I joined my first National
Novel Writing Month in 2010. The thirty days of writing abandon lifted me off
the ground with encouragement, camaraderie, and a nice award certificate for
finishing with over 50,000 words.
I had the word count, but did
I have a novel—a big NO.
What I had was a failed
experiment. Of my two ideas for protagonists, one an older woman and one much
younger, I went with the older character first. Unfortunately, I ran out of
steam halfway in, about the same time I came to the end of my story. What to
do? It’s NaNoWriMo, so I kept writing. I came up with another ending. I still
didn’t have my word count, so I continued with notes and thoughts about what
I’d do better—next time.
Out of that mess, came the
basis for my next attempt with a different protagonist and different story
elements. This turned out better, but it still wasn’t a novel.
So, for my 2013 effort, I
found a writing group that met at Books-A-Million in Davenport. I joined in, but felt very
uncomfortable. The group had a nice mix of ages, so it wasn’t that. It was me
showing up with my old manuscript pages and working on a total rewrite. That
didn’t jive with the often stated purpose of writers diving into something
brand new and writing by the seat of their pants.
I felt that I’d done that
already. Twice, even. Now, I needed more. I needed to refine, develop, and
complete the process. I showed up every Friday night in November, but kept to
myself. I stayed off to the side, sipped my latte, and typed away. I got my
50,000 words, my certificate, and a much better product. I neared my personal
goal of having a real novel.
Now, with my novel
tantalizingly close to completion, the goal for this year’s NaNoWriMo—50,000
brand new words.
I sat in front of a
microphone Thursday morning and put in my fifteen minutes. Alas, not for my
fifteen minutes of fame, just helping WVIK put together an interview for the Midwest Writing Center’s
David R. Collins Writers’ Conference.
To promote the conference, an
annual end-of-June event, the station wanted to interview someone new to the
conference and someone old. I got the nod for old.
I didn’t mind, because I’ve
been coming to MWC workshops since 2008 and the conference since 2011. And,
yes, at sixty-three, I am somewhat oldish.
I filled in the interviewer
to my background, how I first heard about the conference, and noted the things
I felt helped me the most. I listed a great many.
My connection with MWC has been
very beneficial for me. I’ve come a long way from the shy person hanging out in
the background afraid someone might notice me. I’m still a shy person, but I
tend to speak up more.
In reviewing my information
packets and notes from the 2011 conference, I noticed I had signed up for three
workshops. For 2012, I attended two. Last year it came down to only one. This
year, I’m going to pitch, that is, actually talk to two agents about
representing me and my book.
Whether the pitches work or
not doesn’t matter to me as much as showing how far I’ve come on this novel
writing journey of mine. Thanks to working with the MWC, I feel like I am a
writer and my novel will get published one way or the other. There are a lot of
opportunities out there and one of them will be right for me.
Before leaving the station, my
last comment for the interviewer, a young woman, was “don’t wait for
opportunities,” meaning, make your moves before the later stages of life.
I meant to be encouraging,
but maybe I was wrong. We don’t all have the same opportunities or develop at
the same pace. What if you have a certain amount of living you have to put in
before you’re capable, ready, for writing down your stories? What if the stars
do have line up?
Whatever the answer, in the end,
I can only speak for my journey and I got here the best way I knew how.
Click here to find WVIK article and audio.
When I began planning my
first novel, that is, when it started to have more substance other than a
dream, I had three things on my agenda: use my art background, write a mystery,
and have Bishop Hill as a character.
My art background began to
develop in the sixth grade after a teacher encouraged me to do more with the
pencil sketches I’d entered in a school art show. I’ve stayed with art as a
career choice through several permutations. So, that was a no-brainer.
Several sources recommended
writing a mystery for a first book as a lesson in plotting. Good advice, since I
have this tendency to dump too much information on the reader way too soon.
It’s an ongoing struggle to pace things out. So attempting a mystery was
definitely a good deal for me.
Dealing with the last item on
my list was more difficult. Bishop Hill and its history has been the subject of
any number of scholarly books and articles. A few writers have used Bishop Hill
as a setting for mysteries and have done a good job portraying places and
people I could recognize. Others have delved into its historic past in a
fictionalized manner to explore important themes. None of these efforts were
going to be helpful for me. I wanted a Bishop Hill that might have been, one of
my own creation. Similar, but not. Familiar, but not.
The first thing to go—windmills.
Not so hard to do. In order to have my 103-year-old span the time frame I
needed, I had to set the action in 2008. There were no wind turbines on the
You may ask why I needed a
103-year-old. Good question. During my first NaNoWriMo marathon writing splurge,
I tired very quickly of typing in “great-great-grand...” whenever I wanted to
reach back for historical facts or action. Easy answer: Create a character who
had lived it all and who could bear witness.
So far, I’ve left the basic
structure: the Bishop Hill Rd.,
the park, the Colony-era buildings intact. No one who’s planning to visit after
reading my book will likely get lost. But I’ll work on adding a map anyway,
just to be safe.
It’s been quite a week for
me. I discovered a portal had opened up and given me the opportunity to travel
back in time—sort of.
I’ve set the action in my
Bishop Hill novel to take place during a weeklong stretch in 2008. To be precise,
from Friday, May 30th, to Sunday, June 8th. As I prepared to take a drive back
to the village in order to soak up some atmosphere, it dawned on me that May
30, 2014 was also a Friday. Not an earthshaking event by any means, but a
serendipitous opportunity to spend the whole next week pretending the events in
my novel were unfolding in real time.
At the end of May last year,
I took a similar drive back to Bishop Hill. I specifically wanted to look at
the fields along Highway 34 and check out how the planting was going. I used my
observations to improve the description of my protagonist’s drive from Galesburg to the village.
This year, I chose to drive
out later in the day. I had found some historical information about the
different levels of twilight in 2008 and wanted to experience it first hand. To
get a better feel for the levels of darkness as night descended.
I had no idea that there
could be so much more to sunset. The website for Weather Underground listed
four categories of evening light that depended on the sun’s position at and below
the horizon: Actual sunset, Civil twilight, Nautical twilight, and Astronomical
twilight. Before finding these facts, it was just all fading light to me. Now I
have names for the changes and a time table. The internet—what a great tool.
While driving around, I began
to notice all the little changes to quiet Bishop Hill and the surrounding area.
There were quite a few more than I would have expected. Most of the older parts
of the village try to remain true to the colony era, but you can’t freeze time
and prevent change. As structures age, they need repairing, repainting, and,
I never thought of my novel
as a tool that might preserve a portion of Bishop Hill’s past life. I just wanted
it to tell an interesting story, to be a “good read.” My novel, in its own
small way, may become something of a capsule to be opened up by the reader who
wants to do a little time traveling.