries” list. It was ridiculously serendipitous from first moment to last, and I spent a good deal of Dollbaby Week explaining it away. My manuscript wasn’t even finished! I wasn’t even looking yet! It all seemed way too easy.
But that was explaining it away–something I did all week, whenever I got an email that should have sent me over the moon. It couldn’t be real. It just couldn’t! My dolls–beloved women!–lovingly informed me it wasn’t easy getting here. I’ve spent years learning, making my way along this path, writing and writing and writing. Learning more. Treading further and farther. They were absolutely right. I’m here. Now. And I need to own the fact that I worked hard to get here. A little serendipity isn’t impossible, it was absolutely earned.*
I am now represented by Janna Bonikowski of The Knight Agency. I am over-the-moon happy. She loves my story, is excited about it, is already planning for it. And she’s given me feedback that, if we parted ways right this moment, I’m indebted to her for. I’m looking forward to this new part of my writing journey.
*Of course, I did promise her and the others at The Knight Agency access to the time portal in the woods behind my house. That could be problematic, but a deal is a deal.
Those of you who’ve known me for a while have heard this rant before–Novellas, they’re not what you think they are. They’re not–I repeat, not–about word count. Novella means new* in Italian, not, as many think, little novel. Suggesting a novella is a short work of fiction between 20K and 40K words is like saying a sonnet is simply a poem composed of fourteen lines. As Canadian author, George Fetherling said, (in his essay, Briefly, the case for the novella) to reduce the novella to nothing more than a short novel is like saying “a pony is a baby horse.” See? It’s not just me.
Why do I get such a stick up my ass over this? Because this isn’t a grammar rule in flux, we’re losing an art form, a beautiful art form, and that just hits me in the writerly gut. The world of literary fiction knows and holds the difference when it comes to categories and prizes, but the genres and the general populace don’t, and that’s the danger–because a lie believed by the masses becomes the truth.
Very briefly, it is structure that defines a novella, not word count. There are no designated chapters in a novella, rather they are presented as a whole divided by white space to designate a significant shift. (Though, to be fair, I have seen novellas utilizing chapters.) Plotwise, it ends quite close to where it begins. In fact, little can and usually does change if at all. The form concerns itself more with the character development, the evolution (or devolution) of that character, than it does on plot conflict. The internal vs. the external. Novellas tend to begin close to the precipitating incident, but skip back and forth in time, filling in background. They usually end on the moment of climax, on the brink of change.
I recently came across this diagram that shows the structure in a visual way:
See how it climbs, then how quickly it falls? The reversal (something that happens to change the action’s direction) in the rising action is intrinsic to the structure. I thought that was pretty cool. So I’ll end this here, having gotten it off my chest, and will leave you with a few examples of actual novellas you’ll have heard of:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s ~ Truman Capote
A Christmas Carol ~ Charles Dickens
My Mortal Enemy ~ Willa Cather
Animal Farm ~ George Orwell
Ethan Frome ~ Edith Wharton
The Old Man and the Sea ~ Ernest Hemmingway
Shawshank Redemption ~ Stephen King
The Stepford Wives ~ Ira Levin
The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ Oscar Wilde
*I’ve recently seen it as “little novelty,” but that’s no more right than “little novel” is.
Seeking Carolina releases in less than a month. I have final files and a cover for Dreaming August (book 2) and have started edits for Waking Savannah (book 3.) I’m also writing the first in a spin-off series (tentatively titled Bitterly’s Bachelors,) complete with two more in the series, outlined and waiting.
Bear with me. There’s a point to this.
Some have said to me that they can’t believe I’m still able to write, that I can focus on it at all, given my situation. Fact is, writing is the one thing that never falters. It’s my north star. It’s my anchor. It’s my wings. The focus doesn’t scatter, but sharpens. Clear and precise. When life knocks me down, writing gets me back up. It shoves braces under my butt and against my back so I don’t crumble. Honestly, if I ever stop writing, you should all be very, very worried. Fair warning.
What I can’t do is focus on several things at once these days. Used to be I could juggle editing, helping out in my capacity as Queen Nudge at Hadley Rille Books, writing, outlining future projects, home life. In times like this, when my brain can only handle so much, I have to let a few of those pins drop. Read that as, I have to let all but one pin drop. Writing. MY writing, has to take precedence. I can’t flip between projects, editing one day, writing the next. It takes too much mental energy I don’t have to flip that switch. Same goes for home life stuff. I can focus on my immediate family. I don’t have the fortitude for the usual phone calls to my siblings, my parents, friends. I feel the empty space of letting these things slip away for the time being, but, as my mom says, “It is what it is.” Feeling bad about it is one task too many for my poor brain, my heart.
I guess this is my shout out into the vastness of cyberworld, for any and all those colleagues, friends and family reading this–I’m sorry. I really am. I know I’m not there the way I have always been. And I know you understand, you’re not angry or upset. I guess I just feel the need to acknowledge this rift, and maybe, in a small way, fill the space a little bit.
This is Christofer’s tree:
We planted it, and his ashes, in the front yard. Close family, and friends like family, were here. Small, intimate, sad and touching.
It’s a Sun Valley Maple. Someday, it will look like this:
It’s not what I wanted. I wanted an oak. That seemed a bit cliche, but I wasn’t sure what else fit. Chris was strong and beautiful and withstood so many storms without breaking. But I wasn’t completely set on it. My mind was open. When we discovered that we’d have to wait until next spring for an oak tree, we looked around for something different. Nothing jumped out at me, not even the Sun Valley Maple, until I saw the one we bought. Here’s why:
See that? Three splits instead of the typical two. It “spoke” to me. It looks like a Norse rune, though I couldn’t remember which one. Chris was really into runes. When he was younger, being blonde-haired, blue-eyed and over six feet tall, he was convinced he had Norseman blood mixed in somewhere. It was half-joking, but only half. When I saw this tree, I knew it was his. I meant to look up which rune looked like an upside-down leaf rake, but never got to it. Until yesterday.
While putting something away in the closet of his room, the rune book slid off it’s precarious perch. I figured I’d look it up while I had it in my hand, before I forgot again. Maybe my brain had stored this information in one of its many folds, nudging me to choose that particular tree but…
What was Chris if not protection personified? That’s just who he was. But it goes on to say “Control of the emotions is an issue here […] New opportunities and challenges are typical of this Rune, and with them will come trespasses and unwanted influence […] Algiz serves as a mirror for the Spiritual Warrior, the one whose battle is always with the self.”
I guess the tree really did speak to me.
You can go through life pushing off all the little messages that come through, or you can look at them, see them for what they mean to you, and absorb. Sometimes I feel dumb, reading so much into everything, but isn’t that what I do as a writer? We add in these little signs and symbols that some readers will never overtly get, but will be pulled in anyway. They make the story richer, give it depth. It’s the same with life, no?
Note: I said this wasn’t going to turn into a tribute site for Christofer; I suppose I was wrong. Kind of. This started out as a “cool Chris” event I wanted to record, and ended with writing. Writing is life. Presently, Chris is influencing everything that flies forth from my fingertips. I suppose it’s a natural pairing right now.
The thesaurus is an integral part of a writer’s toolbox. Whether it’s the one programmed into our computers, online, or a book on our desks, we need them like we need water, air, and chocolate…and cats. But they are not to be trusted. They are, after all, tools, not sentient beings who can judge which nuance of smell we actually want when looking up the word. Not only is getting the right nuance important, it’s interesting to know how such a nuance came into being.
So let’s take a few alternates for the word, smell as it pertains to the function and perception of the olfactory organs in our noses. Aroma, reek, fragrance, odor, scent, stench, bouquet, perfume, stink. All of these words come up as alternates for smell, but each one has a slightly different definition. Using a word effectively, whether striking that exact imagery, or purposely turning it on its head, means knowing that definition.
aroma: generally a pleasant smell, easily distinguished and equally pervasive, spreading around its source.
odor: a clearly recognizable smell, normally issuing from a single source, as often pleasant as unpleasant.
fragrance: a pleasant, sweet, delicate smell
scent: a distinctive smell that can be pleasant or unpleasant; also refers to the trail left by the characteristic smell of an animal.
perfume: a pleasant smell, more intense than a fragrance; also, a smell so strong that it becomes overwhelming.
bouquet: a delicate smell, often pertaining to wine.
Old English/Germanic cognates:
stench: a strong, foul, sickening smell; always used negatively.
stink: a strong, sharp, and highly unpleasant smell.
reek: a strong, offensive smell
Obvious differences, right? But look closer at where these words came from. Do you notice anything else?
English was a tri-lingual language. It grew up Saxon/French/Latin. Words used in the sciences can usually be traced back to Latin. Words used in the arts, culinary and otherwise, are usually borrowed from French. The meaner language of the commoner usually derives from the Germanic branch of the family. There was a hierarchy back when England was speaking three languages, the Latin being the high speech of scholars, French being the language of the royal court and higher society, and English being the language of commoners. Note the nuances of the above words–is there not a “higher” meaning to the French and Latin cognates? Even the word smell itself, the most common of all the above, is Old English (perhaps Old Dutch) in nature.
Would you, as an English speaker, say, “I love the aroma of coffee,” or, “I love the smell of coffee”? Most times, we’d say smell, because saying aroma seems almost pretentious. As writers however, we get to play around with words. The old man’s fragrance can be the stuff of legends, because that’s taking the actual meaning and poking a little fun. And while we generally wouldn’t say we love the aroma of coffee, we might write that the coffee’s aroma permeated the bakery.
Such fun, words.
No, really. Why do you? Is it fame? Money? (Cough-choke-wheeze!! Sorry…I just choked on something. I think it was innocence.) Are you the artiste who simply must or die? What are your hopes? Your expectations, both practical and not-so-practical? We all have them, and I’m curious.
I was sparked this morning by a blog post on a friend’s page. She’d recently gone to Bath, England, and discovered some things about Jane Austen she didn’t know before–one of them being that Ms Austen didn’t see her name in print during her lifetime. How is that even possible? It got me thinking about her, and other artists, who never saw fame or fortune in their lifetimes, but committed to their art anyway.
Most of us are never going to see fame or fortune, in our lifetime or posthumously. Still, we do what we do. We write our stories, sing our songs, paint or sculpt, strum and drum. We don costumes and become someone else. We create the costumes. We plant our gardens. Sometimes art is big and sometimes it’s small. It exists for itself, and without it, we’re nothing.
Me? I write because I have the talent. Modesty is for suckers, y’all. My life is kind to my art, and I get to create it full-time without having to slot it in when time allows. Mostly, I write because I can’t imagine not doing so.
That’s really it. My goal is to write my stories, to make them the best I possibly can. The rest is gravy. Now, maybe I can say that because I’ve had a modicum of success at this writing gig, but it was true before I ever sold my first book, so I’m pretty sure it still is. Would I love to see my book in every bookstore? Lines of fans waiting for me to sign their books? A movie deal? Six figures? Five? Guest spots on talk shows across the country? Are those even real questions? Sure I would, but that’s not my reason for writing. It doesn’t fuel my desire to create.
Some will read the above and think I’m nuts. Why spend all this time on something without the ultimate pay-off, validation? That’s just me. The validation I’ve received so far makes me exceedingly happy. It’s truly more than I ever expected. Are my ambitions low? No. I just don’t need outside validation to fuel me. Do you? Is writing into a void wasting time? Does it kill your creativity? There is no right or wrong here. I’m just curious about experiences outside of my own.
I just got back from a week in Virginia Beach–Dollbaby Week. I’ve been taking this week away to write among women, beside the sea, since 2002. Some of these women have been with me since that first (Bald Head Island) trip. Others have come and gone through the years. The gathered group has been pretty steady for about five years now. I love them beyond words, past and present. Dollbabies all, and some of my dearest friends.
I could go on and on about the food, the sangria, the daily-fresh-baked cake. The brilliant quiet of eleven women writing to the music of waves crashing. I could regale you with the bliss of walking along the beach beside someone you only see once a year, or waking to the sun yawning over the ocean, the scent of coffee brewing, and the sound of soft laughter trying not to rise too loud. I could, but I won’t.
I write five days a week, anywhere between five and seven hours a day most of those days. Dollbaby Week is not necessarily a time I get much done. I have the privilege of squandering writing time there that I don’t take at home. But something magical always happens in VAB. Last year, I finished Seeking Carolina. This year, the perfect missing detail for a major story arc in Waking Savannah simply…appeared.
I probably didn’t add more than 2K* words all week. I’d actually be surprised if I added that many. But in among the detritus of writing when one’s mind is not exactly on the story, I tossed in a scene that was neither planned nor particularly necessary. As I closed down for the day, I was already pondering deleting the scene. It just wasn’t necessary.
I start each writing day going over what I’d done the day before. Nothing new there. Most writers do a variation of the same, as a way of reconnecting to the story with a sort of running start. As I went over that scene and came upon the old, burned-out foundation I tossed in as a cool but unnecessary discovery for my main characters, I gasped. Out loud and not just in my head. You know that heady feeling you get when epiphany takes over your brain and floods your body with joy? Got it. Started in my prickling hair follicles and tingled right down to my toes. One, throwaway detail–once again!–and everything fell into place.
Dollbaby magic? The always-crashing sea? Chance? Fate? The cosmos aligning? Who can say? Maybe it was all of those things coming together. Maybe it was just that glowing section of my brain that keeps secrets from me until I need to know about them, tossing out exactly what it knew the storyteller piece of my brain needed. I’m not here to pick that apart. I’m sure the science behind it is cool. I’m happy leaving it a mystery.
Getting words on a page is the goal, but there are times it’s not about word count. Sometimes it’s about freeing up your brain so it can throw things at you. If you’re focused on the word count, you just might biff the catch.
*Strangely enough, I discovered 5,295 words were added to the manuscript last week. Totally surprised me.