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Progress Report June 2013

It’s June now, meaning it’s time to do two things: analyze how much progress I made towards my goals in May, and make my plans for the summer.

Let’s start by taking a look at what I’ve accomplished towards my various goals:

Editing Moonshadow’s Guardian– Last month I edited exactly six chapters and 42 pages. I should be finished editing before the end of this month, and I am going to start looking for beta readers this month. There’s less than a hundred pages to go and I’m thrilled to be this close to the end. So far, June’s looking pretty good month as I’ve already edited three pages and written a new chapter. I’m going to spend the next two weeks in a marathon with a goal of finishing by the time I graduate on the fifteenth.

Launch the Ten Commandments of a Serious Writer eBook– I’ve now got this ebook almost ready and I’ll be explaining in more detail what it is this Friday. I should be able to launch in June.

Make $5, 000 this year from my writing– in May I only made $300 from my writing, but I’m expecting more in the next few days and I’m now actively looking for new work. I also had several articles published this month at varying pay rates, which is awesome. And I’ve made a distinct plan for how to get this money, which I’ll show you in more detail later this month. My writing income goal for June is $750.

Launch an email newsletter– I’ve decided to move to a self-hosted blog, and finally decided what my newsletter will look like, so it will be part of the new incarnation of this blog. It will probably launch in July.

Write a new novel– I actually didn’t choose a plot for a new novel, but it’s percolating in the back of my head as I plan an event for Nanowrimo this year. Instead, I’ve created an outline for an ebook I’m going to release at the end of the summer. My goal for that this month is to have written the entire thing.

I finish school halfway through this month, and I’m using existing blog posts for sections of the ebook I plan to release in July, so I think these are totally reasonable goals. To achieve them, I’m dedicating one hour a day every Saturday and Sunday to each project. Once school ends, I plan to work on each goal for at least one hour Monday through Friday during the summer and take weekends off.

What are your goals for this month? How did you do last month?

Author Interview: Meggan Connors

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Today’s guest is Meggan Connors, author of Jessie’s War. I’d tell you about it but I think she can do a better job.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Jessie’s War?

Jessie’s War is a western steampunk romance, set against the backdrop of a prolonged American Civil War and the Nevada silver boom. It’s about a woman who, after spending years trying to put her life back together after the deaths of everyone she loved, suddenly discovers that the lover she had given up for dead is alive, and needs her help. 

Needless to say, when he shows up on her doorstep, she’s got some trust issues.

But when she discovers her father may be alive and held hostage by Rebel forces, she turns to Luke to help her rescue him–and to keep his invention out of Confederate hands.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

In July of 2009, I was home for a period of time following surgery. I remember looking at my husband and thinking, “I could write a romance novel.” After all, they’d been my dirty little secret since I was sixteen.

By October, I had this massive tome. It was something like 160,000 words. The Husband asked what I was going to do with this… thing… I’d spent so much time working on.

My answer? “Uh, I dunno.”

So, he suggested that I try to get it published. I started researching the romance market, thinking my little jewel was ripe for publication. 

It so wasn’t.

In any case, by January or February of 2010, I’d decided that I was going to write something worthy of publication… And I did! (After many, many edits and revisions, a few contests, and much gnashing of teeth) The Marker, my western that reads like a Regency, came out in December of 2011. 

3. Your novel is classified as Western steampunk romance. What exactly does this mean?

Essentially, it’s a steampunk first, a western second. It’s a speculative fiction/alternate history set in the Victorian era. Steampunk tends to be very steam oriented, hence the name, so you have trains, lots of coal, stuff like that. For your standard steampunk, think of Jules Verne. 

Jessie’s War is a Victorian set alternate history with science fiction elements, but instead of being set in England, as traditional steampunks often are, mine is set in Virginia City, NV. As in all westerns, setting is a major secondary character in this book. An example of a western steampunk would be Wild, Wild West; Boneshaker and The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.

Jessie’s War is a little bit of all of those. With sex.

4. How did you choose which genre to write in?

Well, I love historicals, and I love paranormals and science fiction. Steampunk is a natural off-shoot of that. What I love about steampunk is that it can be about anything, as long as it’s Victorian set and an alternate history. You want ghosts? Sure, throw some in! Vampires and zombies? Absolutely! Want to write a straight up speculative fiction that’s heavily technology-based? By all means, do it!

I think my writing a steampunk was really only a matter of time. I’d written three westerns by the time I finished up Jessie’s War. By the time my third one was completed, I’d begun incorporating elements of the occult. Those whacky Victorians did love their tarot. Once you’re putting magic or the paranormal into a Victorian-set story, you’re pretty much doomed to eventually write a steampunk. 

I have to admit, it was great fun world building.

5. Your novel takes place during the American Civil War. What were some of the challenges of writing during this time period?

I tend to write in a very narrow timeframe of between 1864 and 1884, so I know a lot of the actual history, particularly of the West. I think the hardest part about writing an alternate history set during a prolonged Civil War is deciding what to keep and what to leave out. In my story, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t assassinated. Who would be his Secretary of War, if, like Roosevelt, he got elected to the presidency multiple times? What battles were fought? How much real history gets incorporated into a speculative world? As always happens during wars, weapons technology advances by leaps and bounds, so what weapons were developed, and how were they used? In terms of western history, how do I integrate the legends of the native peoples into the story, while still maintaining the integrity of both the legends and the world I’ve built? 

It was quite a challenge.

Also, the underwear. I hate writing about Victorians and their underwear.

6. How would you suggest a writer hoping to write in the same time period begin their research?

I have to say, I started with museums. I live not far from a living museum, so I watched re-enactments, visited obscure museums (anyone else visit a museum of western brothels? No?), and went to four different train museums. No trip to a train museum is complete without a long discussion of the transcontinental railroad, and it’s perfect for your post Civil War stories. The history of trains is hugely connected with the development of the United States as a singular entity. So, my first suggestion would be: find some time period appropriate museums, and go there. If you have a train museum nearby, visit one. There’s nothing quite like seeing the history to put you in the right frame of mind.

After that, I would suggest reading. I have several history books on the Civil War and the period of the Silver Boom (and a few more about the Victorians and their dress–again, it’s all about the underwear). But I didn’t read just nonfiction. I read a lot of fiction, too. Seeing what else is out there really helped me figure out how to describe things–places, events, clothes–that nonfiction really just wasn’t able to capture.

7. How did you develop the characters in Jessie’s War?

It’s interesting you should ask this, and I think I’ll be answering question 8 in this one. 

Ironically, it was Jessie’s dad whom I developed first, even though he only plays a minor role. After that, I developed the doting daughter. While most of my female characters have baggage, I’d never written a character as gritty as Jessie. I tortured that poor girl. I loosely outlined the entire plot, with the intent of giving Luke his own chapters.

And then that jerk wouldn’t talk to me.

Every time I’d sit down to write him, flashes of what Jessie was doing would pop into my head. I’d see what he was doing, but only through her eyes. It was hard to manage at first, and, at about chapter eight, I wound up switching Jessie’s War to first person. Jessie was like Athena, springing out of my head fully formed. I knew her whole life, I understood her pain, and she just flowed.

So I finished the story from her perspective only, and I realized I needed him. He balanced out Jessie, loosened her up. Made her less melancholy and more like the tough woman she was. So then, I had to sit down and force him to open up. 

I am so glad I did, because his perspective really gave me some balance. I knew he had his own baggage–after all, he was the son of a prostitute, who went to war and abandoned the woman he loved. Suddenly, Luke took on a life of his own. I knew how he looked from Jessie’s perspective, but now I knew him. He became a more well-rounded character. 

8. Can you tell us a bit about your editing process?

Editing… Yes, the bane of my existence. Third person. First person. Back to third person. Editing Jessie’s War was a labor of love… and super painful. I cut some of my favorite lines. There were times when I would cut scenes and I’d almost cry. 

In a nutshell, here’s my process:

Try to cut everything unnecessary from the chapter.
Autocrit.
Cut some more, based on autocrit’s suggestions.
Send to my CP.
Eat chocolate.
Make changes based on her suggestions. 
Send to my other CP, who tends to be very minimalistic in her approach.
Commence gnashing of teeth!
Cut some more, make changes.
Autocrit again.
Change dcoument based on autocrit’s suggestions.
Drink some wine.

Then it’s perfect until the editor gets her hands on it, and then we begin the process again!

9. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?

Write. And read. But mostly, write.

And seriously, don’t give up. Some people make it look easy, and it’s not. Writing is not about hanging in the coffee shop, drinking a cappuccino and typing out your magnum opus. I mean, maybe for some people, but not for me. For me, writing is staying up until one in the morning, because I worked all day and then spent time on dinner, laundry, dishes, kids’ homework, piano lessons and baseball practice. There are days when it’s so hard, and you want to give up. And then you see your name in RT Book Reviews, and you’re like, “Oh, this is so worth it.” 

I must say, I felt like Sally Field. “You like me! You really like me!” 

10. What are you working on that readers can look forward to next?

Right now, I’m in the final chapters of a Highlander romance, so I’m branching out a little from my 1864-1884 time frame. It’s a prequel to my story Wandering Heart, which is featured in the Highland Sons Anthology. It’s tentatively called Highland Deception, and it’s a about a man who, upon his brother’s death, assumes not only his place as laird of the clan, but also the wife his brother didn’t want.

Hopefully, I get it done in the next week or so, and then it’s off to the editor!

Bio: Meggan Connors is a wife, mother, teacher and award-winning author who writes primarily historical and steampunk romances. As a history buff with a love of all things historical, she enjoys visiting both major and obscure museums, and reading the histories of the Old West and the British Isles. She makes her home in the Wild West with her lawman husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow, or with her nose in a book. Favorite vacation destinations include the sun-kissed hills of California, any place with a castle or a ghost (and both is perfect!), and the windswept Oregon coast.

You can purchase a copy of Jessie’s War here.

Author Interview: Paula Eisenstein

I meet most of the authors I interview online through Musa’s author group or other online writing groups. Sometimes I read a book and I’m so stunned by it that I simply have to interview that author. Today’s author, Paula Eisenstein, I met in a very different way–I just so happen to go to school with her son. She’s a generous lady who has even sent me a print copy of her novel, Flip Turn, for review(I usually only get ebook copies), so you can expect to hear more about her soon.

Please give Paula a warm welcome.

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1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Flip Turn?

Flip Turns’s narrator is a young teenager, who is also a competitive swimmer. She is dealing with the death of a young girl that was caused by her brother. It is written in the first person in short episodic bursts or vignettes. The voice is distinct. Flip Turn touches on a lot of different issues but I think it especially looks at the difficulty a family faces, internalizing and trying to take responsibility for impossible levels of shame and guilt, when when one of its members commits a crime.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I always had that ambition. The real impetus to act on it came when I was studying astrology (with renowned psychological-needs astrologer Noel Tyl). While working with the inherent symbolism of my horoscope, I found myself in a funny bind. The more I developed my astrological prowess, the more what I was seeing in my horoscope was telling me to stop with the horoscope studies and get on with my passion for writing!

3. You’ve lived in Canada your entire life. How do you think your Canadian heritage influences your writing?

When I discovered Canlit in high school I was instantly a fan. Here was literature about me (and us), I thought. I love writing to place and time, so inevitably, since where I am is mostly Canada, I write about Canada. Flip Turn is set in Canada, and there are a couple of funny vignettes I think of as being particularly Canadian, one is about the relationship of my mother’s side of the family to Sir Isaac Brock and another is about how my father chose to come to Canada.

4. Flip Turn is a YA novel. Is there any particular reason why you chose to write YA?

YA was more of a label that came after the fact. Flip Turn is told from the perspective of a young adult hence it has a natural appeal to young adults. I wouldn’t say it is only a YA novel, not only young adults are interested in what goes on in the minds of young adults. The shift from childhood into adulthood is one of the biggest developmental adjustments in human lives, or at least the biggest thing we remember. So, naturally, to my mind it makes sense that everyone relates to the theme of the passage into young adulthood.

5. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why does your chosen method work for you?

I think how I wrote Flip Turn was neither, or both. I didn’t want to use a conventional plot strategy, which I find prescribed and not in touch with real human development. Or if plotting is in touch with true developmental passages, I think the kind of passage it describes is more of a traditional male oriented one. Instead I used my personal development as a guide, I tried to stay pretty faithful to its passage, hoping that a different kind of truth or structure would emerge. It was, for me personally, most evocative. I kind of didn’t realize what happened to me, what was really going on for me, until after I wrote it. So if that “found” structure is plotting, then I’m a plotter, or alternatively if the acting of not imposing a structure, but rather finding one is pantsering, then I would be the latter.

6. Can you tell us a bit about your editing process?

I really enjoy editing my work. I love working in Word, honing and rearranging, trying different ways of writing things, and in the editing playing with and finding the voice, and as well playing with the grammar. For me, the editing is a part of the creative process.

7. How did you find your publisher?

I have to say I have a great “how I found my publisher story.” I had befriended writer and editor Stuart Ross through taking a writing workshop of his, and he actually, of all things, posted a request for novel submissions on facebook! Of course I had tried more traditional avenues previous to this, but it was through this unorthodox submission request that I found my publisher Mansfield Press.

8. What strategies are you using to market Flip Turn?

I am learning as I go about marketing and promotion. Even prior to its publication, I guess you could call attending readings and getting to know people in the literary community, the beginning of promoting myself, or at least putting myself out there as a writer. Flip Turn launched with the three other fall Mansfield books at a reading here in Toronto, then went on the road to Ottawa and Kingston. Plans are in the works for a London launch. I started tweeting. My publisher is applying for prizes. I’m going into a high school in February to talk to some students. I’m doing this interview with you!

9. What do you think is the most important piece of advice for aspiring writers to remember?

The thing I’m struggling with right now is finding writing time. So my advice to aspiring writers is my advice to myself; find/make/create the time to write. It will make you feel so good.

10. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?

My husband and I collaborated on a project comprised of his drawings and my writing. It is based on a family trip to the Pinery Provincial Park. The writing is funny and my husband’s drawings are beautiful (and strange). I am also slowly starting the beginning mulching of another novel which picks up where Flip Turn ends.

Bio:

Paula Eisenstein is a grown-up woman who lives in Toronto with her husband, son, and the vitally necessary two cats for families with writers in them. She was born and came of age in London, Ontario, and received a Bachelor of Arts from Mount Allison University. If a teacher were making comments about Paula on a report card, the teacher might say; Paula fails to understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

Slowing Down in December…

November is finally over and hopefully so is your novel. If you’re anything like me, that means you’ve spent half the weekend celebrating and the other half catching up on sleep, and now you’re getting ready to dive into your December projects. It means you have time to get back to all those things you were neglecting this November. It means you can slow down your writing to give yourself time to focus on those things–your friends, your family, sleep.

But how do you slow down without losing momentum completely? It’s hard–and the fact that I’m writing this post now, after having spent the last two days in a coma, is proof of that–but it can be done, even with the holiday season looming over your head with a thousand distractions. Over the nine years I’ve spent doing Nanowrimo, I’ve learned quite a bit about keeping some of that November momentum, and I thought I’d share some tips with you today.

1. Have a set to-do list for the month. In order to stay organized during December, you’ll need a list of things that you’d like to accomplish this month. However, in the interest of being able to write in January and taking into account the holidays, you don’t want this list to be too long. It needs to include just enough to challenge you without making you continue the break neck pace of November. My own list only has four things on it: finish editing Moonshadow’s Guardian, get all the content written for a free e-book I’m working on, write a query for a shorter project, and write a new short story. These goals are enough to keep me busy all month without drowning in the amount of work I have to do.

If you’re unsure about where your balance is, put less on the list than you’re naturally inclined to. It’s totally normal to think you can accomplish more than is realistic. So to find the perfect balance, write the list of things you’d ideally like to accomplish this month, and then cross two or three things off the list. What’s left over is bound to be more realistic than what you were thinking.

2. Have designated writing time. It should be easy to implement a writing schedule since your family’s already gotten used to the idea. My suggestion is to take half the time you spent writing in November and dedicate that to writing in December. This way, you’ll have a little more time for your family and other needs, but you’ll still have a set time during which you work on your writing.

3. Don’t take too many days off. Now that there’s no deadline looming over your head, it’s easy to miss days and to fill up your writing time with events or even just with TV. But once you’ve started taking days off, it’s hard to get back into the routine. While it’s a good idea to take some days off this month–say, for example, you might decide not to write on Christmas Eve–too many will totally destroy your discipline. This is most dangerous if you take several days off in a row.

Personally, I find that taking a couple days off doesn’t hurt my discipline, but if I take more than three days off in a row it instantly becomes a lot harder to get back into the routine. So I never take more than two days off, and even on my days off I try to write something–a short scene, a descriptive paragraph, whatever I have the time and energy to write. Make sure you don’t spend too much time away from your work this month, or you’ll find it much harder to keep a writing routine in January.

4. Plan your writing time. By this I mean not to plan what hours of the day you’ll use to write–that’s what #2 is all about–but to plan what you’re going to do with that writing time each day. During Nanowrimo it’s easy. Your goal is already set for you: 1, 667 words every day. After Nano, it’s easy to get sidetracked and start working on things that don’t really matter. To combat this, create a daily to-do list.

Your daily to-do list should include goals that help you complete your monthly to-do list and should be balanced so that you’re not over working yourself. For me a typical daily to-do list includes things like write a blog post, edit three pages of Moonshadow’s Guardian and brainstorm future story ideas. I usually find I can complete about 4-5 items in my writing time, more if I’m really focused or if I have nothing to do but write after I get home from school.

Create your own list by breaking your monthly goals into chunks and figuring out what you can do every day to get closer to those goals. Don’t create your lists too far in advance though–I find the best time to create my to-do list for one day is right before bed the night before. This way, you can account for the fact that you’ll have different amounts of writing time on different days. For example, my to-do lists are always shorter on Tuesdays because I go to my writing group on Tuesday evenings. Remember to account for whatever events you have to go to when creating your own list.

These are just a handful of tips to help you remain productive in December and beyond. While today I mention them specifically to help you keep your November momentum, they’re good tips to keep in mind at any time of year. And while this is what works for me, different things work for different people–don’t be afraid to keep trying new ways of managing your time until you find one that works for you.

Oh, and one more thing–congratulations, guys, you survived another crazy Nanowrimo adventure!

Under 24 Hours Left!

Today is the last day of November for most Nanoers, though some of our friends “down under” have already run out of time. For those of you lucky enough to have a few hours left of November, today is the last day to make a final push towards 50, 000 words or whatever your final goal for the month happens to be.

Of course, unless you’ve already made arrangements for it to do so, life probably won’t just stand still so you can finish your novel. I myself have a full day of school followed by an evening school trip to dinner and a movie premiere. This means that while I’ll probably be lugging around my laptop all day, I probably won’t get a chance to write until at least 9:30 tonight. Still, I am hoping to write a couple thousand more words before midnight hits.

So today, no matter what your word count is or what you have to do, I challenge you to write with me. In fact, I challenge you to find some time on this final day of November and write at least 1, 667 words. It might not get you to your goal, but at least you will be able to say you tried, that even on the last day you didn’t give up.

And tonight when the clock strikes twelve and November ends, give yourself a pat on the back no matter what your word count is. It is time to celebrate, because the only way to be a loser in Nanowrimo is to give up.

Tonight, I congratulate you, my fellow Nanowrimo novelist. You have survived Nanowrimo 2012 and hopefully come out of it with a novel–or at least most of a novel–and some new experiences and insights. Now, let’s hope the world doesn’t end before you manage to get the darn thing out into the world.

What’s Next?

Usually in the first week of December I write a post discussing what to do when you’ve finished your novel. In the interest of organization and planning ahead, this year I’ve decided to write the post before November ends.

So what should you do after you finish your novel? You can do just about anything, but I have two main suggestions which I hope you’ll take seriously. The first is that you should keep your momentum from November. The second is that whatever you do, you shouldn’t start editing your novel.

Now, before you get all righteous and tell me how your family needs some love and your novel is horrible and needs editing like some people need heart surgery, let me explain what I mean. I don’t mean for you to ignore your family completely for another month. What I mean is that now, when your family’s already used to you taking some writing time out of every day, you should explain to your family that you need to write and create a writing schedule. Of course you can spend less time writing than you did last month, but the important thing is that you write regularly. It’s easy to fall out of the habit of writing regularly and to let your family distract you, but if you maintain a regular writing schedule, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you finish projects–and at how much better you feel.

Now, about editing your novel. The reason I tell you to wait is because to properly assess any piece of writing–or art, or just about anything else–you first need some distance from the work. Since you’ve just spent a month living and breathing your novel, you really won’t have that distance on December first. Instead, put your draft aside for the month and work on something else, preferably something quite different from your novel.

So if you’re not working on editing this novel, what should you be doing this December? Well the first thing is to pick up any other writing projects where you left off. This December I plan to finish my edit of Moonshadow’s Guardian; while there are several other projects waiting for me to get to them, this one is most important to me. Once you’ve finished those projects–or if you’re someone who really needs to have multiple things going so you can switch when you get stuck on one–start the project on your list of possibilities that is most different from the novel you just finished writing. For example, once I finish editing Moonshadow’s Guardian, I will be putting all of my energy into producing a non-fiction ebook with information and exercises for writers. This will distract me from my fiction, ensuring that when I get back into it I’ll have the distance I need.

Long story short, this December you should make a point of working on something new or finishing an old project totally unrelated to your novel, and you should make sure to work on this project every day. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you keep even a small amount of that November momentum and work at it every day.

The Final Stretch

Today is November 26th. If you’re like me, you planned to write a ridiculous amount of words this weekend, not only catching yourself up but putting yourself ahead, but life got in the way and your plans were totally ruined. Which means, if you’re like me and you’ve got a lot on your plate this week, you’re wishing there was another week in November. Of course, there isn’t, so you’re left with a choice: to give up, or to scramble frantically towards your desired word count, using every spare moment to write(which you should have been doing anyway, but I’m not judging).

No matter what your word count is or how busy you are, I’m here to tell you to go for it. While we all have our limits, you can’t know what’s possible until it’s done. I personally have written 50, 000 words in three days before. Of course, I didn’t have anything else to do on those days, but even on days when I’ve had other commitments I’ve managed to write over 10, 000 words–sometimes even over 20, 000 words. And certainly not everyone can replicate my writing speed, but you never know until you try.

So no matter what your word count is, this week I would ask you to try. Grab every spare moment you can and race to the finish line. In the words of Nike, “just do it”. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in a few short days, and remember: even if you don’t make it, you’re still a winner for trying.

One Cannot Be Ready for Everything by Allison Cosgrove

Today’s author is Allison Cosgrove, several time Nanowrimo winner, former word war captain, mother of three, hard worker and recently published author. I’ve already interviewed her here and am currently reading her mystery novel, Sacrifice of Innocence, which I’ll be reviewing sometime in the upcoming months. Today she’s decided to do us all the honour of sharing her realization that none of us are ever truly ready for Nanowrimo.

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One thing I have come to realize, as a long standing WriMo Veteran, is that in preparing for the wonderful thing that is NaNoWriMo is that we are never truly ready for it. I mean there are things we can prepare. We can plot and outline and make notes for just about everything, pre-cook and freeze meals, but in the end we can not be completely ready for everything.

The one and only year I have ever tried to plot out everything it turned out to be all for naught. I honestly had everything set out. I knew EXACTLY where I was going. I was so proud of myself. And then two days before NaNo I was hit by a monster of plot bunny and away I went on a completely different direction and everything I did was pushed to the side until later in the month.

That, to me, is the most amazing part about NaNoWriMo. We plan everything out. We get all of our emergency junk food kits ready. We set our coffee pots to constant brew. We make sure our loved ones know that if they don’t hear from us for a month that everything is alright and that we are just knee deep in a whole other world. Then we set out and put pen to paper, fingers to keypads and the world around us disappears.

We don’t always end up where we expected to and that’s alright. We may eat more junk food, drink gallons more coffee, sleep less and we may even end up smelling like yesterdays socks. We may not finish at the amount we would like and we may not cross the 50,000 word finish line but that too is alright.

Because it is not where we end up that matters most. It is the journey that we take to get there that counts. We will learn and grow so much in 30 days. We will learn to stretch our wings and not worry about where the winds take us. We will take chances and risks we may never have taken with our creativity. We will forge long lasting friendships and find a new place to call our own.

Just remember that as you finish off your plot notes, your character sketches and pack your pre-made food for next month. You may not end up exactly where you think you will when you set out in a few days but enjoy the ride none the less.

It will be all worth it and besides you can always edit later.

Building your World by Addie J. King


Today’s author is a Nanowrimo veteran who saw my call for guest posts and answered almost immediately. I’m very proud to present her post, Building Your World as part of my Nanowrimo Blogaganza. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

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So you’ve decided (or are thinking about) National Novel Writing Month this year?

AWESOME!

But what will you write about? More important, where will your story take place? Will you sail the Spanish Main? Will you inhabit the foggy gaslit streets of Victorian London? What about a spaceship, talking to aliens from another planet? Wanna write about werewolves and cavemen? Or will you write about something happening in today’s world? There are a ton of ideas, and only you can decide where you want to start.

Setting isn’t the only question of worldbuilding; it’s the beginning. While a writer might start with setting, the writer has to get more specific…creating the characters and streets and neighborhoods and cultural issues that their protagonist will interact with. For example, Harry Potter might be set in a British suburbia and boarding school, but the characters and magic and owls and spells and shopping and all of the rest make up the world itself. Without that setting, the wizarding world would have been an entirely different milieu.

The first question to consider is what kind of books you gravitate toward as a reader. If you like steampunk, and love the Victorian era, then do you want to set your story in a world you are familiar with as a reader? Same goes for modern day stories, historical novels, science fiction stories, or epic fantasy. If you want to create your own world, then what do you like/dislike about the worlds in your preferred genre?

Starting a list of what you like or don’t like in the books you enjoy is a great starting place. Why don’t you like them? Why do you like them? What would make them better? What makes them yours?

The second question is about that story. Sometimes the story you’re trying to tell demands that it be told in a certain world. It’s hard to imagine a legal thriller taking place in a speakeasy or a topless bar; it rather demands a courtroom setting, unless your story harkens back to an Old West kind of trial (which might actually have happened in a saloon). Likewise a story about a kid getting bullied in school; the world itself is probably the school that you’ll be setting your story in. The worldbuilding comes in when you start to determine what kinds of things are most important to the characters based on that setting (a good example here is the cootie-like transfer of the Cheese Touch from DIARY OF A WIMPY KID).

Unless your story specifically requires a certain world, like those two examples, you’ve got a lot of room. It’s okay to have some basics of the world. It’s okay to go ahead and plan out all the details of your world, from the flora and the fauna to the landscape and the rules of magic in the days leading up to NaNoWriMo, but remember that new ideas may come to you as your tell your story in the highly creative world of furious novel scribbling that happens in Nov ember. Plan your world, but be flexible enough to go in a new direction if the story demands it.

It’s worth noting as well, that some people do become bogged down in planning the details of their world so much that they never actually get the novel written, especially in science fiction and fantasy. It’s also more than okay to wait until you get further into the story, after NaNo starts, to flesh things out…just don’t stop writing to get it done! It’s okay to move your story from a fishing village in northern Alaska to a surf shop in Hawaii…just keep writing because you can go back and fix it later if it’s working better to keep your story moving forward!

Another tip to keep yourself from getting too bogged down in details when writing is to leave yourself a quick note as to what you need to research later, and keep moving with the plot of the story. For example;

“Natasha slipped on her (LOOK UP PERIOD SPECIFIC SHOES) before she ran down the hallway in the Winter Palace, hoping to find someone, anyone, who could tell her where her best friend, Anastasia, had gone. The guards, in their drab (LOOK UP APPROPRIATE UNIFORM COLOR FOR REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS) shirts, took one look at her fine clothes and placed her under arrest.”

This example could be a story in a Russian Revolution melodrama; it could be a prologue in a historical thriller. It could even become a historical fantasy. Either way, there’s enough hints in there to keep the author grounded in the writing of the story, and still provide notes that jump out (as well as add to word count) to remind the writer what needs specific research down the road.

There’s no way to predict what small detail you might need before you start writing the story…so just write. Figure out what you need to have happen, and don’t be afraid to make notes about what details your world needs to be fully fleshed out before you’re done.

In short, if you first figure out a general idea of the setting you’re after, and what kind of story you wish to tell, you’re well on your way to building the world you need to tell it in. You can then use the time leading up to November to do any preliminary research or brainstorming that you might need to get started…just don’t lose yourself in the black hole of constant research in place of actually writing the story.

Bio:
Addie J. King is an attorney by day and author by nights, evenings, weekends, and whenever else she can find a spare moment. She is a five time NaNoWriMo participant, and a third year Municipal Liaison in Ohio. Her short story “Poltergeist on Aisle Fourteen” was published in MYSTERY TIMES TEN 2011 by Buddhapuss Ink, and an essay entitled, “Building Believable Legal Systems in Science Fiction and Fantasy” was published in EIGHTH DAY GENESIS; A WORLDBUILDING CODEX FOR WRITERS AND CREATIVES by Alliteration Ink. Her novel, THE GRIMM LEGACY, is available now from Musa Publishing.

Robin Burks on Character Development

Today’s author is debut novelist Robin Burks, whose novel, Zeus, Inc. began as a Nanovel. I hope you’ll give her a warm welcome and enjoy her thoughts on character development.

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What makes a good character in a story?

Character development is something every writer has to think about. A good character is key in readers enjoying your work and a good character will keep readers coming back for more of what you write. But where to begin when creating a character?

I tend to look at my own personal characters from an actor’s perspective because of my background in theatre. I ask myself about their motivations and I put myself in their shoes and try to react to situations in a way that I would if I were them.

But there’s so much more to character development than just that. As an actor, the character is already formed by the writer. In writing, you have to create that character from scratch and then continue painting on its various personality quirks, moods and physical traits.

So where does that come from?

When I sat down to write Zeus, Inc., I had to ask myself that very question. Initially, my protagonist, Alex Grosjean, was a young woman, fresh out of high school. I wrote three chapters before I realized that I could not relate to her.

After several more attempts, I made Alex older, closer to my own age, and I started adding personality traits that were similar to my own. Perhaps this was cheating, in a way, but I made her an idealized version of myself. And once I started, I found the character easily enough. As I wrote, I put myself in her position and asked myself “What would I do if I were a private detective being hired by my best friend to find her dad?”
And from there, Zeus, Inc., was born.

But I also had to make Alex flawed because in real life, we are all flawed. And reading about someone who is perfect is also rather boring, right? So I had to come up with something in her background that made it difficult for her to take her friend’s case. Alex needed something personal that she had to overcome. I do not entirely remember where the missing girl case in Alex’s history as a police officer came from, but it gave her that much needed thing to overcome.
As an actor, motivation is key, but so also is conflict. And Alex was written with both in mind.

But Alex wasn’t the only character in Zeus, Inc. There were also a host of other characters. Again, I cheated by writing everything from Alex’ perspective (first person), so I wrote those characters as Alex (or myself) saw them. I ended up basing many of them on people I knew or television characters that I had come across. For example, Aleisha Brentwood is based on a relative of mine, someone that I hold very dear to my heart, as Alex did Aleisha.
But I will admit that the handsome and mysterious Pip was an idealized version of a television character I tend to have a major crush on.

The best thing that worked for me with Zeus, Inc., was to write what I know, and that’s exactly what I did. And it’s probably the best advice I could give to other writers. Take things from your own life, people you know or other characters you’ve seen and use that to create your own characters. Picasso famously said that great artists steal, and I believe that’s exactly what he meant. Let the things around you inspire your characters.

Robin Burks is not only a novelist, but also writes for RantGaming.com, Syfy Network’s DVICE.com and as well as her own blogs – FanGirlConfessions.com and Robin-Burks.com. Robin’s first novel, Zeus, Inc., is now available on Smashwords, BN.com, Amazon.com and in the iBookstore. She also occasionally speaks French and loves Doctor Who.