I’m Thankful For . . . (Writer’s Edition)

Right. I know it’s hokey and trite, but everyone else is doing “what I’m thankful for” things this week, so . . . here goes.

1.) Beta Readers. If you have good beta readers, you know there’s nothing better. They’re supportive, they’re honest, they make great comments, and usually, they’re right.

2.) My Characters. Let’s face it:  there’s no way to have a story without a character. Heck, I wrote a short story once about a Kleenex, of all things, but by gum, that Kleenex was a character! 🙂 But I mean the characters that choose us. The ones that appear out of nowhere, stories and conflicts tucked away in their suitcases, and make themselves at home. The ones you can’t shake, and don’t know what you’d do without.

3.) My Laptop. This is, by far, the hokiest of the hokey, but . . . I love my laptop. It’s a Dell Inspiron, 15″ screen, pink, with a black piano lacquer keyboard. It’s been my companion for seven years. It still runs Office 2003 . . . and I like it that way!

4.) The National Archives. For finally coming through with the HUGE case file I needed for my nonfiction book research! I just got the email today, three months after I first contacted them. It’s 2,500 pages, give or take, and they are keeping it for me at the site closest to me until I can go view it in person, in two weeks. Maybe sooner. 🙂

5.) On that note . . . Local History. Like a lot of small-town papers, mine, the Arkansas City Traveler, isn’t that great. But they do run this little “100 Years Ago Today” feature, which is where I found the case that hopefully will become my first nonfiction book. Those little nuggets of history were gifts, and I’ll never, ever forget that. It’s also the paper that keeps me laughing over things such as a local sheriff – and the D.A. – being arrested for possession of liquor and public drunkenness during Prohibition. Things that someday, will make Nicky’s story come alive.

6.) My Local Coffeehouse. Without which I would have to travel 1 hour to find the nearest Starbucks’. Not to mention free Wi-Fi, the greatest coffeehouse owner you could ask for, and some great conversations. It’s a great place to sit and write without interruption. You bury your head in your laptop and type away madly, and people do tend to leave you alone. 🙂

7.) Bits of Inspiration. Or, as I also have referred to them, “history’s orphans.” I can look at an object and think about its past, and sometimes even find a way to incorporate that into a story I’m writing. But the items have to find me first. And if they’re meant to, they do.

8.) Purple Pens. I used to edit in red, but I’ve moved to purple now. It’s a bit friendlier. Oddly, I even find myself writing fewer nasty comments to myself, and more comments that are constructive and funny. If you don’t have a purple pen, get one. You’ll love it. I promise. 🙂

There are other things I’m thankful for, but . . . when it comes to writing, these are definitely my Top Eight.

Change The Goal

I’m always thinking about goals. Every morning, I jot down my to-do list. For breaks, I have to-do lists. I make New Year’s Resolutions. Sometimes, I actually keep them.

This week, I had to think about goals – a lot.

One of my favorite authors is dressage rider – and Olympian – Jane Savoie. She was one of the first to use psychology to aid her in riding, and she still gives clinics today in which she teaches her principles to other riders. Her book That Winning Feeling was one of the first books on sports psychology ever published, and definitely the first one geared towards horse people! In it, she uses visualization techniques to help riders achieve their goals; the more you mentally practice, the better you are in reality. She also states the importance of setting goals, and keeping those goals close to you at all times – jotting them on sticky notes and putting them on your bathroom mirror, your car’s sun visor, the ice-cream carton in the freezer. Wherever you need to put them in order to see them all the time.

But she also wrote something that has come back to me this week, about goals and goal-setting. It’s okay to change your goals.

When you’re riding, it’s not just you out there; you’ve also got a partner, and your partner weighs upwards of 1,500 pounds and has a mind of its own. Maybe today, your plan was to work on counter-canter, but ten minutes into the ride, you can tell that This Isn’t Happening. Your horse is spooky; he’s not paying any attention to you. Forget counter-canter. You’ll be lucky to get a regular canter today. So you change your goal. You’re not giving up on the long-range goal of moving up a level, or going to that show in two months. Instead, you’re changing your goals for today. Maybe today, then, you work on shoulder-in, or doing twenty-meter trot circles that slowly spiral in to ten-meter circles, then slowly spiral back out. Maybe today, the goal is simply not to get killed.

This week, I found out it’s the same principle with writing.

I had a very specific goal in mind for NaNoWriMo: finish my young-adult novel that I started last year during NaNo. I wrote about. I talked about it. I had a GOAL, damn it!

Then . . . life said, “HA! Screw you, lady!” There were many, many papers to grade. Exams to grade. Two new classes that started. A crazy schedule that just never seemed to leave me any time – at all – for writing.

None of this was conducive to working on that particular novel. Nicky’s voice is so unique that I can’t just jump into it. This is the only novel I’ve ever written where I can’t slip in and out of it at will. It’s a little spooky, to be honest. Fifteen minutes here or there just isn’t going to get it done. You have to be 100% devoted to it, or else Nicky just says “Lady, you ain’t listening. Get out.” And that’s it! You get out, because Nicky isn’t going to talk.

Finally, my grading was finished – two days ago. I realized that not only had I not written since November 9, I also had only written about 10,000 words. If I was going to win NaNo, it wasn’t going to be with my YA novel.

So. I changed the goal.

All this year, I’ve been re-writing my urban fantasy series, from third person into first. So I decided that since I had a mostly-written third book sitting on my hard drive, I might as well start on that. It would only be an average of 4,000 words per day. I had plenty of material to work with. I’d still accomplish something – getting this novel drafted. And I’d accomplish my other goal of “winning” NaNo with 50,000 words.

Now. I can hear some of you screaming already – that’s cheating! You can’t use an existing novel for NaNo! Well, I humbly beg your pardon, but yes, I can — and below, I’ve provided my proof. 🙂 The first section, in italics, is the new version just written; the second section is the original, sucky version. You see, they’re nothing alike.

Change the goal.

Is your goal for this week 10,000 words? So many pages? Does it seem impossible? Change the goal. You’re not giving up! You’ve still got the original goals – finishing this work, getting an agent, getting published. But why punish yourself for things beyond your control? Why not just change your short-term goals? Instead of writing X number of words, focus on rewriting some key scenes you haven’t been happy with. Instead of doing an outline by Saturday, maybe you work on character sketches. As long as your goal doesn’t change from “Write this week!” to “Watch seasons 1-3 of Sherlock this week!” you’re good! 🙂

(If you’re curious, here’s a link to That Winning Feeling): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/that-winning-feeling-jane-savoie/1003676148?ean=9780851317403

(Here’s the rewritten version)

If you’ve never had broken ribs, I can’t recommend them enough. They remind you so very, very much of what it’s like to live a pain-free life. They make you nostalgic for stubbed toes and burned hands. You never truly know what pain is until you have a floating bit of bone stabbing you somewhere every time you move. Comfortable? Forget it.

That’s what I was trying to do that night – get comfortable on the couch. I was lucky. I was able to wrap my ribs, at least. And it hurt like hell to do it, but it felt so good – comparatively speaking – afterwards, that it was really worth it. I stretched out my sore knee and propped it up on a pillow, and nestled gingerly into the pillows at my back. Then, I picked up Jacob’s letter from the coffee table, and re-read it.

McLaren had suggested I stop at a hardware store and have them cut two pieces of Plexiglass, slip the letter between them, and then tape them together. That way, we wouldn’t run the risk of damaging the letter. Since he’d pointedly looked at my latte as he’d said that, I had a pretty good idea of what he meant by “damaging” it. But the plastic cover made it hard to read the faded handwriting, and I kept having to tip it this way and that to catch the light just right.

Part of the problem was that it wasn’t written in ink.          

It was actually Jacob’s blood, forming those words and sentences.

I knew what it said; I had memorized it over the past few days, ever since Spencer had given me the prayer book when I was in the hospital. Remembering that moment, when I’d flipped over that last page and found the letter, still made me both giddy and sad. Jacob had done what he could to make sure I found this. Despite the fact that he’d been in thrall to the demon for God knew how long, he’d somehow managed to start casting off those bonds, and tell me – in the only way he could – what he needed.

Okay. Total lie, there. He’d been in thrall to the demon. But it had been my peculiar ability to bring back memories for ghosts that had finally allowed his own memories to start coming back to him. I imagined them returning like things floating up from a dark lake after an earthquake – dim, unfamiliar, only slowly taking shape as they rose to the surface, only recognizable when they finally broke the water and bobbed into the light of day.

Wow. Those pain killers were really giving me an imagination.

Tonight, though, the words were blurring, swirling into a sea of letters that ceased to make any sense. I lay my head back, sighing.

 (And this is the original version)

That night, Erin shifted around on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position so she could read. She still had a paper due for Dearborn – and a few more changes and additions to make to her thesis proposal.

Plus, she had to figure out what she was going to do about McLaren’s paper.

She stretched out her sore knee, propped it up on a pillow, and nestled gingerly into the pillows at her back. For what felt like the thousandth time in the past five days, she re-read Jacob’s letter. Per McLaren’s suggestion, she’d stopped off at a hardware store and had someone cut two pieces of Plexiglass to slip the paper between, then taped them together so she could handle the letter without actually touching it. It made it harder to read the faded words; she had to tip the whole thing this way and that to catch the light just right.

But tonight, it didn’t seem to matter. The words on the page swam into a sea of letters that ceased to make any sense, and she laid her head back, sighing.

So I risked my life – my soul – for this letter. And it still isn’t enough.

Writing for Your Reader

Great food for thought from YA author Debra Dockter — and something I needed to hear, too! 🙂

debra dockter

This week I was discussing a short story assignment with a student. She’d shared her story with a writing group and found that they took issue to her not telling whether or not a character was male or female. She stated that it was her goal to keep this hidden from readers so there would be surprise at the end when the readers realized the sex of the character.

The whole discussion led me to how Stephen King opened his lecture at Wichita State University last week. He started with a “dumb joke” only we never got to hear the punch line because when reading the joke online, he’d gotten stuck. The joke starts, “Two jumper cables walk into a bar”. How does one visualize this? How exactly do jumper cables “walk into a bar”?  I thought of this because when reading my student’s story, I was stuck in trying…

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“Two jumper cables walk into a bar . . .” or, I SAW STEPHEN KING!!

I know! You’re thinking WHAT do those two things have to do with each other? But if you were in Wichita last night, and you were one of the 2,100 people who saw Stephen King, then you know exactly what it means — it was the opening line to his opening joke.

That was as far as the joke ever went, by the way. 🙂

I’d had my ticket to see Stephen King since they went on sale a month ago. He was only schedule to do 6 stops on this particular tour, and Wichita was one of the stops. I HAD to go. I’m not the biggest King fan on earth, but his book On Writing is my Bible. I love his sense of humor, and his voice.

Then on Monday, I got a call from a friend. Did I want to volunteer as an usher for the event? When she mentioned I’d get a seat in the main auditorium — rather than maybe getting stuck in the overflow room — I said sure.

In retrospect, I will say this:  there were people who deserved that more than me. Real Stephen King fans, who adore him and his works. I’ve read a few of his other novels, particularly Misery, Needful Things, Salem’s Lot, and Christine. Christine, in fact, became the name of my ’66 Mustang, which tried to kill me on numerous occasions before I sold it. But it was On Writing that made the most impact on me, and so I became an usher.

There is only one way I can describe last night.

It was a rock concert.

For an author! For books! the line

The line — first, well, here’s my really bad photo of the line, but it was completely around the building when I arrived at 3:30. (This is the back of the building.) And people were still arriving. Later, I talked to people who had been there since midnight. Midnight! And yesterday in Wichita was freezing. High of 31 degrees, wind chill of about 20.

But once they got inside — !

I’ve been to concerts before. There’s an electricity in the air; everyone is 100% focused on why they’re there. The excitement is contagious — it’s magical. You could create a tulpa with that kind of dedicated energy. That’s what this was like. They didn’t complain about security; they didn’t complain about the wait; they didn’t complain about the lines in the bathrooms. No one ever took anyone else’s seat. No one ever got mad (well, except for the one woman who just about ripped apart the media people, who had planned to set up Right In Front of Her. But that was understandable, given the fact that we all had just about ten seconds — from the time Stephen King walked through the curtains until he got to the podium — to take photos. It would have been very nice, Mr. King, iStephen Kingf you could have spared another 30 seconds for that, especially for the poor schmuck (me) who had to duck down when everyone else started taking photos, too). Because this is the Really Bad Photo I took.

I talked to a woman who drove in from Arkansas. One who flew in, that morning, from Texas. They had talked to someone who came from Indiana, and I know there was a couple from California. People were exchanging emails and phone numbers, and friending each other on Facebook. The early-comers had about a two-hour wait. For each and every second, they were polite, quiet, courteous, friendly, and just so happy to be there. (Inside. Thawing out.)

And then . . . He Arrived.

No other way to say it. He Arrived. And you could tell, even from 70 feet away like I was, that he was just as excited by the crowd as the crowd was by him. A symbiotic relationship. These people knew him, and knew his books, and knew why they were there — to be in the presence of someone they adored and idolized.

It was just like a rock concert. Seriously.  At one point, he mentioned one of his books and the crowd erupted into cheers — “I love it. I say the title of a book, and you guys clap!”

He told a story about needing to fix his motorcycle. He had just gotten it to the driveway of the repair shop when it died. So he walked up to the house/garage, and out of the garage came this giant St. Bernard . . .and the people went crazy. Because they knew! This was the origin of one of their favorite novels, from the author himself, and they were getting the story firsthand. Not from an interview. Not on NPR or in Writer’s Digest. but from Stephen King himself. Not only was it their own inside joke, but it was one that they were all sharing at the exact same moment.

Yes, I took notes. Because one other thing I love about Stephen King is that, like me, he writes without a plan in mind. Or, in his words, “I assume the ending will be there.”

His analogy, which I loved, was this:  visualize a mouse hole in a baseboard, with a red string sticking out of it. Pull on the string, because the string is your story. If you’re lucky, you’ll get it all, and you’ve got your novel/novella/short story. Sometimes, he admits, “the string breaks.” In other words, the story goes nowhere, and you’ve wasted some material – but I don’t think he ever feels that the time was wasted. How could it be, after all? Writing is writing. Even if the story goes nowhere, or goes nowhere for now, you’ve learned something from the process. You’ve written.

And on those lines, here’s another great gem:  “You don’t try to steer the story. You let the story tell itself.” Here, he gave a great example — his vampire novel Salem’s Lot. Did you know that originally, King planned for the vampires to win? But, he said, some of the characters were stronger than he thought they’d be, and they defeated the vampires instead. “And that’s fine, too” he said. “I like a happy ending as much as anyone!” Knowing that someone as great, as prolific, as Stephen King can write novels without a plan or ending in mind, in which he trusts his characters to do what they need to do and develop how they need to develop, is freeing, for me. It should be for you, too. 🙂

Like all great experiences, this one was too short. Just an hour. And then He Left.

And so did the people, after a mad — yet polite — scramble to gather their books. Every now and then, there was a happy scream from someone who’d gotten one of the few signed copies. (Before anyone asks — NO. I did not get a signed copy. Even being an usher didn’t grant me privileges that great.)

But he left me feeling even more in awe of this thing that we do, this writing life we lead. Because without readers, we are just that — writers. It’s the readers that make us authors. Being there, in the presence of so many fans, some of whom had traveled thousands of miles to see Stephen King, made me very humbled — and hopeful that someday, maybe, my own novels can deserve that kind of fervor.

History’s Orphans — those items I can’t let go

I’m a historian. I teach history for three local colleges, and while I started out as a medievalist, and still love that, I’ve gotten much more into American history since I started teaching eight years ago. There’s something about it – we learn one thing in elementary school, mostly propaganda (at least, that’s how it was when I was in elementary school!), and then you don’t learn anything else unless you really start to get into it and study it more.

All the little stories. All the hidden history. All the things you never knew, or took for granted. (For example: did you know that the KKK of the 1920s was far more likely to attack Catholics or bootleggers, than African-Americans? It’s true!)

I also collect historical items – vintage items, to be more precise. Some, I sell through my store on Etsy. But sometimes, I find those things that I can’t quite let go. That 1930s passport. Research for a book. A wood cheese box that I store Post-It notes in. More than a hundred snapshots and World War II letters, left behind. To some, they’d be things to throw away. To me, they’re orphans. Not perfect; sometimes I can’t even put them in my shop because they don’t meet my own standards. But I keep them nonetheless, because I think everything has a story behind it. My shop’s motto is “Finding homes for history.” Sometimes, that home is with me.

For example: I collect vintage dresses. This week, I found a 1920s silk flapper dress at an estate sale. It’s fragile, but beautiful; a golden yellow with purple edging. Flowers dancing down the skirt. This is my third flapper dress. I showed it to a friend, and then I told her about one of my other dresses. One that I know has a story behind it.

I found it in a trash bin at an antiques shop – it was wadded up in a box of stuff to be thrown away. It’s gorgeous: white silk, sleeveless, with a blue and red striped skirt with heavy glass beads, in red and blue, all down it. So heavy, in fact, that the dress can’t be on a hanger; it has to lay flat. But all that would just be interesting if not for the fact that the dress is also covered in blood stains. I definitely understand why the shop decided to toss it – but I couldn’t let that happen. What tragedy did this dress see? What happened on a summer night in the 1920s? Why were the stains never washed out?

So many stories. So much imagination. I’ve no idea. Yes, I know I’m strange; a normal person would not bring that dress home. But I’m not normal. I’m a historian. And more – I’m a writer. This orphaned dress needed a home. I am slowly working on cleaning it, but the fact is, I’m not sure I want to. Every time I touch it, my mind wonders what the girl who wore it was like. What happened to her – or more likely, to the person she held, as there are no holes in the dress itself. Clearly, it was never taken as evidence. Was it an illicit relationship gone wrong? Where did the tragedy take place? And why?

These are the questions that haunt me sometimes, when I pick up objects, as I decide whether or not to bring them home. Photographs do this to me the most – so many times, the photos I collect have no names attached to them. They are strangers to me, but their stories are still there, somehow, in the paper and ink. But then there are those “orphan” items, like the christening gown I picked up at an auction a month or so ago, clearly tossed in a box and forgotten for generations. I intended to put it in the shop, but . . . I spent so much time cleaning it, I fell in love. 🙂

And that’s why I haunt estate sales and rummage sales. It’s true that sometimes, one man’s trash is just another man’s trash. But it’s also true that sometimes, there’s an item that doesn’t belong in the trash. That deserves better. Those are the items – those orphans – that come home with me.

Say Hello to Nicky . . .

All right. My friend Debra Dockter requested a meeting with Nicky, so this is as good an introduction as I can give. It’s rough! And as you’ll see, it’s nothing like what you’re used to seeing from me. This is why it’s so hard for me to slip back into his voice; it’s so unique, and the language is very different. The sentence structure, the dialogue, the word choice — all so different from what I usually write! 

Our first customer was the speakeasy east of Silverdale, down on Grouse Creek. It’s so well-known, they don’t even bother hiding what they are. It was January; really cold that year, with snow blowing and the creek freezing near solid. I drove Abby over to Simon’s and we loaded her up with the wooden crates. We’d taken out the rumble seat and put in some cotton padding in the back to give us more room there, and we’d shortened up the seat in the front some so’s I could reach the pedals easier and we could fit more bottles between the back of the seat and the back of the car.

“You be careful heading over there,” Simon said. “They play rough, or so I hear.”

“I will,” I said. I shivered in my coat; it was deuced cold out, and my sleeves were about two inches too short. My pant legs were abut two inches too short too, and my socks were close to threadbare. Simon looked at me and studied me a second.

“You got anything else to wear?”

I shook my head, stamping my feet. I was outgrowing my boots too – I’d tied ‘em up in cardboard and twine, but my toes were freezing through the cracks. But Eunice and Sam were growing too, and they had to have new coats for winter. Mama had made over one of my old ones for Sam, but Eunice had to have a new one, and it’d taken the last of my money to get the stuff for Mama to make it. Hadn’t been nothing left for me.

“You go find yourself something before you go over there,” Simon said. “It’s only gonna get colder. Mind you, you get yourself over there before ten, you hear? Else they’ll want their money back.”

I nodded. I didn’t have nothing else to wear.

“I mean it,” Simon said. “You go get yourself a blanket or something.”

I couldn’t go back home; I couldn’t let Mama see me. I couldn’t worry her. But maybe she’d be in the sitting room with the babies, helping ‘em with their homework. Maybe she’d have a blanket or something in her room I could sneak in the back and grab. Something in her closet.

I pulled the Model T around the back of the house and waited in the dark, but Mama didn’t ever come to the door, so I got out and let the door sit there, not daring to shut it. Then I snuck in the back door and listened; I could hear Mama and Sam in the sitting room, talking about math, so I crept down the hall towards Mama’s room. Seemed like she kept old quilts and stuff in her closet. I didn’t dare light the lantern, just let my eyes adjust to the full moon coming in the window and opened the closet door.

God alive.

All of Daddy’s clothes was still there.

I couldn’t. She’d know.

But I could smell him – opening that closet was like opening a door to Daddy. Suddenly I was eight again, sitting next to him in the garage while he explained why spark plugs had to be cleaned regular, and how fuel lines could get clogged up with dirt and stuff . . . smelling the pipe tobacco he carried in his front shirt pocket, and the hair pomade he used on Sundays, or when he and Mama got dressed up on Friday nights sometimes and went to Ark City to go dancing. I grabbed a shirt and brought it to my face, breathing deep, and felt something twist up inside my chest and tears sting my eyes.

Why? I wanted to shout. Why’d you have to go and die and leave me here doing all this? Why’d you have to leave us and go to Europe and go fight? Why’d you have to take up with those damn Germans and get accused of treason anyway? Why’d you make me do what you were supposed to be here to do? Why’d you leave me? Why?

But I didn’t shout it. I just dug my fingers into the shirt real deep, like I was trying to reach him, and suddenly, I was pulling off my old coat and the ratty old shirt I’d been wearing for the past month ‘cause it was the only one I could still button up, and I was pulling on Daddy’s shirt. It was too big – I buttoned the sleeves and they slid over my hands, but I didn’t care. I smelled like him.

I had to grab one of Mama’s hat pins and put more holes in the suspenders to get ‘em short enough to keep his pants up around my waist, and roll up the cuffs several times, but the shoes, God love it, was a perfect fit. I pulled out his old overcoat – it was miles too long for me, coming past my knees, and I had to roll up the sleeves on it too, but it was so warm. Felt like I hadn’t been warm in years. I snuggled deep into it.

Daddy’s driving cap was hanging on a hook on the back of the door. Gray and tan houndstooth, like the coat; Mama always said he looked smart when he wore’ em together. He always said he’d buy her a coat to match, too, but he never did. The cap fell over my eyes, but I shoved it back off my face. The coat was so heavy it felt like I could barely move, but I wasn’t gonna leave it behind.

Mama had a clock on the table next to her bed – God alive! I had ten minutes to get to Sally’s. I ran out the back door so fast I didn’t even stop to latch it, threw myself into the Model T, and revved the engine. I thought I saw light spillin’ out of the house as I took off, but I didn’t bother to look back. I just shoved the cap further back on my face and shot her into third.

NaNoWriMo — A Journey Back

It’s November 1. The official beginning of NaNoWritMo, 2014!

If you don’t know what that is, it’s National Novel Writing Month, where you’re challenged to write 50,000 words in 30 days — between November 1 and November 30. (Ironic, that the first words I’m going to write are this blog!) Here’s the site:  http://nanowrimo.org/

The words don’t have to be on the same topic. That’s the best thing. You can work on different projects at once if you want. All that you need to do is actually write the 50,000 words. If you do, and you submit them to the official website count, you win! What do you win? The bragging rights and a really awesome banner you can put on your Facebook page. Here’s mine from last year! NaNoBut it’s better than that, because the things you really win by completing NaNo are intangible.

It’s the time when you put the pedal to the metal and prove you’re a writer. As I’ve said before — don’t make me get my soapbox out! — you don’t become a writer by talking about it. You become a writer by writing. NaNo makes you write. You have a daily word goal — just 1,667 words per day. That’s not a lot! You just write one word, and then another, and then another, and then 1,664 more, and by gum, you’ve met your daily quota! And best of all, no one cares what you’re writing! It can be a novel. It can be short stories. It can be blog posts. It can be dribbles of cold pudding. Who cares? No one will ever see it.

Unless . . . you’re like Erin Morgenstern. Or Sara Gruen. Or anyone else on this list of published novels that were started during NaNo:  http://mentalfloss.com/article/53481/14-published-novels-written-during-nanowrimo Heck, there’s an awful lot of published writers who actually do research ahead of time so they can spend the entire month just writing on their new novel. See, this can be about Something Bigger. Often, the ideas that germinate during the cold November days as you’re chained to your computer can bloom into full-blown novels . . . novels that can get published.

Before last year, I’d never done NaNoWriMo. But last year, I took the best class of my life — Writing Young Adult Fiction from the University of Oxford. And there, we had to come up with an idea for our own young adult novel. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. Until one day, on my walk, this pipsqueak kid in suspenders, a tweed driving cap, and a tweed overcoat that dragged the ground appeared to me. That was Nicky. My rumrunner.

Nicky is difficult to work with. Not because he’s reticent or quiet — absolutely not!!!! Exactly the opposite. Of all the characters that have ever come to me, Nicky is the one who basically grabbed me by the shirt front and said, “Hey, lady! You. Write my story. Now.” From the second I saw him in my mind, I knew he was going to be trouble. And he’s done his best to live up to that initial reaction. But I swore that this year, during NaNo, I would finish the novel I started last year. And I would do it because Nicky deserves it.

I won’t lie. Giving myself over to his voice is a lot like a medium channeling a spirit. Last year, I was even starting to talk like him, and it took at least a solid month to break myself of the bad writing habits he demands of me. But more than that, with Nicky, he grabs you by the hand and sucks you into his world — and moving between my real life, and his world, is very difficult for me to do. It’s exactly like time-travel. (Well. Not that I know that for sure, but . . .) I have to re-immerse myself in the year 1924 — remember the dialogue and dialect, the words and phrases, the music and cars, the businesses and politics. I live there, when I’m writing with Nicky. And in reality, I live in 2014. But I do it anyway, because I have to.

Will my entire NaNo be taken up with Nicky? Hard to say — but probably. Does yours have to be? It better not be! You stay away from Nicky! He’s mine! 🙂 Go get your own characters to talk to you and suck you into their worlds. Go get your own characters that demand hours of research at the library and an entirely new vocabulary. But I am finishing Nicky’s story. If I know him, the worst is yet to come, and there will no doubt be tears — many of them — before it’s done. There will no doubt be more times when I’m typing away whispering to myself Nicky, just shut up and stop digging that hole deeper! even as he continues to do whatever it is he’s hell-bent on doing. But I’ll do it anyway.

Because I have a novel to finish, and a fourteen-year old rumrunner who needs me.

(If you need an inspiring story to get you started, here’s Erin Morgenstern’s blog about her NaNo adventure, and the path towards being published:  http://erinmorgenstern.com/2010/05/agented/)