Writing

A Change, and a Vignette

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I’m all off this week because of the holiday.  Mondays off always throw me for a loop – not that I’m complaining.  But the Thursday blog entry is now a Friday blog entry since everything is a day removed.

Speaking of which… I’ve had some time to review this year in blogging and have decided to make a change and post book reviews here MUCH less in the new year.  Caseykins.com was always meant to be an author site, and I feel like it’s getting away from its purpose if all I do is post about books that often aren’t even in the genre I’m writing in.  So… I started another blog for the reviews.  I’ll likely still post the quarterly reading list here, and blog anything I totally fall head over heels for.  But in general I’m trying to keep all things novel to Book Dragon.  And that way if you like the book reviews, you can get that almost exclusively.  And if you like these little writing process and slice of life things, you can get that almost exclusively too.  This year was the first year I didn’t see a dramatic growth in people visiting the site, and I feel like the confused image might be some of the problem…

One of my tasks for the New Year was to incorporate more practice into my writing.  I’ll most likely be trying to substitute the book posts with these little vignettes.  I wrote this after visiting the Santa Monica Pier with Brian on the 1st.  It was crazy-busy down there, but still a good trip:

 

Brian and I sat on a concrete bench on the busy, bright pier for quite a while, just watching the waves crash on the thick barnacled supports beneath us.

A family came soon after we sat and took the other end of the bench.  They weren’t speaking English. I don’t know if it was French or what (I don’t think it was French really), but they were all older people, the men with close-cropped hair and the women wearing bright floral scarves tied under their throats. One of the men was pushing an empty stroller, and in the arms of the other man was a small girl with the curliest and reddest of hair. She was wearing a pink fuzzy coat with yellow butterflies clipped all over it. Their crepe wings fluttered in the ocean breeze. The family sat down next to us, and she threw herself backward in the arms of her father? Grandfather? And squealed every time the orange roller coaster swooped past with a rattle.

Eventually she started to fuss a bit, and the man started to sing to her. I didn’t recognize all of it, but one of the verses seemed to be a question about kilometers. And then he sang her Frere Jaques. That was her favorite, because she sang it back, her little voice not making all the syllables. She squirmed to get down, and continued singing while yanking herself backward on the steel pier railings, her little feet, in white tights, still on the wood deck.

It was sweet, and it made me smile.

The family took a selfie with the waves in the background, the shoreline stretching like a crescent behind them into oblivion.  And then they bundled their things and strolled away again towards the food booths.  The little girl was probably too young to remember her trip to California. Not through anything other than pictures of herself.  But I’ll remember her now.

 

Photo credit to Brian.  Thanks, dear!

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The Resolution Post: 2017

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This is the end of the year re-cap on new year’s resolutions.  I don’t know if anyone is terribly interested in my introspection about the nitty-gritty of my chosen career, but it helps me to publish this stuff in a place I know is public.  It keeps me accountable.  Thanks for humoring me.

To recap, my resolutions this year were as follows:

  1. Read another 100 books
  2. Have a novel ready to shop around
  3. Beat or match my previous record for published short stories (2) and/or be paid for 1 short story
  4. Write at least 20 days of each month

How did I do?  Pretty well, actually.

I read a shit-ton of books this year.  Like, I’ll probably clear 150.  Which is CRAZY when you think about it.  I’m blaming it on the mass-quantity of awesome romance novels I’ve been reading.

The novel is not yet ready to shop around, although it ALMOST is.  3 page synopsis?  Done.  Query letter?  Done.  Just waiting for the beta reads to finish and to do one more draft (okay, maybe 2) before I start sending it out.  I can’t control the speed of the beta readers.  It’s out of my hands when I can start on those last two drafts.  Maddening, I know. I’m trying to be Zen about it…  But I’m SO CLOSE.

I have been paid for one story this year, which means I completed this resolution no problem.  I’ve had a couple of stories, too, where I’ve been notified that they’re keeping them longer for further consideration.  So I might meet both requirements, depending on several factors (whether they do, in fact, say yes, whether they notify me by the end of December…)

Whether or not I completed the resolution to write 20 days each month really depends on how you’re measuring it.  I missed March and September.  But I went over 20 days so many months that if you average it all out, I actually exceeded the target.  I’m calling it met, for morale reasons.

That’s it for last year.  Now moving to 2017:

I’m tweaking my resolutions this year so that they’re more in line with my goals of learning and getting myself out there.  I have realized the past two years of doing this semi-professionally that I can control my own output, but I can’t control others’ reactions to the output.  I’m refocusing the goals on production, not publication.

I’ve read a lot about the SF/F industry since last year, and it seems to me that people who make a living at this often win Writers of the Future and go to Clarion.  Which means I’ll at least throw my name into the ring for both. And then there’s all the book dissection I’ve added to my workload among all the writing stuff I’ve been doing.  So, I’m broadening even as I’m loosening.  Here’s what I was thinking of for 2017.

New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. I will have either 2 stories paid for or 20 rejection letters, whichever target I hit first
  2. I will dissect the structure of 1 book per month
  3. I will do writing of some form (either for publication or practice) 20 days of each month.
  4. I’ll Enter 4 stories into the Writers of the Future Contest (one per period), and apply to the Clarion Writer’s Workshop.
  5. I’ll have Ruby of Ra (book 2) ready for alpha reads

That’s all.

I’ll likely to do something with Blue Gentian even without having it on the official list.  At this point things depend on the speed of my beta readers, not on me, and so I’m not making it a target.

That being said, I’m pretty proud of all of that and think the goals will be obtainable, but still stretch me. Looking forward to completing some of this stuff!

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In Preparation for Christmas

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I have several things today, mostly in preparation for Black Friday.  Christmas is coming fast, and I’m trying to remind myself of that so I don’t leave it all to the last minute like I usually do…

The first thing that’s coming up is that the anthology I’m in is ready WAY sooner than they thought it would be, and is going live on Amazon this weekend.  Yay! You can get it here if you’re interested.  And if you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s even free! Anthologies make good Christmas presents.  Or can get you in the mood for buying a ton of Christmas presents. Just saying… Also, my hard copies have not come in the mail yet.  So you can have the (semi)exclusive version even before the author gets hers.  What’s not to love about that?

Second is that I have waded into the murky and often cheesy-in-a-bad-way genre of Christmas Romance again.  Ever the optimist that there’s actually good stuff in that sub-genre, I suppose.  But I hope to have a post of things I thought were worth it soon for you to peruse if you want.  From last year, I recommend the Christmas Ladies collection by Grace Burrowes, and An Affaire Before Christmas by Eloisa James.

Christmas shopping is about to be in full swing.  If you’re like me, you’ll probably buy all the presents in the 2 weeks before the event and then spend that last week wrapping furiously.  If you’re shopping for someone bookish, here’s a few other things I can recommend.

Know your special someone’s favorite book?  Check out Out of Print.  They have everything bookish clothing printed with classic cover art, from James Bond to Harry Potter, and their shirts are SO SOFT.  I have the Little Prince one and the American Gods one, and I practically live in them on the weekends.  I’m currently drooling over Bunnicula and may need to splurge.

Go for a bookish candle.  You can get several that smell like your favorite characters and places here, or you can light a candle to your favorite writing saint here. The writing saint one comes with a hilarious poem on the back, too.  Well worth it.

It’s a well-known fact that you can never have too many bookmarks.  And they’re an easy thing to buy because duplicates don’t matter!  Pick your favorite and run with it.  Make your own.  Get creative.  My favorite right now?  These awesome magnetic ones from Happy Hello Co on Etsy.  They have all kinds fun and adorable bookmarks, everything from Eleanor and Park to a smiling pancake.

Is your reader also a writer?  Fancy pens and blank notebooks are always a good buy.  Moleskine just came out with a BEAUTIFUL limited edition Harry Potter notebook that I’m dying for.  But they also have Game of Thrones, Avengers, Toy Story, The Beatles, The Hobbit, Hello Kitty and a bazillion others.  Even their plain ones are perfection.  Moleskines take ink beautifully, are the perfect size for toting around, and are generally an obsession of mine.  I almost always have at least two stashed in my purse.  You can bet your writer will be happy to get one.

It’s well known that caffeine and books mix beautifully.  Consider getting a bookish mug for your booklover.  An Etsy search for “Book mug” brings up some awesome ones.  And it turns out that there is no really one stop shop I could find for this item.  Still, the favorite one I found was this Penguin Classic homage.

And, of course, gift cards to Barnes and Noble and Amazon are always appreciated.  My opinion of Kindle Unlimited?  Okay if you’re into romance, and getting better all the time for other genres.  But is it worth that hefty price tag yet?  Maybe not.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and the start of Christmas.  I’m counting down the days to the end of Nano with both terror and relief.  And planning to put the Christmas stuff up this weekend, if I get a few spare seconds to rub together.

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Oh Horrid Night

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It seems a little bit anti-climactic in the face of the world burning right now in America, but I got some good news yesterday.  The Christmas anthology I’m in is officially an official thing, titled Oh Horrid Night, and featuring 210 awesome pages of frightening short stories.  It will wend its way to you on December 3rd.  And what better time is there for escapism than this particular holiday season?

You can pre-order on amazon here, and if you have Kindle Unlimited it’s even free!

We also have a Goodreads page.  If you’re on Goodreads, shelving it as “to read” can help us out.  And, on another note… I officially have a Goodreads author page. (!!!) I look so fancy and professional, you can hardly believe it (did I just ruin the aura of professionalism?). If you’re interested in that, too, it’s here.

That’s all for now.  I may seem chipper, but I’m definitely still processing the results of the election this week.  I can’t be nice or reasoned about it right now, but I would expect a blog post about it at some point when my thoughts are more together.

Keep your chin up.  With some serious love for you all,

~Casey

 

 

 

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November Start

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I told you it wouldn’t be a whole month until I came back again.  Nano is going very well.  So well, in fact, that I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It usually drops in week 2, so we’ll see how much I hate this story and everything it stands for in another 8 days or so.  I’m no longer surprised that this happens, but every year I’m surprised by how genuine the feelings of loathing are.  You would think I would have learned by now that this is a phase.

Brian participated in the annual Baked Potato Decorating Day contest at his work, held every year on November 1st.  He won for his impressive rendition of Bag End, complete with round carrot door and broccoli Party Tree.  I am still upset by his refusal to let me make hobbits from tater tots, but I shall live through my disappointment.  His prize was $45 to Barnes and Noble, and we spent a blissful evening among the stacks of books.

“Do you want anything?” Brian asked me toward the end of our perusal.

I started laughing.  Because I want everything, of course.  They’ve come out with those amazing gilded Barnes and Noble Classic editions of American Gods and Anansi Boys, A Wrinkle In Time, Shell Silverstein poems, Cthulhu mythos, Robin Hood, Moby Dick, The Eye of the World, 10 Wizard of Oz books…  Moleskine has Harry Potter special editions sitting on the shelf.  I have not yet read Rene Ahdieh’s latest.  America’s Test Kitchen has a gigantic cooking bible.  I’m dying to purchase a slew of romance novels, and Uprooted. They have a vast collection of color-your-own postcards and a Pusheen luggage set.  I still need the Puffin In Bloom copy of the Little Princess.  They had fancy hard-backed editions of The Silmarillion.  When I said I wanted everything, I wasn’t kidding.

“Don’t worry about me,” I said.  I’m used to drooling and not buying.  Also, I didn’t help with the potato and I can’t remember the last time Brian bought books.  He picked up three and has been spending his nights reading, like I usually do, which is reward enough.

Writing and reading your heart out are what November is for.  We have a good start on that over here.

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Nano Nuts and Bolts

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This is a writing process story, all about the making of sausage that goes on behind the writing.  So I’ll forewarn you that it might be boring before I continue to do it anyway.

I’ve done several entries in the past on why I do Nano, and also put together some tips and tricks that I think might be helpful to the first time Nano-er.  But I haven’t actually done a technical post on what my prep looks like at all.  So I thought I would do that in case anyone is interested.  Are you interested?

It’s not terribly hard, nor does it take too long.  It just takes some thinking.

First, I come up with a plot summary and then make the cover (which you saw last time). That’s usually the part I share.  And then I spend several days thinking about the actual plot of the story.  Like, I know I have a suffragette who is in a love triangle because she needs money, but what does the rest of her life look like?  What is her family like, her home life?  What does she want and think she needs?  Who are her friends? What does she do for fun?

When I have that figured out, mostly by stream-of-consciousness writing, I then put the plot summary together.  I know when I start that I’m not likely to adhere to it fully.  Someone will do something 1/3 of the way through that makes the back half stuff inconsequential.  Or a non-main character will demand more time.  Or a main character will turn out horribly boring.  But it’s a start.  And without it, I can’t operate on the CRAZY schedule Nano demands. I have tried and failed.  More than once.

There are two things I keep in mind while writing the summary.  The first is, I try to let the characters and their choices/wants drive the narrative.  That helps avoid cliche, which you should also probably try and do.  The second is that each plot point will take between 1500 and 2000 words to write, so I should aim for 30 of them if I’m going to have a 50,000 word novel at the end.

When November 1st starts, I just start with the first point and write until I have 1500-2000 words.  Then I move to the next.  Take it in small chunks and it becomes a not-so-insurmountable task.

As an example, here’s what I had for Ruby of Ra, which I’m working hardcore on editing now while others are reading Blue Gentian.  It already doesn’t look like this, but it’s where the novel came from.  I’m not sharing In Suffrage or In Health because I’m afraid I’ll ruin the magic for myself if too many people know the gory details.  Better to share something that’s already done.  Also, we already know this plot worked, because it was a winner.  We don’t really know about Suffrage yet…  (cross your fingers for me)

Once I have all 3 of these pieces, I’m 100% ready to go for Nano.  All that’s left to do is wait for that clock to roll over to 12:01 am on November 1st.

Happy Writing!

Cover:

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Summary:

1952: Nine years after Ruby Keene’s mother was discovered drowned in the Grand Canyon, she is dealing with the aftermath of polio, high school, and her father’s refusal to take her on his latest archaeological expedition with his grad students.  But when she wheedles her way into the canyon, she realizes that her mother’s death wasn’t an accident.  It was a duty, a birthright to protect a long-forgotten Egyptian Temple located in the craggy red peaks; only it seems the temple isn’t forgotten anymore.  Now, Ruby must journey to perform the deadly task that killed her mother, lest a rampant Goddess eat the world.

Plot Points:

  1. Ruby gets polio, mom leaves and Ruby finds out later (once she’s well) that Mom died in a flood in the Grand Canyon. Dad’s at war, so she moves in with Gran for the duration. Emphasis on Ruby and Mom’s fun surrounding the swimming pool, and “games” they would play there (really training).
  2. 9 years later. Ruby’s life currently, at the school, soda shop, and university. Introduce her polio limitations, but also her struggle to become the perfect 1950s girl without any girls around, and when she’s wearing a brace.  Dad is an anthropology professor, and Gran is around a lot to help.
  3. Ruby helps Dad’s assistant Roy in the lab and meets newest exchange student Mando, from Egypt. They find a scarab amulet that was in dregs of dirt from last year. Dad won’t let her go on the summer archeological expedition to the Grand Canyon because of her polio.
  4. Ruby’s birthday. Dad gives her Mom’s scarab amulet, and confesses that he carried it in the war.  Ruby is mad at mom, and isn’t thrilled to get it.  She remembers a disturbing incident where she almost drowned at the pool, but the amulet made the water melt out of her pores.
  5. Ruby attends a polio benefit with Gran, to help fundraise. At the event, the necklace burns her when the pictures of polio start to come on.  She has bad dreams all night.  The next morning, Ruby learns there was a horrible earthquake in California.  She thinks they’re not related.
  6. Ruby is allowed to go to the Grand Canyon after all! Friends of her mom’s (Madge), and a bunch of people will be there.  Ruby will be expected to do work as a JR assistant to the grad students.
  7. Mando moves in with Ruby and Dad for the 2 weeks between the end of school and the trip to the canyon. He and Ruby hit it off at first, and they chat a bit about the Egyptian revolution that is just over.  Mando admits to being a soldier, but he won’t talk about the scarab tattoo on his arm.  There’s a break-in at the school and the scarab they found was stolen, too.  The police think it was an inside job.  Ruby becomes suspicious of Mando trying to buddy up to her, especially when he tries too hard once he learns her mother’s maiden name.
  8. The U-Mass group travels to the Grand Canyon. Ruby brings the amulet with her, because it seems right somehow. Ruby is seated on the flight next to Mando, and he eventually tells her the tale of Sekhmet to keep her from freaking out on her first flight.
  9. Everyone from all 3 schools gets together for dinner, and to plan their method of attack on the sites they’ll visit. Ruby meets mom’s friend Madge for the first time.  Ruby hangs out with the undergrads and finds intellectual stimulation is better than high school frivolity.
  10. Madge corners Ruby after dinner and tries to warn her that she’ll be restless once they start to breach the walls of the canyon. Ruby thinks Madge’s tales of the supernatural are silly.  When she gets back to the hotel room she’s sharing with Dad, she asks him how he and mom met.  He says when he was an undergrad, she and Madge had gotten lost while hiking and they met then.
  11. Descent into the canyon. Riding the mule is hard for Ruby, but she won’t admit it because she doesn’t want to prove Dad right.  Mando is still trying to be friendly, but Ruby is standoffish.  The expedition all has rooms in a giant bunk house at Phantom Ranch – girls on one side and boys on the other.
  12. In the wee hours of the morning, Ruby has nightmares about the floating tree again, and also about a large cat. She wakes up pouring water from her pores onto the bunk mattress.  Madge wakes her up and helps her change her sheets so no one else knows.  Ruby is willing now to listen to Madge’s story that there’s someone abusing an Egyptian temple in the Grand Canyon, using it to do nefarious things to the goddess Sekhmet, but still doesn’t really believe it.  Madge claims to have a letter from Ruby’s mom, but Ruby says she doesn’t want to read anything from a woman who abandoned her.
  13. A large cat has prowled around Phantom Ranch in the night. The expedition moves to the first dig site.  Ruby will sleep in a tent with Grad student Anne.  There are weird lights on the cliff face that night in the distance.
  14. Mando confronts Ruby and tells her that he believes she’s a Daughter of Ra. He tells her she should do some exercises to find out if she is, and Ruby gets really mad at him.  She tells him she won’t do it.
  15. Digging commences. Ruby is stuck with menial jobs, but is glad for the chance to actually do something physical for once.  Roy and Anne don’t coddle her like Dad always did.  At night, though, she’s having CRAZY blood filled dreams and is having a hard time hiding them from Anne.
  16. Ruby has been thinking about the letter, and with her dreams getting worse, she finally asks Madge to read it. Mom lays out the whole thing for her.  She’s been selected by blood to protect the Grand Canyon temple, and she will know by the dreams and by all the horrible strife in the world that there’s something bad going on there.  Ruby thinks of the polio epidemic and the earthquake and all sorts of other things and realizes the signs point that direction.  All of them.  Mom says the only way to fix everything is to do a purge of the temple by channeling a whole bunch of water through it.  The amulet should keep her from dying, but the more people who help her channel the water, the easier it becomes.  If it isn’t done exactly right, though, everyone can drown.
  17. Mando assaults Ruby, practically drowning her in the river. But the amulet saves her.  She’s pissed beyond belief about it, but he says it’s proof that she really is a Daughter of Ra.  He needs her help to find the temple, because he’s been tasked by the Egyptian government to shut it down.  But it was such a secret program that even the new president can’t get any information on it. Ruby won’t help him.
  18. They move to the second dig site. Lights on the cliff-face still happen, and Ruby is now finding the paw prints of a large cat outside her tent in the morning.  Anne is VERY concerned.  Dad’s concerned too, but preoccupied with how the dig is going to spend much time worrying about Ruby.
  19. Ruby gets with Madge. She can no longer pretend this isn’t happening, and she decides to accept her role.  They’ll need to gather as many of the women together as possible to make the ritual easier.
  20. The girls in the group all have a council, and Ruby shows them all the crazy things she can do to prove it’s real. They decide they have to go to the temple and do the ritual.  Everyone is against Ruby going because of her polio, but eventually everyone realizes that Ruby is the only one who can do it.  Madge knows where it is because she was with Mom when she did the ritual and died.
  21. Mando stops Ruby and tells her that she shouldn’t investigate anything happening on the cliffs, that it’s for him to do. Ruby doesn’t listen.  The ladies do some practicing with Ruby (per suggestions in Mom’s letter) to prepare themselves.
  22. The women leave in the middle of the night and go towards the temple. Long chapter of traveling, in which Ruby has a hard time of it because of her polio.  Ruby thinks they’re being followed by Mando, but no one else seems to think so.
  23. They reach the Temple. With some spying, they realize that the temple is occupied by 2 or 3 Egyptians and there is a strange altar in the middle with offerings on it, in which an electric hologram (or what looks like it) of a cat woman is in agony.  Ruby is almost caught when Mando pulls her back into hiding.  It turns out he’s followed them for sure.
  24. The women are all pissed to see Mando. He’s worried, because he was sort of told what it should look like and this isn’t anything to do with it.  He doesn’t know what this is, it’s so much stronger.  The gals decide that it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the center there, if they just perform the ceremony then all they’re problems will be solved.  They let Mando stay in the room, but he can’t be a member of the channeling circle.  They camp on the cliff face, but will try to sneak in during the middle of the night.
  25. Sneaking into the temple to perform the ceremony goes awry. It all starts fine, but Ruby disturbs the set-up in the middle and accidentally unleashes Hathor from Sekhemet.  She comes after everyone like a wildcat, and the only way Ruby can contain her is to break the amulet.  Mando is especially hurt. As soon as the amulet is broken, it starts to rain.
  26. The rain continues, and when they take stock it looks like a lot of people are in bad shape. Ruby doesn’t know what to do.  Her only options at this point are to let Hathor continue eating the world, or die trying to do the ritual without the amulet (which probably won’t work anyway.  It didn’t for Mom).  The canyon below them starts to flood.
  27. Ruby has another dream where Mom gets her to perform the ceremony. She wakes up and starts to tend to the injured people.  She is sopping up Mando when he presses the scarab from the lab into her hands.  He stole it when he figured out what it was way back before they even left for the Grand Canyon.
  28. They set up the ritual, and everyone is in such rough shape that it seems impossible they’ll be able to be successful. Hathor is still a dominant force and tries to fight them, but they leave a few people out of the ritual to take care of her and fight her.  The ceremony works and it stops raining.
  29. Ruby doesn’t quite recover. She can’t seem to come back into herself, and she’s half dreaming.  She has a meeting with Ra and Sekhemet who thank her for her service.
  30. The frightened ladies finally bring Ruby back to consciousness. They travel back to Phantom Ranch, bedraggled.  Reunion with Dad, who was VERY worried about her.  When the ladies recover, they realize that the waters were healing waters and they heal faster.  Ruby finds that she still has polio and all, but she finds that she has greater mobility.  Whether that’s from all the exercise she’s been doing or not, she doesn’t know.  Mando asks for forgiveness for being such an ass and Ruby gives it to him.
  31. Eilogue: Ruby gains greater self-confidence and freedom.  The Polio and her status as not being like the 1950s magazine ladies no longer bothers her like it used to and she refuses to be the poster child for it any longer.  The Polio vaccine becomes available, and a new Egyptian president takes over.  Maybe scenes of her dancing with Ellen in the diner and chatting up Chad Haskins.  But also, the lesson she learned about being around intellectuals at college and how great that was really stuck, too.

 

 

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NaNoWriMo 2016

Well, it’s the time of the year again where I agonize over whether or not I’m going to do NaNoWriMo.  I don’t know why it’s even a debate anymore, really, except that it’s never a good time to drop whatever I’m currently working on for a new thing.  And to be honest, it’s getting a little overwhelming how many terrible first drafts of novels I have sitting around waiting for me to get to them.

Still, I’ve been doing this for six years now, and I’ve won every year.  There’s history in the game now, and I’m not going to break the streak.  Especially when I can tell myself all sorts of good stories about needing to incorporate more practice into my writing and how Nano is the ultimate practice.

On that note, I’ve decided I’m going to push through in October on getting as much done on my other projects as possible.  And then I’m going to see if I have what it takes to write a romance novel.  I’ve been reading enough of them, and I’ve been wondering for over a year now if I might make a go at writing something a bit feminist to join the immense pack of well written things that are a little bit suspect in message.  Nano is for finding things out.  If it turns out I can’t write a romance novel, then I’ve only spent a month on figuring that out.  The bonus of not being able to do it means that I also won’t have another hurt first draft of a novel sitting lonely on my computer.  The bonus of finding out that I can write one is that there will be more feminist romance out there in the world.  Maybe, eventually, if I ever get to editing it.

Because of course I’m being feminist about it.  And wildly American, surprisingly.  I’ve picked a really terrible title and am looking for better suggestions, if you have any.  It’s got to be punny, with bonus points for those that mash up second wave feminism and bawdiness (or first wave, or third… I’m not picky).  Brian came up with “Romancing The Vote” which almost works, but doesn’t quite.  Here’s my hastily scrubbed together cover and synopsis:

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In Suffrage or in Health:

Boston, 1891.  Charlotte keeps a close secret that would surely ruin her and all her marriage prospects if discovered: her pen name is Susan Catt and she’s the one behind all the incendiary suffragette articles in Frank Godwin’s Illustrated Magazine.  And with handsome but proper Henry Harcourt just about to propose it’s more dire than ever that Charlotte keep that other name from ever getting out.  After all, Henry is everything she said she wanted with plenty of gilded halls and money besides.  Isn’t he?

If only broke, uncouth Frank Godwin wasn’t so tempting… And so willing to accept her as herself.

Anyway, I’m happy I’m keeping to tradition.  I’ll have a full on outline in a few days, and then I just need November 1st to roll around so I can start cranking out the words.  It’s nice to be done with this so early in the game; quite a change from last year when I did this all without an outline 2 days before the deadline and imploded a week later. But I also know from much Nano experience that pre-planning alone is not enough to keep the implosions at bay.  Think good thoughts for me.

Need a writing buddy?  Come find me!  I’m Caseykins, and I will 100% buddy up to you back: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/caseykins

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Granite Point

I thought I might post some, you know, actual Writing on the blog in celebration of getting something published.  But most of the things that are fantasy-esque are being shopped right now and I can’t put them up.  I remembered, though, that I had written a few practice essays in my black Moleskine, and that some of them were pretty good.  So I typed one up for you. This was from a Steering The Craft exercise that was supposed to be full of lavish description.  When I think purple prose, I always think of the beach.

It’s a little bit maudlin, but I’m posting it anyway because I think it’s evocative. And I’m sure you can forgive me for being self-indulgent for an entry.  The happenings are true, but I don’t feel that dramatic about it in every day life (I’m really mostly a pragmatic person and would probably have made the same decision to sell.  I get it).  I’m the kid on the left, and that’s the cottage in the back.

Here it is.

funkybeachpic_new

Granite Point:

There is a place in the east where the world is both gray and vibrant, the verdant forest rooting into brown fingers of granite which, in turn, grab hold of the blue, blue sea.  In between the tall fronds of marsh grass and the slap of ocean on the soft, gray sand is a brown road and a row of houses.  Two of them are red; one small and one large.

Round the corner in your car, past the black and white boulder and the green cottage it hides.  Slip from the shade of the trees, your tires crunching on the gravel as you press the car forward, and it’s laid out before you: the flat grasses, the pools of brackish water, the line of round trees in the distance where the forest coalesces again, the white heron standing alone, bright on the muddy landscape, the row of houses opposite.

Only the two red ones belong you; one big, one small.  The houses, the land they stand on, is your birthright.

The big house is the Juanita, says the black and gold sign.  Named for the whitest of great grandmothers, the most puritan on these puritanical shores.  The small house is nameless, and under the wooden floor in the tresses are too many nails where your uncle hammered them in distraction while Grampy built the house and raised the walls around them both.

There used to be a mansion on the headlands, out there where the silver beach ends and the granite grips the sea.  There used to be a mansion where the waves rush, unthinking, onto the rocks and their spray splashes at the sky.  See?  Says your mother as you walk on the point just before the sun sets.  See?  That house has borrowed the old foundation.  That is where the mansion existed, though it doesn’t anymore.  Consumed.

What happened to it?  It burned in a fire that swept along the shore and took the cottages with it.  The Juanita was saved because Juanita saved it, watering the roof with a garden hose and brushing burning embers onto the grass with a kitchen broom until she had to leave, before the forest started burning too and there was no way to get through the slim forest road.  The little cottage with no name hadn’t been built yet.

Juanita saved it for you.  She saved it so you could put your finger through the rusted bolt on the domed granite tent rising from the sand like an island and try to imagine a toe-headed boy named Bobby tying his boat here.  But it’s impossible to imagine white haired, red cheeked Grampy as anything but a grandfather.

She saved it so you could slip on the rocks, tearing up your shin on the barnacles, your red blood mingling with the waving seaweed.  The small green crab comes to investigate and you move your toes away from his pinchers.  The salt water stings.

She saved it for you so you could jump from tall Elephant Rock, squealing as the air rushed around you and your heart leapt to your throat, your ankles shuddering on the wet gray sand below.  You egg your cousins on, daring them to take the higher ledge, afraid to take it yourself.

She saved it so you could all visit the mudflats in your pristine matching bathing suits on picture day.  You find the mud under the slim layer of sand in the shallow water, like overbaked brownies but slick.  You slip, and your arm is half slime, your bathing suit brown.  You scrub in the salty water, but the mud stays as though it knows you belong to it.  Your transgression is immortalized when you grin, crouched next to your cousins on Bobby’s Tent while grownups flash away, the mud a stripe barely visible as you cheat sideways to hide it.

She saved it so you could rush around the house in the gathering storm in your pajamas, closing the windows on the driving rain, the wind wuthering around the corners of the house.  You pull the plush chairs, stuffing mounting an escape, up to the wide windows and cuddle beneath the ancient crocheted blankets with your mother and sister.  You watch the lightning strike over the sea and count for the thunder.  You think of the black divot in the rock, the size of a kitchen mixing bowl, where a lightning bolt burned the granite ages ago.  That happened when I was a girl, says your mother.  Did you see it happen? You ask her, dreaming of a great burning flash, sparks flying, a smoking, steaming hole left behind.  No, she says.  I wasn’t at the beach that night.  You fall asleep in the chair to the sound of the rain.

And yet, a hose, a broom, and determination have only done so much to save this place.  The ages pass and the flame of taxes in tourist country rise, sweeping the old cottages off the beach one by one.  The Juanita falls this time, razed for a new gray mansion that matches the others new millionaires have built on the shore.  The small cottage still stands, disguised by gray paint and manicured hedges that screen it from you. Consumed.

Your birthright didn’t last.

The puritans passed away from the gray but vibrant shore and left only the sand and the rocks for you to remember them by.  But sometimes you think that maybe this is enough.  After all, you do remember.

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Good News/Some Magic

It’s funny how bad news and good news come in exactly the same way.  I saw the email from Fundead Publications in my inbox and I didn’t want to read it at first in case it was the “no” that everyone else has been sending me.  But I saw the theme of their anthology months ago and knew my story was all but made for it: a Gothic Horror Christmas.  That sort of serendipity doesn’t come around that often.

If you didn’t guess already, the email was a YES!!!!!!!! My story, “There Must Have Been Some Magic,” will appear in their Christmas anthology, up for sale in late November (or maybe early December).  I’m not only excited to be included with such a talented group of writers, but I’m also thrilled that this is my first professional sale in which goods are exchanged.  🙂 New Year’s Resolution met!

The story is an odd mashup of street urchin meets horrific Frosty The Snowman/Pied Piper monster at an 1814 Frost Faire.  I’m very proud of it, and can’t wait for you to read it.

That’s all.  You may now go back to your regularly scheduled weekend.  I’m enjoying my tea with extra sugar in celebration.

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In Search Of

I’m feeling super-lazy today.  This weekend was fun, but a lot of work.  I made 2 kinds of jam and some mushroom ketchup, as well as dissected the structure of Madeline L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light.”  Not the exciting stuff that blog posts are made of.  It has dawned on me, though, that I haven’t posted any writing in a while.  And so here you go: this is 1/2 of a story  I’ve been finessing the ending of before I start shopping it again.

A.A. Milne

In Search Of:

“Do you think she wanted to drop it, or do you think it was an accident?” said Jack to Fritz.

“Does it matter?” said Fritz. “We still have to find the bloody thing. And if you thought the proverbial needle in the haystack was bad, try the golden apple in the miles of mud. We’ll never get back to Olympus, you know.”

The green khaki they both wore was stained with dry earth, their leather boots caked, their round helmets just covering their eyes. The helmet was just for looks. Even if someone dropped a grenade or a bomb into the pitted, broken earth of no man’s land, it wasn’t likely to harm either of them. Or not for long, anyway.

“Speak for yourself,” said Jack. “This war can’t last forever. We’ll find it. I have confidence.”

“I had confidence last year,” said Fritz. “But I don’t anymore. You’ve heard of the hundred years’ war, right? Doesn’t have to stop any time soon, brother.”

The land he and Fritz were walking over was nothing but violent pits of loose earth that undulated like waves, barbed wire fencing stuck between.

It had been almost three years since they frog marched him and Fritz down the mountain top and told them not to come back without apple in hand.

The golden apple. It had been so long, but Jack still remembered the way the thing reached into his mind and implanted its own memories, all of them horrifying. The desire that came with it, the wonder, the need to own it, to look into its precious golden surface forever. The urge to cut the eyes from anyone else who wanted to look too.

The size of a fist. Perfectly round, glossy, tantalizing, with a thin silver leaf reaching from the spindly, ideal stem.

“Come on, put your German on,” said Fritz, nudging him. “This is the spot – whole bunch of shelling, no movement either way. Looks promising.”

Jack shrugged and then touched his hand to his helmet and his sleeves, and then to Fritz’s. A faint, sweet smell of ozone rose from his palms and the flags on their uniforms turned to black, white, and red stripes. The holes covered over with green. Their boots gleamed.

“Which story are we trying?” said Jack.

“I dunno,” said Fritz. “Inspecting the troops in the wake of the General’s visit?”

“Sure,” Jack nodded.

Fritz made the vehicle out of the clouds that coalesced in the gray sky. He beckoned them down and encouraged them into the shape of an armored car, German flag on the door and flying from the side mirrors. They both got behind it and walked it up to the trench camp, and they both made sure to step out of it via the illusory door Fritz waved into being. It looked good unless someone tried to touch it, but Fritz parked it far enough back that probably no one would.

They had learned after Fritz took a bayonet to the thigh in the Italian camp almost 2 years ago. Blood everywhere and a whole week lost while his hamstrings knit back together.

The scene before them looked like all the other trenches they had been to. Broken earth, barbed wire, a deeper wound on the pitted earth that was the fissure these men fought from. The round helmets of a few men in the distance peaked over the wound, scanning the bare earth beyond for the siege of men that would come crawling over the top; if they weren’t the men crawling over the top of someone else’s trench instead. Every few hundred feet stood a machine gun tower.

The sentry nearest them raised a hand.

“Guten Tag!” Fritz called.

“Guten Tag,” said the sentry, saluting. “What brings you both today, Majors?”

“You will point us to your Kapitän.” said Fritz, in fluent German.

“Right away, Major,” he said. “Lars will take you.”

They followed behind the Musketier, keeping their shoulders upright, their strides purposeful, their movements sharp. The man led them down a wooden ladder, and then through the muddy trench made of piles of sand bags. Jack could touch the walls on either side if he reached out his hands far enough. Dark stains dotted the top row of bags.

Inset into the back of the wall was a framed doorway, which led into a hole with a desk in it. The walls here were wooden.

“Men from the Home Office to see you, Kapitan,” said the Musketier, saluting.

Jack blinked, closing his lids hard. When he opened them, they had adjusted to the darkness as if it was day. The room had a bare bulb swinging from the ceiling, and had been wallpapered in something floral that might have once been cheery but was now dust like everything else.

The Kapitan rose and saluted to them. Jack and Fritz soluted back.

“Nothing confidential,” said Fritz. He handed the Kapitan a folder. Inside it was the page he had encouraged weeks ago to appear like an official telegram.

He let the man look it over for a moment before he spoke again. “We are to bring you this news, and also to inspect the troops ourselves, as a precursor to the Generalleutnant’s arrival. He will be here in two days. Plenty of time for you to prepare your men.”

“Certainly,” said the Kapitan. “Should I call them now?”

“No rush,” said Jack. “We will spend most of the evening with you. We know there isn’t much room and won’t claim a bed, but part of our orders also include bringing back any requests for equipment you might need, or additions to these accommodations.”

“We are hoping not to be here long,” said the Kapitan. “Within the next month, we will take the next trench ahead from the Americans.”

“Certainly,” said Fritz. “But you will, of course, still hold this trench. We are not speaking of great things. Perhaps reinforcements to walls and frames?”

“Of course. We always need additional sandbags, but could also use whatever wood can be spared.”

“So we have your permission to go where we will and see if there is anything else we think you could benefit from?”

“The Generalleutnant orders it,” the Kapitan shrugged. “I will muster the troops for inspection just before evening mess, and then you must dine with me.”

“We would be honored,” said Fritz.

“With your permission?” said Jack

The Kapitan nodded and stood again. “You are dismissed.”

They traded salutes.

#

Out in the trenches again in the dark earth beneath the drab sky, they were alone except for the men on the top of the wall who looked only to the horizon. Jack took a deep breath and inhaled. Nothing but the faint traces of molasses ozone that came from their uniforms, and the piece of paper that was still inside the office.

He shook his head. “I can’t smell it,” he muttered.

“Of course not, idiot,” said Fritz. “None of them are pretending right now. They’re alone. There isn’t any fake to smell yet. You try this every time.”

“One of these days, we won’t have to stay until dinner to figure it out,” said Jack.

“Smell anything else, though?”

Fritz was talking about the smell of the golden apple, cloying and metallic.

It had been too long since either of them had seen the golden apple sitting under a crystal dome on Olympus. It was so long ago that Jack couldn’t remember the smell. He just knew he would remember it when he caught a whiff, that it was unlike anything else he had ever smelled. It was gunpowder and desire; honey and hunger; sex and blood.

“No,” said Jack. “None of that, either. It isn’t here, but we still have to ask.”

“Bloody unlikely that’ll be any help,” said Fritz. “Thousands seen it, no one’s grasped it. Come on, let’s get this ‘inspection’ going. The sooner we can move on…”

“Yeah, I know,” said Jack.

#

The Kapitan mustered the men just before dusk duty. They stood at attention, backs to the walls of the earthen trench, chests proud and muscles taut. Jack walked behind Fritz and breathed in. They got to the middle of the row before Jack smelled it; the ozone smell gone wrong, sweet rain with undertones of phlegm, the lie.

This one had the sickness.

He was pretending pretty well. The smell was not overwhelming, so maybe he only had obsessive thoughts of home now. But soon the Apple would take him, and he’d be at the mercy of what it chose to show him: cannon fire raining from a ship, pelting the walls of a seaside fort, men falling from the ramparts into the water; A woman plunging a knife into a man’s back, he gasps a sucking sound before falling to the dirt.

It would eat him. It ate anyone who was mortal.

Jack made note of the soldier. Blonde hair too long, escaping from his helmet. Grimy moustache above his lip. He may have been fat once, but now his cheeks hung from his face. His attention pose was looser than the men around him.

“Very good, Kapitan,” said Jack. “You have an impressive force here.”

“Thank you.”

#

Jack snuck out during dinner. He excused himself from the table and then made his way to the barracks. His calculation was right. The rest of the men were at mess, but this one had stayed behind. He was staring at the wall, hand poised over a piece of paper as if he was writing a letter. But the paper was filled with apples, the lines of them frayed and round.

“What is your name?” Jack asked him.

He startled. “Rolf,” he said, covering the paper with his arm.

“And you have seen the Golden Apple?”

“Is that what this is?” he said. He picked up the paper and held it out to Jack, hands quivering.

“I don’t know,” said Jack. “Tell me.”

“I was on patrol with – a friend. Oskar. Oskar Berger. And the Americans started shelling. A wave of dirt flew up and something landed next to my shoe. I thought it was a shell. But it didn’t blow. It was gold, and it brushed against me. But another shell hit, and this time it was a real one. It hit Oskar, and it… the earth and his body, his… it all thrust me aside and knocked me out.”

“Where?” said Jack. He could taste the apple now, the metal and cake. But it was the ghost of a smell, the memory of it.

“Oskar. Oskar Berger. Another faceless man lost to this…”

“Oskar Berger. We both remember him now,” said Jack.

“When I joined this war, I was so…” said Rolf. “All we saw was uniforms and glory, the heady shock that reverberates through your arm when you shoot a rifle, the glee that rises in your throat. We didn’t know what happens when the bullets hit their target, what your throat feels like then.”

A sob caught there, Rolf’s Adams-apple bobbing, keeping it in with a sucking sound.

Rolf swallowed. “I don’t know,” he said. “It was months ago. We weren’t even in this trench back then. I don’t know where I saw it.”

Jack sighed. “No, no. Of course you weren’t.”

“If you find it…?”

Jack shook his head. His answer was always the same. “You’ve touched it, and your mortal brain couldn’t handle the strife it’s been through,” he said. “Once you’ve been touched, it never lets go. That’s it. You will have to learn to manage as best you can.”

“No,” said Rolf. He closed his eyes, and the silence surrounded them. He opened them again. “And when will this damned war be over?”

“When I have found the apple,” said Jack. “Have faith, brother. I’m trying as hard as I can.”

Would it be another hundred years? Two?

Rolf covered his face with his hands and turned away. Jack went back to the bleak Kapitan’s quarters to finish his meal.

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