Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NaNoWriMo: A Summary

November's almost over, and though you may feel neglected - all five of you - I have not been lazy in the writing department. I have been plugging away furiously, attempting to meet the 50,000 word goal over at NaNoWriMo. I finished today - not because I hit 50,000, but because I finished the book. Well, "finished." The first draft is done. There's a lot of work to be done, but I'm ready to let people read it. I need to find a balance between people who will read and offer constructive advice, versus those who will read it and tell me what a great job I did. I mean, I want the compliments - don't get me wrong - but it will be more valuable to have a critical eye towards what I can improve on. There's stuff I know can be improved on certainly, and other things I have ignored up to this point. Granted, I haven't really read it through myself all the way yet, but that will come.

Meanwhile, to try and reach the 50,000 goal, I did a little P. S. That's what this is. If you're interested in reading the actual book, let me know and I'll get it on Google Docs or something like that for you. The condition is that you need to be willing to be constructively honest with me, 'k?

As of this version, the book is at about 38,000 words. The challenge for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to get to 50,000 words. I could tell early on that I wouldn't have enough to fill that quota, and it doesn't make sense to put in a dream sequence where one doesn't belong just to have more words, so I'll start filling up some of the word count here. I suppose I could be satisfied with the idea of writing a book, a very rough draft of a book, in less than a month, but by golly, I've written a book in a month! I want credit from the organizing website for doing so! Even if it only means getting a badge I can post (with pride!) on my blog or something. So I'm putting some thoughts down here. I want to capture what this meant, and some of my thought process, and maybe even what I've learned.

Oh, I know this isn't a perfect book. Far from it. I know there are edits that need to be made, evidenced by the highlighted parts indicating entire sections that need to be reworked, rewritten, or just plain ol' written. Published? Don't make me laugh. Well, do make me laugh- go ahead. I like laughing. I just can't write comedy, apparently. And that's one of the parts of this "book" that will get fixed. I had to put that as a placeholder so that I could myself permission to carry on and not get stuck.

I didn't know when I first started this that it was going to turn into a love story. I knew I wanted to do a fairy tale, because some of my favorite authors have done treatments of traditional fairy tales. Or at least, some of my favorite stories and/or books lately have been treatments of fairy tales, and those authors have since turned into some of my favorites. You know, like Gail Carson Levine. My sister recently introduced me to Charles DeLint, via one of his "Jack" books, which is where I got the idea of having Jack be a recurring character, a cross-over from the human world, into the faerie realm.

The master of fairy tales though, and the most original ones, is Neil Gaiman. It was him who gave a talk not too long ago about the importance of libraries - one of my fondest memories of my childhood. Within the text of that lecture, he says, "fictionopens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real."

He says a lot of great things, but that one really resonated with me, because I had been thinking about doorways a lot before undertaking this little adventure. I asked a friend of mine, in fact, if she believed in magic.

I'm not talking about a Magic Castle sleight of hand artist or illusionist, but magic magic. Harry Potter magic. The stuff-great-kids'-books-are made-of magic.If fiction is based somewhat in reality, I think there may be such a thing as magic. Rather, there must be such a thing as magic, if you follow that logic thread. I suppose that argument could go the other way too for things that I'm not sure are real, like vampires or werewolves or faeries, unless you take the approach that they're based on real-life monsters, of which there are plenty. Not faeries - those are based on butterflies and crickets and hummingbirds. Mostly hummingbirds, I think. Not crickets - I take that back. (Also, I do not like crickets. Never having met a fairy, I'm not entirely sure I like them either. )But back to magic. I suppose miracles of the biblical sort could be considered magic, because it's something that can't be explained with science or logic, but my intent isn't to downgrade miracles either. It's a fine line, this idea's border. I could be a crazy person, or I could be the one adult in a kids' book that believes magic is real.Obviously I'm still working on this idea, and haven't come anywhere near coalescing a coherent thought. I think this may be preliminary thoughts for NaNoWriMo. Hmm. But it IS one of those things you don't talk about with just anybody. Is it just a trick in literature to get children/young adults to believe beyond a real-world capacity? To stretch imaginations? Or is there something to it?

So yes, that's where my thoughts were leading up to this grand month of November. Oh, her answer, in case you're interested, was this:

Magic - I'm not sure you really want to be coming to a person who already has an extremely tenuous grasp on reality for confirmation of your sanity, but since you asked - um, duh. Doesn't everyone believe in magic? Never mind I just answered my own question. No, they don't. But I certainly do, at least from a certain point of view. And I think more people should because, come on. You already said, we're a church full of people who believe in things like parting the red sea and walking on water. I think if anybody should have a pretty high tolerance for the out of the ordinary/strange/fantastical, it should be members of the church.

I too would like to think that if one day some children came to me and said, we found a portal to another dimension in yo ur closet, my answer would be, 'fantastic; let's leave now.' I think if I live my whole life without ever once encountering a dinosaur or a time machine or a secret underground world, I'm going to be severely disappointed. Maybe my books have just given me unrealistically high expectations of what life is supposed to be like, but at least if I can't live it I can still read about it.

Tying magic in with books also makes me think of a speech Neil Gaiman gave a few days ago. He said, among other generally brilliant things, because he's Neil Gaiman and saying brilliant things is what he does, that "truth is not in what happens but in what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth."

Or, to put it another way, "Of course it's all happening in your head. But why on earth does that mean it's not real?"

I have been mildly obsessed with the idea of archetypes for a long time now - like how every culture passes down the same couple of types of stories over and over again, about parents and children and heroes and caves and monsters and light and all kinds of lovely stuff. And it's all just different symbols being used to say the same things. So I think you're right about werewolves and fairies and what have you - there's truth, and then there's fact, and all the stories are based on fact, or some version of a fact, and the facts get used to say true things about people and life. It's like in Doctor Who, or Indiana Jones - they go and investigate some weird thing, and the townspeople will be like, oh, well, there's this legend that nobody really believes except some old lady out in the woods. But the story goes like this...and then they tell the story and then of course whatever weird thing that's happening is exactly what happened in the story. And then the townspeople are like, ohhhh, so werewolves are real. Huh. OK then. And then they become the crazy old people out in the woods telling stories to their children. It's kind of how life works. (Or at least how stories work, which is much better.) I just like to think that I'm in on the joke.

That's how this started. I wanted to explore the ideas of doorways into magical lands. Probably because more than anything, I want to find a doorway into a magical land. I want it to be there, and accessible, without the pain and hassle of air travel, of dealing with TSA agents, and the high cost of airplane tickets. For now, books are it. I hold out hope that, though, I'll open a closet door and see a removable panel hidden there that reveals a pathway to somewhere else. Or that one day I'll discover a pull-down stairway that goes to an attic in my own house. And in this scenario, I never knew that attic was there, but you climb the stairs, and the attic isn't just a thing that transverses the house, but is a place. A place ofmagic, intrigue, mystery.

(I have that dream, by the way. Frequently. I also have the dream that I'm a kid again, and in my dad's shop, and I press the button made from paper that my sister made and put on the wall. Because when you press that button, and go through the black revolving door that allows access to the photographic dark room, you can go wherever you want. True story - that button made of paper and the revolving door really did exist in my childhood. My sister made it, and my dad indulged us by letting us put it on the wall. And every time we went to visit him in his shop, that raggedy piece of paper was still on the wall, ready for us to push, so that we could then go to any place we wanted. Any place our minds would let us, that is.)

(The Neil Gaiman talk, by the way, was delivered on October 14, 2013 in London at the Barbican., if you're interested in looking it up in its entirety yourself. It's quite good.) Neil Gaiman also quotes Albert Einstein thusly: "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

I didn't think about that when I chose to do a fairy tale treatment. I thought about my limitations. There are many, but this one specifically I thought was the one most likely to hold me back from writing a book, and that is, I don't have any story ideas. I've tried writing fiction before, with disastrous results. I've had the beginnings of ideas, but then don't know what to do with after that. And I certainly don't know how it ends. I know the beginnings of things, but not the middle or ends, and that doesn't make for a very good story. So I figured if I could leverage a fairy tale, embellish details, place it in a context familiar to me, I'd be able to overcome that obstacle. After all, I like writing. I'm good at it. I think. It remains to be seen if I'm good at this type of writing.

And that's something I've learned from this. (This is all about me, if you couldn't tell. But I warned you about that at the beginning.) It's been a good exercise. Just write, write, write. Focus on the story, get the words down, see where it goes. And I started to see what authors mean when they talk about how the characters in their books take over and have a mind of their own. It's like those people come to life and are telling the author what to write, rather than the writer giving the characters the story. It's an interesting feeling. I imagine it's kind of like acting - you have to really get yourself into the character to portray it accurately and truly. With this writing process, this fiction writing, I just kept asking myself if I was being true to the character. And even though I didn't start with a written outline or full character sketch of each person, I had those ideas in my mind when I started.

Ah. I will show you what I did have written down before I started:

Difficult choice- impossible choice- Garden of Eden type something. The owner of the palatial gardens is named (Kim). She likes glitter. She sings some of her sentences because she knows how ridiculous everything she says or requests is.

Girl stumbles ... Magically, unexpectedly, into a spacious garden. Woman there offers refuge. The choice- choose a gift of whatever she wants, or return immediately to her world.

Sylvia is very independent. The same qualities that her boyfriend was attracted to are the ones he's complaining about. She's been struggling with ... Job? Career? Boyfriend?

Meet four women-

Daphne- too talkative Greek bay tree

Cynthia- too eager to please Greek moon goddess

Iris- too pretty Greek the rainbow

Phylida- too sharp-witted Greek a green bough

Sylvia's choice- quiet spirit. Latin from the forest

Returns to her home, feels no different, even after the adventures she's been on. The exception is that she feels completely indifferent to her boyfriend. In fact, heis almost repulsive to her now. Her boss is still crazy, but she feels immune to that now.

And she meets...someone who looks familiar, not because she needs a someone, but because she's been on adventures with him already. Because they're already friends.

Yup, that's all I had. Not a lot. I referred to it a lot to refresh my memory about the different fairy princesses - their names and qualities. Other than that, once I had that idea in my mind, the rest of it just took form as I put fingers to keyboard.

So a couple of notes about my notes. (Still only at 40,000 words. Don't worry - this won't take another 10,000 words.)

Kim, Sylvia's friend from work, is based on my tap dance teacher. She has the most joy for life and living and having fun of any adult I have ever met. She often says that she is a child in an adult's body. And in spite of her childlike attributes, she's very responsible. She fascinates me, and I haven't known her for very long, but I knew she had a place in this story somehow. I think she needs a bigger one somehow, and that's one of the things that will get fixed in subsequent drafts.

I changed Phyllida's name to Adele, because I wasn't sure how to pronounce Phyllida. Probably just how it looks, but it isn't a name that's readily recognizable in a modern-day context. Adele means "happy," or "joyful," as I was trying to convey the idea of her humor. And I obviously need to do some more work around Adele/Phyllida's home and its environs. I struggled with that character the most. At one point, I even considered combining her with Daphne, the talkative one, since the effects the two have on others are similar. That may still happen; we'll see.

So yeah, the names matter, but the characters tell you that themselves.

And Sylvia is autobiographical, or a lot of her is, at least. And that's the beauty of taking a fairy tale that was written more than a hundred years ago - you have the liberty to do a lot of fun things. And in the absence of being able to think of fun things, stick with what you know. That's the one thing I remember from that one creative writing class I took a million years ago in college. But it's also one of the areas that has the most room for change. For instance, I'm not sure now if it makes sense for Sylvia to have the same aches and pains I do. At first I imagined her being my age - a single woman in her 40s. But she's probably closer to being in her late 20s, and that's okay too. That's how old I am mentally. But it also means running doesn't hurt her the same way it does me.

Speaking of the age thing, I don't know who would read this book. I know a lot of women my age, or around my age, read books that are intended for a younger audience, simply because the content is clean and they don't want to read smut. I don't want to read smut either, let alone write it. But I also didn't want to write another book where the protagonist is a young teenager. It's not real. And even though this is a fairy tale, it's meant to be real. There's nothing more real than a woman in her 20s, or 30s, or 40s still figuring out this mystery called life. I know that because that is my life. Each day is a new mystery, something new to figure out - either about myself and how I perceive the world, or react to people around me - or about other people and their perceptions. Writing fiction, (loosely paraphrasing Neil Gaiman again), or fiction itself, teaches us more about ourselves than any other medium. It teaches us how to relate to people, and even how to empathize. So if you've enjoyed any layer of this story, I'm glad. I'll keep working and getting better, I promise.

Someday, one of my books may be the portal to a magic world you're looking for.

Final note, I promise - the fairy tale I got this from is called "The Fairy's Wish." I found out about it from a marvelous book called, "Beyond the Glass Slipper: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love With," by Kate Wolford. The version of "The Fairy's Wish" she cites as being from Andrew Lang's "The Green Fairy Book," 1892.
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