Monthly Archives: November 2013

NaNoWriMo: The Final Stretch

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you’re into the last few days, the time of reckoning. You have one weekend day left, and two weekdays.

How are you doing?

If you’ve already hit 50,000 words (or whatever your personal goal may be), congratulations! You can coast for the rest of the month and, if you’re American, enjoy your Thanksgiving / turkey dinner / Black Friday / etc.

If you’re still short of the goal, don’t despair! Great things happen every year in the last few days of NaNoWriMo. People pull off superhuman feats to win. Sit down, glue your pants to your desk chair (or a chair at the coffee shop, if that’s more your style), and try a few of these methods to keep you focused

But what if you know you physically can’t make 50,000 words? Or you’re not willing to write complete and utter crap to get to that magical but arbitrary number?

Take heart. You may have written more this month than you do in other months. You’ve probably written more than you would have if you hadn’t attempted NaNo. You may have been able to jump on that wave of NaNo energy. You’ve almost certainly learned some valuable lessons about yourself as a writer — even if it’s just a realization that NaNo doesn’t fit your writing process, or that you need to find a way to make more room for writing in your life than you did this month. Maybe you’ve even developed some good habits that will serve you well going forward.

(Full disclosure: I’m in that last camp. I’m participating as a NaNo Rebel, editing instead of first-drafting. My initial goal was 50 hours, but I’m sitting at around 25 and I’ll be lucky to hit 30 by the end of the month. But that’s an hour a day, better than most months, and it’s gotten me back into the habit again. And, unlike NaNo, it’s a pace that I think I can sustain.)

So what’s next?

Don’t send out your freshly minted novel into the world yet!

December is unofficially National Novel Finishing Month — since you may not have hit the end of your story even if you hit 50,000 words, and most published adult novels are quite a bit longer than that anyway. (How much longer depends strongly on genre.)

March is unofficially National Novel Editing Month…and if your editing process is anything like mine, a month may be just the beginning. Don’t even think about publishing until you’ve edited — and that means the big stuff like plot, pacing, and characters, not just fixing your grammar and typos.

But don’t think about that yet. For now, celebrate, type like a crazy person, or look back on the month and figure out what you’ve learned.

And know that, no matter what you have or have not accomplished this month, you rock.

*cue Chariots of Fire theme*

Your turn! If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how’s it going? If not, how has your November been?

Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics

From Anna by Jean LittleA couple of months ago, I wrote about strong female characters in SF and F. Today I’d like to revisit some of the characters who inspired me as a younger reader and writer. If you have a budding reader — of any age — to buy for this season, consider the following recommendations lists…

Middle Grade Novels

Amy from M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. Amy is a princess cursed to be “ordinary” – she’s not beautiful or good at embroidery or dancing like her sisters. But while lacking in traditional royal virtues, she has a wide independent streak. When her parents try to marry her off, she runs away into the forest to live on her own terms. No ass-kicking here, but plenty of resourcefulness and gentle humour, and an age-appropriate romance on her own terms.

Anna from Jean Little’s From Anna. Unlike most of the novels here, this one is historical fiction, following a German family who emigrates to Canada ahead of WWII. While the shadow of the Nazis lurks in the background, the plot rests solidly on the difficulty of fitting in to a new place. Anna is hampered by having bad eyes and poor English, but her stubborn streak may prove to be her greatest strength.

Cimorene from Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Like Amy, Cimorene is a princess who doesn’t want to be married off, so she runs away to cook and clean for dragons instead, and her life gets much more interesting from then on. Her employer, Kazul the King of the Dragons, is actually female, and she befriends a pretty awesome witch in the forest of the title. Even when she eventually does get married and have a child in subsequent books, her awesomeness is not diminished. (Fellow Turtleduck Press author Kit Campbell did a series of posts on these books, starting here.)

Nancy Blackett from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. In this series set (and written) in 1930s England, two groups of children sail small boats around a large lake and have adventures that include a strong dose of imagination. Nancy Blackett is the captain of the boat named Amazon, and she lives up to the name – she’s the ringleader of all the adventures, and a fearless pirate whose favourite expression is “Shiver me timbers”. Who says girls can’t be pirates? (Though you will notice her strength is fairly masculine in form.)

As a bonus, Nancy isn’t the only strong girl character in the series — Titty Walker from the Amazon‘s rival boat, the Swallow, is a thoughtful dreamer who gets her moments to shine, and a later heroine, Dorothea Callum, is a writer and storyteller to balance her scientific-minded brother Dick.

Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid LindgrenRonia from Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. Lindgren is better known for creating Pippi Longstocking, but I have just as much love for the less off-the-wall Ronia. She grows up in a castle in the woods, running wild among a band of robbers and befriending a boy from a rival band. Pure fantasy? Yes…but what’s wrong with that?

(I’m not going to list all the best-known classics about girls here, but I’ve mentioned some of my favourites over here.)

Young Adult Novels

Kim from Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward. In this Regency world with magic, Kim is a street urchin (masquerading as a boy to avoid the inevitable fate of a girl on the London streets) who’s hired to burgle the wagon of a performing illusionist. But his magic turns out to be real – he’s no circus hack, but a true magician who’s gone incognito after being framed. Soon she’s learning how to do magic herself while helping her new friend clear his name. There’s some romance, especially in the second book (which has more about London Society and less running around in a circus wagon), but the real fun in this duology is the madcap capers that ensue.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffreyMenolly from Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy. Forbidden to pursue the music she loves, Menolly runs away from home (sensing a theme here?), befriends some fire lizards (think tiny dragons – a more YA-friendly and more mellow version of Danaerys from Game of Thrones), and follows her dreams to Harper Hall. This series has been a gateway to adult SF&F for many a young reader, but beware — while the Harper Hall trilogy is safe, some of the other Pern books get pretty mature in their subject matter.

Vesper Holly from Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series. Think of Vesper Holly as a teenaged version of Amelia Peabody – a nineteenth-century adventuress who travels to exotic locations and solves mysteries. ‘Nuff said? (Lloyd Alexander is one of my all-time favourite MG/YA authors, and he has written a lot, so if you get someone hooked on him, he’ll keep them busy for a while!)

(This part of the list is shorter because when I was growing up, there wasn’t a Young Adult genre the way there is today. I went more or less straight from Anne of Green Gables to Anne McCaffrey, A.C. Crispin, Isaac Asimov, and other YA-friendly SF&F authors — and I think I’m pretty typical. But if you have more YA classics about girls that I’ve missed, please chime in!)

Picture Books

I also had a few favourite picture books about girls, both fairy tale retellings by Robin Muller. Tatterhood features a cursed but fearless princess who scours the world for her beloved sister, while Molly Whuppie and the Giant stars an equally fearless woodcutter’s daughter who rescues her two older siblings from certain death. Both of them got read to pieces in our house; they are utterly wonderful, if you can find them.

Your turn! What classic books about girls can you recommend for younger readers?

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Your Turn: First News Memory

This week is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination — a huge event in US history, to be sure. But the extent of the coverage is kind of strange to me, because I wasn’t born yet. One newspaper bore the headline “Why we can’t stop grieving”…and all I could think was “Speak for yourself.”

It did get me thinking, though. We all have our seminal news memories — events where there was a “before” and an “after”, when our perception of the world shifted. But if you go even further back, we all have our first news memories, the first time we were aware of events that didn’t personally involve us.

I’ll tell you mine.

In October 1987, I was eight years old. I was pretty sheltered from news coverage — for example, I don’t remember the Challenger explosion or the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which both happened the previous year.

But I do remember Baby Jessica.

That month, a toddler named Jessica McClure fell down a well in Texas and was trapped. More than two days later, after many dramatic rescue efforts, she was freed via a freshly dug parallel shaft. The whole saga was broadcast on TV, discussed endlessly in the print media with diagrams of the well shafts (I remember vividly how the tunnel that was dug between the two shafts sloped up towards the old shaft, so as not to bury Baby Jessica in dirt), and so on.

In hindsight, I don’t think it really occurred to me that she could have died down there — and she certainly could have, from the fall or exposure or even from the digging of the other shaft. It was just a captivating story…with, as it turned out, a happy ending.

(Here’s an update on Jessica as an adult.)

Your turn! What’s the first news event you remember?

 

Turtleduck Press Cover Reveal: Shards

I’m excited to unveil the new novel release from my indie publishing house, Turtleduck Press. Shards, by Kit Campbell, is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance featuring an inquisitive Latina university student and a handsome guy who’s keeping supernatural secrets…secrets that have to do with her, and with a past she doesn’t remember.

Intrigued? Here’s the cover:

Shards by Kit Campbell

Shards comes out on December 1, and Kit will be guest posting here that week. In the meantime, you can read more about Shards over at Kit’s website.

(Apologies for the brevity of this post. I’m deep in the throes of novel editing…)

NaNoWriMo: How to Fix the Week Two Blues

I’ve done NaNo many times. I always get a slow start because (a) I always forget just how much commitment it takes and (b) I’m a champion procrastinator. So while some people are hitting 25K or even 50K or more by the end of Week Two, I’m usually struggling to hit 20K. I spend the whole month trying to catch up.

Despite that, I’ve won NaNo six times. (And lost once.)

So how do you pull yourself out of the Week Two slump? (Yeah, it’s a thing. I’m not alone, and neither are you.) Depends where exactly your problem lies.

The Saggy Middle

I always find Week Two tough from a story perspective. I’ve finished introducing my characters and plot and world, and throwing in a bunch of story problems. (I’m a reformed pantser — or seat-of-the-pants writer — and still lean in that direction.) Now I have to actually do something with all that. I have to develop the plot I’ve set up. But I can’t get to the payoff yet, which means I’m still in the set-up…sort of.

So if this is your problem, how do you plow through the saggy middle of your story to reach the really fun stuff at the end?

If you’re the sort of writer who can read articles about craft without getting derailed, check out Plotting with Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot Structure over at Janice Hardy’s blog. (If that one doesn’t speak to you, the beginning of that post has links to several other posts Janice wrote about other ways to look at big-picture story structure.)

Basically, thinking about your novel in terms of a three-act structure, or a six-stage structure, or whatever, makes the middle not quite so huge and daunting because you have some points to hit along the way. And remember, it’s not a formula — it’s building blocks.

Taking the Time

Or maybe your plot is doing just fine, but you didn’t realize how much time NaNo would take.

There’s lots of advice around the interwebs about how to carve out time, so I won’t dwell. Just quickly, try:

  • doing a word war with other WriMos on Twitter or on the NaNo forums — these are often short sprints, usually 10 to 30 minutes long, but you’d be amazed how much you can get done in that time
  • setting a timer — if you don’t have access to the Internet or don’t want to let it derail you, run your own solo word war instead
  • downloading a spreadsheet — if you’re a numbers geek, you can find Excel spreadsheets on the NaNo forums where you input your word count each day and find out exactly how many words you have to write the next day in order to win
  • carving out a block of time — lunch hour at work? half an hour before bed? They add up, honest
  • designating one day as a mini-marathon — NaNo founder Chris Baty suggests starting at the top of the hour, writing until you hit 1000 words, then taking a break until the top of the next hour, and repeating. If you write slower than that, adapt as needed. Or try the Pomodoro Technique (Wikipedia warning!). Whatever method you pick, repeat it for several hours and watch the words add up.

If you’re a NaNoer wallowing in the mires of Week Two, don’t give up! You still have a little over half the month to reach that magic 50K. People win NaNo in two weeks all the time (I did, my first year) and if they can, so can you.

Personal Updates

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not doing a regular NaNo this year — I’m aiming for 50 hours of editing instead. (Well, really, I’m aiming to recommit to my writing. 50 hours is just a side effect.)

However, true to form, I’m slogging along at the back of the pack. I have yet to hit 14 hours. At least I’m reasonably happy with the results so far (except why is editing soooo slooooow?).

Here’s hoping I can follow my own advice and pull off yet another come-from-behind-and-win.

Your turn! How is your NaNoWriMo going? Which week do you find the hardest?

We Remember

Poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, Canada. Photo by Mikkel Paulson.

Poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, Canada. Photo by Mikkel Paulson.

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada — a melding of both Veterans Day and Memorial Day, for the Americans in the crowd.

The first war that I remember is the Gulf War, 1990-91. I wasn’t born yet during Vietnam or Korea, let alone the two world wars. But I’ve spoken about them with people who were.

My father might well have fought in Vietnam, had he been American instead of Canadian.

My mother’s uncle died at Dieppe, along with 900 other Canadian men.

My grandfather’s generation lived through the German occupation of Norway. When I visited Norway years ago, one of my elderly relatives told me stories: how he learned German in school instead of English, how German soldiers once came to the farmhouse for food. Another relative took me to see WWII bunkers overlooking the Norwegian coast.

I had been fascinated by that war for a long time, but speaking to those who had lived through the fighting, not overseas but right in their own country, made it real to me as it had not been before.

We have new wars now, young veterans. These wars are messier, but the vets are worth honouring and supporting just the same.

So each year on November 11 I pause, and remember.

 

The Space Program and the Path that Might Have Been

I’m over at Turtleduck Press this week, talking about outer space (yeah, you knew I was a space cadet…or is that joke too dated now?):

Here’s something about me that you might not know: I used to be a Physics major. I started out my university career taking courses like astronomy and calculus, before I realized that a creative writing/English degree was a much better fit.

But those two areas are closer than you might think.

You see, I write science fiction. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that an awful lot of real scientists have a similar story. So I had dreams of becoming an astronaut, or at least a SETI scientist or an astrophysicist.

Read the rest here: Dreaming of the Stars

Life took me in a different direction, but I’ve always kept one eye on the path-that-might-have-been.

I was thrilled to pieces when we started landing robots on Mars (I still remember being awestruck by those first panoramic photos), horrified when the space shuttle Columbia came back to Earth in pieces (I was too young to remember Challenger very well), and brokenhearted when the shuttle program was retired altogether.

I’m not sure whether it’s optimism or cynicism — or simply too much Star Trek in my impressionable years — that makes me passionately believe that one day we’ll need a space program. We’ll want a way to get off this planet, if not out of our solar system. I don’t know whether it’ll be a need for expansion, or the discovery of alien life, or a disaster (possibly our fault) befalling our home planet, or simply the desire for exploration, but one way or another, the human race is going to reach for the stars.

I hope we make it.

Your turn! Are you a space-lover or amateur astronomer? Why are you drawn to it?

Knight Errant by KD SargeIf you liked this post, you might enjoy Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge’s novels about spaceships, ex-Marines, and young men facing down their fears. The first one is called Knight Errantclick the cover for more info!