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Posts Tagged ‘writing novels’

Inspiration often comes from a surprising direction.

I recently had a birthday and my sister sent me a gift. It was a pack of pencils, with a cunning two-stage sharpener and a “point guard” (a metal cap that fits over and protects the pencil’s point, a thing of which I never before heard and now wonder how I ever lived without).

I have a thing about pencils. I’m very particular.

I do not like mechanical pencils. I positively loathe the disposable mechanical pencil (such wastefulness should be resoundingly decried). Give me a pencil of wood and graphite, every time.

Over the past six decades, I’ve always had a preferred brand.

  • First and for many years, it was the old-school yellow Ticonderoga #2. Nothing could beat it for availability, economy, smoothness of draw, and dark positive line.
  • Then I discovered Blackfeet Indian pencils and immediately fell for their natural wood finish and aromatic cedar wood (not to mention the cedar wood box each dozen came in); I was faithful to them for years after they were discontinued, but recently the price of a box became too expensive.

Disappointed by replacement options and running low on my stock of (now prohibitively expensive) Blackfeet, I did what any self-respecting stationery nerd would do. I switched to a fountain pen. I wrote all of the Fallen Cloud Saga with a fountain pen, but recently, as I’ve been concentrating more on poetry, I’ve returned to my first love, the pencil, meting out my Blackfeet Indian pencils with miserly oversight, running each one down to the absolute nub.

Then my sister’s gift arrived.

The pencils she sent are Blackwing 602s. As with the Blackfeet Indian pencil, they had a long and storied reputation; 602s were the preferred (and often exclusive ) choice of great talents: artists (Chuck Jones, Don Bluth), composers (Copland, Bernstein, Sondheim), playwrights (O’Neill, Laurents), and novelists (Steinbeck, White). Also as with the Blackfeet, the line was discontinued in the late 1990s (at which time Sondheim reportedly bought himself a lifetime supply).

The Blackwing 602, however, was revived in 2010, and my sister, knowing my love of All Things Stationery, gifted me with a dozen.

And they are wonderful.

Smooth, long, lean, requiring only the lightest touch for a dark line, with graphite tough enough to hold a fine point (but easy to re-tip, using the 2-stage sharpener), and with a wide eraser that can be extended as it’s used up, they are my new favorite.

“But wait,” I hear you say. “What was that bit up there about inspiration? Where does that come in?”0

Well, it turns out that, as I’ve been toying with these new pencils, using them for notes and analyses for my day job, I’ve grown dissatisfied with using these perfect pencils just for jotting down procedures and sketching out data flows. Even using them for poetry wasn’t enough.

The obvious thing, then, was to take out The Wolf Tree, the novel I’ve been working on since before the pandemic, which still needs a lot of writing.

Which means that the gift of a pencil has unexpectedly provided me the inspiration to get back to work on my novel.

And that’s a gift with a worth that’s far above rubies.

k

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The Princess Gang rolled into the cul-de-sac on the same day Mr. B’s plum tree decided to bloom.

That’s the first line from a story that started flowing yesterday. Remembering, of course, that (say it with me) all first drafts are crap, it’ll obviously go through some revisions, but the important thing is that it was followed by a thousand words of a quiet little story that’s been pinballing around my brain for over a year.

The reason I share this is because nothing like this has happened for a long, long time.

Yes, I’ve written some fiction in the past handful of years. Most of it has been in posts on this very blog—vignettes, word imagery, poems—all meant for immediate consumption. I’ve also been slugging my way through a championship bout with a new novel which, though reportedly of good quality (especially for a first draft), has been the most difficult fiction project of my life. But a short story, a for-real short story? It’s been years. The last one I wrote was “The Book of Solomon.” It’s good, and it found a home in The Timberline Review, but I wrote that story years ago, and there has been zip-a-dee-doo-dah since.

Then yesterday: Boom. My pen began to work. My brain began to conjure. It was like my voice suddenly returned after a decade of muted trauma.

Why? (more…)

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It’s been a helluva week.

At work, I had all my tasks back-burnered by “walk-on” issues, I called in chits to get assistance from team members who’ve moved on to greener pastures, and I yelled at my boss in an open meeting (no profanity, and no actual “yelling,” per se, but my blood was definitely up).

At home, I tested a new recipe, answered my correspondence, got a chance to playtest a new boardgame, and (after days of back and forth texts) finally got the contractor to agree on a date to start work fixing the back stairs.

But it was my Work-In-Progress that really did me in.

I sat down with what I have written so far and the current outline, and took a look forward. Even though this novel has so far been the hardest for me to write, all indications are that the real struggle is going to be getting it up to a decent novel-length, a realization that thoroughly depressed me. I mean, it’s hard enough to sell a novel these days, but selling a thin novel is likely to be even harder.

There are thin novels out there, true, but in general they’re either classics (when the expectations of novel length were different), or they’re written by established authors. Neither of those cases pertains to me, a modern writer with only modest credits to my name. Word counts of my previous books have all been in the 90–120k range—standard for their genres—but this one looks like it’s going to be closer to 60k.

Some of you may scoff at my struggle to reach 60,000 words. “Pish tosh,” you say. “I know folks who can write 20k in a weekend.”

I know some of those writers, as well.

I am not one of those writers.

In my head, the novel already exists. I know where I’m going, I know how it will all be resolved. But I am not Zeus, and things do not sprout fully formed from my mortal noggin. Putting the words down is torturous, as my desires and my failing confidence vie in a battle royale. Even the good review the WIP got from First Reader cannot cure that malady. It’s why NaNoWriMo is such a turn-off for me; it requires a skill that, try as I might, I cannot acquire, much less master. This book especially, with its new genre and its intensely personal content, has been very difficult to write.

And yet, I want to write it. I want to finish it. I want it to be read.

I also want to sell it, so it can reach more readers than I can garner on my own, but that will be a long hill to climb.

First, though, I have to finish the damned thing.

k

 

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This past holiday weekend, we broke with our stay-cation tradition and took a little getaway to a lovely place, a re-purposed US Army base on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula.

But I don’t want to talk about the place, not right now. Instead, I want to share what we did while we were there. (Don’t worry, it’s SFW.)

Regular readers may have wondered what the hell is happening with my current Work-In-Progress, my dual-timeline novel set in Seattle. And you’ve had good reason to wonder. (more…)

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A follow-up on my previous post about character names.

It’s clear from comments — here, on Facebook, etc. — that some readers disagree with my characterizations of the names I’m using.

Not a problem. And absolutely expected.

When I spoke of, for instance, Eleanor as a name that evokes impressions of “a longer view, a queenly aspect, strength, confidence, patience,” I should have said that those are the impressions the name evokes for me.

Your impression of Eleanor, the name, will definitely be different from mine, perhaps radically so. You may have had an evil twin named Eleanor, she may have been your overly strict second grade teacher, or a particularly nasty girlfriend. Or it may be that, try as you might, when you hear the name, you can only think of the ridiculous novelist, Eleanor Lavish, from A Room with a View.

That’s all fine.

For me, the name Eleanor conjures up images of Mrs. Roosevelt; Henry II’s wife, Eleanor D’Aquitaine (my 24th great grandmother, as it turns out); and the homophonically named Elinor Dashwood from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Those are my Eleanors, and they match well with the character I want to bring to life in this book.

Naturally, I cannot expect my impressions of that name to be yours as well. No writer can expect that, even if we use a name as well known as George Custer (as I did in my Fallen Cloud Saga).

No, my job is to make sure that my Eleanor comes across with my impressions intact. I must show you, through her actions, how she is patient, thoughtful, perhaps even regal in her quiet dignity. Then, maybe, the next time you hear the name Eleanor, your first impression will be more like mine.

For my current purposes, I need to have a name that fits the character I want to create. That is true, I believe, for almost any writer.

Onward.

k

Puget Sound

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It began, as it often does, with Sam and Janet.

Sam and Janet, the couple of the oft-mocked enchanted evening, are a regular starting point when I’m trying to pick character names. I begin with these two because, frankly, I’d never use them.

Setting the names of my main characters is a crucial early step in my writing process. I have two main reasons for this. (more…)

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Ever since publishing my last post, in which I stated publicly that I was gearing up to break my four-year-long novel-writing dormancy, I’ve been in a dark blue funk.

It took me a while to figure out why. Well, to be honest, I didn’t figure it out. A fellow writer (Todd Baker: grillmaster, metalhead, and memoirist par excellence) commented on my post, and his reflections shed light on my own internal strife.

I was suffering from “The Dread.” (more…)

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