Camp NaNo: April 2017

Last November, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to write the draft of Hold Me Now, which has been poked at by two of nine betas. I’m still sifting through my changes a la my most recent beta, and I think I’m going to take advantage of the upcoming Camp NaNo not to write another novel (which I could easily do), but to force myself to pick through the manuscript again, send it to my third beta, draft a query letter, then go back through the manuscript.

I’ll still work on other projects, but my goal is 30 hours for this time through. An hour a day? Cake. Miss a day? Simple to make up. And I fully expect to double this by the time the month is over.

I don’t know yet if I’ll have a cabin – mostly because I’ve set it to private, and I’m not sure whether my friends are doing Camp NaNo this year. Either way, I’ve got the cabin set up and ready for Natalie and others to join in on the fun! Still have plenty of weeks to convince people to join in on Camp NaNo with me.

Are you doing Camp NaNo this year? April, July, or both? Anyone doing the revision mode? Tell me your plans, ask questions about the structure, or just share well-wishes for fellow NaNoers in the comments section below! Want to be in my cabin? Let me know!




Goals for January: Writing by Checklist

As I’m balancing many projects, I’ve got to do some prioritizing in order to be sure that I’m making inroads on various projects.

I’m working on exploring new story-telling media, and I’ll keep you updated on how that’s going. Thus far, it’s going very, very slowly.

Also, I’m prioritizing two of my novel projects: an alternate history and a crime novel (this because I’ve had an insight into the sequel, so I’d better get on and finish the first one, hadn’t I?).

Other projects will plod along as usual, and whichever project is the closest to my heart in March will likely be my April Camp NaNo. After my sad failure of a showing for the November NaNoWriMo, I’m intent on actually accomplishing my Camp NaNos this year to the fullest.

I’m doing this in small pieces, focusing on a chapter at a time, with the attempt of accomplishing at least three chapters a week, knowing that during NaNo months I’ll be stepping it up to at least a chapter a day.

What are your January writing goals? Have you met any of them yet?



Closing Up Camp

Good news and bad news.

Good: I’ve passed my Camp NaNo quota. Actually, I passed it early last week, but I kept chuggin’ along.

Bad: I haven’t finished the novel yet.

I’ve got two chapters and change to go, and I doubt I’ll finish it all today.

So what shall I do? Well, I’m putting it on high priority while I sort through stuff, but I’ll submit what I’ve got for validation. I mean, I won, right? I deserve to own it.

On the other hand, when I do finish I have to get into editing land, and I think I’ve decided a plan.

I put my work – all my work – through nine rounds of edits before I send it off to Natalie Cannon. Each time through, I focus on something different. I think what I’ll do this time, though, is get friends involved as beta readers. I’ll have a different friend read during each of the nine rounds, and I’ll task them to look at everything EXCEPT what I’m focusing on. So while I’m focusing on description, they can’t comment on description. When I’m scrutinizing verbs, they have to talk about anything except for my verbs.

My friend Sarah is going to start out, and she’ll have a free pass to talk about anything, since my first round is just me reading it out loud.

I’m sort of excited for this new method, and I’ll keep y’all posted on how it’s working out. I have high hopes.



The Prodigal Camper

Remember ages ago now when I said that I was doing Camp NaNo to finish up a novel?

Well, I didn’t lie. I just…put off adding on to that novel until this morning.

So it’s three weeks in. Meh. I still only have to write about 2k a day to finish on time, and I did about 3k this morning, so that’s totally fine. I’ll be done before the end, for sure.

How did that happen?

Well, writers are people like any other people, and we happen to be people who often have day jobs. While I see my novel as priority number one, my boss might not like me putting off paperwork until Camp Nano is over, right?

Right. Unfortunately.

So here I am, listening to Muse and taking a deep breath before I plunge into a bit more work so I can justify a bit more writing. A balance, I tell myself, everything’s a balance.

I happen to have complete and utter confidence in my ability to finish Camp NaNo successfully and possibly with a banging good story to turn around and edit. Not only do I write disgustingly fast (just ask Natalie, seriously), but I do that with quite a bit of efficacy to my writing, and I’ve got much of my work well-organized in one way or another.

So I’m taking this small break in my life to a) apologize for lack of blogging and b) remind you ALL that the best way to tackle anything in life, especially a novel, especially while doing something like Camp NaNo or NaNoWriMo itself, you have to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a color-coded plan with a binder full of alphabetized character profiles signed in triplicate (although one of my writing projects does have that, minutes the signed in triplicate part), but it DOES have to be a plan. Big, small, long, short – you have to know where you’re going to actually be sure you’re going to get there.

Now, you could just work from scratch and let the spirit MOVE you where you need to be. But for that you’d better be prepared to work for a set amount of time every day, at the same time every day, like a real job. And if your life can afford you doing that, I applaud and envy you.

I certainly can’t, and thus I’ve got my binders and notebooks and many pen colors and pomodoro timers.

Also, get a really good to-do app. I could recommend several, as I actually USE several simultaneously. Maybe that shall be my next post. Thoughts?

How are your Camp NaNo excursions faring?



Collaborative Writing

I’ve talked a bit before about writing with other people, but as Camp NaNo is coming up soon, I thought I’d revisit this theme.

There are two ways of writing collaboratively (okay, there are many, but two major ones). One is actually working on a piece together, the other is working on different pieces but bouncing ideas off each other. Both are useful for different kinds of work, and some cases of collaborative writing are age-old and almost legendary.

I mean, hello, Rogers and Hammerstein. Lewis and Tolkien.

That’s going to be my two examples, and just stay with me here. I know that musicals aren’t the same as novels.

We’ll start with Rogers and Hammerstein, though. What they did was work together, bringing different sets of skills in, and creating a single work of art. Musicians do this a lot, which is what makes musicals a great example. Think of jamming. You’ve got different pieces, but they all fit together to make one song (or album, or The Sound of Music).

A lot of my co-writing experiences thus far have been like this. Co-authored fan fiction with E. M. McBride and Natalie Cannon have looked very much this way, where we’ve brought our own voices and skills in, planned, and then executed a joint project to create a single work of art. It’s hard, it’s often time consuming, but it can create beautiful work when all’s said and done.

Another way, though, is the Camp NaNo way that Natalie (and other friends) and I are about to embark upon once again.

This is C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Inklings, their writerly group at Oxford, are fairly famous now. I’ve been to the pub where they often met and discussed their work. Think, like, a book club except it’s works in progress instead of someone else’s words.

Lewis and Tolkien would read from manuscripts, or their fellow writers would. Sometimes this was the nonfiction they wrote based on research, but famously it was bits of Middle-Earth or Narnia (among other fabulous fictional work) that no one else had read or heard yet. Some of the greatest literature ever written, and it started with a collaborative process.

Now, Tolkien didn’t write Narnia, and Lewis didn’t write any Middle-Earth, but they gave each other input, insights, and snarky remarks that were sometimes ignored, sometimes headed. In this way, a Camp NaNo cabin is a collaborative process.

My friends and I all have different projects. I’m finishing a novel, Natalie is focusing on finishing her portion of the chapters for our collaborative fan fiction (yup, she’s double dosing on collab), another friend is writing her Masters thesis, and thus is using Camp NaNo for that task. A third friend still hasn’t decided (although she doesn’t have long to choose…)

We’re all producing different projects, and even different kinds of projects, like the Inklings. But we’re supporting each other, and we have a platform for encouragement, shared thoughts, and a place to bounce ideas off each other. In some small way, we’re all co-writing. We won’t be listed as co-authors, but it’s arguably just as integral input as actual co-authoring.

Dedications, I suppose, at the very least.



A Camp NaNo Update

Hello, everybody!

The first week of Camp NaNo has come and gone and I have two exciting bits of news.

The first is that although she’s coming late to the game, E. M. McBride – my friend and co-author – is Camp NaNoing, so hopefully she turns out something as excellent as usual. Best of luck her way.

The second piece of news is that I’ve completed my Camp NaNo novel, have met my word count, and am beginning my editing of the first draft!

That’s going to go through nine rounds of edits before I send it over to Natalie Cannon for her miracle-working magic, but I’ll keep you posted. The first stage is going more slowly than I originally anticipated, mostly because it’s harder than I recall to read a whole novel out loud. Apparently, I can’t actually do it in a single sitting. I’m about half through, though.

I’ve got plenty of other projects to work on when I toss that Natalie’s way, so I’ll try to be good about keeping this updated.



Murder Mystery Planning

Like many voracious readers, I grew up on mysteries. Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys. Of course, that bleeds into murder mysteries  as you get older, and for me this led me to television and Agatha Christie.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer, it’s that murder mysteries – or even just mysteries – are a speciality and a love of mine. For one thing, it gives you a beautiful excuse to kill off characters, and to make everybody seem like suspect sorts of people. It also gives you excuses to dole out information to the reader very slowly.

As my poison-loving (as a writer, not a purveyor) editor and best friend, Natalie Cannon, has told me, the key to writing a convincing murder mystery is to know first of all, whodunit, and how, and why. Just like makers of jigsaw puzzles print the picture out as a whole and then cut it up and jumble the pieces, the writer of a murder mystery has to follow similar steps.

The first step, as I said, is figuring out what happened, what the mystery actually is that everyone’s trying to solve. What it is, what it looks like. Sometimes those are one in the same. Sometimes someone’s killed one way and it’s been made to look like something else. You have to know exactly what’s happened if you’re going to leave the right breadcrumbs. Sometimes, you’ll notice that mysteries will have multiple murders. Both mysteries I’m currently working on are like that, and the one I’m doing for Camp NaNo has two very closely connected murders, whereas my other mystery has about half a dozen murders, much more loosely connected, which makes it a longer and more complicated story. If you’re not sure you can keep all the clues straight, stick to one or two murders, and if you do two, make them very closely connected.

Once you have the murder all sorted out, it’s a matter of figuring out what would leave traces, especially traces that could be misinterpreted. This is the selection of breadcrumbs. It’s important, as well, to decide what sort of murder mystery you’re working with. Will the reader know who the killer is? Will there be a big reveal at the end to (hopefully) stun all but the most astute? In Those We Trust, which is something of a murder mystery, in a way, the killer is a regular voice, but I’m very careful to keep the identity completely secret until the very end. Even the characters never discover who it is, so the breadcrumbs left by the killer are actually deliberate, pointing fingers at everyone else. The reader actually gets to see the killer planting the breadcrumbs, although they might not realize what they are until they’re mentioned later, from a different point of view. This is something that you can play around with if you feel confident: how much are you giving away, and how? There’s even the crime-show motif of “we know who the killer is, now we have to prove it”, which means you have to have someone who can cover their tracks very well, and things that are very difficult to prove, like in the television show, Luther. Knowing and proving are different things, so that can be fun to play with, but requires very precise writing and planning.

The next step is one of the more fun steps: Who are you going to frame? You’ve got your misleading breadcrumbs, so they have to lead somewhere other than the killer, potentially. Whether someone is actually wrongfully arrested or the police just have a list of suspects to whittle through and someone looks uncommonly attractive, at least one red herring needs to muddy (or bloody?) the waters. If you’re going for an enclosed murder scene, like a boat or airplane, and “one of us is the killer” is your motif, then maybe you want multiple guests to look like equally promising killers. If you’ve got a more typical piece, maybe two or three people might fit the bill. In my Camp NaNo piece, I’ve got a handful of possible killers, but when I write murder mystery events, everybody’s got to have at least a small motive. Your needs will depend on your story.

Then, honestly, it’s just a question of writing the thing, weaving the plot and the breadcrumb dropping together. A little hint of this, a little smacking you over the head with a twist of that…. And then nuancing it in the editing process.

Editing is a really important part of writing a murder mystery, actually. If you have a couple of editors/friends read it and they all say either it’s too easy to tell who your killer is way too soon, or it’s absolutely and literally impossible to figure it out at all until the very end, you should listen to them. The worst thing a writer of mysteries can do is frustrated the reader with being overly obvious or impossible to deduce. If there’s a pattern, take the steps you can to fix it and toss it their way again. You’ll be glad you did.