by Dave Pasquantonio
Congratulations—you finished your novel! You crafted nail-biting tension and perfect character arcs. You killed darlings and kept reader promises. And that ending? It sings. You’re done!
But wait—93,827 words? Uh-oh. You really wanted to come in under 90K. And that last editing pass was thorough. You killed off three secondary characters, consolidated scenes, and took out those boring pages where Wilhelm and Gene talked about that time they saw the moose. There’s nothing left to cut!
Or is there?
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The sleet snow hitting our skylight over the bed woke me up early this morning. Our first snowfall of the 2017-18 winter. Didn’t we just enjoy the warmest month of October on record? I loved every minute of those above-average temperatures.
I am happy to be up early today as in a few hours I will be on my way with Eleanor and Heidi to the New England Crime Bake in Woburn (rhymes with Reuben!!), Massachusetts. This is my second Crime Bake and I am expecting it to be even better than last year’s. I know I will return home motivated to finish my novel, “Clare.” Or any damn novel.
Yet I won’t be able to devote all of my energy to that pursuit. We are nearing the end of a bathroom remodel and bedroom refresh. Another week or two and the ceiling, walls, and woodwork will be painted, the vanity and shower glass doors installed, and a new gray (to match the paint) blind will cover the skylight–which explains how I was woken by the snow hitting the skylight. This remodel reminds me of writing a novel. I’ll save that for a post when the remodel is done and I can discuss it rationally.
November is the month to hunker down and focus on interior projects. It must be on record as being the grayest month of the year. That’s why for the last few years I’ve looked forward to participating in NaNoWriMo. Not this year. “Clare” is the beneficiary of my attention, not a new project. I’m plotting–not pantsing–and I can see it’s benefits. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
Time to pack and head to Woburn. A bonus of leaving town? My husband is in charge of the painting in our bedroom.
I like my cozies cozy. We’re talking mystery novels here, of course. The base-case definition of “cozy” is “no overt sex or messy violence onstage.” For me, there’s one more requirement: the story has to happen in a place and/or a social setting made so vivid by the author that living in it for the length of a book is worth the price of admission. Cozy, after all, is a matter of one’s surroundings. Solving a murder? Not so important. It’s local color that makes me part with my cash in the bookstore.
Currently, I’m reviewing the presence of the great state of New Hampshire in the umpteenth draft of my novel. It’s a wonderful place, no question. I notice, though, that my local color focuses only on the nice stuff. Autumn-leaves-sort-of-thing. This is the “place” equivalent of the sweet and comforting cat owned by so many mystery protagonists. Said cat never ignores her owner, gores the vet or vomits on important people. Autumn color on the Kancamagus Highway is New Hampshire’s version of that cat.
So I’m hunting around for aspects of the New Hampshire life that will take readers into the real place, including the unsweet parts, which they will nonetheless want to explore with me. Here’s where that effort took me.
The Kancamagus, narrowly defined, is 37 unspoiled miles of two-lane road through the White Moutains, no turnoffs (except for trailheads), no gas stations, no food outlets, no nothing. On the other hand, it starts in Lincoln, New Hampshire, home to the Loon Mountain ski resort and a stretch of random and ramshackle shops whose only purpose is to extract dollars from skiers and leafpeepers. You can eat a gyro, spend more on a mountain bike than the annual household income in Rwanda, or get your nails painted blue with little sparkles on. Every tourist trap in the country could boast the same. So how is this New Hampshire?
I find a possible connection: a little strip-mall shop that sells very upscale foodstuffs, organic of course, plus Luna bars, sandwiches, and elaborate chocolate pastries clearly made by machines in a factory somewhere well to the south. But one of the sandwiches is a lobster roll better than anything I’ve tasted on the coast of Maine. Why make that a specialty? Because this is northern New England, mountains or no mountains, and the lobster is one of our totem animals. (So is the moose, but you don’t want moose on a bun.) Serving bad lobster is done in New Hampshire, yes, but it is nevertheless Not Done in New Hampshire.
Winter is another New Hampshire specialty. I do let my heroine enjoy the first pristine snow of the season. This brook isn’t just down the road from my house, but its twin brother is.
Where I have to be stern with myself is on the downside of all this loveliness. Hence :
We aren’t the rural state we once were, either. In the southern tier, New Hampshire is becoming downright post-industrial. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is no longer the economic engine of the area. It’s more a blight on the sea coast. Good place for a thrilling climactic chase scene, though.
So one way or another, I imagine I’ll give my readers a place more interesting than some non-denominational Heaven. If I get really desperate, I still have one lead to follow:
E-PUBBING, NOT FOR THE TIMID
I experimented with e-pubbing a bunch of short stories. I happened to have seven short, short and flash fantasy stories hanging around with nothing to do and I put them to work.
Writing them was the easy part.
My group informed me that I was now the expert in case any of them wanted to e-pub. I have news: I have no idea how it’s done or how to do it.
I went through Smashwords since it sits on my dashboard looking interesting. No other site clamored for my stories and really, it must be five years since that icon of a hand smashing closed a book has tried to get me to notice it.
So, I sent Smashwords my collection of short, shorts. They immediately answered back that yes, they wanted me. I was thrilled. I had passed their initial look-see but now the stories needed to get formatted.
I read the instructions on formatting and wanted to weep. I had no clue to what they were talking about. No problem, they said, here’s a list of independent formatters who will fix it for you. It needed fixing? Why?
I chose a formatter at random from their list. He was very nice and formatted it the way they liked. I have no idea what he did. But one thing that gave me no end of joy was the fact that he hyperlinked my ToC (Table of Contents) to the correct pages. I had read the how to’s on hyperlinking and wanted to beat my head against a wall. But, to be hyperlinked? Oh joy.
You need to have a profile, they said. Okay, I can write a profile. I am supposed to be a writer. I wrote a profile and successfully sent it to them. I was a genius. I went up a couple of notches in my own estimation.
Now you need a picture of yourself. I had a photo that was enough years old to be flattering. It was a distance shot. I found it on file and tried to crop it and save it to send. Well, I saved the outside border that I thought I’d cropped off. No idea where the center of the picture went. My son sent them a different pic.
Cover picture. Well, something indicative of one of the stories, right? I tried to get a stock photo from the internet of a cute little goldfish. One that looked intelligent. Goldfish have attention spans of 3 seconds. It’s impossible for them not to have a ‘duh’ expression. I asked my husband to give me a hand. Paint me an intelligent looking goldfish, please. I was so reminded of the part in “The Little Prince” by Saint Exupery where the prince asks the pilot to draw him a sheep. And the pilot did, over and over. Well, we finally did get an intelligent, in that it’s inquisitive looking, goldfish. But it’s not enough just to paint it and photograph it and superimpose the lettering on it, there was something to do with pixels, for crying out loud. I wanted to forget the whole thing. Writers are not meant for this kind of work. My son fixed the pixels.
These different critical pieces of an e-pubbed book were sent to Smashwords over the course of a month. They never got impatient with me, oh no. They didn’t need my book, they have published in e-reader format almost a half million books.
Did I need them? I didn’t need the aggravation, but now that it’s done I look back at it as a different form of child-birth, one that I wasn’t quite ready for.
Will be available for purchase on November 7, 2017.
A BAKER’S HALF DOZEN is a new collection of flash and short, short fantasy tales for all ages. Seven stories, including three award winners, deal with life in the weird lane. Often humorous, sometimes poignant, but all odd. Something not quite right this way cometh.
After three consecutive years of winning NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided to take a break this year. And I’m already missing it.
You may recall that November is the only month during the year that I produce a measureable amount of writing. Is this really a wise decision?
It’s not because I won’t have time for it–there’s never enough time for it–but I’ve always managed to squeeze it in.
The problem is that I have numerous fifty thousand word drafts of novels floating around, begging to be revised and completed. Why would I want to add one more draft to those haunting me?
In 2014 my NaNoWriMo novel was It Takes a Village Store. I couldn’t remember what it was about so I quickly scanned it. Ahhh…Anne, Olivia, Christian, Emily, George, Mae. I remember them. In 2015 my NaNoWriMo was Full Circle. Anne, Olivia, Christian, Emily, George, Mae. In 1986 (I kid you not) I started Anne, which remains a work in progress. Anne, Olivia, Christian, Jeff, George, Mae.
As they are populated by the (mostly) same cast of characters, what if I eliminate all of the unnecessary stuff from each of them and create one complete novel? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that’s all I had to do? Wouldn’t I feel like a real author if I spent November doing that instead of writing a new story with a new cast of characters?
Of course I would. But. For me, there’s something magical about NaNoWriMo. It’s more than thirty days of focusing just on word count. It’s thirty days of creating lives, places, relationships, action. Without anyone criticizing my sentence structure, my choice of words, my story arc. It’s the freedom to get swept away by my characters, to ride the wave of my story, to float back to shore at midnight on November thirtieth, fifty thousand words richer.
If you’ve been following my posts, you might be wondering what happened to the murder mystery trilogy I bragged about recently. Oh, that trilogy, using the same rough drafts listed above. And adding Gabby, my 2016 NaNo winner, and Claire, my loser.
Confused?? Yeah, me, too. Maybe the best of use of November is figuring out what I am going to do with all of those drafts I have spent years crafting. With any luck, that might include producing one completed novel.
Finally, in a 2015 post, this is what I had to say about what I learned from NaNoWriMo that year: …I am able to write regardless of the circumstances. I don’t need the perfect chair…or to be in the mood to write. I can even write while indulging in (gulp) Hallmark holiday movies…Another lesson has been that it isn’t that hard to whip out a lot of words if I’m prepared to also whip out a lot of revising. In the future. Revising that I’m actually looking forward to doing. Not lying.
Stay tuned for the big reveal: to NaNo or not?
Who doesn’t love a Woolly Mammoth? I’m so glad they’re coming back. Hope I live long enough to see one.
(What started me off on this? An article that visited my in-box this morning. Don’t they have a way of doing that, these off-the-wall emails that send your day into a curve you never dreamed of?)
Anyway, these lovable creatures roamed over all the world at one time. They stood up to 12 feet at the shoulder and ate lots. In frozen Siberia there are ice caves that have been transformed into laboratories to study mammoths dug from the permafrost. In not so nice times in the Russian past, inhabitants of gulags got to eat the frozen mammoths they unearthed. I wonder what they taste like?
In the first book of Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series, ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’, I learned that Neanderthals hunted mammoths and roasted their meat over open fires. Then they smoked quantities of left-overs to carry home to their families. What rollicking times they must have had back then. Jean M. Auel did extensive research for this book and for the whole series. She joined a survival class and learned to construct an ice cave, make a fire using primitive methods, tan leather and knap stones (flint) for knives. She was also a member of Mensa, that elite club for super smarties. You have to stand back for a moment and imagine putting a member of Mensa in a Neanderthal world. That is mind boggling.
But that, unfortunately, was the only book in the series that I’ve read. Next time I get a cold I’ll curl up with her next in the series. ‘The Valley of Horses’ I think it is. What fun.
Another mention of mammoths I’ve read and enjoyed is Thomas Pierce’s short story called ‘Shirley Temple Three’. It’s found in his collection of short stories called Hall of Small Animals. In the story, Mawmaw’s son Tommy; “works as the host of a popular show called ‘Back from Extinction’. On each episode they actually bring back long-dead, forgotten creatures – saber-toothed tigers, dodo birds, and all the rest. The show is a a little controversial, but people seem to enjoy it. Tommy always looks so handsome in his khaki safari vest”. So, guess what? In this story Tommy brings home a baby mammoth to Mawmaw in order to save it from certain death.
Which brings us full circle; bringing back the woolly Mammoth. Not as crazy as it sounds, apparently. Researchers are studying a frozen male mammoth from Northern Siberia hoping to either use his DNA, or sperm, to fertilize an Asian elephant’s egg. The Asian elephant has the closest DNA to the Mammoth’s, of all the elephants. Only a five percent difference.
All Europeans and Asians have maybe 3-4 percent Neanderthal genes in their DNA make-up. Makes you think; will we revert to our ancestor’s predilection for Mammoth meat in the future?
Jean M. Auel, you would get a kick out of this. Maybe you’re already on the team to bring back this luscious animal.
So here I am, on what I hope is the final substantive rewrite of my first mystery. I pantsed it, and I had a great time. I loved my characters, just set them down on the page and let them romp. Have you ever watched very young children – five or six years old, say – make up a game out of their own heads, coming up with a story and acting out the roles? I had that much fun, I really did.
And now it’s all come home to roost. The bill has come due for all those joyous episodes of ‘Ooh! Wouldn’t it be great if …’ For instance, I have a character who started out a genealogy snob involved in a lawsuit and ended up burying his ancestors (literally) and switching sides on the suit.
Well, no disaster. I can see how that could happen. But as I romped through my game, I just sketched in the change, didn’t take time to act out in my head the character’s inner or outer experiences. Result: a vague and confusing switcheroo at best; at worst, a great, clunky meta-clue to the reader: this character is being manipulated to work a plot. Why, he’s not a real person!
My faithful TNW critics (make that critiquers) pointed out a similar problem with another character. I noticed for myself that the police showed up, getting things wrong, when I needed to spur my amateur detective on to greater effort, but not when the police probably would show up in a real investigation. To crown my shame, one colleague gently pointed out that the pair of cute ferrets I had introduced (to make this work a proper cozy) really ought at least to appear in the closing scenes.
This isn’t one of my usual streams of whining complaint. I really can see how to solve the problems, and I’ve set about it. I’m pulling together separate files of all the passages on each faulty character, each badly constructed plot line. And that job has me wondering: if I had done that work before I started writing, I’d be a plotter, wouldn’t I? It sure sounds more efficient. But would I then lose out on all that five-year-old, cowboys-and-Indians fun?
On a practical note, here is a question for readers: do you use a writing program like Scrivener? If so, is there an easy way to pull characters’ appearances and tease out individual plot threads to be looked at separately? It took hours to use keywords and the ‘Find’ function to do this job for a single character.
At present, I have each scene in a separate file, color-coded by the plot line that the scene mostly serves. But my writing is not so clunky as to confine each scene to actions serving only one plot. In Scrivener (I think – I’m no adept) I would have to put each paragraph in a coded file if I want to pull out individual subplots, and it still wouldn’t be precise. Ideas, anyone?
HAVE I GOT A CONTEST FOR YOU
Searching the internet for new and different venues for a short story I came across this gem:
Christopher Fielden’s Annual Short Story Competition
“To Hull And Back”
A Humorous Writing Contest
August 2017 sees the launch of the fifth To Hull And Back Short Story Competition, an annual short story contest with a humorous twist that celebrates the most imaginative and amazing short stories from writers all over the world.
Some highly prestigious writing contests offer huge cash prizes – the BBC award £15,000 and the Sunday Times give a whopping £30,000 to their winner. What can you win by entering this competition that contends with these short story prize giving heavyweights? THE most amazing, innovative and sought after writing prize on the planet. Forget the Pulitzer. THIS is the badger*.
If you’re selected as a winner:
You Will Win Cash
1st Prize: £1,000
2nd Prize: £500
3rd Prize: £250
3 x Highly Commended: £50
14 x Shortlisted: £25
But it doesn’t end there, my fine writing friends, oh no, not by a LONG shot.
You Will Be Published
All winners and short listed entries will be published in the To Hull And Back Short Story Anthology. This will be available as a professionally published, printed book and as a Kindle download. The book will have an ISBN number.
If you’re published in the book, a writer’s profile will appear alongside your story and on my website. This will consist of a delightful picture of you, a short bio telling readers all about how amazing you are and details of your website, if you have one.
In addition to this, an author interview with the winner will be published alongside their story.
And there’s more…
You Will Win the Most Awesomely Awesome in its Awesomeness Writing Prize in the Known Macrocosm
This is the bit that will send tingles down your spine. Joy will ravage your very being and you will feel compelled to dance naked for no reason, no matter where you might be. I guarantee it**.
The winner will be taken to Hell Hull and back.
Allow me to explain.
The winner’s face will appear on the front cover of the To Hull And Back Anthology. They will be depicted riding a flaming motorcycle and holding a quill of wrath. The covers from previous competitions can be seen below. Each year, the cover will be unique and created by a different artist.
That was my favorite contest for weirdness. Other contests of interest refused to be cut and pasted here, no matter how hard I tried. My fellow Thursday Night Writers know how I struggle with computer skills. Here’s a couple more:
THE SIXTH ANNUAL MOGFORD FOOD AND DRINK SHORT STORY COMPETITION
Any genre but food and drink must be at the heart of the winning tale.
Prize- 10,000 British pounds.
Limit of 2500 words
Due by Jan. 3, 2018
This is a fantastic website to visit. In fact you must visit it, it’s beautiful
THE SUNDAY TIMES
The British Sunday Times. Past winners have been Junot Diaz and Anthony Doerr.
Their first prize is $40,000 (American!). Highest purse for a short story in the world!
Do check this one out also.
I actually found one on Craigslist yesterday which offered a phenomenal people’s choice prize of something like $160,000. Of course, being Craigslist, it was gone today. Maybe someone bought it.
Keep slogging through the internet for just the right contest for your short story. As for me, I’m going to HULL AND BACK.
Recently I took my mother to the local hospital’s Emergency Department for evaluation for a possible heart attack. We remained briefly in a packed waiting room where we overheard a mumbling man grumbling because they wouldn’t let him into the treatment area. Something was going on in there and they were keeping him from it.
As soon as a nurse escorted us through the closed door into the treatment area, I sensed a tension in the air, as before a hurricane hits. The hysterical wales and shrieks of a female that erupted throughout the ED indicated it had hit.
Someone had died. Right then and there. I just knew it.
Certainly she would be escorted out of the curtained area of the ED and into a private area where she could grieve. I couldn’t stand the thought of her being alone. Maybe the man in the waiting room was a relative. Why wouldn’t they let him in?
The nurse guided us into a private room at the far end of the ED and a team of medical professionals swooped in and drew blood, hooked up monitors, inserted an IV, and wheeled in a portable x-ray machine. Suddenly it was just my mother and me. Bloody gauze littered the floor. The monitor blazed green, yellow and blue squiggles, its beeps a reassurance that life went on.
A methodic pounding now accompanied the howling. Even my hard of hearing mother heard it. We looked at each other and started laughing.
I stood near the open door of my mother’s room, hoping to glimpse a clue as to the tragedy that had struck. A male voice—the man from the waiting room, perhaps—loud, firm, annoyed. “If you don’t stop this right now, I’m going to lay down the law.”
For just a moment my mother and I relaxed into the quiet. When the howling started again a nurse closed our door, the noise muffled but not stopped.
We never learned what had happened to the young lady, we knew only what our minds could conjure, though I’m pretty sure no one had died.
It’s not always what you think, is it? Not so different from what happens with a murder mystery. As an author, I insert clues to mislead my fictional characters as well as my readers, who make assumptions based on the meager information I’ve doled out to them. The all-powerful author controls what the reader learns and when she learns it. The reader controls what assumptions and conclusions she makes. In the end, the author has the last word when she ends the suspense and reveals the murderer. What author doesn’t revel in that power?
Prayers for those impacted by Hurricane Irma.
A few blogs ago, I was whining and complaining about the decline of all things literate: cursive script gone from the schools, editing that goes no further than spellcheck, and above all, letter writing that has dwindled to email.
But why mope? We’re all writers here; hence, we’re all readers; hence, we have access to the written treasures of the centuries. I went to my bookshelves and within minutes pulled down an armload of books likely to contain the kind of letters no one writes any more. Here is a sample to brighten your day.
In the parlance of his own day (the reign of Charles II of England) John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester was a rakehell. Not the man you would expect to write this letter to his new bride:
I know not well who has the worst on’t, you, who love but a little, or I, who doat to an extravagance; sure, to be half kind is as bad as to be half witted; and madness, both in love and reason, bears a better character than a moderate state of either.
Full disclosure #1: Rochester was an earl, but an impoverished one. His bride, with whom he eloped, was very, very rich.
Full disclosure #2: After a lifetime of drinking, whoring and brawling, Rochester repented on his deathbed and died in the odor of sanctity. On the other hand, we have only his friends’ word for this.
In Sense and Sensibility, Lady Middleton is wary of the Dashwood sisters, fearing that they may be “satirical” of mind. Wonder who Jane Austen was thinking of? Jane to her sister Cassandra:
Another stupid party last night…. I cannot anyhow continue to find people agreeable; I respect Mrs. Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but cannot feel a more tender sentiment. Miss Langley is like any other short girl with a broad nose & wide mouth, fashionable dress & exposed bosom. Adm: Stanhope is a gentlemanlike Man, but then his legs are too short, & his tail too long.
E.B. White and his wife hobnobbed with the literati of The New Yorker. It didn’t go to their heads. White to his brother:
The summer reached a sort of peak the day we went to the Blue Hill Fair and K [White’s wife] tried to take a leak in the bushes just as the trap-shoot started. She came out with only a minor flesh wound, but she might as well have been through Anzio. We all thought it was very comical, and one shooter (I heard later) got 25 pigeons out of a possible 25.
Helene Hanff, author of 84 Charing Cross Road, in New York, to her supplier of out-of-print classics, Marks & Co. of 84, Charing Cross Rd., London:
De Tocqueville’s compliments and he begs to announce his safe arrival in America. He sits around looking smug because everything he said was true, especially about lawyers running the country….
Did I tell you I finally found the perfect page cutter? It’s a pearl-handled fruit knife. My mother left me a dozen of them…. Maybe I go with the wrong kind of people but I’m just not likely to have twelve guests all sitting around simultaneously eating fruit.
While we’re on politics, you needn’t depend on cable news for furious denunciations of partisanship. John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, explaining why the excellent law codes of antiquity have been lost:
Why are those Laws lost? I say the Spirit of Party has destroyed them, civil, political and ecclesiastical Bigotry. Despotical, monarchical Aristocratical and democratical Fury, have all been employed in this Work of destruction of every Thing that could give us true light and a clear insight of Antiquity. For every One of these Parties, when possessed of Power, or when they have been Undermost and Struggling to get Uppermost, has been equally prone to every Species of fraud and Violence, and Usurpation.
And while we’re on the Adamses, a final love letter from one of the great love stories of history. Abigail Adams, in Braintree, Massachusetts, to John Adams, in France representing the newly independent United States, 1778:
How insupportable the Idea that 3000 leagues, and the vast ocean now divide us – but divide only our persons for the Heart of my Friend is in the Bosom of his partner. More than half a score years has so riveted it there, that the Fabrick which contains it must crumble into Dust, e’er the particles can be separated.
Now please sit down, think of your brightest, funniest, most verbal friend, and write him or her a letter. On paper, with a pen, in script. Just to keep Tinkerbelle alive.