Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It's not so easy writing about nothing*...

Earlier this week I finished Patti Smith's new book, M Train. I'm a huge Patti Smith fan; she's one of my musical idols and her first book, Just Kids, is one of my all time favorite books. I've been eagerly awaiting M Train and was not disappointed in my experience. It was very different from Just Kids; there was no specific narrative although there was a connection throughout the work. Where Just Kids focused on Patti in New York in the 1970s, M Train moved through time with some rhyme and reason. Much of the book is about travel and her life with her late husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith (of the band MC5). I was so impressed with the sadness in M Train; it never became maudlin or a Patti Smith pity party. It's just there like it is in life. If you're a fan of Patti Smith you should add this to your reading list.

M Train is also the last book I'll read until the end of November. Yes friends, it's almost time for National Novel Writing Month! For the last two Novembers, I've spent the month writing a 50,000 word novel in one month and refraining from doing things like reading, being social, and eating complete meals. I'm a planner even when writing so I typically use October for prep for the month. It's actually encouraged; as long as you don't write any of the actual novel, you can do prep prior to the start. For my past novels, I did things like character sketches, timelines (very important last year), and ideas for endings while not actually writing anything. The character sketches were probably the best prep I did. Each of my characters, particularly in my first year, were fully fleshed out before I started. I knew all the details I needed to make them come alive on the page and I felt very connected to each one. Last year, I did a little less on the characters (although they all had a complete bio) and more on the locations I featured throughout the story. Those places were characters and I wanted them to be as present and realistic as possible especially since most of them are real places that you can go to (or could have gone to at one point in history).

I had every intention to get prepped for this year. In September I settled on my idea and should have been in a good place to start mapping out the characters, deciding which war my reenactors would reenact, and was set to create to fictitious museums. All I had to do was figure out how the ancient order of museum scholars would fracture and become the warring factions they are today.

None of this happened. Every time I sat down to write something, I would stop or get distracted by something else (it's my patriotic duty to watch reruns of NCIS on USA). Despite really liking the idea and wanting to create this world, I just couldn't get into it. This is even after sharing with my writing buddy and a new NaNoWriMo participant. Both thought the idea was good and that there was potential for some cool characters and everyone loves ancient orders of one thing or another. My heart wasn't in it and if my heart's not in it, I know it won't work. Over the weekend I decided to scrap the whole idea and start over again. With two weeks until the start of NaNoWriMo. I guess this is my year of living dangerously.

So what will this year's novel be about instead? There's no ancient society of anything. No museums to create, no art to describe. I could focus on baking, my other favorite hobby, and build on some of my short stories from over the summer (not the same characters of course since that would break the rules). I could but I'm not. I could write a full length Pickles novel but I'm saving Pickles stories for when I decide to start writing children's books.

I was in Leesburg this weekend attending a friend's wedding and the idea came to me as we (my parents and I) were driving around Leesburg. I'm pretty sure this was my first time officially in Leesburg; it's kinds of a strange place. There's are lots of developed areas (shopping centers, the outlets, breweries for miles, and strip malls) and the historic town of Leesburg. It's retained the loveliness of an old Virginia town. And then there are these long stretches of farmland and vineyards that come out of nowhere. It's a jarring contrast and it made me think of all the little towns I've driven through and visited around Virginia. Some of them are nothing more than a few buildings and a street or two; others are just a sign that says you were in one place and now you're not. We develop areas so quickly and haphazardly (or so it seems) these days. Driving around Leesburg and the surrounding area helped me form an idea that I hope I'll be able to develop during the month. I also hope I can get my act together and get some characters figured out sooner rather than later.

There's no title yet; it'll come eventually. The story will focus on a family owned roadside attraction in a small Virginia town (not unlike Dinosaur Land) and the family who owns it and has to make some decisions about the future of their business and their legacy. Rather than dinosaurs, my roadside attraction will focus on mythical creatures from multiple cultures and areas of literature. I'll still get to include my museum character in the form of the daughter of the current owner of the attraction. Like her "sisters" in my previous novels, she'll be looking for her home and community, something I think about often in my own life. There will be humor and conflict and emotion and mermaids; all the things you want in a novel.

Here's where I need your help. I'm letting you, my lovely Island readers, decide two things this year:
  1. Which mythical creatures should be part of the roadside attraction? I can't say that I'll use all of your suggestions (I already have my own ideas mapped out and have let a few key friends pick one or two) but input is fun and it's possible I've left out a creature or six.
  2. Do I allow you to read along with me as I write? Or do I "publish" the finished novel at the end of the month? For the past two years, I've posted excerpts from the novel on the blog and shared the finished version via a Google Doc link with a few people but maybe it's time to share the whole thing with the world. 
So Island readers, I leave it to you. Post your thoughts in the comments and we'll see where the month takes us.

Next week: One final Lazy Movie Weekend before NaNoWriMo begins. We'll take a look at one of my favorite Halloween movies that no one seems to have seen.

*from M Train by Patti Smith


  1. Polyphemus, the Cyclops from The Odyssey. Here's a good rendition from a Sinbad movie:

  2. I'm not sure I'd be reading much during November, but definitely want the link at least at the end of the month!!