Friday, June 27, 2014

Using NaNoWriMo for My Own Purposes

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.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sometimes You Have to Wait

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.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bishop Hill as a Character

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 skyline then.

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., Main St., 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.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Time Traveling

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, eventually, replacing.

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.